Most people don’t think of Poland when they think of the ultimate European vacation. However, I believe Krakow has plenty to offer, and is definitely a city everyone should see and experience at least once in their lives. With the extremely affordable accommodation options, happening night life, copious amounts of cheap vodka, and plenty of diverse history at your fingertips, Krakow is a perfect destination for a long weekend. Being of Polish descent (my surname is Polish and my great-great-grandfather immigrated from Poland in the early 1900’s), I was also anxious to finally checkout a country of my own heritage. Poland also marks my first Eastern-European country.
Main Market Square (Rynek)
The Main Market Square is the largest medieval and deemed the most romantic square of all of Europe. It is the home to the famous Saint Mary’s Basilica, the Adam Mickiewicz statue (which was destroyed and then rebuilt with a secret piece of dynamite symbolizing revolt during Nazi occupation), the famous Christmas Market, and underground museum. Most free walking tours will begin at the town square. During our time in Kraków, we took two, including a tour themed around the serial killers, ghosts, and vampires that still linger in Kraków.
At the end of the Macabre Serial Killer Tour
St. Mary’s Basilica
A Gothic-style basilica constructed of bricks (for the simple reason that Poland didn’t have the funding to construct the structure with stone), this is perhaps one of the most iconic buildings in Kraków. Every hour, a trumpet called the Hejnał mariacki, is played from the top of the taller tower. Legend has it that there were two brothers who constructed either tower. One was jealous of the other’s, and later committed suicide by jumping off the top.
Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral
The Wawel Royal Castle is the most historically and important attraction in Poland. For centuries, all of Poland’s royalty resided here. Perhaps one of the most popular folklores to go along with the Wawel Castle is about the Dragon. Legend has it that the Wawel Dragon used to destroy the countryside, eat livestock, and murder civilians. The Dragon especially enjoyed eating virgins, and could only be kept under control if a young girl was sacrificed in front of the Dragon’s cave once a month. King Krakus, the city’s founder, was not having any of this. He tried to hire Knights to slay the dragon, but to no avail. Eventually, the only virgin left was the King’s daughter, Wanda. So, the King promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could defeat the dragon. One day, a poor cobbler’s apprentice named Skuba killed, gutted, and then stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon’s cave. The dragon ate the sulfur and soon became incredibly thirsty. Turning to the Vistula River for relief, he drank and drank and drank. Unfortunately, no amount of water could quench his thirst, and he exploded. In the end, Skuba married Wanda, and the two of them lived happily ever after.
One of my main motivations for coming to Krakow was to learn more about anti-semitism during World War II. One afternoon, I wandered around the Jewish Quarter (and former ghetto) of Krakow. I also spent a good hour in the Schindler’s Factory, which is a museum devoted to the history of Krakow’s Jewish population during Nazi Occupation. There is also a free walking tour of the Jewish Quarter offered daily.
Wieliczka Salt Mines
If you have the time, a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mines (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), is a great way to spice things up. The mine was built in the 13th century, and was still producing salt until 2007, making it one of the world’s oldest salt mines still in operation. There are three different levels in the mine, the lowest point being at 327 meters, or 1,073 feet underground. It is also 178 miles long. Throughout the mine, there are statues, three chapels, scenes including the Slaughter of the Innocent, and an entire cathedral– all carved out of salt. You can even lick the walls!
Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp
Auschwitz has always been something I have wanted to see, and was my main motivation for coming to Krakow. We spent an entire day at Auschwitz- check out my blog post about my experience here.
Eats and Drinks
Poland is known for vodka, sausage, and banging nights out. We experienced all three of these things and more. My new favorite Polish food is pierogi.
During my time in Poland, we stayed at Mosquito Hostel, which I highly recommend. Our hostel offered cheap airport drop-off and pick up, free breakfast and dinner, and exclusive nights out. They also arrange and organize tours as needed.
I highly recommend Krakow if you are looking for a way to kill 3-4 days in eastern Europe. For my friend Anne’s take on the trip, check out her post here.
What was your favorite picture of Krakow?