Krakow ended up being one of my favourite European cities. In fact I loved it so much that it was only one of the few European cities that I visited not once, but twice during my travels. And when I visited I had two very different experiences; as the first visit was with my grandfather while the other was while solo travelling.
During my first visit I stayed in a private room at a quiet hostel and was in bed at 10pm most nights. On my second visit I stayed in a dorm at a party hostel and had quite a few late and drunk nights. And I think I fell in love with Krakow more because of these contrasting experiences.
If I’d only visited alone, it might have been easy to get stuck into the Krakow partying atmosphere and I probably would have seen less of the city. But if I hadn’t return I might never have experienced the awesome bar scene in the city.
One thing was common between both of the visits- my love for this small and medieval city.
Krakow Old Town
The medieval old town is the highlight of any visit to Krakow. Despite its role in the World Wars, the majority of the old town remained perfectly intact. Only minimal damage became of the centre of Krakow. Thus the majority of its beautiful squares, buildings and churches are beautiful medieval style buildings.
The major reason Krakow is so beautiful is that it used to be the capital of Poland. Krakow is where all the royal money was spent and that wealth is reflected in the colours and beauty of the architecture. The old town is an amazing place to just wander around- you’ll end up stumbling upon old pieces of castle wall, cute streets, and colourful alleyways.
But if you want to learn more about the history of the buidings and the town of Krakow itself, then it’s a great idea to jump on a free walking tour. There are multiple companies that offer tours but we had a great tour with Free Walking Tours Krakow . I loved that we did it on our first day in the city, as it gave us an indication of how to plan the rest of our time in the city. We also left aimed with some food recommendations, as well as instructions on how to get to Auschwitz.
This was my favourite part of the Krakow Old Town. The castle and the cathedral attached to it are really beautiful. I loved the contrasting colours of the buildings and the variety in the types of architecture that can be found throughout the castle square and even around the cathedral.
Despite the feeling that I have visited a million cathedrals, it was worth popping our heads into the cathedral itself to check out the interior.
Although there is one building that the castle could do without, a Nazi style building that was built when the Third Reich had control of the city. Unfortunately for everyone there is no way to tear the building down without doing damage to the older and prettier parts of the castle that are attached to it!
Pierogis! Pierogis! Pierogis!
Pierogis are undoubtedly the best part about eating out in Poland. These Polish dumplings are morsels of soft pastry encasing a variety of fillings. The most popular are potatoes, meat, vegetables, fruit (there are sweet versions), and cheese. They are then boiled or steamed to be cooked.
They are also incredibly cheap so it was our go to meal for the majority of our time in Poland. Whilst you definitely can overload on Pierogis (so we found out), that still didn’t stop us from eating bucketloads of them. I particularly loved the unconventional pizza flavoured ones.
Milk Bars are old-fashioned Polish eateries. Here you’ll find a variety of cheap and affordable meal options. But a word of warning- almost all of the dishes are heart attack inducing. You’ll struggle to find healthy food or vegetables that aren’t potatoes in any Polish cuisine.
The only meal I had at a Milk Bar in Krakow was deep fried Camembert with fries and cranberry sauce. It was super delicious but all the grease left a terrible feeling in my gut. That’s not to say I wouldn’t order it again!
This was the major reason I returned to Krakow a second time, without Pa in tow. I’m not sure there is anyplace in Europe where you can go out and buy a drink for as cheap as you can find it in Poland. Poland has great beer and of course, amazing vodka. I might have indulged in too much of said vodka one night. But boy was it delicious!
The one special thing about Krakow is that the majority of the nightlife are bars. With a few exceptions, I’m much more of a bar and beer girl than a clubber, so I enjoyed sitting around a table with new friends in a tiny bar and just chatting and drinking.
The Jewish Quarter
Although Krakow isn’t a big city, it has more than one district that is worth visiting. By far the most popular place outside of Krakow old town is the Jewish quarter, famous as the place where Schindler’s List was filmed. If you have watched the film recently than you’ll recognise many places in the Jewish quarter.
Unfortunately the Jewish population of Krakow is rather small today, and the Jewish quarter isn’t jam packed full of Jewish people. But the area has an interesting history and there are still many visitable synagogues. It’s not a particularly pretty area, the attraction is more in the history and the stories of the area. Thus I think it’s essential that you hop on a free walking tour of the area- they leave every morning and every afternoon.
And the walking tour doesn’t just cover the Jewish district, but crosses the river so you can explore the area that used to be the Krakow Ghetto. This is where Krakow’s Jews were kept, killed and then taken to Auschwitz. There is a beautiful memorial in the place of one of the Ghettos with single chairs, representing the small amounts of furniture and belongings the residents of the Ghetto would have carried with them.
If you take the free walking tour of the Jewish Quarter than you’ll finish in front of Schindler’s Factory. Being able to visit this museum was one of the reasons I decided to stop back in Krakow on my way from Lithuania to the Tatras Mountains in Slovakia. I never got an opportunity to visit with my grandfather and it was something that I really wanted to do in Krakow.
Only a small amount of the museum is home to the story of Schindler and the Jews he saved. The rest of the museum is a fantastic retelling of the history of Krakow and World War II from the first invasion to the liberation of the camps. It’s a great place to spend a few hours and immerse yourself in more history. It’s one of the most informative and thorough museums I’ve ever visited. I’d absolutely recommend visiting here before going out to Auschwitz.
I think this place deserves it’s own post so look out for another post coming for a few days to learn more about visiting Auschwitz without a tour. But just make sure you allocate a full day to visit from Krakow. It’s challenging and difficult, but it’s a place that I think everyone should visit if given the opportunity.
During my first visit I stayed at Old Walls Hostel in a private room. It was a little bit of a hike out of the way but the trams in Krakow make it easy to venture around. The second time I stayed at Greg and Tom’s Hostel (the original one- not the party one). It’s one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at- it was like having your own home and the room price included the best hostel breakfast I’ve ever had, dinner and a free hour of shots and cocktails every night.
Anything to add?
What did you like about Krakow? Do you have any specific recommendations? Comment below!