When I first booked up to visit Krakow, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. But I’m glad I did. Walking from the Glowny train station and through into the cobbled streets of the old town, it was easy to see that the streets were thriving with entertainment. Rows upon rows of shops lined the streets, as well as restaurants, bars and food vendors. I have no doubt that there is something to do here for everyone. Here a few of the main highlights that I recommend for first time and returning visitors to Krakow.
Main Market Square
Being a Glaswegian, I’m not shy of a good square – George Square, St Enoch Square, Princes Square, Merchant Square, Blythswood Square, Royal Exchange Square – and that’s just the city centre! But Krakow’s Main Market Square really pushed the boat out with their free square space. If my local knowledge is right, the square dates back to around the 13th century is named as one of the largest medieval town squares. And upon arrival, we had no doubt about its grandeur. My only issue was that it was really difficult to encompass the entire square in one picture!
All around, the square is outlined with elegant townhouses, historical buildings, culture and sights. Placed bang right in the centre you will find Cloth Hall. Probably the first thing that will catch your eye whatever direction you enter. On the ground level you will find a cute little market selling souvenirs, crafts, clothes and handmade goods. A perfect starting point for anyone new to the city. Upstairs you can wander around the museum and exhibitions to learn more about the city’s trading past.
Cloth Hall is not the only historical landmark on the square. St. Mary’s Basilica tries to hid itself right in the corner of the square, but with its gothic architecture and overbearing towers, it stick out like a sore thumb. (A beautiful one at that!!). As well as this, the outsides of the square are lined with restaurants and bars selling both local and foreign cuisine, and this leads me directly into my next activity: eating! After eating, and as the sun goes down, you could take a romantic horse & cart ride around the town.
The food in Krakow was so diverse and delicious that I’ve dedicated a whole blog post to it here. But I couldn’t leave it off this list. When our time wasn’t spent visiting sites, it was tracking down local foods. We were lucky enough to find a local market just one street off the main square that allowed us to try all the traditional street foods, including Pierogi, oscypek, zapiekanki and a wide range of soups. Surrounding streets also serve amazing pizza, German sausages and kebabs that are truly irresistible. May I also recommend Charlotte’s bakery, amazing fresh bread adn pastries for very very reasonable prices.
Wawel Royal Castle
Once you’ve eaten all you can, and tried your very best to capture every corner of the Main Market Square in a photo, take a stroll down Gradzka towards the Wawel Royal Castle. (Grodzka itself has some amazing food place, cafes and shops. Fun fact, my hotel was on this street!).
Wawel Castle consists of several 14th century buildings surrounding a large coutyard. And like every other great castle, it’s perched on top of a very steep hill. But don’t be put off by the cliff edge, there is a steady walking route up to the top. Not only will you be able to get great views of the castle and city, but also the Vistula River which it looks over. You might also spot the fire-breathing dragon down by the river as well!
Now it’s not really a pinball MUSEUM as such, rather a quirky basement filled with endless pinball machines and a very amazing arcade games (which I enjoyed most!). Machines date back from the late 70s right up to modern day. Entry to the museum gets you a wristband so you can leave and come back and play again. There’s also a bar where you can grab a beer while you play.
Krakow offered a wide variety of tours, whic you could easily purchase from tourist shops. They certainly weren’t short on free walking tours. Brightly coloured umbrellas filled the market square; small flags on top flapping in the cold September air signifying the tours language – french, Spanish, german, english, polish.
One of the main pulling points that attracted me to Krakow was the opportunity to visit Auschwitz concentration camp. Again, I dedicated an entire post to it here where I go into detail about my experience.
Auschwitz was the site where millions of Jewish German and Polish prisoners were murdered as part of the Nazi regime during WW2. It was a very draining and overwhelming day, but so important to go and understand. As well as spread the word so such an atrocity can’t happen again. An absolute must visit.
We took a guided tour which was very insightful and personalised. On a whole, our day to Auschwitz lasted around 8 hours including travel there and back. Very physically and emotionally tiring, but so worth it.
I believe travelling is about getting educated on new histories, cultures and creeds, and that’s exactly what Auschwitz delivered.
The salt mines were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Located down in the depths, it took us a good 42 flights of stairs to reach our starting point. Again, another tour you need good sturdy knees!
We were taken round and down and up a number of intricate paths, caves and rooms, all of which taught us the mining history and life of a miner in Krakow. Not an easy job I must say, at times even I felt quite claustrophobic thinking of the scale of the mine and how far underground we were.
But my mind was put to ease when we came across the large open chapel, which our tour guide explained held mass here every Sunday! There were also rooms people hired out for functions, parties and concerts. The salt in the air and walls is apparently great for sound, but not so good for camera flashes *sad face*.
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