Top 7 Must Do's in Krakow
I'm finally back from our 9 day trip to Poland! We got back last Thursday, but I've been procrastinating slightly since getting back because I always find it difficult to get back into the swing of things.
I'm no stranger to international travel, but this was my first time traveling to Poland. I've always heard great things about Krakow, but I didn't have any strong opinions about it one way or another. I figured I'll get there and I'll judge it personally. I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed my stay and we had such a great time. Krakow is an incredibly elegant and culturally rich city that somehow managed to not get destroyed by the Nazis during WWII. Soaring Gothic churches and architecture tower over the city and cobblestone line the streets. Their food was surprisingly delicious and unbelievably cheap. We honestly lived like kings and spent no more than $20 USD a day! With this being my first time to Krakow, I thought it would be fitting to include my top 7 things every first timer to Krakow must do.
Main Market Square and St. Marys Church
The main square market (Rynek Glown) is the central hub of Krakow. The square is surrounded by beautiful pastel colored buildings. The square is lined with cafes and restaurants - each offering something different. Over looking the Square is St. Mary's Church. You can take a tour of the interior and climb the bell tower for a small fee.
Free walking tours are available in many different languages. Feel free to sign up for one or simply jump into a current one. Horse and carriage rides are found in the square and for a fee you can choose from several different scenic options. You can ride like a king through the cobbled streets with your own personal guided horse and carriage. This is another great way to take in the sites while sitting back and relaxing.
This museum is located directly under the market square and was a result of an archaeological dig done between 2005 - 2010. The museum covers over 1,000 years of history showcasing the underground vaults and artifacts uncovered within. This museum relies heavily on technology with their use of interactive touch-screen displays highlighting life before Krakow. Make sure to visit the vampire prevention burials from the 11th century. This is an incredibly immersive museum and allows for everyone to get their hands on history.
Tip: This is an INCREDIBLY popular attraction and is limited to only 300 people at any time. Tickets should be bought in advance since you are given an entrance time. We bought ours 2 days beforehand to avoid long lines.
Sitting atop Wawel hill is the impressive Wawel Castle. It is visible from almost every angle of the city and is the crown jewel of Krakow. It's truly an impressive display of dramatic spires and gold plated domes. It's an easy walk from the main market square - no more than 10 minutes. Tickets are available for individual sale for specific exhibits: the church, state rooms, coat of arms etc. Be sure to keep your eye out for the Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski), he's said to dwell in the cave below the castle.
Tip: Make sure to arrive early because there are a limited number of tickets available for the day and they do sell out.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Located about 10 miles from the center of Krakow in the town of Wieliczka, is one of the number one attractions in the area - the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Although the mining of salt ceased in 2007, that hasn't stopped tourists and continues to be a major draw. The salt mine is home to a large collection of salt carved statues, but the highlight hands-down is the incredible underground cathedral. The St. Kinga Chapel is located within the mine itself and is made entirely out of salt. A guided tour of the mine is available and is offered in many different languages. The tour itself is about 2-1/2 hours and requires you to traverse an over 800 step descent. The tour is only accessible by walking, so for those who have difficulty with this I would suggest you to pass this one up. There are many stairs and the ground is uneven in some areas,
Tip: Be sure to check beforehand what time specific language guides are available.
A place that doesn't need an introduction - Auschwitz. Being in a place drenched with such a dark and disturbing past was incredibly overwhelming. Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau is located about 40 miles west of Krakow in the city of Oswiecim. More than 1.1 million people died in these camps - whether from disease, over exertion or simply gas chamber extermination. The concentration camp is comprised of 2 locations - the main camp (Auschwitz I) and the overflow (Auschwitz II-Birkenau). There is no entrance fee for either camp, but there is a parking fee which was roughly $2 USD. To enter the main camp, you are given a return time so I HIGHLY suggest getting there early so receive your time early in advance. We arrived around 2PM and had roughly 3-1/2 hours to kill before we were able to enter. While you wait to enter the main camp, there are buses available that shuttle to and from Auschwitz II. The bus ride is free and is about a 10 min ride from the main parking lot. Give yourself a lot of time to take in the atmosphere of both locations. It's definitely a life altering experience and very hard to put into words.
Oskar Schindler Museum and Factory
Located south east of Krakow across the Vistula river lies the former enamel factory of Oskar Schindler. Currently a museum, Oskar Schindler employed about 1,200 Jews from the ghetto - essentially protecting them from being sent to the Plaszow labor camp. The museum doesn't focus as much on Schindler as I thought it would - it focuses more on the Nazi occupation in Poland. This is a really cool museum with a lot of interactive exhibits and is home to an abundant display of artifacts from WWII. For those with children under the age of 13, I suggest skipping this attraction. Some of the videos and photos are graphic and may not be suitable. Tickets were roughly $12.50 USD per person and gives you access to the entire museum which is 3 floors. Also, make sure to give yourself a lot of time - there is a lot to look at so plan on spending 2+ hours.
I really hope you liked this comprehensive list of the top things every first timer should do in Krakow. I had a list myself of all the things I wanted to do, but we ran out of time. Since this was my first time visiting I wanted to make the best of the short time we had and I felt like we did. Although we didn't do everything I wanted to do, that just gives me a reason to go back.