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After traveling to Santorini in September, our second trip of 2021 would be to Kraków. This was a trip booked way back in 2019 for 2020. Read on and enjoy our three-day guide to Kraków.
We originally booked this trip with Jet2. They canceled the trip because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We replaced this booking with a trip to Budapest instead, with Easyjet. This booking also became a victim of the pandemic and they cancelled too. This happened on the day we flew home from Santorini.
So, what to do? We already had time off from our jobs, and we knew that travel was possible. So we didn’t want to waste this opportunity. Looking for where to go, we revisited our original plans. We arrived home from Greece and jumped straight on the laptop to book.
Booking Our Trip
We looked at several hotels and finally chose one. With the trip booked, we were excited. A five-night city break to Kraków, our first time in Poland. Perfect. However, as we all know, booking trips isn’t always easy at the minute.
Literally a week later, they cancelled the trip. No word from Jet2, no offer of anything else, and no alternative. Refusing to be beat, we tried again. We noticed they removed the original booking and flight schedule from the site; we could re-book, but five nights would become four.
Choosing another hotel, we booked again, and finally, here we are. So, please, enjoy this post.
Arriving in Kraków
We landed in Kraków early evening after flying in from Manchester airport. The only thing on our mind, as usual, was to dump our suitcases and head straight out to catch our first glimpse of the city, and to feed our faces. It was dark, so everything looked so pretty lit up, especially the Basilica of Saint Mary.
Outdoor covered seating areas surrounded the main market square and you could see the signs of Christmas creeping in. Some decorated with twinkling lights and they were looking very festive. These belonged to the many bars and restaurants here, although most were fairly empty.
Knowing that Krakow has an excellent reputation for nightlife, we couldn’t wait to head into one of its famous vodka bars. Reading several reviews online from different bars, we settled for the Wodka Cafe Bar. This bar is a short walk behind the basilica and is at Mikołajska 5.
This bar had an incredible range of flavoured vodkas, served on ‘flight’ boards. Each with a place for six separate shots. The bar itself is small, and gets very busy. There are many flavours of vodka here, including toffee, blackcurrant, lemon, pear, walnut, hazelnut, coffee and cherry, to name but a few.
We ordered a board of six flavours each and a beer. The weather outside was quite cold, but these soon warmed us up.
If you would like to learn more about Polish vodka and take part in a guided tour with more tasting opportunities, you can take part in a private tour.
The First Day, Our Three-Day Adventure Begins
Coffee and Donuts
First up on our list of places to see, Wawel Castle, but first breakfast. Walking down Grodska street, we were looking for somewhere to grab coffee and something to eat. We noticed these cute little donut shops. Making our way over, our mouths were already watering at the tasty treats on offer. Huge handmade donuts with amazing flavours.
We chose our donuts, grabbed a cappuccino, and made our way to Wawel Castle. If you would like to try something different for breakfast, you could try one of Kraków’s traditional bagels (Obwarzanek Krakowski). Sold from small blue carts on most streets, they flavour these tasty breads with poppy seeds, sea salt, or just plain. Get them early morning when they are at their freshest.
Arriving at the castle, we made our way up into the main complex. We went to buy tickets to do a self-guided tour of the museums. Arriving at the desk, we asked to see everything; the lady handed over a small ticket, which was also a small map. She scribbled on some times and directions and told us where to go. We had to be at each exhibit for the time stated.
Wawel Museums and Exhibitions
Expecting to pay, she waved her hand, “no charge, free, free” she said. We weren’t sure what to do, expecting some kind of mistake. We double checked, and the tickets to visit were indeed free.
There are charges to visit the museums here, so check on the day you visit. We must have stumbled on some kind of free entry day. It is to be noted, the grounds themselves are always free.
Our ticket gave us admission to The Armoury, The Lost Wawel, Art of the Orient and Wawel Recovered. We were both fascinated by all the exhibits and items on display and loved our time here. The armoury was a particular favourite of ours.
If you would like a more thorough guided tour, you can always book one in advance. Get Your Guide has many to choose from, including this one. Kraków: Royal Hill Guided Tour.
The Royal Armoury
A selection of photos from the fantastic Royal Armoury. They had some great exhibits here, including weapons, armour, cannons and all kinds of other military goodies from hundreds of years ago. A fantastic collection.
This beautiful cathedral is part of the castle complex and you can access it through the main courtyard. We needed to get tickets to enter the cathedral, but these were from a small kiosk opposite. There was a charge of 44zł, which at the time was around £4 each.
The Royal Tombs
The crypts at Wawel Cathedral hold the many tombs of Polish Kings from the past few hundred years, including the tomb of former PresidentLech Kaczyński and his wife. They were both killed in a plane crash in Smolensk in 2010.
There are many ornate metal and marble caskets on display here.
The Sigismund Bell
There are five large bells hanging in the Sigismund tower of Wawel Cathedral, and the Royal Sigismund Bell is the largest of them all and hangs proudly at the top. The bell was made in 1520 and is named after King Sigismund I of Poland.
It weighs 15 tonnes and needs twelve bell-ringers to get it swinging. They still ring the bell on special occasions and national holidays and is a national symbol of Poland.
Once you climb the tiny staircase up to the bell, the views out over the city are incredible.
Smok Wawelski, The Dragon of Wawel Hill
Smok Wawelski is a dragon in Polish folklore who lived in a cave under Wawel Hill. His story takes places during the reign of King Krakus, the founder of the city of Kraków.
Smok would wander the land, killing villagers, destroying homes and eating livestock. There are many versions of this story, and King Krakus’ plan to kill Smok with his sons Lech and Krakus II.
The monument to the dragon is at the foot of the hill, opposite the Vistula River. Smok breathes actual fire every few minutes and is a great stop when you visit the castle.
Pierogi, Polish Dumplings
Hungry as ever after a busy morning walking around and exploring the castle, we grabbed some lunch. When in Krakow, eat pierogi !
We found this great little place, just on the edge of the city, called Pierogarnia Krakowiacy. They label it as ‘self-service’ but this doesn’t mean you help yourself, it just means you have to order your food at the counter.
The food was incredible. Seriously so good, we both opted for a plate of 9 dumplings each and shared both flavours. I ordered the Chłopskie dumplings, which were filled with potato, bacon bits and onion, and Vicky the Z mięsem i kapustą ones, which were stuffed with pork, cabbage and onion.
St Marys Basilica
After we filled up on dumplings, we made our way back into the centre of town. Our next stop, St Marys Basilica. They built it during the 14th century and is a fine example of Gothic architecture. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
Every hour on the hour, a trumpeter sounds a tune called the Hejnał mariacki from the tallest tower. They play it four times, facing each of the cardinal directions. It is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. The interior of the basilica is beautiful. And you must visit if you get the chance. In 2010, a funeral for the then President Lech Kaczyński and his wife took place here. They were then laid to rest in the crypt of Wawel Cathedral.
Exploring More of The City
The Cloth Hall
During our walk around, we passed the Kraków Barbican, and we also saw the Grundwald Monument, an enormous statue dedicated to King Władysław Jagiełło and the battle of Grunwald in 1410. We also found the parish church, Bazylika św. Floriana w Krakowie, in which John Paul II practiced as a priest before becoming Pope.
The Cloth Hall stands in the centre of the market square. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this impressive building is full of shops selling all kinds of gifts and jewellery, and also houses a museum. It dates back to the 13th century. Fire destroyed it during the 16th century and therefore subsequently rebuilt. It has changed many times over the years.
In the market square, you will also see the impressive Town Hall Tower and the dismembered head of Eros, the Greek god of love, lying next to it.
When we booked our trip to Kraków, we were unsure about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. We toyed with the idea for several days. We wanted to go, we obviously knew about the history and everything that happened there. Would it be disrespectful? We didn’t want to be ‘tourists’ in a place like this.
We did eventually make the choice to visit, and we are so glad we did. It was a tremendously moving experience and one we feel everyone should do at some stage while traveling around. We feel that this bit of our post needs one of its own, so here it is Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau From Kraków.
We booked this trip as part of a full-day experience that included the salt mines through Get Your Guide. It was a fantastic day out, with a small group, and we never felt rushed. Our guides were incredible and we couldn’t rate this trip highly enough.
The Salt Mines of Wieliczka
After our trip to Auschwitz, we would go to the Salt Mines of Wieliczka. We arrived at the mines a short drive later. The tour organiser gave the group an hour for lunch. We were all led to a restaurant just over the road from the mine and we were told what time to regroup for our tickets to the mine. The entire group then disappeared into the restaurant. Not me and Vicky though, we like to do our own thing, and eating with the group wasn’t really our cup of tea.
Instead, we walked down into the town of Wieliczka and found a great little cafe selling coffee and cake. After our snack, we visited a couple of shops, bought some gifts, then made our way back to the mine.
We had two hours to look around the mine, and they handed us over to one of its own tour guides. As we explored, we were all given a full history, and we were told all about the people who worked there and how the mine was dug out and constructed. Parts of the mine date back hundreds of years, and other parts back to the Neolithic period. At one moment in time, salt was worth more than gold.
There are underground brine lakes, cart tracks, chapels and, of course, what everyone comes to see, its famous statues and carvings all made of salt. Carved by miners through the years. Some carved directly into the walls and floors, others made from huge salt blocks.
The mine was in operation until 1996 and is another one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The mine reaches down to 327 meters and has hundreds of kilometers of chambers and passageways.
We finished our second day eating in a restaurant inside the Cloth Hall, traditional Polish food. It was delicious. We had had an incredibly busy day. We were already looking forward to our next and last day of exploring Kraków.
Day Three, Another Busy Day Exploring
The next morning, we woke and headed out to fuel up on coffee and donuts for breakfast. Today, we would make our way down into the Jewish quarter and surrounding areas. Before then, we had to make a quick stop.
The Church of Saint’s Francis of Assisi in Kraków
We found this little church purely by accident when doing some morning research. It only small, but it is so beautiful inside. It stands just off Grodzka street. The church of Saint’s Francis of Assisi (Bazylika Franciszkanów św. Franciszka z Asyżu) has incredible stained glass windows and even a copy of the Shroud of Turin.
Polish Independence Day
During our time in Kraków, we were there for Polish Independence Day, November 11th. Known as Remembrance Day in the UK. A day that remembers and honours the fallen since the end of World War I.
As we walked further through town, we came across a large crowd gathering at the Square of Maria Magdalena. We knew they were here for the remembrance day ceremony, TV cameras were here, various people from the military and other organisations. We joined the crowd and stayed for the event.
In Poland, the day commemorates the country regaining its sovereignty from Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian Empires at the end of 1918.
The memorial day started in 1937. They had only observed it twice before the outbreak of the Second World War. The country was then under Nazi control from 1939 until 1944. Poland then fell under the control of the USSR and it wasn’t until the fall of communism that Poland would be free again. They celebrated this day once again, starting 1989.
The Jewish Quarter
We headed down into the Stare Podgórze district, a short walk South across the river. We found a little pastry shop and sat in Plac Niepodległości to eat dinner and feed the local pigeons. After a while we had a short walk East and found the Church of Saint Joseph. A beautiful Gothic-style church.
Oskar Schindler’s Factory
When we arrived at the museum, we were sad to see it was closed. Not surprised though as it was the day of independence and most museums and tourists spots, shops etc were.
You can take a private tour around this factory, and this is something we will definitely do should we visit Kraków again.
The Empty Chairs of Kraków
This memorial symbolises the departure of the Jews who once lived in the ghetto that once stood here. They sent most to the Nazi death camps. There are 70 chairs, each representing 1000 people, all spaced out across the square with an old German guard house on the North end. I didn’t realise this at the time until writing this blog and doing a little more research. Apparently, the chairs face the direction of the crematoriums they sent the Jews from Kraków to.
Many of the chairs had candles and small floral tributes placed on or around them, all tying in with the fact it was independence and remembrance day.
Remuh Cemetery & Synagogue
We had to head back over the river into the Kazimierz district, the Jewish Quarter. Here you will find many museums, art galleries, bars and restaurants, some of the best in Kraków.
This cemetery is the last resting place of many notable Polish-Jews and Rabbi’s. During the Second World War, Nazis who were active in the area destroyed many parts of the cemetery. They tore down walls and many of the stones they moved, destroyed and used as paving slabs in some camps.
The Remuh Synagogue is the smallest of the temples in the Kazimierz district and they built it during the 16th century. It has changed over many years and the Nazis used it as a storage facility during the Occupation. Before entering the temple, they asked me to wear a small Kippah, a Jewish skullcap, and these were available outside from a man selling tickets to enter the grounds.
Both the Synagogue and cemetery sit on the main road Szeroka.
After another very busy day, we walked back towards the main market square. It was early evening, but because it was a holiday, the streets were still very busy with locals.
We grabbed a hot chocolate from another great little place we found on our first day, Karmello Chocolatier’s. If you’re a fan of hot chocolate, you absolutely must try this place. We bought another donut from a shop further up and sat on a wall next to the Church of St. Wojciech. It was cold, but we enjoyed some people watching for a bit.
We fell in love with Kraków. This was a fantastic introduction for us and made us want to explore more of Poland. We will even visit Kraków again one day, that I am 100% sure of.
Looking For More Awesome Things To Do in Kraków?
Would you like to add some more activities to your three-day guide to Kraków? Then look no further that this short guide.
Zakopane. A full-day tour to the Hot Baths and panoramic views from the Gubałówka mountain. Something completely different from the busy city, relax and unwind.
Sightseeing cruise on the Vistula River. Float down the Vistula River and take in the city from a different perspective.
Creepy Krakow: 2-Hour City Walking Tour. If you are interested in creepy tales and ghost stories, then this is for you. A two-hour guided walk around Krakóws’ creepy areas after sunset.
Looking For Somewhere To Stay ?
We hope you enjoyed our three-day guide to Kraków. If you are looking for a magnificent hotel in Kraków, then why not take a peep at the Pergamin Royal Apartments. Situated only 200m from the main market square, this hotel is in an excellent location on one of the city’s oldest streets. Within walking distance of many of the city’s sites and attractions, we couldn’t recommend this hotel more.
You can read Our Review Of Pergamin Royal Apartments, Kraków.