[Trigger warning: This post includes references to Auschwitz & WWII.]
In one of my Wisconsin bedrooms, we have a giant scratch-off world map. Sure, it’s cheesy to have something like that, but I find no greater joy than taking the map down to scratch off a new-to-me destination. I’ve traveled a decent amount, but there’s so much to Europe that I haven’t explored. (If you’re not all caught up on my UK adventure, start there.)
Poland has never been high on my bucket list, but when cheap flights to Kraków aligned with an open weekend, I had to say “yes”! My maternal grandpa’s family comes from Poland, so it isn’t the most random selection. However, when I shared that I was heading to Poland, most people were confused why I wasn’t heading to more “popular” locations. If I’m being honest, it was a little sad that not everyone was open to an experience like Poland. I’m here to tell you that it’s worth going and that while it’s a different type of trip to take, it’s necessary to shake things up in your travels.
Krakow is one of the best preserved medieval places in Europe. I found it to be one of my most unique trips, in that I spent more time focused on history than usual. It’s a natural way to spend time in Krakow, though, considering it’s home to Auschwitz & the Jewish Quarter. Interesting enough, Krakow is more preserved than Warsaw from the war, which makes it truly feel like a time capsule. But when a break from history is needed, the city boasts Insta-worthy bars that allow for some escaping.
- Railed from my UK base to the London airport. ($94 USD round trip)
- Slept in a hotel the night before my flight. (Free with points)
- Flew via RyanAir– my first time with this airline– direct to Krakow. ($200 USD round trip. Let it be known you can get this WAY cheaper, but I booked last minute. Still consider this insanely cheaper than traveling within the States.)
- Took one train and one tram to my lodging. (Less than $10 USD)
- Stayed in a hostel (Freedom Hostel-Krakow), a 5-minute tram ride to the city center. For the first time ever, I stayed in a hostel dorm room with three other people. Did that for two nights and then met up with my cousin, Solen, in a private room with two beds for the final two nights. (Less than $70 USD)
Itinerary for Kraków
Stroll the market square. | Lots to see here, plus all of the key restaurants surround the square. And on Easter weekend, they held an Easter market, where they opened their Christmas Market stands & sold the yummiest food. I tried the most savory Belgian waffle. I also enjoyed a glass of wine at one of the restaurants while people watching.
The “Wieliczka” Salt Mine. | This is on basically every “Top Things to do in Krakow” list. You take 380 steps to the first level of chambers within the mine. Within the mine, enjoy salt sculptures made by those working in the mine. Your guide will go over how the mine was and is used. The coolest parts include seeing the different chapels. In its prime, one of the key chapels held mass twice a day. Oh, and you can also get married here- what?! You must enter the mine through a tour, purchased through the Salt Mine. You can also book through a travel agency that will book your tour for you. Since I went by myself, I was paired with other folks for the English tour. In total, I spent 2.5 hours here (not including transit).
Dinner at Morkie Orsko. | This was THE Polish meal. Highly recommend reserving a table in advance. We didn’t and tried to grab a table on two different occasions.
Enjoy an Insta-worthy cocktail experience at Bubble Toast. | From 5-7pm every day, this bar has 3-for-1 martinis & spritzes. Need I say more? You can also head upstairs where the bar hosts several Instagram-worthy vignettes for photos! Most places like this in the States cost money, so I thought it was nuts that this was free while enjoying the bar.
Molto for dinner. | While it’s not Polish, this place has incredible Italian food with intimate vibes. Plus live music.
Fitagain Coffee & Food for breakfast. | Most places were closed for Easter weekend, but we found this place. Loved the amount of healthy options to fuel us for a big day.
La Bodega del Ron for a tropical hideaway. | Right off of the market square, this speakeasy-type situation hid me from the rain while I sipped on a tropical drink. Again, not exactly Polish, but it’s what I needed.
Explore history in the Jewish Quarter. | To supplement your walk through history, be sure to tour the Jewish Quarter. To get the most from this, I joined a free walking tour. During the walking tour, our guide let us stop & try “Zapiekanki,” which is Poland’s answer to pizza. While in the Jewish Quarter, stop at the Singer Bar, where you can enjoy a cocktail while sitting among literal Singer sewing stations.
What I wish I did but couldn’t due to last minute timing & Easter weekend. |
Schindler’s Factory. If you’ve seen the movie Schindler’s List, this is supposed to be a must do.
Pharmacy museum. I’m hoping to read “Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy” which outlines the significance of this museum.
Most Anticipated Part: Auschwitz
Take the most important excursion possible while in Krakow: Auschwitz. | Last but not least: the Auschwitz tour.
Because of Easter weekend, most tours were sold out. Was lucky to find the one at the last minute, which departed from the neighboring town: Katowice. Am very glad I booked this tour, as our tour agency guide gave us VIP treatment– we skipped the lines and were brought to the front of every checkpoint. There’s several checkpoints– one to check your identity (don’t forget your passport!), one for security, etc. Our tour agency left us after the last checkpoint & handed us off to the official tour guide.
Upon entry, guests view a short film followed by the official Auschwitz tour via the tour guide & a headset. The headset had lots of static, so I found myself running (literally) after the tour guide in order to walk closely behind him to actually hear. After that, the group takes a shuttle bus to Birkenau, the other part of the camp. From getting on a bus to Katowice to arriving back in Krakow, the entire endeavor took about twelve hours. Thankfully it was the only thing we formally planned for the day, as we weren’t sure how we’d feel afterwards.
Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp, where over 1.1 million lost their lives. It’s not an easy pill to swallow. Ever. Especially seeing what remains in person. The souls live within those spaces, and you can hear them if you listen with your heart. While a solemn day, it was one I am thankful to have experienced.
Within Auschwitz specifically, we saw the dormitories, proof of the crimes such as hundreds of pieces of luggage/clothing, gas chambers, crematorium, the Death Wall and lots more. History books and films generally depict this in black and white, but seeing what’s left of the horrors in person in color felt so much scarier. It felt more real, of course.
At Birkneau, you enter through the highly photographed railroad tracks. This is what most people picture in their head when thinking of the camp. You’ll walk past a cattle car, which is how people were transported into the camp. You’ll also see what remains of the gas chamber, dorms and watchtowers. One of the dozens of moments my heart snapped was seeing the Birkneau dorms. Guards stacked people three sets of “bunks” high. The first “bunk” is directly on the cold, damp ground. Each bunk fit multiple people crammed together. I strayed from my tour group for a second to snap a picture of the bunks. I placed my hand on one of the bunks and felt a “zip” through my entire body. That chill connected me to those who endured the horrendous crimes. Never felt anything like it in my entire life.
I will never forget the silence that filled those spaces. No one was crying. No one was talking. Everyone was remembering what those souls would want us to, which is to never forget.
100% strongly encourage you to visit Auschwitz. It was absolutely worth the time, money and energy.
Hope you find yourself in Krakow one day to share with me everything you’ve learned. Here’s to finding deeper travel experiences.
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