POLAND'S FORMER CAPITAL and perennial artistic and intellectual heart has inspired figures as diverse as Nicolaus Copernicus, Pope John Paul II and Nobel Prize-winning poet Wisława Szymborska. Home to the ancient Jagiellonian University, Wawel Castle and Europe's largest medieval square, Kraków celebrates some 120 cultural festivals a year, including the Sacrum Profanum contemporary music festival, coming up in September. Here's a handful of unmissable things in and around this historic town.
1. Check out Copernicus's instruments. Kraków scholar Nicolaus Copernicus first proposed that the sun, not the Earth, is the center of the solar system.
2. Meet a Polish hero of the American Revolutionary War. A 30-minute hike up Blessed Bronisława Hill, overlooking the Vistula River, is the memorial mound of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a military engineer who fought in America's first war.
3. Crawl inside someone else's head. When Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj donated "Eros Bendato," his massive bronze creation, to Kraków in 2005, he decreed that it had to be placed on the Main Market Square.
4. Telephone a late Nobel Prize-winning poet. Wisława Szymborska, who died in February 2012, believed that drawers were among the world's finest inventions. Hers were filled with items that tell much about their owner's quirky humor and imagination. This year "Szymborska's Drawer" opened, displaying a collection of the poet's knickknacks, collages, postcards, furniture, books and quirky photographs
5. Explore a church made from salt. The Wieliczka Salt Mine, which extends over 1,000 feet below the Earth's surface, was in operation from the 13th century until 1996. It is now a museum. Walls, stairs and the chandeliers in the Santa Kinga chapel are made from salt.
6. See Schindler's factory. Oskar Schindler's enamelware factory, in the heart of the ghetto where Kraków's Jewish community was confined in 1941, was immortalized in the 1993 Steven Spielberg film "Schindler's List." The site now houses the Museum of Contemporary Art at Kraków, a rippling building designed by Italian architect Claudio Nardi. The adjacent offices house the Oskar Schindler Factory, which chronicles the plight of Kraków's Jews during the occupation.