Krakow

Krakow

Krakow is so surprisingly awesome. It’s a clean and small historical town with modern amenities and old school charm. It’s probably underrated but we loved it for that. Its very walkable, but if you get tired there’s a tram that’s easy to hop on and off. There are also lots of free tour operators, which give you a good overview of the city and cover a lot of the sights.

Our homebase was a new building by Ghetto Heroes Square, which looks far on the map, but is only 10-15 min walk into the center of town. It worked out because it was close to a large Carrefour (for groceries) and Kazimierz (for lots of cheap eats).

The crazy thing about Krakow is everywhere takes credit card, even food stalls you think look like cash only joints. That’s because the government has heavily incentivized using credit cards for revenue tracking purposes. The only place that might not take card are the ladies sitting behind their obwarzanek stalls. We had fun trying out a few different flavors and stands until we found our favorite (which sadly wasn’t until the last day, when we were trying to use up our krona!)

And of course, a visit to Krakow is not complete without visiting Auschwitz. On the day we went, we woke up at 4:30am to sheets of rain and rumbling thunder.  As we waited to get picked up an hour later (really.. the things we do to save 30€), the mood was somberly apt.  We arrived and began around 7:30am.  Starting out in Auschwitz I, we walked through barracks turned into display cases and photographs.  It’s one thing to read about it in a diary or watch movies touching on it, but there’s a physical impact to seeing in person the piles of suitcases with names of families forever gone.  To see a jumble of eyeglasses, all oddly similar and then contrast it to the mountain of shoes, which included high heels and other unique stylish footwear.  I noticed the lack of sneakers and plastic.  It was not even a century ago that this happened, so all I could think is how much things change yet how so much can stay the same.  To hear our very very informative guide Ada point out that there were no showers in the bathrooms (ironic when you think about the shower heads in the gas chambers), it made me sad to think people didn’t believe this could happen.  It made me angry to think people still don’t believe this happened.

On our last night, we grabbed our ultimate cone from Good Lood (is it sad that besides dziekuje (thanks), the only Polish word I picked up is lody?) I began mourning leaving Kraków.  The next day, as we walked over the footbridge (Kładka Ojca Bernatka) and along the river to see the dragon and Wawel cathedral in the morning quiet, as we had one last oberzynik (the best and cheapest ones yet!). I said my farewell.  It’s not goodbye, but see you later.

RECOMMENDED // EATS

  • Good Lood (★★★)
    • Bomb ice cream with fun flavors. They have a few locations around Kazimierz. If one store runs out of the flavor you want, cross your fingers and try the next store a few minutes’ walk away.
  • Gruba Buła (★★)
    • If you’re hankering for red meat, come here. We recommend stopping by half an hour in advance to put your order in, wander around the neighborhood, and then come back to a cold beer and a giant, juicy burger.
  • Zalewajka Restauracja (★★)
    • A nice, but not too expensive sit-down restaurant with incredible Polish food.
  • Milkbar Tomasza (★)
    • Expect to share tables in this cozy and sunny spot. Wallet-friendly, this place is a good intro to classic Polish cafeteria dishes.
  • Pierożki u Vincenta (★)
    • You’re not in Poland if you haven’t had pierogis, right? We went twice, and the second time got a mixed platter where we could barely finish it between the two of us. My favorites were: chicken/spinach, ground beef/salami, and the sliced plum cinnamon, sautéed in butter with sour cream and a touch of powdered sugar. It’s a small joint, so there might be a wait, but you can always ask to share a table if there’s room.
  • Zayka (★)
    • Pretty tasty Indian food, especially if you need a break from the Polish food. The owners are former engineers.
  • Wawel’s Mieszanka Krakowska (★)
    • If you’re looking for treats to bring home, I really enjoyed these candies which should be available at all the grocers. I’m not normally a fruit + chocolate advocate, but these were tasty delights!

RECOMMENDED // SEES

  • Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum (★★★)
    • It’s sad to say this is a must visit, but it really is. When we travel, we are all about seeing the beautiful and magnificent buildings humans dream of, but I think it’s important to be aware of the other spectrum of how far human ingenuity and creativity can go (German efficiency included selling human hair to turn into felt!)
    • We visited with Discover Cracow. I don’t think it matters who the tour operator is because your guide will be someone from the museum (we lucked out, our guide Ada was so good!). What you pay for is the ticket and roundtrip transportation. We picked a super early time (5:30am!) because it was cheap. It worked out though because we slept on the ride to/from, our group was small (8 people), there weren’t that many people at the memorial site, and when we came back to Krakow we still had most of the day left.
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine (★★)
    • Buy your ticket online and try to book your tour for as early as you can handle it. Ours began at 8:00am. We got to the mine using public transit (you can find information on bus lines and times here).
    • The mine is definitely cold, so bring the layers. Although you get an earpiece and the tour guide is miked up because the group is quite large, try to stick close to her because it can still be hard to hear. After the tour, you have an option to check out the interactive section, which plays an interesting short video. Most people choose to leave at this point. We chose to take the second tour (included in your ticket price), and this group size was a total of 5. You get to see more artifacts (laid out more like a museum exhibit) and can ask so many more questions because of the intimate setting. Our second guide was really excellent. By the time we got back above ground, the sun was shining on the hordes of people waiting around, making me very glad we came first thing in the morning.
  • Wawel Hill (★)
    • Another hot spot, we recommend checking this place out right when it opens (you can sense a theme here, we try to avoid crowds). We didn’t enter the ticketed areas, but tickets should be easy to buy online. On our last morning, we were the first ones into Wawel Cathedral and we posed in front of the fire-breathing Wawel Dragon (the fire occurs at about five-minute intervals, or you can speed it up by texting “dragon” to 7168).
  • Rynek Główny (★)
    • This is the largest medieval market square in Europe: walk around, enjoy the sights, and shop at the Cloth Hall.
    • There’s Podziemia Rynku, an extensive and fairly new underground museum that chronicles the history of Krakow.
      • >Pro Tip< We went on Tuesday when it was free! We recommend going to the ticket office half an hour before it opens to pick up a timed ticket, and then explore until entry time.
    • Stop by Eros Bendato, a statue of the love god’s head… as love can make you lose your mind.
    • Nearby is St. Mary’s Basilica, which has an intricate altarpiece that is opened for viewing around noon.

OTY’s ★ Rating System
Our rating is similar to the Michelin guide, but applied to attractions as well as restaurants.  Most places won’t be Michelin-priced as we’re on a budget, and sometimes a star may reflect exceptionally good value (like free!).  Since we don’t like to be negative, we don’t include any places that we wouldn’t recommend.
(★★★) Exceptional attraction/cuisine, worth a special journey. Wish we could go back again!
(★★) Delicious and/or delightful, this spot is worth a detour.
(★) Good pitstop, especially if you’re in the area.