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 at 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.
Staropolska is a great restaurant located in the main square. It is a Polish and Italian restaurant combined as one, and the Polish friends I made on a haunted house tour were servers here and took me for a full Polish-food experience. I had the highlander cheese appetizer, a mixed dumpling dish and for dessert, polish apple pie. Everything I ate was incredible, the apple pie is very unique, no crust, soft apples sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with fresh whipped cream and chocolate drizzle.
The Polish friends I made were extremely kind and hospitable. Before arriving in Krakow, I had heard mixed reviews of Poles, a lot of people asserted that they were cold and unfriendly, but I found them to be caring and hospitable, always making sure that I, as a “guest” of their country, was comfortable and having a good time. It was really an amazing experience.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
The salt mine tour is a very touristy, but an enjoyable thing to do for an afternoon in Krakow. Ideally explore the mine on a day with less favorable weather, as the entire 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 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 were 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 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 zlotych, 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.
The tour took me everywhere, starting in the main square and ending at the Castle. My guide was knowledgeable 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. Always leave a nice tip if it’s a good tour, the free tour guides count on it.
I didn’t tour the interior of the Castle due to lack of time, but seeing it from the outside was still interesting. Historically, it was the residence of Polish royalty, and now it has been converted to a museum that hosts not only palace artifacts, but also a large gallery collection of art.
Wawel Dragon Cave
This cave is an idyllic, free thing to check out when wandering around Krakow! It stems from Polish mythology originating in the 12th century. The statue breathes out a fire at various points throughout the day.
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. As long as your lodging is centrally-located, everything can be reached on foot.