I have something exciting to share with you. I also have something harrowing to show you. Visiting Krakow, Poland stretched my emotions as far as it possibly could. One day we were walking along the cobbled streets feeling like the happiest people in the world eating kebabs and dining out in the Old Square. Other days, we were walking in silence through concentration camps – Auschwitz and Bireknau, not even beginning to comprehend the horrors of how many people were killed there between 1940 – 1945. Words really cannot justify the reality of the situation but for anyone who is thinking of visiting in future, I hope I have documented my trip in a respectful way to show you what we experienced. Here is a run down of what we saw.
The Main Square – Old Town
The first thing that struck me about the main square is how similiar it is to Prague. The beautiful architecture, towering landmarks and city vibe is striking. Located at the heart of Krakow, the 40,000 m² medieval street bustles with tourists, horse and carts, street performers, cafes, market stalls and restaurants. The square is said to be one of the most popular tourist sites and attractions in Europe. The centre of the square is dominated by Cloth Hall, home to the Gallery of the National Museum and numerous arts and crafts market stalls. If you ever visit Poland you must experience this place for yourself, it is simply stunning.
We loved strolling around the square at night, there was plenty to see and dozens of restaurants and bars to choose from. On the first night we dined at a Polish restaurant in the square and I demolished a plate of veal, it was gorgeous! We decided to stay close to our apartment on the first night as it was 10pm by the time we ordered our meals at Max 18. We sat under the heaters and flicked through the menus. We were very impressed by the menu as they only serve traditional Polish grub. I was told not to order the kebab (oh dear!) and instead opted for the veal. Best decision I ever made, it was possibly – and unintentionally – the best meal of the trip. Although Max 18 isn’t the most attractive restaurant on the square, all four of our meals, desserts and various beers and wines came in at just under £60. You can’t argue with that can you!
San Marco Main Square Apartment – Airbnb
As much as I love reviewing hotels, B&Bs and cute little inns on my blog, when coming aboard nothing beats staying in an independent apartment which can be easily found on Airbnb (which usually comes without the costly price tag!). We managed to find a wonderful place – San Marco, a stone throw away from the Main Square which had two separate bedrooms, a kitchen, lounge area and bathroom. Although the nights were a little noisy, it soothed me to know we weren’t down some dark alleyway and were across from a 24 hour store in case we needed booze! We were surrounded by independent clothing shops, restaurants, boutiques and ice cream parlours. I think we hit the jackpot as we had the square at our fingertips.
The apartment was perfect for the four of us (Me, Josh and his parents) and I thought it was extremely cosy. In fact, I was always excited to return home after a busy day of sightseeing and curl up on the sofa. Josh and I slept like logs each night and although the street was more animated on the weekend, we spent four nights here which was well worth the £96 pounds per person per night. I’d do it again in a heartbeat! It retains that wonderful Krakow charm and character whilst still being modern and stylish.
The Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz)
If you have a spare day to visit the Jewish District, I would recommend doing so during your trip as it really gives you an authentic taste of how old Krakow used to be. The place used to be a designated safe haven for Jews and apart from old museums, synagogues and historical buildings, it now hosts a decent amount of beautiful restaurants and bars, as well as some decent cultural shows during summer. If you remember the scene from Schindler’s List where the suitcases are thrown off the balconies by the soldiers – this scene was filmed in the Jewish Quarter owing to it’s authenticity. The place really is stunning.
The sun was beaming hard during our trip to the Jewish Quarter as we made our way towards Schindler’s Factory which has now been converted into a walk through museum. We soaked up the Polish culture and indulged in good coffee, tasty ice cream and delicious Polish grub. We walked a good few miles that day and got a tuck tuck bike back to the main square. It’s certainly a day I won’t forget in a hurry!
Sightseeing in Krakow
The morning after we arrived in Poland, we decided to wake up fairly early and took a long walk around the main centre of Krakow, first stopping at Wawel Royal Castle. The place is absolutely stunning and consists of a number of structures situated around the central courtyard. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky during our walk, making it the perfect time to capture some stunning images of the architecture.
I loved walking around seeing the sights and we filled our bellies up with crossaints to make sure we didn’t get hungry during our walk. We visited many of Krakow’s famous landmarks, the most photographed being Wawel Castle. The beautiful building allows you to walk through the grounds and many group tours are held throughout the day. We didn’t go on any tours in the main square, however I know the stately halls have exquisite chambers which are filled with period furniture and rare ancient antiques.
Auschwitz / Birkenau
Please note: Cameras are allowed in certain areas of the tour, however I didn’t take any photographs inside the buildings out of respect. I wanted to document the outside for people who are interested in knowing what to expect. Waking up and knowing you’re going to be visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau fills you will so many emotions. It’s the place you’ve seen in films, in books, been taught about in history lessons and is a place the world will never cease to forget. Auschwitz is somewhere I have wanted to visit for as long as I was in school learning about the horrors that happened there. It was also one of the main reasons why we decided to visit Poland. The first thing you see upon entering is the gate which is ingrained into people’s minds – Arbeit macht frei – a German phrase meaning “work sets you free”. The biggest lie in human history.
There is no other way to describe it aside from harrowing and I’ll be completely honest, it felt so wrong to be taking photographs of the camps when the weather was so beautiful. There was not a cloud in the sky that day. The overall experience was a very private one and you simply can’t comprehend what happened there. You see so many things that will give you goosebumps, something you have to experience for yourself. It took an hour to drive to Auschwitz on the coach and once we arrived, the mood completely changed. There are dozens of tours passing through each day and I would highly advise joining one of the groups. We bought our tickets for £30 each at a tourist office near our apartment and you can also buy them online. The whole tour of both camps including travel lasts around 7 hours so I would advise to take comfortable shoes.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
When Googling ‘Things to do in Poland’ – the Salt Mines in Wieliczka is #1. It was on my bucket list and you can’t go there without visiting one of the largest tourist attractions. At 327 metres deep, with various twists and turns through long corridors, it would take a whole month without stopping to explore every inch of the entire mine. If that isn’t an incentive to stay close to your group then I don’t know what is! A staircase with 378 downward steps provides access to the mine entrance and during the two hour tour, you find rooms filled with sculptures, salt shops and an underground lake. Determined by the name, everything you touch is made of salt. I would highly recommend visiting here if you’re ever in Poland and you won’t believe you’re so far underground, the rooms are massive!. P.s – licking the walls is a compulsory!
What did I tell you… the rooms are gigantic! We walked for two solid hours and didn’t even make a dent in how far the tunnels stretch – it makes me shiver just thinking about it. I would love to know what would happen if the lights went off! My trip to Poland was extraordinary and I would go as far to say, it’s now one of my favourite holidays I’ve ever taken… and this is a girl who has been to the likes of the Bahamas and Mexico! What do you think of my trip to Poland, would you consider visiting in future?