I initially chose Krakow for its history and its cultural richness. I had previously visited several other Eastern European cities and enjoyed exploring their quaint streets and admiring the beautiful buildings. Krakow is no exception but it has so many hidden gems that one visit may not be enough.
The famous Rynek Market Square is the central point in the city where people will congregate and embark on free walking tours, or you can ride in style on a horse and carriage tour. Taking centre stage is the Cloth Hall that, way back in the 14th century, was quite possibly the World’s first shopping mall. Here you will find stalls selling everything from lace to souvenirs.
The city’s famous melodious bugle call takes place from the left tower of St Mary’s Basilica every hour. This tradition is carried out between seven firemen who share a rota to climb an exhausting 239 steps each time they play: they must ring the church bell and play exactly on the hour. Inside the Basilica, you will see the world renowned 15th century wooden altar which took an incredible 12 years to carve.
Wawel Castle lies above the banks of the Vistula river perched on top of a hill and is a must see! You can choose to go inside for a small fee but it is not necessary; you can walk around and appreciate the architecture from the castle grounds also. The castle is a symbol of national pride, hope and self-rule and it adds an element of charm to a city which had a difficult past.
If you’ve seen the film ‘Schindler’s List’, you will remember that Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist who was credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews, who he employed in his factory during WWII. Schindler’s Factory is now a museum which not only features the story of Oskar Schindler but also covers the German occupation of Krakow.
And, when you’ve finished, you can catch a golf buggy style taxi from outside the museum back into the city for the equivalent of about £3.
Wherever you stay in this compact city, you are within walking distance of nearly all the attractions – and exploring on foot is all part of the Krakow experience. The Jewish quarter is like a town within the city. There are synagogues found on almost every street corner, each with its own individual style inside: it’s definitely worth popping your head around the door! This area also has many lovely cafes and restaurants, some of which feel like you’re in someone’s living room! But don’t be put off: some of the best food I sampled was in these smaller family run establishments.
14 kms outside the city you will find the incredible Wieliczka Salt Mines: a labyrinth of tunnels that extends to more than 300 kms over nine levels. The amazing salt sculptures create an eeriness as you take the famous Pilgrims’ Route through this amazing UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage listed site. The attraction can be reached by train, bus or an organised tour from Krakow.
For many visitors to Krakow, an essential pilgrimage is a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. This UNESCO World Heritage listed site has been renovated into a museum where you can learn about what happened during the years of the Holocaust.
The second concentration camp – Birkenau – is as it was left in 1945. This is a very emotional and thought provoking day but nevertheless was an incredible experience.
Time Difference: + 1 hour
Currency: £1 equals roughly 5 Zloty
Flying Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
· Prebook Wieliczka Salt Mine Tickets to avoid long queues
· For some local flavour, try a Paczek (Polish doughnut) in Cloth Hall Market