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If there are two things I took away from my trip to Krakow last January it’s that 1) I could win a pierogi eating competition, hands down! and 2) Weekend breaks are pretty alright. Which, coming from someone who has always preferred throwing as few things in a backpack as possible and setting off for as long as her bank account would allow, is pretty high praise.
In hindsight, I wish I had more than just three days in Krakow. It’s safe to say, I fell in love with the city. It was gorgeous, it was welcoming, it had great food and, best of all, it was affordable. And I say that in an “I only spent about £50 for the whole weekend” kind of way.
I had a blast and managed to squeeze so much into a relatively short three days. Based on that, here’s my three-day itinerary on what to do in Krakow:
Day One: Everything you absolutely can’t miss
You know when you first mention you’re going on a trip somewhere, and then your best friend, grandma and next-door neighbour Dave all suddenly become experts on the city, giving you a list the length of your arm about things you absolutely can’t miss?
My advice for Krakow? Squeeze it all in on the first day.
Old Town Krakow (Stare Miasto)
If beautiful architecture and bright colours are your thing, you will absolutely love mindlessly ambling around Krakow’s Old Town. One of the very first places to be chosen as a Unesco Heritage Site, it really is a sight to behold. Although, like many of the world’s great cities, in recent years it’s become overrun with souvenir shops and over-priced restaurants serving traditional tourist favourites such as Spaghetti Pomodoro and burger and chips, there is still a delightful kind of old world charm about the place.
Start your day with a stroll around this area of Krakow, and get to grips with the place. The main highlights of the Old Town include Rynek Główny, known to be the oldest medieval market square in all of Europe. When you find yourself standing in the square, it’s easy to imagine life as it happened all those years ago, when public executions were still a thing and people traded goods with one another.
At the very centre of the market square is the Krákow Cloth Hall. On the upper floor is a section of the National Museum, housing a beautiful display of Polish art and sculptures, known as The Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art. Underneath this, in the part of the structure level with the floor, is a small market where locals sell their wares to their neighbours and tourists alike.
Another noticeable building in the main square is St Mary’s Basilica, a beautiful 13th-century church which is also described as one of the best examples of Polish gothic architecture of this age. Aside from being incredibly stunning both inside and out, the basilica is particularly interesting because, on the hour, every hour the Hejnał mariacki (a traditional five-note anthem played on the trumpet) sounds from the tallest of the church’s two towers. The tune is played out of each of the four windows of the tower, and breaks of mid-tune in honour of the trumpeter who, in the 13th-century, was shot in the throat while playing the tune to warn of an oncoming Mongol attack.
If you want to really get to grips with the Old Town, and learn its history in the process, I’d definitely recommend the Old Town Krakow Free Walking Tour. As is the case with all free walking tours, the tour is free! You just need to tip at the end – but the size of the tip is up to you. Be warned, this tour is very history rich so you need to bring your thinking cap along with you.
The tour runs every single day at 10am and 2pm (and again at 4pm between March to October!) and the meeting point is between St. Florian’s Gate and Barbican. Aside from the places already mentioned, the tour also visits the building of the Jagiellonian University where Pope John Paul II (formerly Archbishop of Krakow) himself studied, as well as where he lived between 1951 and 1964 on Kanoniczka Street and the window of Bishop’s Palace where he would often sit and speak to the crowds below.
Wawel Castle and Cathedral
The walking tour ends at Wawel Castle and Cathedralwhere, not to lose the relevance at the last hurdle, Pope John Paul II performed his first ever mass. Aside from that fact, the cathedral itself is absolutely beautiful.
The interior doesn’t quite live up to the outside but, as it’s free entry, it’s definitely worth a wander around. My friend, who’d never set foot in a cathedral before, was more than impressed with it.
The castle is one of the largest in Poland and uniquely represents the European architectural styles of medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. As it is considered part of Krakow’s historic Old Town, Wawel Castle is also a UNESCO heritage site. To see the inside of the castle residency you have to pay a fee – which I sadly did not do – but entry to many parts of the exhibit is completely free every Sunday from November to March and every Monday from April to October.
Depending on the weather conditions (and how much your feet hurt after the walking tour), Planty Park is the perfect place to go for a stroll and just enjoy the fact that you’re in Krakow. It perfectly circles the Old Town, meaning that there’s no way you could get lost there! There are benches scattered around the place, and random statues here and there for you to admire.
Macabre Krakow Free Walking Tour
One of the highlights of my stay in Krakow, if you’re not too exhausted from all the walking around you already will have done by this point, theMacabre Krakow free walking touris only 80 minutes long and 100% worth the blisters!
A little glimpse into the lesser known but equally as fascinating dark side of the city, the tour features everything from vampires to serial killers and is a must for anyone with a keen interest in the more macabre things in life. It runs every day except Saturday at 8pm and begins at the same place as the Old Town tour (between St Florian’s Gate and Barbican).
Day Two: Auschwitz-Birkenau
Although not technically in Krakow, Auschwitz is only a short hour and a half bus ride away and, while I completely understand that visiting one of the most horrific historical sites in the world isn’t high on everyone’s holiday bucket list, I really do think if you have the opportunity to go, you should.
A visit to Auschwitz is both a humbling and heartbreaking experience and, in actual fact, is quite difficult to put into words. There is an eery silence about the place, even though there are countless tours happening at the same time, and an endless sound of chatter.
You can visit Auschwitz with or without a tour, and regular, non-concessionary entry passes start at 45PLN (approximately £9.50).
If you’d rather not visit Auschwitz, an alternative day tour you could take is to the Wieliczka Salt Mine which, although I haven’t tried out myself, have heard great things about.
Day Three: Schindler’s Factory and Kazimierz
Situated a little south of the Old Town, Kazimierz (named after Kazimierz the Great), otherwise known as the Jewish Quarter and is absolutely packed to bursting with synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and other remnants of pre-war Jewish culture.
Some of the main points of interest in Kazimierz are the Remuh Synagogue and Cemetery, one of the smallest but most important synagogues in the whole area, which still hosts Shabbat services every Friday and the Old Synagogue which, although no longer an active place of worship, is Poland’s oldest standing example of Jewish religious architecture. Over the years the Remuh Synagogue has actually become somewhat of a pilgrimage site for Jews all over the world.
Some other synagogues of interest in the area (most of which are no longer active, instead housing various different exhibitions or other businesses) are the Isaac Synagogue, High Synagogue, and Temple Synagogue.
There are plenty of other things to see in Kazimierz, and it has a wonderful cafe culture about the place, as well as some really interesting museums for you to pass time (specifically the Ethnographic Museum) and, of course, the unmissable historical mural painted outside of Pub Wręga.
It’s no secret that both world wars hit Poland hard, and the Jewish community in Krakow particularly suffered post-World War II. By the end of the war, the Jewish population in Krakow had dropped from more than 30,000 to somewhere between 3000-5000, most of them survivors thanks to one man – Oskar Schindler.
Schindler’s Factory is actually part of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków and is housed in what was actually Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory.
Through photos, interactive displays, sculptures, and words, the museum captivates your every sense, and really drills into you the true magnitude of what happened right there, in the exact spot you’re standing in.
The museum doesn’t solely focus in on the history of Schindler, nor does it focus on how the war affected Krakow; it is a perfectly-balanced combination of the two. It’s insightful, it’s thought-provoking and it’s informative. In short, it’s everything you could hope for in a museum of such historical and cultural importance.
Non-discounted entry costs 21PLN (approx. £4.50) per person.
Where to Eat in Krakow
Now, if we rewind our minds all the way back to the beginning of this post, I mentioned how I am now basically the undisputed queen of pierogi eating. Challenge me to a contest, I dare you.
As a vegetarian, travelling can be oddly difficult, but I will tell you here and now that Poland, and its abundance of different flavour pierogi, was an absolute dream! Having spent only three days in Krakow, that meant I only had 9 meals there, and I ate pierogi for 5 of those 9 meals. No shame.
The top of the crop in the pierogi stakes for me was Marmolada, which served 9 pieces of pierogi for a bargain 19 PLN and also served the most delicious traditional apple cake with cinnamon. Situated just off the main square, the place was quiet, and the staff pleasant and not at all pushy.
Other places worth a mention are Goscinna Chata, a dimly-lit, traditionally-decorated place and Restaurajca Max 18 which, although frustratingly noisy due to being located right underneath a hostel, had dessert pierogi on their menu. I repeat, dessert pierogi.
How to Get to Krakow
Krakow is actually crazy accessible and affordable to get to from almost anywhere in the UK. If I, situated in the back and beyond of nowhere, managed to snag my return ticket from Bristol for £40 plus £10 coach trip, anyone can.
Ryanairfly from Bournemouth, Bristol, Belfast, Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester and London Stansted, andEasyjetfly from many of the same airports: Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester and London Gatwick.
Krakow International Airport is only around 10 miles out of the city, and on landing all you need to do is walk straight outside of the terminal to the bus stop and get bus number 252 into town. It runs every half an hour and takes about 40 minutes to get almost right to the city centre. A single ticket costs just 4 PLN and can be purchased from the ticket machine at the stop.
Where to Stay
During my three days in Krakow, I stayed at Emaus Apartments which, at just £10 per person per night for a fully-furnished apartment, was an absolute steal.
If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, Grand Hotel is all you need. Situated right at the centre of the Old Town, and with the most friendly and welcoming staff (even to people like me who weren’t staying and just wanted to be nosy), it truly is a taste of luxury.
Kraków has so much more to offer than what’s been mentioned here! It was a great introduction to Poland for me, and I can’t wait to head back and explore more some day. Have you been before? Anything else worth a mention that I’ve missed out?