This is a guest post by Nic and Paul of The Roaming Renegades. The blog chronicles their escape from the 9-5, reports on their experiences, gives advice and offers destination guides. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter too!
We visited Krakow late last year and were blown away by its beauty, history and culture. We had heard great things about this city but the depth of our admiration for it took us by surprise. By the time we had roamed its cobbled streets and weaved our way through its maze of bohemian districts we had fallen head over heels in love with it! It offers up so much for so less, it is full of exquisite architecture and rich culture but yet financially, it is one of the cheapest places we have ever visited!
Here are our top 5 things to do in Krakow!
1. Pay your respects at Auschwitz
A haunting and truly memorable place to visit, Auschwitz is somewhere which is difficult to stomach and will forever stay with you. But in that sense it is even more important to make the trip out from Krakow to this place of horror and suffering. To see the worst that humanity is capable of is an overwhelming torrent of emotion which is almost too much to take in. Walking on the grounds of the most infamous symbol of the Nazi regime, the death place of over 1.1 million people really brings into focus the need for the people of the world to overcome our differences and work together for peace.
How to visit
You can either book a tour from many stalls dotted around the city or even your hotel which will include a guide and transport. This usually costs around Zl: 100.
Or you can take the bus from the main station headed to Oswiecim (Zl 12 each way, buy singles as there are a few different bus companies on the route) and tour the site on your own.
Entrance to the camps is FREE and a shuttle bus runs between Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau.
2. Visit the ancient churches
Krakow really is the city of churches, each one spectacularly detailed and decorated and they represent an entrance to a world of color, artistry and devotion. No matter what you might think of religion or how strongly you feel, these churches are one of the most notable features of this grand old city. Many have survived generations of instability and war to stand as testament to the spirit of Krakow and its people. A visit would not be complete without silently taking in these awe inspiring architectural wonders and also observing the local passion for their religion.
Some of the most notable churches to visit are:
St. Mary’s Basilica:
Located in the centre of Old Town, this twin towered cathedral is the focal point for the city and one of Poland’s most important buildings.
At over 900 years old this church has seen plenty of history and monumental changes in Poland. It sits as part of the castle complex and contains the famous Royal Sigismund Bell.
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul:
This is one of the most beautiful and certainly one of our favorite churches! It was the first baroque building to be built in Krakow and it’s famous for its impressive white domed interior.
3. Climb the Town Hall Tower and take in the view
You cannot fail to notice the Town Hall tower whilst strolling through the Rynek. The massive gothic tower stands at 70 metres tall as it’s the last remaining section of the Old Town Hall. The walk up the narrow stairwell is a tough 100 steps but it is worth the effort for the amazing panoramic views of the city the tower affords! The tower also leans to one side by 55cm due to storms in 1703!
4. Explore the Wieliczka Salt Mines
Located 10 kilometers outside of the city itself, this UNESCO listed site is the pride of Poland and stands testament to generations of miners and their work ethic. It is one of the oldest salt mines in existence anywhere in the world, having produced salt from the 13th century right the way up until 2007. The mines themselves stretch for over 178 miles and most visits, which take around 3 hours, only cover 2% of that! The mines not only served as the work place for thousands of miners but they also made this place their own. One of the most spectacular features is the exquisite Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, a cathedral standing over 200ft below the surface and carved entirely out of salt. This really is a must see!
To visit the mines you must take a guide and as such the best way is to book a tour from either a stall in town or your hotel which will include transport as well!
5. Roam the Old Jewish district (Kazimierz) and Ghetto (Podgorze)
Old Town may be the main attraction for most visiting Krakow but make sure to visit the other fascinating districts this city has to offer, each with their own features and history. Kazimierz was once the bustling heart of the Jewish community in Krakow, which was infamously ripped apart by the occupying Germans. Although the Jewish community still hasn’t recovered to its pre-war numbers, many families have returned and their culture is celebrated on these streets. The area is also home to many of the alternative and artistic communities and has a distinct feel from the rest of the city. Much of this area hasn’t changed since the war and it is one of the reasons why Schindler’s list was filmed here. Make sure to explore its authentic and winding streets and also head over to the Old Synagogue to delve more into the history of the Polish Jews.
The Jewish Ghetto of Podgorze sits just over the river and was the place many of the events depicted in the Schindler’s list actually took place and as such a visit over here would not be complete without visiting Schindler’s factory itself. Now converted into a massive museum, telling the story of not just Schindler himself, but of the occupation of Krakow from the Nazi’s to the Soviets and paints a both fascinating and horrific picture of what the people of this city endured.