This year I wanted to experience a little more of Europe, and though I’m starting extremely late, I’m glad that Krakow was my first European destination.
I was so overwhelmed by the city, the residents and how much we took away even with only being there 2 and a half days. Squeezed into this trip was a lot of shopping and a lot of sightseeing and I can’t wait to share with you how we did it.
The Red Brick Apartments situated at a 2 minute walk from the Galleria Shopping Centre and a 5 minute walk away from the main square were absolutely essential to our trip. I cannot recommend these apartments enough. From the location to the absolutely wonderful staff who went above and beyond to help us, even so much as to leaving the hotel to come outside to help us buy bus tickets.
Our room (Poznan) was extremely spacious with a functioning kitchen, dining room and a bedroom, in which we counted you could probably sleep up to 7 people. The streets outside were silent at night times as well as the apartment and hallways themselves. We were awakened every morning by the soft chime of bells from the church opposite which played a musical tune on the hour.
There is an abundance of leaflets and information booklets within reception as well as very helpful staff who can book you on any of the tours or provide you with more information on areas or activities around the city.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO
There are so many activities and tours that you can do whilst staying in Krakow. You can either book these in advance, when you arrive or you can do it yourself as such. Most hotels and tourist information points (there are a lot on the walk up to the Main Square) will be able to book you on either the Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour, the Auschwitz tour or any of the city tours.
For the Salt Mines we went to their main office which is just down past the 12 Disciples Church and bought our tickets separately (160 zloty for both my mum and I). We then had the hotel help us to book our bus tickets. The bus departed from just beside the Puro hotel and it took 35 minutes in total to get to the Salt Mines. Your stop is Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli. This cost 15 Zloty for the both of us and was a return ticket. The tour is about 2 hours long and takes you 130 metres deep underground. There is plenty of photo opportunities as well as a gift shop halfway through the tour and a café at the end for food. For an extra 6 zloty each we added on the graduation tour which is a 2-3-minute walk from the mines. This building allows you to breathe in the salty air, which has healing properties and you get a great view from the top of the tower across parts of Poland and the salt mine building.
The tour was very informative and there were plenty of times available to book. We decided to go for the 4pm tour which finished just after 6pm, it was a bit quieter at this time but we still had a large group. You are provided with a tour guide, a radio set and earphones so you can hear your guide at all times, even if you are at the back of the group.
AUSCHWITZ & BIRKENEAU
Again, my mum and I did this by ourselves rather than booking it through a tour. After much research we decided that we were going to get the coach from the galleria shopping centre (The bus depot is at the very back) and once arriving enquire about their free entry passes which are released at certain times for each camp. The queue for bus tickets is generally quite long everyday as there are only two desks so arrive early to get your tickets, at least an hour or so before you know the bus is due to depart as it took us 30-45 minutes to get to the front of the queue. Coach tickets were 30 zloty for both my mum and I. Note: The coach takes around 2 hours to reach Auschwitz.
Upon arrival make your way across the road to the white information hut and enquire about tickets. We were lucky enough on arrival to receive Free Entry tickets to the Birkeneau camp, and told to come back at 4pm when the Auschwitz free entry passes would be released. There is a free shuttle to the Birkeneau camp which is signposted. It takes 10 minutes to get from one camp to the other. As we did not book a tour it was all self-guided, there is a lot of signage and it is easy to follow other guided groups if you get lost. We spent around an hour at Birkeneau walking around the grounds. There is a shop on site which sells guides, books and refreshments. There is an opportunity to go into the main watchtower at the front but this is only available through a privately booked tour.
The shuttle bus picks you up outside at the same point where it dropped you off and we were lucky enough when we arrived back to obtain 2 free entry passes to the Auschwitz camp. There is a restaurant, shop and information point on site though we had brought a packed lunch and ate this outside before heading into the tour. Again, there is plenty of informative signage throughout the tour if you are doing it yourself.
Prepare yourself for both of these camps, this was an extremely hard and emotional day but I was extremely honoured and humbled to be able to see and learn more about it all.
GALLERIA SHOPPING CENTRE
This is a 3-level story Shopping Centre that caters to a variety of shops. From clothing, make-up, technology and toys, there will be something for everyone in here. There are plenty of places to eat including some home favourites of Burger King and Pizza Hut if you aren’t feeling as adventurous. Girls there is a large Sephora as well as an abundance of Clothes stores, including one of my new favourites Tally Weigel. We spent a good half a day in the centre alone shopping around and picking up different pieces. The Zloty is easy to spend in here with prices being slightly lower, from designer stores to drug store alternatives.
KRAKOW MAIN SQUARE
The Krakow main square is so beautiful both in daytime and during the evening. For us it was about a 5-minute walk and on the lead up to the square you are surrounded by Restaurants, souvenir shops and a wonderful shop lined street with the church indicating your arrival at the square at the very end of the street.
The square itself is massive, lined with bars and restaurants around the side, an indoor market in the middle and during the weekend fresh flower market. Watch out for rose sellers and in the evening the locals that sell laser lights and toys as they can try and distract you. There is a good police presence however with armed police either driving or walking throughout the Krakow town, and with the town being so clean from litter and graffiti I was never once worried for my safety.
The Indoor market was amazing to experience with a variety of stalls from craft, amber, clothing, woodwork and more it was so lovely to walk up and down. I came away with a beautiful hand-made Russian Doll, a hand painted tea light holder and a stunning flower head band. Oh, and the warmest fleece lined socks I have ever wore on my feet.
On our last night in Krakow we decided to head to the main square for some dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant. We sat outside and were immediately given blankets to wrap up in and we strategically sat beside on of the fire heaters as it was quite cool in the evenings when we were over in October.
Between the both of us we shared a spaghetti Bolognese and each had a drink which came to 50 Zloty so around £5 each. The service was brilliant and it was amazing to sit and people watch everyone walking around the square, serenaded by buskers and watch the horse trot by.
Our very last stop on this pit stop holiday was a tour around Wawel castle. If you keep walking on past the main square and past the 12 disciples church you will reach the amazing Wawel castle. You can either wander about this site for free or pay for a tour, which will also allow you to enter into certain areas which the general public aren’t allowed in. It hit 24 degrees when we were there so it was an extremely warm walk around but made for a beautiful setting for a picnic in the gardens and a little Instagram photoshoot.
From the views from the castle walls, the massive courtyard, the cathedral and of course the dragon’s den, there was so much to take in and admire. Handy tip, the dragon is at the bottom of the castle beside the river, if you stay and wait long enough he breathes fire! We timed it around every 10 minutes, though there were so many kids that it was hard to get near it.
We spent an hour or two here before walking back to the square to get in some last-minute shopping before heading to the airport to head home.
The airport bus was a bit of a hassle. As the trains weren’t running to the airport, we queued up at the bus depot to be told we had to queue elsewhere. Once queued here they told us they were unable to sell us airport tickets as it was a different company and that we were to buy our tickets on the bus.
We were pointed in the direction of a bus stop, and after checking the timetable confirmed that the airport bus stopped and picked up here. However, there wasn’t much instruction as to what tickets you had to buy once on the bus and there was a lot of confusion, especially with the language barrier.
If I remember correctly we purchased a single way ticket which included Zone 1 and 2. Do not try and get away with not buying a ticket as ticket wardens frequent the bus regularly. It can take up to an hour with traffic and stops to arrive at the airport though I believe there may be a bus you can get which doesn’t stop.
The airport itself is lovely, with a couple of eating places and the normal shopping districts. We were disappointed in the advertisement of a Costa to find out that it didn’t do any food just hot drinks. We ended up in a lovely restaurant just past security which did lovely pizza.
Overall, I would highly recommend heading to Krakow for a weekend getaway or as a surprise trip for a loved one or friend. We packed a lot into the 2 and a half days we were there and it was so amazing to see and experience both the culture and the sites this wonderful city has to offer!