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Things to do in Cracow

Pay your respects at Auschwitz

Deciding to take a trip to the place of mankind's worst atrocities (tel: +48 33 844 8099; http://auschwitz.org is a deeply personal choice, but if you think you would like to visit admission is free all year round. For a varying fee, dependent on the number of people in your group, guides will take you on a three and a half hour tour. This should be booked at least a month in advance.

Play laser combat in a disused hotel

A former hotel on the riverside, Laserpark (tel: +48 12 296 0130; www.laserpark.pl) is a laser arena where gun-toting adversaries can fight it out for bragging rights in future-industrial arenas. Watch out for the stag dos at the weekend.

Suck up the rays on Cracow’s artificial beach

You won't see hide nor hair of an ocean in Cracow, but the city has made great use of the Vistula riverside by creating its own artificial beach. Plaza Kraków (tel: +48 530 950 303; www.plazakrakow.com.pl) has 10,000 sq m (107,639 sq ft) of golden sand and an open-air swimming pool with great views.

Take a trip underground

If you're finding life too much above the ground, take a trip into the Cracow's underbelly and the Rynek Underground Museum (tel: +48 12 426 50 60, http://podziemiarynku.com). It displays an interactive journey of the city's history, from its first settlers to the death of Pope John Paul II. The mercury gets pretty high down there, so if you're going in summer leave the jacket at home.

White water kayak along an Olympic course

Cracow might seem like an unlikely location for some white water action, but Cracow Canoe Club (tel: +48 12 259 3540; www.kolna.pl) boasts 350m (1,148ft) of manmade rapids on the Vistula River. Located in the city's suburbs, the Olympic course offers high-adrenaline aquatic action, with professional instructors thankfully on-hand throughout.

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Palac Bonerowski

In the 16th century, Palac Bonerowski was the opulent abode of a wealthy, aristocratic family called the Boners (no chuckling at the back). Today the former royal residence is one of the finest, most lovingly restored hotels in Cracow. Located directly opposite the Main Market Square, Palac Bonerowski sits within a UNESCO World Heritage site and has some of the best views in town. Inside, the elegant rooms are still fit for royalty, and there are period features aplenty.

Hotel Polski

This slice of local history has been operating as an inn since 1815, making it one of the oldest hotels in Cracow. Modern amenities aside, guests could be forgiven for thinking they've stepped back in time; the hotel retains its decadent, 19th-century charm with beautiful antique furniture and period features. Add to that the stunning, Old Town location and exemplary service and you have to surmise this hotel will be good for another 200 years.

Hotel Pugetow

Part of the boutique Donimirski hotel chain, Hotel Pugetow stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a 19th-century, neo-Renaissance palace of the same name. The rooms and suites have individual names (Joseph Conrad, Bonaparte, etc) and identities. Extras include embroidered bathrobes, black-marble baths and a fabulous, silver-service cellar restaurant. If you can afford it, try the Kwiatkowski, an apartment featuring oil paintings, bone china and soft, cream fabrics.

Hotel Stary

The delightful (but unimaginatively named) 'old' hotel is housed in an utterly charming 18th-century aristocratic residence and is setting new standards for accommodation in Poland. The fabrics used in the 53 guestrooms are all natural, the bathroom surfaces Italian marble, and there's a fitness centre, swimming pool and rooftop terrace. And you can't beat the location just off the northwest corner of the Main Market Square.

Hotel Mikolaj

Nestled down a quiet side street near the Main Market Square, Hotel Mikolaj is a tranquil retreat in the centre of this lively city. The refurbished town house has 10 cosy rooms, including suites which come with a kitchenette and lounge. If you don't fancy the short stroll into town for dinner then the hotel boasts an in-house restaurant, which serves Polish and international fare over two atmospheric levels.

The Piano Guest House

Enter The Piano Guest House and you follow in holy footsteps; Pope John Paul II visited twice when he was vicar of the parish in the 1950s. Today, this beautifully preserved, Viennese-style town house (which has been in the same family since 1886) is something of a diamond in the rough, although the legendary hospitality, beautiful breakfasts and the property's raconteur owners more than compensate for the scruffy neighbourhood.