Krakow’s Darkest Secrets Revealed

macabre krakow

The Macabre Krakow walking tour was a pleasant surprise for me. Before arriving in Krakow, the only thing I knew that I really, really wanted to do was visit Auschwitz.

Other than that, I was clueless.

Not only was I clueless, but I was also kind of penniless and so ‘cheap and cheerful’ was even more of a priority than usual. And that’s saying a lot when you bear in mind that I’m cheaper than Christmas baubles in February at the best of times.

So yeah, when we arrived in Krakow the first thing on the agenda was to find something cheap and fun to get busy with the next day.

I’ve never shied away from expressing my utter adoration of free walking tours, but I’m going to say it again right now because this is my blog and I can do whatever the heck I want with it!

I bloody LOVE free walking tours!

They’re fantastic! In fact, I’d go so far as to say they may even be up there in the Top 5 best things to happen since sliced bread.

Okay so that’s a bit of an exaggeration but travel-wise? Top 10 at least! They’re up there on my list right alongside free mini toothpaste on planes, and buses that depart and arrive bang on time.

A quick Google search put me on to a few different walking tour companies in the area, and so I did what anyone would do in that situation and clicked on the first link. Seriously, if you’re going to tell me that you actually scroll further than half a page when looking for something on Google then I’m sorry but can you even be trusted?!

Related: 3 Days in Krakow: The Lowdown

Aptly named, Free Walking Tour is Trip Advisor’s number one choice when it comes to free tours in Krakow. And having experienced not one, but two, of the tours they have on offer, I have to say that they’re definitely deserving of the top spot!

Not only do they offer a good handful of free (tips only) tours such as Old Town Krakow and Jewish Krakow, but they also provide some paid for tours which seem pretty damn cool, such as Communist Krakow and Foods of Krakow. I mean, when there’s food involved you can’t go wrong really.

To be honest I was just after your bog-standard historical centre-focused tour; the kind of thin that provides basic History 101 on the area with a little bit of oomph and added je ne sais quoi.  So, with that being said, after double-checking the date and time on the online schedule for the Old Town Krakow tour, I was all set and good to go the next day. But juuuust as I was about to close the tab something caught my eye.

Macabre Krakow

The description of the tour started off with “Every city has its dark secrets and Kraków is not an exception. Come with us and we will tell you stories that are not told on any of our other trips…” and finished up with “And last but not least, you will hear the historically factual tales about brutal serial killers terrorizing Krakow in 20th century.”

I don’t think it’s possible for a tour to be more suited to my tastes.

Dark secrets and serial killers and free walking tour combined?! They may as well change the name from Macabre Krakow to “Rhiannon’s Favourite Things Tour“.

Available every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, the tour kicks off at 6pm during November and February, and I assume a little later during the summer months. The meeting place is right between the Barbican and St Florian’s Gate, and it’s pretty obvious who the guide is because, as is the case with most free walking tours around the world, they will be unashamedly yielding a hideously bright umbrella no matter what the weather.

My tour was taken by a guide called Tomasz, who prefers to be known as Golden because yep, you guessed it, he has golden hair. He told us that there are 8 guides altogether who are responsible for the Macabre Krakow tour, and each guide does a slightly different route, with slightly different stories. So, in theory, you could do the same tour 8 different times and never get bored! He even said that there are some locals who have done just that in the summer months!

In total the tour ran for just under one and a half hours, but it was honestly so interesting I really didn’t want it to finish! I could rant on and on and on for thousands of words about the tour, the tales Golden told us, and the dark history of Krakow, but I’ll save my own energy and your time and simply summarise one or two.

The Role of the Executioner

Back in the day, as was the case in almost all countries in the world, capital punishment was legal and super common! And obviously where there’s execution there has to be an executioner, right?!

In Poland, Chief Executioner or Chopper of Heads or whatever you want to call it wasn’t exactly a profession you can just fall into. It wasn’t the most sought-after of jobs and was passed down from father to son. So yeah, if your Daddy killed people for a living then you better get your little tush down to the forest and start practicing on mice and voles because boy, by the time you come of age you’ll be chopping heads off like there’s no tomorrow!

From the age of 9 sons of executioners were encouraged to “go to work” with their fathers and “practice” by torturing animals. By 11 they’re expected to kill the names. By the age of 21, they’re expected to have carried out their very first human execution. Their first execution is the responsibility of their father, so if they fail and it isn’t a clean cut, then their father has to shoulder the blame.

And can you guess what would happen to an executioner failed at their job??

One of their executioner buddies from the Union of Executioners would come along from the next town over and chop their head off.

And if the executioner is killed or dies naturally without leaving an “heir” to the job?

Well, the city council or whoever it is toddles on over to the local jail, gathers together all of the inmates on death lots so one of them would ultimately become responsible for the deaths of all their new jail buddies.

But of course, even professional murderers need to be absolved of their sins, so the sword they used to chop heads off was inscribed with “I did not kill you, your sins killed you“.

Messed up, right?

The Vampire of Krakow

Karol Kot was not your cutesy Edward Cullen-type vampire, but he was an evil, murderous real-life villain. Although according to him, he was a murderer but that doesn’t make him an evil man. Um, okay then?

He wasn’t fussy about who he tried to kill, nor did he have a preference of gender, age or type of person. He just liked killing.

His first two murder attempts involved old ladies. The first was in church, and as the lady knelt down to pray he stabbed her in the back. Fortunately, she survived, as did his second potential victim who he stabbed after following her off of her tram.

Related: 4 Alternative Reads for Any Travel Lover

His third attempt was successful. He stabbed a woman to death as she left the sanctity of her church after Holy Mass. The tour guide relayed this tale to us right outside that very church, and pointed out the door in which the murderer hid, licking his knife clean of her blood as the police and emergency services arrived.

His next known murder occurred seventeen months later when he stabbed an eleven-year-old boy to death. A few months later he again tried to kill a child, stabbing an eight-year-old girl multiple times in the stomach, chest, and back. He thought she was dead and fled the scene, but she somehow survived, managed to get herself home and was taken to the hospital, where they were able to save her life.

It was this failed attempt that ultimately led to his arrest. On arresting him they asked, “Is it you who has been committing all of these murders?” His reply? “Yes.”

There were so many other seriously interesting dark and twisted tales recounted by the guide, I really wish I had a better memory for details to remember them all! So if you’re looking for an alternative tour of Krakow, Macabre Krakow definitely won’t disappoint.

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42 Comments

  1. 6th February 2017 / 8:57 am

    Sounds fantastic! Free walking tours are the best, since they provide some of the most obscure and interesting tales as you’ve written! I’m really looking forward to Krakow, as I’ll be heading over there in April. Thanks for the stories!

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 10:59 pm

      Ooh if you have time when you visit (and of course are actually interested) definitely give this one a go, it’s so good!

  2. 6th February 2017 / 11:27 am

    Ahh this sounds so good, I love true crime so would have loved this. I really want to go on a free walking tour, I’ve never done one!

    http://fourcatsplusus.co.uk – Amy

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 10:58 pm

      Seriously, you’ve never done one?! I always think they should start one up in Cardiff but then I sit and think about what the tour could potentially entail, and I understand why there isn’t one already haha.

  3. 6th February 2017 / 11:48 am

    Wah, super creepy, particularly the stuff about the executioners! I tried to go to a similarish walking tour in York but ended up getting lost on the way there, running late and then tacking onto what I thought was the tour group I was aiming for, but ended up being a completely different tour. So I gave up, went to the nearby Xmas market, grabbed a sausage and toddled off back to my accommodation.

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 10:58 pm

      HAHAHAH! That is the best ending to a tale I think I’ve ever read! “Grabbed a sausage and toddled off”

  4. 6th February 2017 / 5:15 pm

    This post making me fall in love with Krakow. I really love walking tours. Walking give a close exposure of destination and dont effect your pocket much.

  5. 6th February 2017 / 10:11 pm

    That is some creepy history for executioners and vampires. What a unique tour to learn off-beat history and local tales.

  6. 7th February 2017 / 8:55 am

    ‘Dark secrets and serial killers and free walking tour combined’ oooohh it sound right up my alley too! I really enjoyed reading this post, not only because I love history and tours that make your skin rise but I really enjoy your writing 🙂

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:00 pm

      Aw thank you so much! If you’re into that kind of stuff then it’d be an absolute dream for you! In the most non sinister of ways, of course.

  7. 7th February 2017 / 12:23 pm

    Sounds awesome! Krakow looks and sounds beautiful. I think I need to add this place in my bucket list 🙂 Thank you for the post.

  8. 7th February 2017 / 4:11 pm

    I love walking tours too! I love that you can get little secrets and tales about a city from tour guides too. I’d love to visit Krakow but would like to spend a few days there so I have a day to see Auschwitz and be mentally prepared for that.

  9. 7th February 2017 / 4:44 pm

    Great to know about these free walking tours as I really want to visit Auschwitz and like you I didn’t know what else there would be to do in the area so this is cool. Plus the fact that its free makes me even happier

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:01 pm

      Free things are always the best things!

  10. 7th February 2017 / 5:01 pm

    I also love free walking tours, they are soooooo good! But I think this tour would have freaked me out so much, glad it was to your taste though and that you enjoyed it. Also, from the sounds of it I think the Vampire of Krakow indeed liked killing women! So spooky haha.

  11. 7th February 2017 / 6:42 pm

    Rhiannon, I LOVE reading your posts. It’s one thing to tackle a macabre subject like executioners, but it’s another thing entirely when it’s written so humorously! I was hooked. I had no idea that the job passed from father to son, and that you’d better get your first chop right or too bad for Dad! If I ever get over to Poland, I am 100% doing this tour. Can’t WAIT to read more of your posts!

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:03 pm

      Aw thanks so much, that’s such a lovely comment to read!
      I didn’t 100% pay attention in History class at school, but as far as I remember I don’t think it being a family role was a “thing” in Britain. Maybe just an Eastern European thing!

  12. 7th February 2017 / 6:56 pm

    I love walking tours too, it’s the best thing to do when arriving in a new city. If you are lucky you’ll meet a new friend to spend the day with, that’s my view as a solo traveler anyway. I went to visit the Austwitz too and I have to confess with the nightlife around the central square I had a pretty heavy night on the drinking! I didn’t know about the vampire of Krakow story, at least he confessed!

  13. 8th February 2017 / 12:19 am

    I am also a massive fan of free walking tours – I often do more than one in each city I visit when I find they have a few unusual ones like the Macabre Krakow I signed up for them too! I think it really enhances your visit to know some extra facts about a place’s past.

  14. 8th February 2017 / 4:22 pm

    I went to Krakow once, and I loved it. But I didn’t want to go to Auschwitz, not really sure why. I think it’s because I wanted to feel this city without the shadow of that hard past over my head. Not sure if that makes sense, but that is how I felt.

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:04 pm

      Totally get where you’re coming from! It’s not for everyone, I completely understand.

  15. 9th February 2017 / 3:19 am

    First, I agree entirely on free walking tours! Some of my favorite finds when I travel. This sounds like a great one. It’s always an interesting to learn about the darker side of a city. Sounds like a Krakow has an interesting one.

  16. 10th February 2017 / 10:19 pm

    When I visited Krakow I used this same company and they were fantastic. I did the Old Town and Jewish Krakow but unfortunately I didnt get to do the Macabre Krakow tour, it sounds amazing though! Hopefully next time!

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:05 pm

      They’re probably one of the best companies I’ve ever done a tour with! So professional yet fun at the same time! How was the Jewish Ghetto tour?? I really wish I’d made time for that one.

  17. Adriana Smith
    12th February 2017 / 12:19 am

    First, a free walking tour is my speed too! Second, that’s a badass tour to go on. I always love the hidden secrets of a destination. Besides all the glitz glamour and touristy spots, those stories make a place more real and human-like. Thanks for sharing. Will have to do some research on free walking tours wherever I go and hopefully I end up with a tour as similar to yours 🙂

  18. 12th February 2017 / 8:13 pm

    Hey, there is one in Paris actually that I really want to do too, it’s the criminal Paris tour.
    It sounds so interesting and intriguing. However, I don’t know if I am trustworthy since I am sometimes checking several results pages on Google :p just kidding but I do really !

  19. 26th February 2017 / 3:48 pm

    I also love free walking tours! Although they are not really free because most free walking tour companies require the guides to pay them for each guest who goes on the tour–maybe about 3 Euros per person. The guide is betting that they will make enough on tips to make this worthwhile. So I always tip my guides really well! The macabre Krakow tour sounds just up my alley too! I actually took a course in college on vampires in lore and literature so I would like to learn more about Karol Kot especially.

    • rhiydwi
      26th February 2017 / 5:05 pm

      What?! I had no idea that was the case!! I normally tip well, but only if I’ve actually enjoyed the tour. This one time I had a tour guide who was quite rude and you could tell didn’t want to be there, so I tipped low, but that’s the only time that’s happened.
      Oh it was absolutely brilliant!! I loved it so much, next time I’m in Krakow – because there will be a next time – I might just do the same tour on repeat every night!
      There’s apparently going to be a film about him later this year, but I’m not sure if in English or Polish!

  20. 27th February 2017 / 4:32 pm

    Krakow sounds chillingly awesome. And I love the idea of taking a walking tour and learning about all the dark secrets that the city has to offer. I love that kind of creepy stuff. And the best part, it’s free!!! So awesome!!!

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:06 pm

      I really wish more tours jumped on the dark bandwagon and did tours like this! So many do free walking tours these days, but very rare to find weird and whacky ones.

  21. 28th February 2017 / 8:36 am

    I love free walking tours, too. We seek them out wherever we go. This one sounds particularly fascinating. I never really thought about how someone becomes an executioner (only a sociopath would want that job!). And vampire lore is always a kick. I’ve been hearing great things about Krakow and now I am even more interested.

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:07 pm

      I’m the same! It’s the best way to get to grips with a new city in my opinion 🙂
      To be honest neither had I! Trying to rack my brains and from what I remember from secondary school history lessons (not a lot really!) I don’t think it was that way in UK – maybe just an Eastern European thing?

  22. 28th February 2017 / 3:05 pm

    Cheaper than Christmas babbles in February….LOL! That is hysterical. We love a free walking tour, too…and the information you gained is wonderful! I have not visited Auschwitz and really want to one day. I think that will be a difficult place to visit but want to show the world to the kids – history is important to learn and not all of it is happy. I don’t think they are ready for it, yet, and neither am I but when they are older….

    The executioner….yikes, what a horrible family business. Interesting tidbit and I know the kids would look at dad’s geologist job as and even better one now!! LOL!

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:09 pm

      Totally with you there! Even though I’ve already visited now, I definitely will go back some day and take my younger sister (just turned 15 – still counts as a kid, right?).
      Hahaha! Geologist definitely trumps executioner!

  23. 28th February 2017 / 5:27 pm

    I can’t stop laughing after reading the passage on Chopper of heads. I know it is grim but the way you have written is absolutely hilarious. I love free walking tours and I did quite a few of them when I was alone and broke in Prague.

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:11 pm

      I feel like my style of writing may have taken away some of the gore. Oops! Haha. I did a few in Prague too! It was years ago now so I can’t remember the exact ones, but the Jewish quarter was involved and it was so informative.

  24. 28th February 2017 / 7:13 pm

    Haha! how could you write such hilarious post! Haha! Chopper of heads? Really? Lol! that’s something which blew my mind! trust me what you have written here is true, free walking tour is always fun! 😀

    • rhiydwi
      28th February 2017 / 11:17 pm

      Honestly, I probably could have thought up a more eloquent description for chopper of heads but where’s the fun in that? Haha.

  25. 1st March 2017 / 5:51 am

    I am massive fan of free walking tours and it is the first thing I do as I land in a new place. They are the best and normally very prepared AND fun!
    I haven’t been to Krakow but since I’m planning to explore eastern Europe this summer, I’ll make sure to add it to my itinerary! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • rhiydwi
      1st March 2017 / 4:29 pm

      Ooh you should definitely try to make it if you have the chance, it’s wonderful!

  26. 1st March 2017 / 11:02 am

    Totally a hilarious and entertaining post, we couldn’t stop reading as we were curious to know what next is coming! We love walking tours as we get to know so much about a place which we usually miss out otherwise and if we get a free one, total bonus. This tour was definitely an interesting one…

    • rhiydwi
      1st March 2017 / 4:31 pm

      Aw thanks Suma! I tend to find free tours a lot more enjoyable than organised paid-for ones. I think because there’s no pressure to deliver if that makes sense? No chance of complaints about wasted money if there was no money wasted to begin with!

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