A Cracking Few Days In Krakow
If you haven’t already added Krakow, Poland’s picturesque historic royal capital to your “must-do” list, then I highly recommend that you do. As a city break it pretty much has it all, including quaint squares, a huge medieval castle, quirky nightlife and fabulous food.
Just a short 2.5 hour hop from most UK airports, Krakow is a compact city that punches well above its weight in terms of stuff to do, and what’s more, it’s one of the few remaining cities in Europe where you can get a beer for less than a Euro – hurrah!
We stayed in the Old Town – full of picture-perfect cobbled streets, cafe culture and medieval piazzas – but spent a lot of time in the Kazimierz Jewish quarter, a vibrant area where arty bars sit side-by-side with Jewish monuments and grand synagogues.
If, like us, you have 3-4 days in Krakow, you have plenty of time to explore the city but also pack in a couple of excursions into the local vicinity. We visited both the Wieliczka Salt Mine, about a 30 minute drive away, and Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is about an hour (although the entire tour was around 7 hours in total).
To get out to Wieliczka Salt Mine, we got picked up from a central location and made the short journey on a comfy minibus, then met our tour guide Monika who took us down into the mine itself. There are a LOT of steps (54 floors down!), but once you’re down there it’s well worth it.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the oldest salt mines in Europe, the corridors and chambers of the mine were carved pretty much by hand over 700 years ago. Walking down gives you a great sense of just how deep it is, and what it must have been like for a miner to descend all those years ago.
Several exhibitions along the route bring to life how the miners extracted the salt – more valuable than gold back then – in the legendary times of King Kazimier the Great. Monika also pointed out the best spots to lick the salt from the walls if you so wished, which was an experience to say the least!
My personal highlights were seeing several salt sculptures made by the miners themselves; a mesmerising luminous underground saltwater lake, and the grand finale, a subterranean cathedral carved into the rock to allow miners to pray, which was pretty jaw-dropping.
Our second trip was to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. Of course, what occurred here during the Holocaust is well documented in books or on screen, but I would urge you if you’re in the area to go and see for yourself.
You are accompanied around the camps by extremely knowledgeable guides, who do a great job of explaining what happened there with both expertise and compassion. They take you through the prisoners’ living quarters, the areas where some of the worst atrocities happened, and the notorious railroad approach to the sister camp Birkenau, stopping to view many exhibits along the way.
I personally felt most humbled by the rooms full of prisoners’ personal belongings, and also by the sheer size of Birkenau, which seemed absolutely huge – you could barely see the edge of it when standing in the centre.
Overall, the Auschwitz tour was an incredibly educational experience – the guides are very passionate about as many people visiting as possible, to bear witness to its story.
For me, Krakow rivals any European city for its mixture of scenery, nightlife, interesting sights to see, and an intriguing past to discover. Its short flight time makes it close enough to hop on a plane for a long weekend – why not get over there and discover everything this unique destination has to offer.
About the author
Jamie is a member of the Marketing team at AttractionTix. Her passions in life include travel, festivals, food and her dog Rosie, not in any particular order. Her top travel experience was a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon during a trip to Las Vegas.