My boyfriend and I went to Krakow for four nights, after finding cheap, direct flights from Hamburg. We did some research prior to the trip, as usual, which included looking at some interesting-sounding restaurants, choosing an Air B&B apartment in the Old Town and booking some day trips. I’ve had a macabre interest in Auschwitz for several years and knew it was close to Krakow, so we pre-booked a tour with Krakow Shuttle. We also booked an English-speaking tour of the Salt Mines through the official site. More about both of those day trips later!
Despite the flight before ours having a medical emergency (including an air ambulance and lots of paramedics, very dramatic!), we managed to land on time. The train from the airport to the city centre were dirt cheap; 9 zloty per person! Which is £1.89/€2.15. We stayed in an Air B&B near Karmelicka street, which had many trams running along it. Trams were incredibly cheap, costing less than one pound/euro per single journey.
Unfortunately our first dinner was not very successful (although the food over the rest of the holiday more than made up for it!). We visited Gospoda Koko, which is known for its big portions, cheap prices and late opening hours. We ordered meat pierogi (Polish dumplings), but were given cheese & onion by mistake. We ate them anyway because we were very hungry! The pierogi were doughy, with a cream cheese filling and softened onions on top. Then we waited for our second courses…and waited…and waited. Service was painfully slow, even though the restaurant wasn’t full. I think the kitchen must have had a big backlog. Eventually we gave up, asked for our money back for the dishes that never arrived….and went to an all-night supermarket for snacks.
We woke up bright and early on Saturday, to make the most of our only full day in Krakow. We walked to Krakow’s main square, Rynek Główny, which contains lots of beautiful 13th century, medieval-style buildings. There are several tourist attractions, including the Cloth Hall, an indoor market very popular with tourists, and the beautiful St Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka). The market had dozens of stalls, many selling similar products including jewellery (particularly amber), scarves, holiday souvenirs, traditional Polish toys and random knick-knacks. We wandered around it, ‘window shopping’ then continued exploring.
We snaked our way through the crowds towards St. Florian’s Gate (Brama Floriańska), a 14th century Gothic gate. After looking at the gate and its tower, we discovered an outdoor art gallery, which had a stunning collection of artwork by several talented artists. Afterwards, we strolled aimlessly around the city centre, taking photographs and enjoying the style and colours of the buildings, which reminded me of Italy in a way.
We had lunch at Enoteka Pergamin, which was a bit more touristy than places we normally eat, but had outdoor seating and some light lunch options. We ordered a plate of mixed Polish cheese, and some Polish ‘tapas’. These were quite fun – pickled herring with a shot of vodka (of course), black pudding on toast, sliced beef on toast and goat’s cheese with apple and honey. I tried some Polish white wine for the first time and was surprised how sharp it was, with a distinct gooseberry flavour.
After lunch, we walked past St. Andrew’s Church, which has some beautiful statues outside it and one of the most photogenic doors I’ve seen in a while. In fact, Krakow had a fantastic selection of doors, I snapped dozens of doorways and entrances over the weekend!
Then onto Wawel Royal Castle and Krakow’s Gothic cathedral. Both are on top of a mount, which also has a great view of the city. I must confess that we didn’t go inside either. They came highly recommended but…..the weather was hot and sunny and we wanted to spend as much time as we could outdoors. Hey, don’t judge us! We live in Northern Germany! There were several more tourist attractions we could have seen…well, a good excuse to visit again in the future!
I enjoyed visiting the Jewish Quarter on Saturday afternoon. Not only to appreciate the synagogues, architecture and general atmosphere of the area, but because I had one of the best pulled pork sandwiches I have ever had! We found an outdoor street food market and tucked into sandwiches from Andrus Food Truck. They had lots of different toppings but I went for classic with added bacon (because everything should always come with added bacon) and it was fantastic!
In the evening, we went for drinks at Bunkier Cafe. It was very busy so the service was quite slow but the drinks were good. We also got some nibbles, hummus & crudities and a Polish-style pretzel (much harder than squishy German ones) which was sliced in half and filled with chicken, tomato sauce and melted cheese. Then it was time to sample some Polish vodka! Our first choice of bar – Wodka – was too crowded but we got lucky with our second choice, Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa. It had a really lively atmosphere, very efficient staff and some great flavours of vodka! You could try the following shots: lemon with ginger syrup and pepper, bison grass vodka with cherry syrup and cinnamon, vodka with raspberry syrup and Tabasco, cherry vodka with banana syrup, blackcurrant vodka with coca-cola, plum vodka with orange syrup, quince vodka with blackcurrant juice, raspberry vodka with lemon, walnut vodka with coconut syrup, strawberry vodka with banana syrup and orange juice and blueberry vodka with chocolate and ginger syrup. All for €1 each! We tried almost all the options and as I’ve got a major sweet tooth, I really liked them. After countless shots, another long walk around the Old Town and a late-night snack, it was time for bed.
We looked at a few tour companies for our Auschwitz visit, along with organizing the visit independently. If you want to do a self-guided tour, you have to arrive well before 10am (or mid-to-late afternoon) and as it is around 1.5hrs from Krakow, it would mean an early start, navigating a train then possibly a bus or taxi to the camp. We chose the
lazy easy option – a tour company to take us there, organise the tour, and bring us back. We used Krakow Shuttles and were pleased with the service. They collected us from our apartment, and on the ride showed an hour-long video about the two camps we would be visiting: Auschwitz and Birkenau.
We had a knowledgeable guide who took us to various sections of the camps but they are so large, you’d need to spend a day there to see everything in detail. Even when you hear the statistics, it is difficult to get your head around the scope of the genocide. The Auschwitz museum helps to break down the enormous numbers and personalize the tragedy. Nazis did so many things to dehumanize the people enslaved in their camps, but the Auschwitz museum (and its tour guides) are helping to reverse that.
You walk the paths those poor people walked. You see where they slept, four or five people per bunk in windowless barracks, boiling hot in summer and freezing in winter. You see their faces – photographed on arrival, shaved scalps, striped uniforms and tattooed flesh. You read their names, dates they arrived and when they died. You see piles of bent and cracked spectacles, towers of luggage and personal belongings…combs, crockery, shoes…. and the most harrowing, bundles and bundles of human hair, cut off corpses. Long, carefully plaited locks, stolen away. Yet another way to degrade them, even in death.
The most emotional part for me was walking into the gas chamber. Standing in the now-empty rooms, silent and still. At one point the rest of my group moved on and I was left alone. The wall next to me was carved with thin Stars of David. I wondered what was going through the minds of the people who scratched them. Whether they realised, at that point, how close to death they were. After a minute, I rushed through the open door, towards the sunshine and bright blue sky. Steps which so many thousands of people never got to take.
After returning to Krakow and resting, we went for dinner at Morskie Oko. We really enjoyed our starters – sauerkraut soup with spare ribs, potato pancakes and meat pierogi. Our mains were a bit disappointing; I ordered wild boar – a very small portion which was rather tough, and my boyfriend got an enormous – but rather sickly – portion of duck cooked with apples and oranges. We were amused by the service in the restaurant – all the staff were very polite to us but they were clearly stressed by how busy it was. We saw one waitress boldly arguing with a customer, disputing a dish the customer claimed not to have ordered. Coming from a country where the customer is always right (even when they’re wrong), it was quite unusual to see a waitress arguing back so passionately. Another waiter kept getting interrupted by prospective customers hoping for a table. Instead of saying “I’m sorry but we are completely full this evening”, he dismissively said “No, we have no tables. No!” and when the persistent customers asked if there was any seating available upstairs, he said “No! You can go look but there is not. No seating! Go away!”.
We travelled to the Salt Mines independently, which was very easy as trains went directly from Krakow Central Station to Wieliczka, where the Salt Mines are. The tour lasts between 2-3 hours and requires lots of walking. We walked down 378 steps to the mine’s 64 metre level. Then a winding 1.9 mile tour along corridors, through enormous caves and chambers, passed statues and 9 metre-deep lakes, all 135 metres (443 ft) underground. There’s a full-sized chapel, where the walls, floor, ceiling, statues, furniture, religious figures and even the chandeliers were made of salt. It sounds bizarre, and it is, but very impressive and unlike anything I had seen before. There is even an underground gift shop, bar and restaurant!
We were back in Krakow by early afternoon with the rest of the day to explore! We spent most of our time in the Jewish Quarter, doing some shopping and enjoying drinks at a bar called Alchemia, with outdoor seating perfect for people-watching and sunbathing. In the evening, we had our best meal of the holiday. We went to Miód Malina where we enjoyed delicious food, lovely wine (much less acidic than the Polish wine I had tried previously), really good service and ambience, sitting outside in the courtyard surrounded by plants and flowers. We shared delicious meat pierogi (the best we’d tried) and traditional Polish soup made with white sausage and egg, served in a bowl made of bread. Then I had fried potato pancakes served with a very tasty beef goulash sauce. My boyfriend had the veal knuckle roasted with rosemary and served with the smoothest mashed potatoes I’ve even seen.
After dinner, we managed to get a table at Wodka bar. They had an incredible number of different vodkas to try. We enjoyed elderflower, chocolate, caramel, plum, cucumber, Earl Grey, pineapple, hazelnut, quince, lemon, chilli and ginger flavoured vodka. Impossible to choose a favourite!
We had to leave Krakow around lunchtime to catch our afternoon flight, so woke up early again and headed to the Jewish Quarter for brunch at Moment. They had dozens of brunch options but we eventually chose. My boyfriend had the very healthy coconut pudding chia bowl with dried fruit, nuts, granola and maple syrup. I had the “energy breakfast” – smoked salmon, avocado, cream cheese, poached eggs and homemade banana bread. After a very indulgent few days, filled with dumplings, potatoes and vodka, it was great to have something lighter. We enjoyed our brunch, then bought some vodka from a nearby off-license – fig, hazelnut, bison grass and maple vodka – then it was time to go to the airport! We thought Krakow was a charming little city, packed with places to eat and things to see! It was compact, easy to navigate and picturesque. We were pleased by how affordable everything was – the accommodation, public transport, food and drink. We didn’t make it to all the sites, or any museums or art galleries, so will have lots to do on a future visit.
We used Airbnb to book our Krakow accommodation. You can receive a €29 discount on your first stay with Airbnb by using this referral code
The Curious Sparrow