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Thursday, 15 August 2019

A Brief City Break in Krakow, Poland

Photo of Wawel Royal Castle, Krakow






I can't quite believe it's been eight months since I last published a post on this blog. I've now come to terms with the fact that life will always get in the way one way or another and I'll probably dip in and out of blogging until I decide to delete it altogether when I'm old and grey (already going grey at 28 so that's a bit awkward...) Although I've been neglecting my blog, my love for travelling hasn't waned in the slightest but if it's not on the internet, did I really even go on holiday? Well, yes actually but I do need to get my backside in gear and get typing! I'm nearly a year late in bringing you the highlights of my adventures in Krakow, Poland but it's a gem of a place that's worth the wait.

Where to stay...


We love to keep it basic when it comes to accommodation, unless we're paying for luxury, of course. We stayed in the Mercure Krakow Stare Miasto hotel; 3 nights and 4 days cost us £220pp with flights included from Manchester. I'd highly recommend it, we had a great experience - the staff were fantastic, it was clean, modern and in a great location. It's located less than a 5 minute walk from Krakow's main train station and 10 minutes from the Old Town.

Seeing the sights...


1. Stare Miasto (Old Town) 


A trip to Krakow isn't complete without a visit to the main square. Better known as Stare Miasto in Polish, it's a vibrant, busy hub packed full of gothic buildings and medieval architecture. It's no surprise that the entire area is listed as one of UNESCO's world heritage sites, it's simply stunning. You'll find St Mary's Basilica in the Old Town and for 10 PLN (approx £2.15) it's well worth a visit inside to experience the incredible gothic interiors. There are churches and sculptures in abundance and you'll also never be short of places to eat or grab a cuppa here if you need a well-earned rest.

Photo of Krakow Old Town Photo of St Mary's Basilica, Krakow

2. Wawel Royal Castle 


Wawel Royal Castle is one of the largest castles in Poland and is situated in the most beautiful grounds. The mismatched buildings really add to the character; colours of gold, cream, terracotta and green. We wanted to pay the admission fee to view the Royal Apartments, however, our lack of planning really didn't do us any favours. We arrived around 1:30pm and all of the tickets were already sold out for that day - we were advised that the only way to get tickets without booking in advance via the website is to turn up before 9am. If you visit in November like us, it's also worth noting that the last admission during the winter season is 3pm. While it was disappointing that we missed out on the Royal Apartments, the grounds were breathtaking and we were also lucky enough to watch the sun set over the Vistula River; a perfect opportunity to snap some pretty pictures. 

Top tip: make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes because let's just say the walk up to the castle is on a bit of an incline!

Photo of Wawel Royal Castle, Krakow

3. Oskar Schindler's Factory 


We hopped on the train and a 10 minute journey took us to Oskar Schindler's Factory. I'm a huge history buff so I couldn't wait for this experience, however, I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed if I'm being completely honest. I was expecting a museum based on Oskar Schindler's story, yet there is barely any mention of him throughout the tour, it is more of a general overview of the Nazi occupation of Poland. It seems they've missed a bit of a trick not dedicating the site to the incredible work of Schindler in my opinion! Again, one of the biggest tips I can give you is to book your tickets online in advance, the place was so busy and we had to wait 2 hours before we could enter. We've never really had to do this anywhere else in Europe but it seems to be the done thing in Krakow. Although it wasn't quite what we had been expecting, we still enjoyed our trip; it was interesting and informative and an important part of history all the same.

Photo of Oskar Schindler's Factory, Krakow Photo of Oskar Schindler's Factory

4. Kazimierz


The wonderful, historic Jewish quarter of Krakow! There's such a cool, chilled vibe in this area and it's lovely to enjoy walking around along the narrow, cobbled streets. Kazimierz has been an important cultural place in the city since the 13th century, especially since the fall of the Communist regime. Steven Spielberg filmed many scenes for his film Schindler's List here and it thankfully led to a revival of the area that had previously been left to deteriorate. I would highly recommend visiting the Old Synagogue. It's the oldest synagogue left in Poland; it was resurrected in the 1950s after it was destroyed during World War II. Not only is it beautiful, it's extremely educational.

Photo of Kazimierz, Krakow

5. Auschwitz-Birkenau


Auschwitz is a place that I believe everyone should have to experience at least once in their lifetime. It's bone chilling, harrowing and although it's very busy, it's so silent you could hear a pin drop. Nearly a year after visiting, I still find it difficult to comprehend the horror that occurred there -experiencing the location really forces you to confront the reality.

Photo of Auschwitz Arbeit Macht Frei Sign


The memorial is based in Oswiecim, around a 1.5 hour drive from Krakow. We opted for a group tour and made our own way there via a private taxi booked through our hotel. Our taxi driver was so helpful and informative and prepared us for what we should expect when we got there. He also waited for us at Auschwitz and then took us to Birkenau, which is around 15 minutes from the first camp. You can get a shuttle bus that runs hourly between the two, but we were grateful that we didn't have any time restrictions. If I were ever to visit again, I would prefer to book an individual tour as time was limited in some areas being part of a group and sometimes felt a little rushed when we wanted to take our time to absorb the information. Due to high demand, it's essential to book online 3-4 months in advance in order to secure the date and time that is suitable for you. Entry is free without a guide but you will be refused entry without a relevant ticket. I'd recommend reserving 3-4 hours to ensure that you get the most out of the tour.

Although it should be a given, if you do decide to take a trip to Auschwitz, please remain respectful at all times. Unfortunately, we witnessed some disrespectful behaviour from a few of the visitors; think inappropriate selfies and using the train tracks that carried people into the concentration camp as a balancing beam (!!). While it is now deemed to be a "tourist attraction", millions of people lost their lives in at the hands of a brutal regime and we need to be really mindful of that. The staff and guides do a fantastic job of keeping the memory of the victims alive, they really do deserve a lot of credit for bringing their stories to millions of visitors every year.

Photo of Auschwitz Concentration Camp Photo of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Let me know in the comments below if you have any other recommendations while visiting Krakow.

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Vienna, Bratislava, Lake Bled, Ljubliana