A Central European Pearl

It's not hard to spot the famous on the streets of Krakow, thanks to the compactness of its streets. Visitors to the city — 3 million annually and climbing — can rub shoulders with the likes of Nobel literature laureate Wislawa Szymborska.

Today, Krakow retains its vibrant cultural atmosphere, and ranks alongside Vienna, Prague and Budapest as one of Central Europe's pearls.

Though barely 800,000 people live here, it is home to 6,000 historic buildings and an estimated 2.5 million artworks. In 1978, the city was placed on the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's list of World Historical Heritage monuments.

The Jagiellonian University is Central Europe's oldest center of learning after Charles University in Prague. Its oldest surviving building, the Gothic Collegium Maius, was constructed from a bequest by its foundress, St. Jadwiga, and contains arcaded courtyards reminiscent of Oxford.

Appropriately, the university's motto is Plus ratio quam vis (Thought achieves more than force). At any one time, Krakow is home to 70,000 students, whose lively presence culminates each May in an open-air Juvenalia. When it comes to living art and music, Krakow is home to much more.

Its famous cabaret, the Cellar Under the Sheep, survived and thrived here under communism as a shrine of free expression.

Meanwhile, the Krakow Festival each June coincides with Jewish festivities and Corpus Christi processions, in a yearlong cultural cycle which ranges from an October jazz festival to a December competition for the best-decorated Szopka Krakowska, or traditional Christmas.