In the first weekend of September, I spent some time with a friend in Krakow and Warsaw. Although we had not that much time planned (only two days), we have seen a lot of both cities. We spent 1,5 day in Krakow, from where we took the train to Warsaw to spend the last afternoon and evening. In this article I’ll give you a cityguide of Krakow with places which are must-visits during your time in this Polish city.
Big market square and Old Town
The most visited and most popular place in Krakow, is the Old Town and its big market square. The Old Town is surrounded by city walls and a city garden; this part of the city is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. Not only you can find several shops in buildings with beautiful architecture, when you walk a little through Old Town, you can find the big market square (Rynek Glowny). The market square is surrounded by restaurants and terraces, so especially in summer it makes it a cosy place.
In the middle of the square, you can find a big building, which is also called the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). This hall was built in the 14th century and by then this was the first effectively shopping mall in the world. Nowadays, there are still shops in the hall, where you can buy some souvenirs or other stuff. At the square, you can also find the St. Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka). Originally, the church was built in the 13th century, but the towers you can see today are from the 15th century. The church is well-known for the city’s famous bugle call (Hejnal Mariacki) which is played every hour on the hour. This is one of the city’s traditions: the tune breaks off mid-melody in honour of the mythical trumpeter who was shot in the neck while belatedly warning the city of Mongol invaders. You can visit the church from April until the end of December for a small fee.
Just outside the Old Town of Krakow, you can find the Wawel hill, which is also worth the visit. The reason is mainly because the hill has a rich history. From the 11th century, the Poland’s monarch took up their residence in the Royal Castle, which is located on the Wawel Hill. Besides, they were also crowned and buried in the Wawel Cathedral, which is also located on the hill. Not only is it beautiful to watch the buildings from the outside and to walk around the gardens, but it’s also worth to visit the inside. Here you can get a glimpse of Poland’s very own crown jewels, but also the tombs of president Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria are open to public. And of course these places are not everything the hill has to offer. If you really would like to see everything, you can take a whole day to explore the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that much time during our trip. It is recommended to reserve tickets for a tour. If you would like to do the tour, it’s important to know that you have to reserve the tickets early, due to the popularity.
Jewish quarter (Kazimierz)
If you walk a little further from Old Town and the Wawel Hill, you will arrive in the Jewish quarter Kazimierz. We stayed in a hostel in this quarter and we found it a very good base to go anywhere in the city. Here you can find an unique mix of culture, history and nice dining. There is a little square, surrounded by synagogues and in the middle of the quarter, where are some good restaurants and where you can have a real Polish meal.
Next to this, you can also find many wall paintings on the buildings in the quarter. Personally, I really love wall paintings and love to make pictures of them. Some places of the quarter are very old. Tucked in between the old buildings, you can find a little square with some food trucks. During the day you can buy something to eat here. The place is very cosy and makes the atmosphere a lot better in this area. We arrived here in the morning, when everything was still closed, but still it looked really nice and I could imagine how it would be on a summer day.
Although nowadays there aren’t living many Jewish people in this quarter anymore, there are still many synagogues which can be found in the area. For a long time, Kazimierz was an independent city from Krakow, but after the regulation in the 15th century, all the Jewish people had to go to Kazimierz and live there. When Kazimierz became part of Krakow in 19th century, there was a close, Jewish community. Unfortunately, when World War II started and the Nazis came to Poland, the Jewish community had to leave Kazimierz and had to go to the much smaller “ghetto” on the other side of the river Wisla, named Podgórze.
Schindler museum and Podgórze
The quarter Podgórze has a rich history when it comes to World War II. In this quarter, where the Jewish people were required to live, they were put to work or sent to the destruction camps. Nowadays, the quarter is a residential area which becomes more popular each year. The main reason for this is the fact that Schindler’s Factory was built into a museum about Schindler and Krakow during World War II. The museum attracts many tourists and I can definitely understand why. It not only shows you how the city was during World War II, but it also shows you how the Jewish people lived and what Schindler has done during World War II. The builders of the museum have made some impressive rooms which all differ from each other. I found the museum very imposing and it’s definitely worth a visit. Only one tip: avoid the more crowded times (weekends and afternoons). If you would like to go, go early in the morning. The museum can be very crowded.
You can also find the Plac Bohaterow Getta in the quarter Podgórze. This is a square in the middle of the quarter with empty chairs, spread over the square. The chairs are a monument and stands as symbol for the emptiness that stayed behind after the definitive evacuation in March 1943.
Just outside the city center of Krakow, you can find a hidden lake named Zakrzówek. Even though the lake can be hard to find and doesn’t have an official entrance, it won’t disappoint you when you’ve finally found it! I think this was personally for me one of the highlights of the cities and not touristic at all. Many local people are coming here in summer to enjoy a swim in the lake or to just somewhere on the hills and enjoy the views.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have warm temperatures, so we just sat down for some hours on a point where we had a great view over the lake and drank something. If you would like to go in summer and are planning on swimming, you should definitely wear some good shoes. Going downstairs to the lake is not that easy, because the hills are pretty high and hard to walk downstairs.
At the way up to the lake, we’ve walked. If you’re a walker, it is not that hard. You can go there from the Wawel Hill in approximately 30-45 minutes. However, you can take the tram anywhere in the city, so you can also go by tram to the lake. You only have to walk the last 15 minutes from the stop to the lake. We did this the way back to the city center.
Map of Krakow
In the map below you can see the place where you can find the ‘hidden lake’. I’ve also pointed out the train station (from there you can easily walk to the city center), Old Town, the Wawel Hill, Kazimierz, the Schindler Museum and the hostel we stayed at. An extended review about the hostel will follow later.
Places to visit outside Krakow
When people are planning on travelling to Krakow, they often combine the city trip with a trip to Auschwitz and the salt mine Wieliczka. Unfortunately, we didn’t had the time to visit either of the places. Especially Auschwitz is still very high on my list to visit for next time.
Of course we all know that Auschwitz was the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers. By a guided tour or on your own you can explore the concentration camp and memorialize all the people who’ve been there and died in this concentration camp. The place is a must-visit when it comes to the Polish history. It is recommended to reserve a place on a guided tour far before you’re going to Poland, because it’s very popular and before you know, there are no places left. Auschwitz can be easily reached by train, which takes an hour from Krakow.
Wieliczka is located approximately 15 kilometers from Krakow and has an underground Salt Mine. Not only is the salt mine a World Heritage Site, but it has the distinction of having been included (along with Krakow’s Old Town and Kazimierz) on UNESCO’s first ever World Heritage List back in 1978. The salt mine has been a popular destination for centuries and still is very popular for the tourists.
Shortly, Krakow is a very beautiful city and definitely worth a visit. In my opinion, the city can be visited best in summer, because then you also have to chance to swim in the lake. However, Krakow can also be nice to visit in spring or autumn.