Situated on the Vistula river, Krakow is one of the oldest cities in Poland. It is rich in history and is a gem of a city to visit in Eastern Europe. I spent three days here in the beginning of August 2014 and had an amazing time walking around the city, meeting new friends and visiting the major tourist attractions that Krakow has to offer.
Scattered around the circumference of the main square in Krakow are great restaurants and shops, and the center of the square contains historic churches and sculptures as well as the main square trading market. My hostel, “Let’s Rock Hostel” was located right in the main square, making walking to the center super easy for bar crawls and going out to eat.
Wieliczcka Salt Mine
The salt mine tour is a very touristy, but enjoyable thing to do for an afternoon in Krakow. Ideally explore the mine on a day with less favorable weather, as the entire three hour walking tour is all inside in the depths of the mine. It is a considerable amount of walking, so keep that in mind if you are touring with older or less fit people. The cost of the tour was 100 zloty, or about $33 USD, which included the three hour guided tour and transport to the mine from the main square. The mine features long walks through salt caves, salt lakes and different statues and figurines, all made from salt. I will confess that I did in fact lick the walls, which visitors are encouraged to do on the tour. The mine is HUGE, after our 3 hour tour, our guide informed us that all the parts we had seen was only 1% of the total area of the mine. We descended 90 meters down, but the whole mine reaches a depth of over 300 meters. There are even shops and restaurants within the mine.
I wrote a reflection on my Auschwitz trip here describing the experience, but here are the details of the actual tour component of Auschwitz. I went on an organized tour through my hostel, and these are very easy to come by from the main square in Krakow. The tour bus picked up the group near our hostel and started the hour drive to the concentration camp. The tour lasted about two hours in Auschwitz I and two hours in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The whole experience cost 100 zloty, or about $33 USD and was completely worth every penny. The tours are offered in dozens of different languages and all the tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and professional. It was a heavy emotional tour, but overall I am very glad that I put myself through it for the learning and reflective experience that it provided.
Free Walking Tour
The main square of Krakow is filled with different tour guides holding signs for free walking tours, so for my last day of sight-seeing, I joined a group for a two hour walk about the city. I highly recommend free walking tours, as they are, well, free, and also typically have great guides because they work for tips. We walked all over and my guide was extremely knowledgeable about the city, as she was a Krakow native and clearly took a lot of pride in her hometown. It was a great way to see and learn the sights, and the tour ended at Wawel Castle, a great ending point a bit outside the main square.
Krakow is a must-see for anyone exploring the farther east portion of Europe. It is a beautiful city, much less soviet-bloc style than Warsaw or other large cities in Poland. I really loved my time here and I would definitely go back someday. It is a great city to spend a short amount of time in, as it is so walkable and as long as your lodging is well located, everything can be reached and seen within a short distance.