We arrived into Krakow at 7.30am, bleary eyed after our uncomfortable overnight train from Prague. It was a 15 minute walk to our accommodation (Shishkin Art Hostel) and luckily we were able to dump our things, shower and relax in the communal lounge for a couple of hours before heading out for the day.
It was a short walk from the hostel to the Old Town and on the way we stumbled across a congregation of stalls, wild flowers fashioned into bouquets and halos for children, live Polish music, singing and the delicious smell of something frying. Following our noses, we realised we’d accidentally arrived at the end of a week-long Pierogi festival! Pierogis are small Polish dumplings usually filled with a savoury mix of meat and vegetables, which are then fried or boiled. There was row upon row of Pierogi stalls, with each one claiming to sell the best in town. There were meat dumplings, vegetarian dumplings, and even some filled with chocolate – which Gary tried of course! I had found a vegan kebab shop on our walk into the city and had already eaten a kebab bigger than my head so there was no chance of me fitting any Pierogis in!
We continued down into the Old Town Square and spent the morning walking around and seeing where everything was. It seemed unusually busy; the square was buzzing with people taking photos and queuing to get into the museums. It’s a pretty small square/ central area so we were able to cover most of it in the morning. As part of our walk, we went to go to the market but discovered it was shut as it was a Polish bank holiday – which also explained why the square was so busy!
In the afternoon, we walked 20 minutes south to explore Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter which was the centre of Jewish life in Krakow for hundreds of years before being destroyed in World War II. We both loved this bohemian neighbourhood – the small streets were lined with bars and restaurants which were overflowing on to the pavement and filled with people relaxing in the sunshine with a coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. This vibrant and colourful area has an abundance of cool bars, food stalls, gardens, architecture, art galleries, cafes and historical sites. It’s also where you’ll find the Schindler Museum (more on that below) and the Plac Bohaterow Getta square (or Ghetto Heroes Square in English). Commemorating the Krakow Ghetto, the square is filled with a collection of metal chairs secured into the ground. These chairs are a tribute to the thousands of people once forced to remove all furniture and belongings from their houses, piling the items in the square, before they were sent to concentration camps.
We both opted for traditional Polish dishes for dinner in Kazimierz; Gary tried ‘Zapiekanka’, which is basically half a french stick sprinkled with cheese and topped with meat or vegetables of your choosing. I enjoyed a huge steaming bowl of beetroot soup, which was as delicious as it was pink! On our walk, we discovered a bar with loads of outdoor seating – mostly in the form of deck chairs. On realising it was ‘half price Monday’, we reclined with a 90p tankard of beer and soaked up the evening sunshine. Perfect!
On our second day, we had planned to head to Auschwitz but found out the evening before that you had to reserve tickets in advance and they were sold out for all the days we were in Krakow. So instead, we decided to climb to the top of the Wawel Castle complex. It was (thankfully) only a short walk uphill to reach the top, where we paid to explore the Cathedral, museum, underground tombs and the ‘Dragon’s Den’; an underground walk which takes you through damp, chilly caves under the castle and emerges next to the river back on the lower ground level.
Afterwards, we had a chance to explore the Old Town Square with a little less people than the day before and spent time looking at the different market stalls selling handcrafted toys, clothes, trinkets, amber jeweller, wooden goods, foods and furs (boo). We also ventured up to the market, stopping at St. Mary’s Basilica, Krakow Barbican and St. Florian’s Gate on the way, before stocking up on some cheap fruit and local handmade chocolates for Gary!
We wanted to climb to the top of the Town Hall Tower which offers views over the square below but unfortunately for us, it was Krakow’s ‘free day’; all museums have to have one day that is completely free for visitors. You have to reserve a ticket, but you don’t actually pay for the attraction. So all tickets for the Tower and for the museum underneath Cloth Hall, which we also wanted to visit, were sold out. We enjoyed a relaxing lunch in the sunshine instead – I found an award-winning vegan burger joint and enjoyed what is probably the best burger I’ve ever eaten!
In the afternoon, Gary decided to call Auschwitz to double check whether we definitely needed tickets as he was very keen to visit. They advised him that if he was arrive at 8am when the doors open, they have a very limited number they can give away for non-guided visits. After another trip to our favourite deck chair bar, we headed back for an early night so that we could get up early for Auschwitz. On the way home we passed a gelato stall so Gary could get an ice cream; I was very excited to discover they also had a number of vegan flavours and scoffed down a big scoop of chocolate brownie!
Gary got up at 5am to catch the 1.5hr bus to the Auschwitz camp, managing to grab THE LAST available ticket into the camp. I decided to head to the Schindler Museum instead which is inside Oskar Schindler’s original factory. It was a really interesting museum which is worth the probable half an hour queue – you could easily spend 2-4 hours inside. The museum tells the story of Krakow during World War II, specifically focusing on Oskar Schindler who saved the lives of around 1200 people who worked inside his factory. He was an extraordinary man, and it’s fascinating to read about his life and his incredible efforts. There’s a lot of information about the horrific treatment of Jews and the terrifying organisation of the Nazi Party. It’s well worth a visit.
It rained for the first time in our whole trip as I left the museum, and it rained HARD! I had a half an hour walk back to the hostel afterwards and was soaked through by the time I got back so I spent the last two hours before our train to Warsaw desperately trying to dry my clothes with a hairdryer!
Early afternoon it was time for us to catch our next train – a 2.5hr journey from Krakow to Warsaw. The trains were great! Loads of space, comfortable seats, free tea and coffee, plug sockets and TVs! Definitely a step up from good old Greater Anglia!!