It has taken me far too long to write this article. For many reasons, not sure how to organize it, I started over thinking everything and just stopped writing. Move across the world? Easy. Write about it? Different story. I want to document my experiences. I want to inspire others, not only to travel but to open their hearts to the possibilities of the world and their dreams.
So, in May I went to Kraków, Poland. It was a bit of a last minute trip, I had a few days free and wanted to do a quick solo trip somewhere completely new. I had no idea what to expect other than the fact that I was going to eat so many pierogi.
Old Town/Stare Miasto
The image above is shot from the tower in St Mary’s Basilica. This is the Cloth Hall in the Main Market Square of the Old Town. This is one of the busiest areas full of tourists and locals as it is the center of Kraków.
There is a museum below the Cloth Hall called Rynek Underground. It is a very popular attraction and tickets should be purchased in advance as they only let a limited number of people per hour.
*Travel Tip* I did not book my tickets in advance as this was a last minute trip, so I missed out on a few attractions and I was there right before the high season so make sure you plan ahead! *additional note* A friend of mine traveled here in November and experienced the same issue, so book ahead.
I loved wandering around the square and old town admiring all of the buildings and their colorful details. Also in the square is St. Mary’s Basilica. You have to purchase a ticket to go inside, but I promise you, it is worth it! In the above picture you can see the outside, it looks very casual, maybe nothing inside, and bam (see photo below).
I did not edit these photos, I wanted to try and preserve the colors to show you. I did however, take them crooked… I wasn’t 100% sure on the photo policy and was trying to be a bit sly because this worker came up to me and kept saying something in Polish and sounded angry until I put my camera away, but other people were taking pictures? I have no idea what happened and I felt so silly I just put it away. Anyway, go see it with your own eyes, it is an incredible church. St. Mary’s Basilica is definitely in my top 5 churches I have seen in Europe.
In the Old Town of Kraków there are so many beautiful buildings to see, old streets to wander, the Barbican and old defense walls, and so many places to enjoy (cheap!) authentic food (I have my food and drink recommendations at the end of the article).
Kazimierz is a neighborhood south of Old Town once you cross the Vistula river. It was once a community of Christians and Jewish, but during WWII Jewish families were moved to Podgórze. In Kazimierz you can see an old synagog and Jewish cemetery. There are tours in the area, but I ran out of time, if you’ve done any feel free to comment and share your experiences and recommendations.
Also in this neighborhood is housed craft beer bars, food trucks, and night market. It is a great area to wandering around browsing various independent shops and places to hang out. Ursa Maior (pictured above) is a great spot for craft beer. The staff was knowledgeable and local beers were delicious. If you are hanging out here in the evening, go to the night market to grab some awesome late night street food.
One of my personal favorite areas, of course, was Wawel Hill where you can find the Wawel Castle and Cathedral, along with amazing views of Kraków.
*Travel Tip* Check the website before visiting as some exhibits are only open during part of the year.
I went to Wawel Hill very early just before the exhibits opened so I could grab some quite pictures. It was stunning this time of the year, in spite of the rain I dealt with. In the picture above you can see the Cathedral. I did the audio tour which really surprised me. I learned a lot about the history of Kraków.
Wawel Castle and Cathedral have a lot of cultural and historical significance in Poland, as it was the residence of the kings for many years, until the capital was moved to Warsaw. The above photo is the castle, while not as visually striking as others I have seen, it is the details that make it.
Inside houses an art museum, the main feature is a very impressive tapestry collection which is also the only original interior decoration from the castle. I recommend the Royal Private Apartment tour while skipping the State Rooms. The State Rooms are almost identical to the Apartments, so it felt redundant doing both.
This is a view from Sandomierska Tower, from here you can see the castle and cathedral. Sadly this is a seasonal attraction but if you have a chance go check out the great views of Kraków.
I spent half a day doing the tour for Auschwitz-Birkenau. I highly suggest if you are in Kraków to plan a visit. Like many others, I have learned about the Holocaust in school, seen documentaries and movies, but actually being in the camp and seeing it with my own eyes was different. You are allowed to take photos but I personally didn’t feel very comfortable, this is one of two that I took. Visiting Auschwitz is a very personal and emotional experience. I don’t really have much to say beyond that.
On a purely logistical note, you must visit the site on a tour, and it is a bit outside of Kraków. The English tours tend to book up fast and logistics of getting there without a car is a hassle. I used the company Prime Tours Krakow and I highly recommend them (no I did not get paid to say that and I did pay for my tour). A minibus picked me up from my hostel and I was on a small private tour of about 10 people opposed to other groups of about 30, and I didn’t have to wait in any lines at the site. Everything was taken care of and simple. I do recommend to pack a lunch as food is limited and overpriced.
Trying new foods is probably my absolute favorite part of traveling. That being said, I have no idea why I don’t write more about all of the things I eat…and I definitely don’t know why I don’t take better pictures of it! Note to self. I listed a few of the places I ate at below that I recommend checking out.
Bar Grodzki (Grodzka 47) Every travel site I read recommended this mleczny (milk bar), and so I was apprehensive that it would be a tourist trap, yes there are tourists there, yes the menus are in Polish and English, but do not let this keep you from trying a few dishes. It is a family run bar with insanely cheap (10-20zł/plate) home-cooked meals. [pierogies in the bottom right photo are from here]
U Babci Maliny (Polska Akademia Umiejętności, Sławkowska 17) This one is a little tricky to find as it is hidden through a courtyard under the Polish Skills Academy. I had a potato pancakes dish here and I still think about how good it was. Be prepared for a large plate of food, these are not small portions.
Marchewka z Groszkiem (Mostowa 2) I can’t entirely remember how I read about this restaurant, but I did somewhere and passed by it in between meals. I wasn’t exactly hungry but I wanted a break, and an opportunity to try a new dish. They allowed me to order a half portion of their stuffed cabbage. When I say this is one of the most delicious plates I have ever had… I am not kidding. Everything about it was perfect and I will be finding an excuse to go back one day. [stuffed cabbage in the bottom left photo is from here]
Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa (Św. Jana 3-5) While this may be a bit of a chain, it was still a cool place to stop in and have the vodka and śledź bar experience. It is only 4zł for drinks and 8zł for small plates (photo top right of the soup!).
I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventure to Kraków, and would love to hear about your experiences here or other places in Poland that are great to visit. I would love to go back in 2017.