I have visited this city twice, but talked about it a thousand times. Krakow is so deserving of praise and it’s my favourite travel experience so far. If you asked me to be there tomorrow, I’d go back. Considering I’m not a huge fan of travel, this is a statement.
My first trip to Krakow was a gift for my eighteenth birthday from my parents. Not exactly a huge wine glass with a glittery “18” plastered on the side, their gift was perhaps a little bit different. Regardless, we left on March 29th on a Ryanair flight in the late afternoon. I’ll admit now, I’m afraid of flying. The whole experience terrifies me. I don’t like the way the pressure makes my ears pop, I hate all the noises on the plane because I have no idea what they mean, and airports are intimidating. Not to mention, you’re suspended thousands of feet in the air, with no escape. It’s claustrophobic.
However, my experience with Ryanair was ultimately a good one. The flight is about two hours and a half, so you don’t need an in-flight meal or those back-of-the-seat TVs that play the same two episodes of The Simpsons on loop until it drives you mad enough to fall asleep. In fact, the lack of luxuries only available in the air put me at ease. Combined with the short journey, it felt like a train ride. It was casual. So, if you’re not a fan of flying, this trip isn’t too bad. Although, the second time I went, I downloaded both the Da Vinci Code films to my iPad, and discovered that they’re almost exactly the duration of the fight – I totally forgot I was on a plane.
Anyway, Krakow was beautiful. We stayed in Antique Apartments just off the Main Square, on Artist’s Square. They have a scenic view of the square, and are walking distance from everything great in Krakow – bars and restaurants are so easy to get to. There’s a great Italian next door called Pino, which I would highly recommend. The apartments are also attached to a bar/restaurant next door called Scandale Royale. They do very nice cocktails, and serve breakfast, which is included with your stay. Antique Apartments were also very helpful in organising trips to Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz. All you have to do is enquire at reception and a mini bus picks you up when you schedule it. Transport to and from the airport is also provided by the apartments for a very small fee.
We spent our first day wandering around the city. You sort of have to do the markets, because they have some very cute things. Their Christmas decorations are beautiful. When I returned the following December, the Christmas markets were filled with gorgeous decorations. We took a walk up to the castle, a good portion of which you can wander around free of charge. It is quite pretty, a nice walk too. Upon wandering back, we were starving – so we visited the restaurants around the square to see what was appealing. Turns out, it’s all good and very cheap. If you can only try one food whilst you’re there, it has to be meat pierogi. They’re these amazing golden parcels of dough with meat inside. They’re like a dumpling, or a pie without the messy crumbly pastry.
We first visited Wieliczka Salt Mine and I get it, a salt mine doesn’t exactly sound like a riveting day out. But it is incredible. The salt mine is filled with intricate sculptures made entirely of – you guessed it – salt. Many of these are religious symbols, and every one is quite beautiful. As well as sculptures, there is a Cathedral down there. Made of salt. An actual cathedral, where you can get married. It’s amazing. I’m quite claustrophobic, but the areas underground are so spacious, they didn’t phase me. However, there are a ridiculous number of steps, which is not very accessible. On the way back up, there is a lift, honestly, the most terrifying lift I have ever been in. They shoved about 10 of us in this tiny thing and it was a scary ride up, but quite a funny memory.
Auschwitz was the second place we visited, and was as sombre as you would expect. At first, I was against visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau, as I thought they immortalised the atrocities of the time. But Auschwitz is not about Hitler, it is an important monument standing to commemorate every victim of the Holocaust. It serves to remind us that such vile acts should never happen in our world. You are guided through the atrocities that happen there, educated in a way that cannot be done without seeing. It is horrific, but it’s a must if you are able to visit. A quote sits on the wall of Auschwitz, surveying each visitor, reminding you of exactly why you have come to such a place: “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again” – George Santayana.
Krakow’s City Tours end at the Jewish Quarter, allowing you to tour Schindler’s Factory. This is an ideal experience after the concentration camps, as it is more sombre after you’ve seen that. Schindler’s List is also a must watch before the trip, despite being an amazing film, it is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. The Jewish Quarter tour also takes you to beautiful synagogues and cathedrals with golden altars. Other areas on the tour include the area surrounding the castle, the main square, and other points of interest in Krakow. The tour takes place in a golf cart, with blankets in case you get cold, and plastic sheets around the sides in case it rains. Audio recites the history of Krakow, and the knowledgeable guides will often tell bonus interesting facts about certain areas. The tours are done privately, with only your group. They are a set price no matter how many people are on it, so they’re perfect for splitting between six on a rainy day.
Krakow’s bars are incredible and inexpensive. You can spend all day there and spend nowhere near what you would spend in the UK. Many of them are underground, quiet with exposed brick walls and very good drinks. Polish vodka is obviously the way to go in this country. A bar we visited, which we affectionately named “Pub Pub”, as it had two signs outside saying “Pub”, served flavoured Polish vodka Soplica, an older brand of Polish vodka. It came to about £1 per shot, and it’s nothing like the terrible alcohol you’d pay £1 for in Britain. There were all sorts of flavours, to name a few: strawberry, mint, raspberry and best of all, quince. We drank the bar dry of that vodka by the end of the holiday. But please, it’s nice vodka, don’t shot it, sip it while you have a chat.
All in all, Krakow is a beautiful, fun, affordable city break, which isn’t too overwhelming if you’re not a huge travel fan. It’s a place you can take at your own pace, and you’ll almost definitely want to return.