Most tourists when they think about visiting Europe on their holidays tend to choose the traditional tourist spots that include Italy, France and Spain. But, some of these places can be very crowded and expensive especially in the European summer. In recent years, countries in Eastern Europe have gained more popularity with visitors worldwide.
Poland, for example is one of those countries that is sometimes overlooked as a travel destination when planning a trip to Europe. However, not many people seem to know that Poland is one of the most affordable places to visit in the world. If you are searching for a destination in Eastern Europe, a vibrant city with picturesque landscapes sand amazing food look no further and visit the city of Krakow in Poland.
Krakow is the second largest city in Poland, the breathtaking architecture of its buildings and rich history make this city a great place to visit on your upcoming holidays. The cobbled streets and horse drawn carriages gives you the opportunity to take that beautiful Instagram photo.
It is very easy to get around the city, The Old town is a UNESCO site and of course is very beautiful. If you are not convinced yet, on this post I will give you a few more reasons to add this amazing place to your Travel bucket list.
The Cloth Hall
One of the most remarkable buildings in the Main Market Square is The Cloth Hall. This square is the biggest medieval square in Europe was built in Renaissance style in medieval times. This square was used as a market to sell clothing and textiles to locals and merchants from other parts of Europe.
Nowadays, it is the best place to buy souvenirs for yourself and your beloved ones. If you visit Poland in December, the main square is light up with a beautiful Christmas tree and decorations. You can find several stalls selling stunning craft souvenirs including Polish pottery. I suggest you first walk and browse all the stalls before you buy anything.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
It is located at the south of Krakow and it is a UNESCO site, but what is special about it? This site is one of the oldest salt mines in the world. If you visit this mine, the tour takes two hours and be prepare to walk 2km within the mine by foot. This adventurous journey bring you 300 meters underground by stairs, do not worry the way back is by lift.
If you made it down under, you will be rewarded with several stunning statues carved by the miners and some local artists. There is a chapel with chandeliers and on the wall there is Leonardo’s The Last Supper completely carved purely out of salt found on these caves.
For more information about prices and trading hours visit The Wieliczka Salt Mine website.
Wawel Castle & Cathedral
Wawel castle is an important historical and cultural site in Poland, this was the place where the Polish Kings were crowned, lived and were buried. One of its famous citizens was the archbishop of Wawel Cathedral. He lived many years in Krakow until 1978 when he became the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years, Pope John Paul II.
Nowadays, this impressive and elegant castle is a museum and houses several chambers and rooms that you can visit: The State Rooms, the exquisite collection of the Royal Apartments and the Crown Treasury and Armory.
To visit each one, you need to buy a separate ticket for each room you would like to visit. For more information about tickets and trading hours visit Wawel Castle website.
St. Mary’s Basilica
The basilica was built in the 13th century in Gothic style and it is one of the most beautifully decorated churches in the world. It is very easy to recognise this church by looking for its two towers of different heights. From one of the towers, a trumpeter every hour plays a tune known as “Hejnal Mariacki” that breaks off in mid-note to commemorate the Polish trumpeter shot in the throat while warning of a Mongol attack centuries ago. Inside the church, the blue vault and ornaments on the ceiling are astonishing. The vibrant colour makes a good contrast with the stained glasses windows of the church. There are several impressive art paintings, sculptures and tombs.
However, this church has a little treasure inside, a beautiful sculptural masterpiece made by Veit Stoss. A wooden triptych altarpiece carved and painted with 200 figures depicting a variety of events from the bible. When the doors of the retable are closed, in the crucifixion scene, there is a figure on the right that it is believed to be the self-portrait of the artist.
If you visit Krakow in December, enjoy the Christmas Market:
The Christmas Market is held every year in the Old Town Market Square next to the Cloth Hall. From the last week of November to the first week of January. You will find a variety of hand made souvenirs and Christmas ornaments for your tree as well as amazing food and mulled wine. At night, the lights, sounds and smells take Christmas holidays to a whole new level.
Visit Kazimierz district
The district used to be the Old Jewish district of Krakow, today is the bohemian neighbourhood of the city with many historical sites, synagogues, art galleries, bars and many restaurants. Kazimier has a lot of history and I recommend to do a Free Walking tour to understand the importance of this district. Schindler’s list movie was filmed in Krakow, Steven Spielberg used Kazimierz’s Szeroka Street(picture shown below) as one of the film locations.
If you visit in the morning, it is going to be very quiet, only a few places open at lunch time. At night, most people come here for a night out and it is full of light, sound and good music. If visiting in Sumer time you can attend The Jewish Culture festival, this event creates a unique atmosphere educating its residents and general public about the pre-war Jewish history as well as celebrating Jewish culture.
Interested in World War II history, you may want to visit these two sites:
Schindler Factory Museum
Today, the factory is a museum, but in 1939, Oskar Schindler saved the lives of hundreds of Jews to be sent to the death camps. The museum focuses less on the factory history and Oskar’s life but rather in sharing the stories about the Jewish Ghetto and life in Krakow during the Nazi Occupation. There is one room where it shows Schindler’s desk and list and also stories along with photographs of those he saved.
Shindler’s Factory is free of charge on Mondays but entry is limited to a fixed quota for safety reasons.
For information about trading hours, prices and exhibitions, visit Oskar Schindler factory website.
We have all learned about the Holocaust in school and all the dark events that happened in the concentration camps. Perhaps, you have read the diary of Anne Frank. However, no matter how many books or textbooks you have read, it does not hit you until you stand in front of one of the most devastating concentration camps of World War II, Auschwitz – Birkenau.
The UNESCO site of Auschwitz – Birkenau are in fact two different places, very close to each other. It is important for you to visit the Auschwitz I first and then Birkenau in order to acquire a proper sense and the magnitude of the place that has become the symbol of the Holocaust as well as Nazi crimes against Jews, Poles, Romas and other minority groups. The first camp was created to carry out the first experiments using the deadly Zyklon B. Bikernau is where the Nazis made mass exterminations, murdering more than one million people.
When visiting the site, whatever your motives are, you should try to understand what has happened here and respect the victims. It can be upsetting, and you can feel mixed emotions, but I feel that a person needs to visit this place once in their lifetime in order to learn from the past and to never forget and NEVER let these atrocities happen again.
It is FREE to visit this site, except during high season of April to October wherein it’s only free before 10 AM and after 3PM.
For more information about trading hours, guide tours, restricted exhibitions and how to get there visit Auschwitz website.
Extra Tips to visit Krakow:
- Follow the footsteps of the Jews and how they were forced to move around the city and establish the Jewish Quarter by taking a free walking tour. It is a 2-hour tour that I highly recommend to do it.
- Every hostel or tour agency offers tours to Auschwitz and Birkenau. But if you go by public transport it’s much cheaper and more flexible. There are frequent and inexpensive buses from the main bus station and every two hours a train leaves from the main train station. When you get out at the main Oświęcim station, you’re a short walk away from the camp (follow the signs to “Muzeum”). The entrance of the camp is free of charge but you have to pay for a guided tour (between April and October access is only allowed with a guided tour.
- Looking for a night out? Krakow has so many bars and nightclubs in the city . If you would like to try some of the bars, there is a comprehensive list here made by the team of Hostel world, Best Bars in Krakow.
Tell us what you think. Have your visited or planning to visit Krakow? We love to hear from you so please leave your comments below.