Kraków – Southern Poland’s Visual Gem

March, 2015

Dating back as far as the 7th century, Kraków is one of the oldest cities in Poland. According to legend, Kraków was built on the dragon’s cave that the mythical King Krak had slain. 

Tip: This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Getting there

KrakowToday is going to be a longer travel day but I still believe that the train times and connections are set in stone.

After all, this is Europe not SE Asia but alas, things don’t always go smoothly on travel days as any independent traveller will tell you.

Today’s train journey

Today’s train journey is supposed to start with the train from Zamość (9:06, 15PLN) to Lublin taking around 2 hours, with a wait of only 11 minutes until catching the connecting train to Kraków at 11:24hrs, which arrives in Kraków at around 16:31hrs. Although as we know, sometimes things just don’t go to plan and this is what happened…

stained glass, poland, krakow, St. Francis Basilica
Incredible stained glass window – Basilica of St. Francis

After arriving at Lublin and buying the onward ticket (62PLN) to Kraków, we hop on the next train with only a few minutes to spare, sit back to check the tickets (2 separate tickets) and discover we need to change trains again.

This is what the lady selling the tickets tried to explain in Polish but was lost in translation.

One ticket goes from Lublin to Deblin with a 55 minute wait at Deblin for the connecting train to Kraków at 13:12hrs, to arrive at 16:31hrs. Oh well, at least all 3 trains are not rammed like the train from Lublin to Zamość last week.

So 3 trains and 8 hours later, we finally arrive!

Kraków

Records state that in 966, a Jewish merchant from Spain officially mentioned the name Kraków and described it as “an important centre of trade in Slavonic Europe”.

poland, krakow, art, street, old town
Street Art Seller – Old Town wall

With this much history, this city can only be but a visual delight for any traveller.

Market

As it’s Easter next week, night markets are on in the Old Town’s square.

Many delicious local food stalls (not cheap though) and the obligatory handmade goods such as knitted winter garments, handmade Easter reed arrangements, and much more are on offer in the square.

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Human statue – Main Market Square

Not sure if these markets are on at other times of the year, but as with many European cities, I’m sure the markets are on over Christmas.

Sights

The plethora of sites and activities in this dazzling city make your head giddy and you won’t know where to start enjoying yourself – it really is that amazing.

Wawel Royal Castle

Standing proud on Wawel Hill, this Gothic castle’s grounds are like a small city, which includes chapels, a cathedral and restaurants.

Wawel castle grounds, poland, krakow
Inside the grounds of Wawel Royal Castle

Although quite touristy, the gorgeous architecture and lovely ambience wandering around this site makes it a must see when visiting Kraków.

Wawel, castle, poland, krakow, buskers
Wawel Royal Castle buskers

Leave yourself a good half-day to enjoy the castle grounds, which is free entry, although entry to certain buildings and exhibitions on the grounds charge an entry fee.

Old Town

As the centre of Poland’s political life from 1038 until 1596, this medieval town was one of the first sites chosen for UNESCO’s original World Heritage List.

old town, poland, krakow
The Cloth Hall

Although it’s the end of March so not even high season yet, the Old Town is quite busy with local and foreign tourists.

krakow, poland, church, B&W, skull and bones
Medieval church pirate – Bazylika Mariacka

I’m surprised of just how many tourists there are in Kraków every day and wouldn’t like to be here during high season.

Rynek Glowny (Market Square)

Both locals and foreigners seem to gravitate to this square in the Old Town.

Perhaps as this seems to be where a lot of the action is…it’s not hard to see why this 200 metre square space is ranked as one of the largest Medieval squares in Europe.

old town, poland, krakow, horses
Old Town tourist transport

Originally designed in 1257, this square is graced with many relaxing seating areas, gorgeous architecture, elegant townhouses, restaurants, cafés, human statues, buskers, and is an excellent starting point to venture further afield.

Barbakan

In the late 15th century and based on an Arabic (not European) defensive strategy, the circular Barbakan fortress was added to the city’s fortification.

This fortified outpost was once connected to the city walls, which is one of the few remaining complex fortification and defensive barriers that encircled this once royal city.

Kazimierz

After about a 10-15 minute walk from the Old Town centre, you arrive at Kazimierz (former Old Jewish Quarter), which is the historical district of Kraków.

Apart from strolling down the narrow streets and some lovely old 14th century architecture, I don’t think this area is particularly impressive. Perhaps it’s because many modern buildings diminish the significance from this once historical district.

The abundance of tourists here also detracts from absorbing the ambience.

Kazimierz was a place of “coexistence and interpenetration of Christian and Jewish cultures” for many centuries. Although in 1941, Kazimierz’s inhabitants were forcibly relocated to Krakow’s ghetto across the river by the occupying German forces.


Day trip to Auschwitz Museum and Birkenau Camp

A must-see during any visit to Kraków is the Auschwitz Museum and Birkenau Camp, which is in the town of Oświęcim.

The infamous site of the most notorious mass murder in humanity’s history is an experience I will never forget!

Auschwitz, poland, concentration camp, krakow
Auschwitz

Organised the day tour (135PLN) from the Tourist Information office in the Old Town’s Main Square.

Auschwitz Museum

The minibus picks you up from wherever you’re staying or close by, at around 09:50hrs and drops you back around 17:00hrs (winter timetable only). Around an hour’s drive from Kraków to the Auschwitz museum and we arrive – our group of 18 joins 2 other groups from the same company.

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Death railway – Auschwitz

The groups are then split out again in languages (English, Polish, German) with different museums guides.

Auschwitz, poland, krakow, concentration camp
Fences – Auschwitz

Following an emotional but historical 2-hour tour at Auschwitz, the minibus drives you the 3kms to the Birkenau Camp, for the 1.5 -hour guided tour.

Birkenau Camp

This camp is also extremely moving. I defy anyone to visit both camps and leave with dry eyes!

Our passionate professional museum guide delivers the 4 hours with emotion and conviction from a Polish perspective, but still manages to stay objective throughout the tour.

Understandably, this part of history is remembered more regarding the Jewish Holocaust at these camps.

Not too much is heard about the other prisoners also executed here: Poles, political objectors, Romani, Sinti, Soviet POWs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities. Our guide makes sure we are aware of everyone’s plight.

Disturbing observation: I really can’t understand tourists that take selfies and photos of each other smiling and carrying on in front of the gas chamber door as if it was a party or fun park – bizarre behaviour and lacking respect.


Where to stay in Kraków

Stayed in Kraków on two separate occasions so able to experience different accommodation.

Abra Apartment

On ul Cybulskiego 2, 31-117, Lucas (owner) meets us with the keys to our swish studio apartment, which has absolutely everything and just like home – well almost.

Ground coffee is provided but nothing to make it with or in, which is a similar problem with self-catering apartments throughout Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Deciding to buy a coffee plunger, we now carry this around everywhere.

This apartment even has a washing machine, dishwasher and a great kitchen so our stay is for 7 nights.

Second apartment

Returning to Kraków for 3 nights after the Zakopane trip, we book a different apartment (no name) as the first apartment is fully booked.

Although not quite as upmarket as the Abra Apartment, this one still has everything you need for a 3-night stay and closer to the Old Town and the train station than Abra.

Tomasz (owner) is very helpful and provides many names of local places to eat and a few local tips.

Food

Cook most meals and have breakfasts at the apartment but still manage to venture out for coffee and pastries as a daily necessity – important to experience the local delights when in a country.

Big Red food bus, poland, krakow
Cute fast food bus

Pierre Boulongerie

On ul. Szewska 6, 31-009, this is by far the best coffee and most wonderful pastries around in Kraków – yummy savouries and takeaways (To Go) also on offer.

As this is a very small café and cheaper than what’s around, it fills up quickly especially with students and sometimes it’s hard to get a seat.

human statue, poland, old town, krakow
Human Statue – Main Market Square

Coffee and pastries here every day during the 10 days of both visits to Krakow, and never had a bad coffee or pastry – consistently excellent!

Restauracja Czarna Kaczka

Along ul. Poselska – Celebrated my birthday by having dinner at this wonderful restaurant and apart from the excellent service, the food is also excellent and scrumptious!

The wonderful cheese board is excellent value, the fried bacon wrapped smoked cheese is divine, and traditional Polish mains (27-58PLN) are absolutely delicious. The House wine is very good (36PLN for 500ml carafe) in the lovely and cosy ambience.

Coffee Heaven

Strolling through the Old Town, this coffee chain serves pricey coffee and it’s not that great – too milky and weak – although the ambience is very relaxing. Savouries and cakes look good.

Leaving Kraków

For the first time in just over a year of travel, we have 2 weeks of accommodation booked in advance. Typically, bookings are only made on deciding the next destination – a great way to travel.

As Easter is fast approaching and prices are increasing, we book Zakopane at the base of the Tatras Mountains in advance, as this is the next destination but also a popular skiing playground.

Hoping that the train (14PLN Promotion fare, usually 18PLN) for the 3.5-hour trip to Zakopane has good heating as it’s snowing at the moment and definitely will be snowing in Zakopane.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Poland at Image Earth Travel.

poland, krakow, sculpture, old town
Bronze sculpture – outside of the Old Town wall
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5 thoughts on “Kraków – Southern Poland’s Visual Gem

Add yours

    1. I think many cities and smaller towns in Poland are beautiful. I don’t have a favourite as they’re all so wonderful!
      I’ve just edited this post to make the images large and easier to see.

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