To close my 2015 book and end it with a bang, I decided to book my last trip of the year, to Krakow. Ever since I visited Prague and Budapest, I am obsessed with East Europe. Whenever I am there, I breathe freedom, sense a relaxed and laidback atmosphere and am totally at ease. I think all these cities are beautiful and I find the history and culture really inspiring. The big bonuses for me living in The Netherlands are A. The destinations are just a few hours away B. For Dutch standards, everything is cheap over there!
One of my dearest friends that I met in Paris moved last fall to Krakow for work purposes. I met her in the fall of 2012 and the last time we had seen each other was in spring of 2013, when I lived in London. During the last years we have never lost touch and even if we have been apart we have remained the best of friends. We have a real special friendship. Therefore it was about time that we met up again. Thank you for hosting me and being this amazing and inspiring friend to me, Oli!
So what did I do and see? I love strolling so that’s how I tackled this trip, mainly by strolling and enjoying my surroundings. I saw the big city sights, tried out local food, visited the Christmas market, scheduled in a complete day to Auschwitz and of course, lots of quality time with my friend.
If I made you curious now about by trip, my personal selection of my most memorable moments and gems of the city might be of use to you! (With local tips and tricks)
My accommodation was in the Northern part of Krakow just 10 minutes by foot from Rynek Square. I highly recommend this area because if you like strolling like me, everything is easy to be reached and the main sights somehow also intersect during your walk through the city.
Rynek, St, Mary’s & Townhall Tower
By going to Rynek square you already see 3 of the city’s attractions. First, the complete square.
I was lucky to visit Krakow during the holiday season because I got the Christmas market as a bonus at the square. I have been to quite some Christmas markets, however, this one has something medieval. It is really traditional and at some stands it looks like time has stopped. For me, this is absolutely nice as I am used to mass products and people going all out in a commercial way at these markets.
My first stop was the St. Mary’s Church. This is a must see! I like to clarify that I am a non-believer, however I do visit churches when I am abroad. Why? I see churches as a place for self-reflection and some minutes in silent to myself. I remember my loved ones that are no longer with me, light a candle for good vibes, admire the beauty of the architecture and that’s it. The entrance to the church itself is for free. If you want to take a closer look at the altar you need to pay.
I also visited the Town hall Tower and paid 6zl to get in and enjoy the panoramic views and got to know more about Krakow in the old days.
The whole city is surrounded by parks and it is very relaxed to walk through. I experienced it myself when I visited The Wawel church and borough. I walked through the park and then by coincidence I bumped into the St Ann’s church, which was a nice pit stop.
Wawel Royal Castle
Located on the Wawel Hill, you find the Wawel Royal Castle. This castle is being seen as Poland’s most important sight based on history and culture. Throughout many centuries, it was the residence to polish kings. From here you also have amazing views over the Vistula River. You can go to the foot of the hill where you can see the Wawel Dragon statue. This dragon is a very famous figure in Polish mythology and allegedly lived in a cave at the foot of the hill. It actually breaths fire from time to time!
I also visited Jewish quarter Kazimierz, which is mainly known as a good area to go eat something and a big part of Krakow’s nightlife scene is located here. By walking around I found some synagogues and eventually landed at Plac Nowy. This square is supposed to be the heart of Kazimierz and locals love to come to the food market.
Guided by my local friend we visited some places, which I would like to recommend to all the foodies!
This restaurant offers a mixed cuisine of Polish, French and Italian dishes. I really fell for the cosy, warm and picturesque interior. The restaurant is not very big but that makes it very charming. Also the waitress was incredibly nice and was able to give honest and good advice. You can tell everything is made with fresh and natural ingredients.
While at Plac Nowy in Kazimierz, my friend told me I had to try a Zapiekanki. This is sort of a pizza bread, which is a local must eat. There are so many toppings/styles you can go for and yes it was as yummy as it looks like.
Another Polish must eat is Pierogi, which are actually dumplings. At Zapiecek you will barely find any tourists and fun fact: this place is open 24h a day. Next to savoury fillings there are also sweet Pierogi. At Zapiecek I chose the traditional plate, which comes with a selection of fillings, as I was curious to try different ones.
A nice lunch place is Charlotte. I actually found out about this place through Angelica Blick’s post on Krakow. The interior and offer have a bistro like feel. They offer a great amount of pastries and lunch dishes, and as Angelica said, lots of bread! Perfect for a bread lover like me 😉
Cupcake Corner Bakery
By coincidence we bumped into Cupcake Corner. We went in with the motto: ‘’lets have a look’’ and within a split-second we asked one another: ‘‘which ones are we taking?’’ We went for the red velvet and the one with peanut butter. It was beyond tasty! We had thereby found the highlight of our day and could rest in piece. The peanut butter cupcake was the ultimate winner! I wish I could have one as I am writing this.
My personal recommendation: a day trip to Auschwitz
Before heading to Krakow I had set the goal do spend one day in Auschwitz, visiting the concentration camps. It is one of the biggest happenings, with the biggest impacts of all time, which will always lie in the back of our mind. From Krakow its 1 hour and 40 minutes by bus, which might seem far, but it’s totally worth it. A two-way ticket costs 28 zl and the entrance is free of charge. It is a true inspiration, learning point and a moment of reflection. And that was totally priceless.
We went to both Auschwitz 1 (Turned into a memorial museum) and Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau). It was a really cold and windy day, so that made the experience even more intense. Just imagining the poor people wearing just a super thin pyjama and experiencing this extreme cold and many other painful circumstances. I still can’t really explain what it did to me but it left me totally speechless and made me emotional. Being faced with all the inhumane activities that took place exactly where I was walking, put shivers on my body and my heart was aching.
Even if it was a real emotional day, it was an eye opener. Especially in these times that the news is constantly is telling us about cruel and brutal happenings in the world. I am grateful to have been able to experience Auschwitz and learn about a piece of history, which is really close to me as a Dutch citizen. It was one of the most inspiring places I have ever visited.
After seeing Krakow, I want to see more of East Europe. Warsaw and Bucharest are highly on my list. Also, I’ll be back to Krakow, I need to see those salt mines and my beloved Oli! As always, I enjoyed the atmosphere, the people were friendly and I think it’s an absolute beautiful city. It is a good destination for a budget city trip.