Áine Kenny gives us the low down on what to see and do while visiting Krakow, Poland.
1. Main city walking tour
Krakow is a very pretty city, filled with cobblestone streets, churches and old buildings. I recommend doing a walking tour of the city to really explore it. There are free walking tours you can go on whereby you give your guide a tip at the end, depending on their performance. Most tours go through the main square and old town, where you can experience a true old European shopping and restaurant district, quite different to the Georgian and Medieval structures we have at home. Go into the cloth hall where you can see market stalls in an arcade like set up, where beautiful amber jewelry is on sale. Also stop for an ice cream, try the sorbets- Krakow is usually hot in the summer so you will need one! Don’t forget to go into some churches too, St Mary’s Basilica is very beautiful.
2. Wawel Castle
This castle is up a steep climb, quite difficult on a hot day and after an early flight, but the views and architecture are just spectacular. You can pay for a guided tour (from €23) but there is really no need, just take in the pretty rooms and courtyards, with golden domes decorating the ornate buildings. The gardens are spectacular also, located right at the top where you can see a panoramic view of the whole city and the Vistula river.
3. Jewish quarter walking tour
There is a separate walking tour for the Jewish quarter and ghetto of Krakow. The Jewish quarter is quite well preserved, and you will be taken to many locations you will recognise from Schindler’s List: the white staircase and Schindler’s factory itself. There is also an amazing art display on Father Bernatek Footbridge on the way to the ghetto, where there are sculpture acrobats suspended on the beams of the bridge. This tour is tinged with sadness, as many of the synagogues were burned and destroyed by the Nazis during World War Two. Poland used to have a massive Jewish population, and it was severely diminished by the Holocaust. Finish by the Holocaust memorial, which are empty chairs in an eerie square, one for every concentration camp.
Auschwitz is nearly two hours away from Krakow and you can get there by bus (direct) or train (get off at Oświęcim and there’s a twenty-minute walk). Make sure to book your tickets in advance, have a form of ID like a passport, money to check your bag in (no backpacks are allowed) and prepare to be searched with a metal detector. Auschwitz is actually just one of the concentration camps that is in the area, Birkenau is still standing with some reconstructed buildings, and it was even bigger than Auschwitz. If you are easily upset I would strongly recommend you prepare yourself for what they have on display in Auschwitz. They have piles of glasses, suitcases, clothes (including children’s), and most macabre of all, mountains of human hair that was shorn off the Jewish people before they were killed in the gas chambers. You are also allowed to enter these chambers, and words cannot describe the heavy feeling that settles in your heart when you fully understand the magnitude of the numbers you read in your history books. However, it is important for society to see these horrors, and to never forget the past.
5. Night life
Krakow has great pub crawls, and if you are staying in a hostel they usually have one organised for their guests. I recommend Buddha bar for a nice outdoor experience and good cocktails. For chill indoor drinks, try Multi Qlti tap bar. They have a great selection of craft beers and they also allow you to bring food inside. As for nightclubs, there are plenty about, just see which promoter gives you a good deal.