By Emilie. It might not be your first choice of city break, but maybe it should be.
I’d never thought to visit Krakow. In the long line of European cultural capitals to visit (Rome, Paris, Barcelona, et al…) it never seemed to get even nearly close to the top of the list. However, a result of it being dirt cheap and having a large volume of very stylish airbnb apartments I found myself there this spring for the first time, and I have to say that it’s one of my favourite places I’ve visited. Possibly ever.
Maybe it was the gorgeous hot weather or the fact that this was Krakow Take Two, after our first attempt at the trip was cancelled by the Beast from the East snowstorm a couple of months ago. Or maybe it’s just because this place is awesome – a near-perfect collision of culture, history and hedonism. Whatever your take on it, here’s my list of the must-do’s in Poland’s cultural gem…
1) Hang out in Main Square. It’s one of the biggest medieval squares in Europe at 40,000m squared, so make sure you really drink it in, literally, by positioning yourself at one of the many tables and chairs dotted around to people watch to your heart’s content. The Aperol Spritz and Daquiris just fell onto the table of course.
2) Get one of the golf cart tours. You might sneer at them when you first arrive (guilty as charged) but they’re actually a great way to get your bearings in the city and introduce you to the places to see – the Jewish Quarter, Ghetto and Old Town. The driver will also wait for you outside any sights you want to get a closer look at. For the more adventurous among us, there’s Segway tours. Hmmm.
3) Walk around the Jewish Quarter. One of the best things about Krakow is that it’s wonderfully compact, so make sure you leave aside some time to just mosey around, particularly around the cobbled streets of Kazimierz. There’s plenty of cool street art, cafes and a flea market at the Jewish Square to check out and enjoy. Expect to see a mix of antiques, jewellery, and a good selection of vintage vinyl.
4) Visit Schlinder’s Factory. Let’s be real; museums on holiday can sometimes be hard work, especially when the weather is glorious outside. There were no such qualms with this place, however. It’s not quite what was expected; it was more of an overall history of WWII than Oskar Schindler himself, but the focus on people-led storytelling kept it grounded and totally heart-wrenching. Fascinating.
5) Following on from this, it goes without saying that Auschwitz is a must-do when you’re in Krakow. Haunting and emotive, it’s something that you have to see to appreciate the full scale of the horror of what happened. Totally humbling.
6) Take a river cruise. Yes, it may be super-touristy but it made a refreshingly breezy break from the bustle – afterwards we had time to quench our thirst with the crowds on the restaurant boats that were docked on the side of the river.
7) The Salt Mine is also a must-visit. I didn’t have high hopes for this, following on from the disappointingly dull underground museum at the Main Square. However, from the moment you’re trying not to trip down countless stairs underground to when you step into the great hall, which is something like a dwarven palace out of The Lord of the Rings (yes, I am a dork) you know it’s well worth the money.
8) Lost Souls Alley. This won’t be for everyone, but if you have a predilection for horror movies and fancy a change of pace from the museums, then this could be right up your street. Hidden up a gloomy-looking alley, it’s essentially a terror-fuelled escape room. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted but it is very, very fun.
9) Eat brunch. Perfectly placed to mop up all those vodka tasting hangovers are the multitude of amazing brunch places in Krakow. As someone with a current obsession for eggs, all ways, I had ample opportunity to sample them in a mix of chilled, hipster cafes with friendly-albeit-slightly-slower-than-desired service.
I’d also recommend the traditional Polish dumplings which are filled with meat or cheese. Tasty, but incredibly filling, say hello to an instant food baby.
Have you been to Krakow? What was your favourite thing you did?
Drop us a comment below!