Visiting Kraków, Auschwitz

Visiting Kraków, Auschwitz

If you are searching for a destination rich with history, beautiful architecture, delicious food and vibrant culture, look no further.

Krakow is one of Poland’s oldest cities, close in proximity to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and the Wieliczka Salt Mine, and it offers a variety of things to do and see for travelers of all types.

Transportation & accommodations

We flew into Kraków via RyanAir from Frankfurt International. Upon arrival, we took an inexpensive Uber to our home for the weekend. We had priced out taking the train and walking from the train station to our accommodations, but with the Uber only costing a few dollars more, it was well worth the convenience!

Our home for the weekend was a studio apartment at Stradonia Serviced Apartments. We had a lovely balcony with a view of Wawel Castle and were situated just minutes away on foot to the Old Town main market square. The location couldn’t have been better, and having breakfast delivered to our apartment each morning was a plus.

Kraków is a pretty walkable city as far as its major points of attraction go. We spent the majority of the weekend walking wherever we needed to go and only relied on Uber a handful of times.

Things to do

Explore Old Town and Wawel Castle

The Old Town main square is arguably the most picturesque part of Krakow. Clean, white streets surrounded by stunning architecture and an assortment of horse-drawn carriages going by – it’s like something out of a fairytale!

The main square was originally used for commerce, and one can still shop for a variety of goods from vendors in the Cloth Hall in the center of the square. The square is lined with restaurants and cafes offering outdoor seating, and while you might pay a little more here than in other areas of Kraków, the prices are low compared to other European cities.

Wawel Castle is just minutes away from the main square and sits atop of Wawel Hill overlooking the Vistula River. An assortment of Romanesque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture make up the castle grounds, which may be visited free of charge. The insides of the buildings — the State Rooms, the Crown Treasury, the cathedral and more — may be toured, but it is highly recommended you reserve tickets in advance if you wish to do so.

Eat pierogi, cheese and Obwarzanek

Sampling pierogi in Poland is a must! These delicious little dumplings come stuffed with potatoes, cheese, meat, sauerkraut or other vegetables. You can find them almost anywhere, but perhaps the best place is at one of Kraków’s milk bars.

The milk bars began as government-subsidized cafes where workers could get a low-cost bite to eat. The meals were simple and cheap, using mostly dairy-based ingredients or potatoes and eggs. Today, you can still dine at milk bars in Poland offering a spin on these simple menu items at very low prices.

We enjoyed dinner at Milkbar Tomasza and ordered a variety of delicious plates for less than $14!

Another restaurant we very much enjoyed was Pod Wawelem. This restaurant sits right across from Wawel Hill with a view of the castle from its covered terrace seating area.

We came here on our first day and immediately went for the pierogi as our first taste of Kraków, however Ben also ordered an entrée from their menu that he really enjoyed. The restaurant itself had a lovely ambiance, the staff were friendly and the prices were very reasonable. Be advised you may need a reservation on a night or weekend as it seems to be a popular spot.

Try the Gołka cheese from a market or from street vendors – some serve it grilled with cranberry sauce on top! This rubbery, smoked, salted cheese is a treat.

Also try Oscypek cheese if you get the chance. It is similar but produced with sheep’s milk instead of cow’s milk and is only available April through October.

Obwarzanek (“the Kraków pretzel”) is a ring-shaped bread that is somewhat of a mix between a pretzel and a bagel, topped with salt, sesame seeds or poppy seeds. You’ll find them everywhere – in every café and on every street corner. There is no shortage of Obwarzanek, which is good because they are delightful.

Visit Auschwitz

On a somber note, Kraków is an hour’s drive from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest German Nazi concentration camp.

Renting a car is an option should you chose to do so, but traveling to Auschwitz via public bus from Kraków is a simple and cheap alternative. We rode the Lajkonik bus, which left Kraków MDA bus station at 7:10 a.m. and brought us directly to the main entrance of Auschwitz at 8:35 a.m.

We booked our bus tickets to Auschwitz in advance online, but it is no problem to buy them in person as well — just make sure you have the proper amount of cash for the bus driver. A one-way ticket from Kraków to Auschwitz was 15,00 złoty, which cost us approximately $4 at the posted exchange rate. More information on the bus may be found online.

Touring Auschwitz without a guide is free but requires a reservation, as a limited number of people are permitted inside at one time. You may also reserve a guided tour for a fee. All of this may be done at the Auschwitz website. Pay close attention to the details — visitors without a guide are only allowed during certain hours, so plan your visit accordingly.

Be sure to visit Birkenau as well, the extermination camp down the road from Auschwitz. A free shuttle bus runs in between the two sites several times each hour, and no ticket or guide is required to enter Birkenau.

Visiting Auschwitz was as amazing as it was traumatizing. There are items and belongings on display ranging from shoes to human hair, prisoner starvation cells with markings on the walls, gas chambers where thousands of lives were taken daily, a crematorium full of furnaces for human bodies and so much more.

I could talk at length about our experience at Auschwitz – instead, I’ll simply encourage anyone reading this to experience it for themselves. Make the trip. It will be an emotional, educational journey you won’t soon forget.

For planning purposes: We spent about four hours between Auschwitz and Birkenau. We probably could have spent longer but it was very cold, and most of the memorial is not indoors or in a heated setting. The benefit of visiting early on a cold, winter day was the reduced crowd. We had entire exhibits, gas chambers and barracks buildings to ourselves which made our visit even realer, and even eerier.

Tour Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine, right on the outskirts on Kraków, is one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines. Excavation began in the 13th century and the mine was used for commercial salt mining until the 1990s. It is now an official Polish historical monument offering tours to visitors.

Inside the 327-meter deep mine, visitors have a chance to see exhibits on the history of the mine, an underground lake, statues carved from rock salt and an extravagant subterranean chapel. The 2.2-mile guided tour took approximately two hours to complete, with an optional museum portion at the end. It’s quite incredible to get a glimpse of this underground world.

It was a weekend well spent, but there were bits of Kraków we did not have the opportunity to explore, such as the Jewish Quarter or Schindler’s Factory.

I suppose that means we’ll be back again, because Kraków is a city so nice it’s worth visiting twice.

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