When I arrived in Krakow I checked into the backpackers, which was very conveniently located close to the main square of Krakow. If I were to suggest one thing, it would be to stay somewhere nearby to this square and you won’t be disappointed. After that I headed out for my first look at Poland. It wasn’t long and I discovered that I had arrived in Krakow at the perfect time as it was currently the Pierogi festival.
For those that don’t know these are similar to Asian dumplings and can be filled with almost anything from sweet to savoury. I wasted no time in lining up and ordering a good selection of different flavours. They were a very tasty snack indeed and something I could of eaten more of but I was saving room for dinner at a place our Busabout guide had suggested to us on our arrival into town. With this in mind I decided to venture further into the city and check out some of the amazing buildings that form the main square of Krakow. This square is so amazing in fact that Lonely Plant has voted this as the number 1 most beautiful square in Europe and once you are standing there it is very hard to disagree. The square is one of the largest medieval squares in Europe and dates back to the 13th century. It surrounds the famous Cloth Hall which dominates the center of the square, with the Town hall tower on one side and the 10th century Church of St. Adalbert and 1898 Adam Mickiewicz statue on the other. Everywhere you look on ground level there are restaurants for you to sit down and enjoy a meal or drink while soaking it all up.
Once I had finished walking through the square, which included checking out the markets and cool novelty shops selling your typical touristy collectables like postcards, small figurines of famous landmarks and fridge magnets I went and booked a time to visit the highest priority thing on my list while in Krakow, Auschwitz concentration camp.
That evening we met up as a group in the bar that our Busabout guide had suggested and got to enjoy some delicious polish food. I couldn’t look past the pork knuckle and slaw salad. It was a huge feed but one that was super delicious. The meat was practically falling of the bone. We got to wash this down with flavoured vodka shots (smoothest vodka I had ever tasted) and local beer. It was a very enjoyable evening and a nice way to welcome ourselves into Poland.
The next day I decided to do the free walking tour of Old Town Krakow (these tours are very popular throughout Europe). If you have never done one of these before they are a great way of seeing lots of landmarks of the city in a short space of time, as well as learning information about the cities past and certain important moments that have helped shape the city into what you are visiting now. On this particular tour we got to see and visit St. Mary’s ( Mariacki) Church, the Medieval city walls and the Barbican, the Town Hall Tower, John Paul II’s window, Grodzka Street, Kanonicza Street and finish at the Wawel Castle which is a residency castle. People have been known to have lived in this castle as far back as 50 thousand years ago during the Paleolithic Age. This castle is one of the largest in Poland and has 3 of the main architectural styles of Europe, medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. The castle was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978 as part of the historical center of Krakow. All up it took a little over 2 hours to complete tour but you leave feeling like you have achieved lots during this time. Even though they are called “free walking tours” the idea is to tip your guide at the end of the tour what you think it was worth.
From there I decided it was close enough to lunch time and there was only one thing I had my heart set on for lunch. A zapiekanka. What the bloody hell is this you might think… well it’s another one of Poland’s famous food options. To put it simply it’s an open faced sandwich of goodness, topped traditionally with sautéed mushrooms and cheese. Now days though it can come with all sorts of crazy toppings combinations like sausage, vegetables and cheese smothered in garlic or ketchup sauce. It is a must try for anyone visiting the area. I personally got mine from one of the vendors at Plac Nowy‘s in Okrąglak and was treated with a delicious lunch as a result .
After lunch I went and visited Schindler’s factory, this place is an amazing museum that tells the moving story of Oscar Schindler and his factory employees bravery during a horrible time in history. The museum itself is very popular so booking online in advance is certainly suggested and if you can manage, a top tip is to visit on a Monday when entry is free. Allow 2-3 hours out of your day to be able to enjoy it at a nice pace and see all that the museum has to offer. The rest of the day I spent exploring the quirky streets of Krakow and soaking in the amazing architecture on offer. I had ended the day with a quick trip back to the Pierogi festival to sample a few more flavours and had an early night ready for my day at the Auschwitz camp tomorrow.
I was up and at it pretty early on this morning and was feeling a little anxious at exactly what I might be confronted with today at the camp. I had breakfast on the run and met the group to start the hour long drive from Krakow to the concentration camp. Auschwitz camp was packed full of tourists and took a few moments to get through the gates and be introduced to our guide for the day. We were given earpieces and radios so we could hear the guide the whole time and started our tour. As expected this was an experience like know other. It is hard to put into words exactly what you feel when you hear and witness the atrocities that these people were subjected to.
A numbing experience is one way to describe it as I’m honestly not sure what emotions you could list, shock, anger and disbelief would all be appropriate at certain times throughout the tour. After visiting the concentration camp is over you also head out to the largest of the camp areas called Birkenau. This is where the majority (around 90%, 1 million) of the people kept at Auschwitz died. It is an incredibly eerie place to be standing and while there visiting I never felt completely comfortable in my surroundings. Once finished there we drove back into Krakow. The mood in the car was very strange and you could tell each individual was trying to process and handle what they had just witnessed in their own way.
Once back at Krakow I went back to the backpacker’s and freshened up, but on the way back I couldn’t help but grab myself another half a dozen pierogis of different fillings just to line the stomach. I thought this was a very smart decision as my next port of call after the backpackers was meeting up with some fellow Busabout travelers and joining the famous Krakow pub crawl. I say famous because I had heard lots of great things about this particular pub crawl and boy did it not disappoint. The night got off to a frantic start and at the first pub we enjoyed 2 hours of free drinks and shots. I know what you’re thinking all these pub crawls are the same and just give you free drinks but they are all just watered down. Well not this one it’s the real deal. This pub crawl is very popular and starts off with a very high number of people and as a result they aren’t able to fit everyone into the future pubs on the trip unless they manage to get some people drunk enough that they either leave early or get lost between pubs. It’s truly the survival of the fittest by the end of the night and no doubt whatsoever you get your monies worth on this night.
The next morning was a very slow and painful morning. Waking up with traces of left over kebab in your room and your mouth so garlicky that you yourself can’t stand your own breath is never the ideal start, but the memories and friends made the night before were well worth it. I left Krakow a short time after with lots of fond memories and a desire to explore more of Poland in the future. It’s an amazing place and I couldn’t recommend Krakow high enough, it is perfect for that short trip but has enough on offer to keep you entertained on a longer visit if you have the time.
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Happy Travels Brodie