We loved Kraków. It’s one of those cities with oodles to do. We’d orginally planned just 3 days in Kraków, at which point we realised there was too much to do to leave it as is so we stayed 5 days (all the while wondering if we should have stayed longer). The city is friendly, the city is affordable and the city is pretty (kinda like a slightly more run-down Paris at a quarter of the price, just squint your eyes). Below we’ve compiled a list of our highlights and suggestions for your stay. Be sure to also check out our accompanying post on our favourite places to eat and drink in Kraków.
St Mary’s Cathedral
Towering in red over the old town square at 84 meters tall is the impressive St Mary’s cathedral. It’s one of the iconic sights of Kraków. The real gem of this cathedral is found inside this richly decorated sanctuary. Overlooking the altar is an immense wooden sculpted piece depicting various stages of Jesus’ life as well as the Catholic version of Mary’s story. The alter piece gets opened daily by a nun accompanied to music at 11:50am and stays open till around 5pm. As a piece of artwork it’s worth seeing, especially if you can be there for the opening.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
To say the Wielizka Salt Mine is vast is an understatement. A source of Poland’s original wealth (when salt was worth the same as gold in trade), they definitely got their money’s worth by digging a huge network. A 3 hour walking tour (the most expensive of our Kraków activities) takes you through something like just 3% of the mines tunnels. The tour takes you past some of the most exciting and intriguing rooms, halls, sculptures and chapels. Some of them are really quite impressive such as the St Kinga chapel, an immensely large room complete with the biblical narrative chiseled into its salt facade and chandeliers jewelled with salt Crystals. Most impressively the chapel Was dug and decorated by just two men in their spare time over a period of 70 years. It’s still a functioning chapel whose service you can attend for free at 7:30am every Sunday (although arrive earlier as it takes a while to get to the chapel). If you’re looking for a wedding venue, seriously check this place out, Its impressive and a lot more affordable than you’d think. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although the more I travel the more I realise how common this status is.
A visit to Auswitz is sobering to say the least, the numbers and the atrocities are incomprehensible, it leaves you a little low on optimism for our future as mankind but also serves as an important reminder for generations to come. There is also encouragement to be found in that the evil was (eventually) brought down and the good has prevailed despite all that was thrown its way. A visit here will take a full day (an hour and a half bus each way from Kraków, about 2.5 hours at the the concentration camp and a further 1.25 hours at the death camp) entry into Auswitz is free (but should be prebooked) so overall it is an inexpensive day.
Shindler’s Factory Museum
An impressive museum that overviews the Nazi occupation of Kraków. The museum is cost effective for what you see using a variety of media and sets to not only tell the story but also set the mood and scene. It’s worth seeing but also important to note that while it is set in the actual former factory of Shindler, who was able to save over a 1000 Jews as the movie suggests, the museum is not actually about him or the factory and highlights very little of that story; it is by in large just a museum about the nazi occupation. Furthermore if you plan to go avoid going near the end of the day as it seems this when many tour companies choose to host their tours throbbing the walk through museum (which really isn’t big enough to host the groups of that size). So if like us you find yourself going at the end of the day expecting to see a lot about Shindler and his work you will find yourself disappointed and battling though a never ending set of tour group waves.
Walking food tour
On a more positive note, Jenny and I have done countless walking tours but the walking food tour by Free Walking tours Kraków has to be one of our favourites! For only 16zt/€3.5 or 20zt/€4.5 if you partake in the optional vodka shot (plus your generous tip to your tour guide – Ania was particularly excellent) you get taken advantage a culinary journey through 10 rounds of delicious polish tasters. + once you’ve tried polish food, you’ll be a convert like us – much tastier than it often looks! Also by partaking in the walking tour you also get given one of the best city maps we’ve seen, filled with heaps of inside tips, street art locations, phrases and food suggestions! http://www.freewalkingtour.com/calendar
Just a quick note about this place because time restrictions meant that we weren’t able to spend much time here, we popped in though and it seemed pretty cool. With over 50 pinball machines all on free-play this historic arch-brick basement looks like nostalgic gamers dream. Entry costs 40zt (9euro) per person but considering that the time you could spend there, worth it.