I heard great things about Krakow and thought we give it a try. This medieval city, which was voted the most beautiful city in Poland and in the region did not disappoint us at all. I can say that it was a very good holiday choice.
Poland is very similar to my home country Romania, and the feeling here is remarkably similar at first sight. Appearances fade away quickly from the moment you land on John Paul II airport (named after Polish Pope). The modern airport is very organized and clean. From here we easily found our way to the bus station.
A single ticket from the airport to the city center costs 9 Polish Zloty (2.1 EUR) or 16 Zloty (3.8 EUR) for a return ticket. You can buy tickets at the airport but also inside the bus at the dispenser, where you can pay cash or by card. Beautiful isn’t it? I look forward to seeing something like this in my country Romania.
Notice that the Polish Zlot has about the same value as my Romanian Leu currency, and their prices at bars, restaurants and supermarkets are very similar to ours. The difference can be seen in salaries: if in 2019 the average net salary in Romania was somewhere at 2700 lei (570 Eur), in Poland in 2019 the average net salary was around 3550 zloty (836 Eur). You see the difference right? So any price I say here in Zloty, you can easily consider that this will be the same in Lei in Romania.
The difference is also seen in the level of civilization, the infrastructure (they have about 1600 km of motorway compared to 849 in Romania), but especially in tourism and their approach towards tourists. You feel welcomed and encouraged to explore as much at your own pace without being harassed from all sides to buy something or to visit.
Regarding accommodation, same as in our previous visits in Budapest or Lisbon, we preferred to rent from Booking.com an entire and superb apartment near the river Vistula, located near the pedestrian bridge “Bernatek Father”. The flat was located in an old building with high ceilings, in which the wooden beams joined beautiful with the modern interior. The apartment was more than enough for 2 couples and it cost us 198 pounds for 6 nights, that is 34 pounds per night (40 EUR) or 17 pounds per couple (20 EUR). A very good deal considering It was the end of August.
The Vistula River crosses the city of Krakow and passes by all the attractions of the city. The banks of the river were converted into pedestrian spaces accompanied by bicycle lanes and in some areas nice and trendy beach Bars popped up, all of course with beach sun bathing chairs and umbrellas.
After crossing the pedestrian bridge we reach the Old City, we find our selves surrounded by old buildings specific to the Hapsburg Empire. This architecture is also known to us in Romania in the Transylvania region in cities like Sibiu or Cluj Napoca. Here we find numerous churches, cafes hidden in small side streets closes, many pedestrian streets and a lot of tourists. Unfortunately we also found many streets closed off due to construction sites. The city is still under renovation, the tram is being upgraded, the streets are renovated , the urban furniture is being replaced, the facades of the old buildings are being restored, the ancient walls are dug up and preserved. Which is all fine, but it would have been nice to be ready by now. At least we have reason to go back and see what the end result looks like no? 🙂
Also here we find on the highest hill, the Royal Wavel Castle Complex that must be visited. A package with access to all the exhibits costs 99 Zloti (23 EUR) in the summer season but if you do not want to see everything, you can choose individual exhibits and pay less. More details on the castle’s website here. Don’t miss the Wavel Cathedral, the view from the Bastion of Thiefs Tower and the Dragon cave.
We continue our walk through Krakow Old Town on the beautiful pedestrian street Grodzka, where we find numerous shops with souvenirs but also one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in the city, the St. Peter and Paul Church. The street ends in the Rynek Glowny Great Market. Here is the epicenter of the city and the focal point of attraction for tourists. This magnificent square can easily compete with what you see in Prague or Vienna. Here we find the impressive Cathedral of Saint Mary, the Tower of the City Hall where you can climb up, and the Hall of the Central Market which is full of stalls with different souvenirs. All the objectives can be visited and I recommend you not to miss any, especially since the access fees are quite low.
Also here we find under the Central Market Hall one of the best museums in Krakow: Krakow’s History Museum. This museum is in itself a great engineering achievement. In order to build it, the entire market was dug up and unearthed, the old streets, tunnels and ancient walls were carefully cleaned and revitalized, after which metal columns were installed supporting the entire market above that we see today. Although initially this caused a great deal of stress and suffering for businesses above, the effort proved to be successful. The museum is today a source of pride for the locals and a major attraction of the city. Admission for adults costs 21 zloty (5 EUR) per person and it’s worth it.
After all that walking around, we stop at one of the many terraces that line the Central Square which serve traditional Polish food. The prices are again very similar to what we pay in Romania, in the center of touristy cities: a beer costs between 7 and 10 Zloty (2.3 EUR) and I must recommend a traditional serving of whole pig knuckle served with baked potatoes, horseradish sauce and pickled cucumbers. It is simply amazing and it will only cost around 30 zloty (7 EUR). A diner for two in the city with good food and drinks, will cost you about 130 zlotys (31 Euros), same as in Romania. Not bad right?
The next day we make our way through the Jewish Ghetto (which does not stand out from the rest of the city) and we reach the other main attraction of the city: Schindler’s Factory. For those who do not know, Schindler was the one who through his factory in Krakow saved about 1200 Jews from certain death during the Nazi occupation, even though in the process he was financially ruined. Today, his factory has been transformed into the “Krakow under the Nazi occupation” museum and offers insights on how life was during wartime from the point of view of the Poles and especially from the point of view of the persecuted Jews. The entrance costs 26 zlotys per person (6 EUR) and the tour lasts about 2 hours. More details on the museum’s website here.
After the factory visit, we took the tram and stopped near the Mount Kropiek. With a little effort to climb we got to the top, where the city view is quite enjoyable. You will not miss much if you do not go here, but it is a pleasant walk and it is a welcome change if you want to see more than just concrete for a change.
The next day was fully dedicated to the trip at the Nazi Concentration and extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. If you come to Krakow this trip is a must. I think anyone in this world should see at least once in their life time this place. Let’s hope that Hitler’s genocide, history and cruelty will never be repeated. At Auschwitz you go on an organized tour, and there are numerous offices and travel agencies in Krakow that offer these day trips. They take you from Krakow with an Air Conditioned minibus, organize the guided tour for you, transfer you between camps, and bring you back to the city. The site is 70 km from the city and it takes about an hour and a half to get there. Morning or afternoon tours are available and cost about 150 zlotys per person (35 EUR).
The guided tour of Auschwitz, though at first glimpse the large crowds give the impression you are at Disneyland, leaves you shivers down your spine, when you hear the stories and see under what conditions those people were kept. Seeing the the gas chambers, cremation ovens, and the sorting rooms where the luggage, shoes or hair cut from the prisoners is a unique experience. The collected hair was used by Nazis various industries or experiments. You can’t help but feel a weird sensation when the guide takes you to the very same place where a Nazi doctor decided instantly who was sent to the gas chambers and who was spared to be sent to work.
Among other things, it is worth mentioning the Krakow Zoo. It is a nice place to see if you have an extra day and great to visit on a hot day due to it’s location in the nearby forest. In conclusion, Krakow was a pleasant surprise, our neighbors exceeded my expectations and we will probably return to see other areas of the country. A nice holiday where the price/quality ration is very good and you get a lot of bang for your money. Definite recommend.
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