At the start of January, David and I headed off to Krakow for a wonderful few days of sightseeing, exploring and eating. It was magical.
We arrived in Krakow to a blanket of snow on the ground, freezing cold temperatures, Christmas lights twinkling and the friendliest locals we have ever met on our travels. Straight away we were in awe of the city, everywhere a picture perfect display. We settled in very well and had the best city-break we have both ever been on and we have done a few.
I think it was the combination of beautiful scenery, lots of history, plenty of good food and drink and lovely locals that made Krakow shoot straight to the top of our favourite places list.
Below, I have written a short guide to visiting Krakow including how to get there, where is the best place to stay, useful information, where to eat and what to do. I hope you find my first-timers Krakow guide useful and it shows off just how brilliant this city is.
Getting There & Where To Stay
Krakow is in the southwest of Poland, Poland’s second city after the capital of Warsaw. Flights from the UK are about 2 1/2 hours and low-cost airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair regularly fly to Krakow.
Krakow is a small city and the central area can be divided into the old town and the Jewish quarter. Staying in the centre doesn’t have to be expensive – we went in January and paid £100 for three nights in apartments located right off of the main market square in the old town. The apartments were basic, but the service we got was really good and the location was perfect.
The old town is beautiful, with wonderful buildings, churches and cute little restaurants and cafes scattered around the main market square. The Jewish quarter is the more funky, urban neighbourhood, with lots of modern restaurants and student bars. Where about you decide to stay comes down to personal preference, it only takes about 20 minutes to walk from the old town to the Jewish quarter, so not far at all.
If staying a bit further out, Krakow has a really efficient tram service was is inexpensive to use.
Krakow is a very cheap city to visit, so is a great break if you are on a budget. They use Polish Zloty and £1 is worth about 5zloty.
Everyone in Krakow was so friendly and we never struggled with any language barriers, everyone’s English was phenomenal. I have some Polish friends so no a few basis Polish phrases, which I used (probably very badly!) to peoples amusement.
The airport is very close to the city centre, about 30 minutes by car. We had our apartments arrange for us to be collected from the airport and this cost us the equivalent of £16. There is the option to get the train for very cheap (about 10zloty I read) so this is an option if you are on a budget.
Where to Eat
Krakow is a student city, so is full to the brim of funky restaurants and bars. I’m a vegetarian and didn’t struggle at all, something I was expecting visiting an eastern European country, and I noticed how a lot of restaurants did have at least one vegan option on the menu.
I have written a whole guide on my vegetarian recommendations in Krakow which you can read here.
I will say two things here though; make sure you eat your body-weight in pierogi and head to the Jewish quarter for some excellent middle-eastern cuisine. Hamsa serves the best falafel and hummus I have ever had in my life.
What To Do
Krakow is a wonderful city to visit as it is small enough to explore in a couple of days, but has plenty to do so you don’t get bored. We wandered around the old town on the first day we were there, getting lost down cobbled streets and hopping from restaurant to cafe. There are so many wonderful places to sit around and have a drink in the main market square and as it was early January, the Christmas lights were still up and there were fire heaters and blankets to keep you warm.
You also have Kazimierz or the Jewish Quater, which is the more urban side of Krakow. Kazimierz has been the home to the Polish Jewish population since the 15th century, so there is a lot of history to be found in this part of Krakow. During WW2, many of the Jewish citizens of Krakow became displaced or taken to concentration camps. Not many survived, therefore Kazimierz very much holds it’s cultural significance.
You can take a free walking tour to learn a little bit more about the history, plus you can visit the Jewish graveyard and a Jewish synagog. There are also a few museums here and Plac Nowy (new square) is worth a visit on a Sunday for the local market.
While we were in Krakow we took part in a cooking class through the company Urban Adventures. We met up with our guide at 10am where we then went on to buy ingredients from a local market in Kazimierz. She encouraged us to speak Polish, much to the amusement of the trade men and woman! We then went to our guides house, where she then taught us how to make pierogi, a traditional Polish dumpling. It can be filled with all manner of fillings but we had cheese, onion and potato.
While learning how to prepare the filling and make the dough our guide spoke about her experience of growing up in Krakow and taught us about the history of Poland. It was extremely interesting to hear our guide’s stories and of course, get to eat the yummy pierogi that we had made!
Krakow is perfectly small enough to get a good feel for it in a couple of days, but it also has a few things to do outside of the city centre too.
The main excursion people often to when visiting Krakow for a few days is a tour of Auschwitz concentration camp. Auschwitz is 90 minutes outside of Krakow by car and there are a plethora of companies that offer tours and guides. We used Krakow Discovery to arrange our guide and we also combined it with a Salt Mines tour in the same day.
Auschwitz isn’t a place you want to visit, its a place you need to visit while you are in Poland. It serves as a stark reminder of the brutality of history and it puts everything within modern life into perspective. It’s not an enjoyable morning, but it is something that is worth doing.
The Salt Mines are close enough to Auschwitz to be able to do both on the same day, which is what we opted for. It wasn’t something that I expected to enjoy and I didn’t really have any ideas of what the Salt Mines would be like but I was surprised by how informative and interesting I found them. The beauty of the mines, the salt statues and underground chapel made it a tour I am glad to have experienced.
Another option, if you have the time, is to visit the nearby mountain town of Zakopane which is surrounded by the Tatras mountains. Zakopane is about 2 hours outside of Krakow and there are lots of companies that offer full day tours. Zakopane would be a beautiful town to visit in any season, the snowy mountain backdrop in winter would be idyllic, just as the luscious greenery in the summer would be too. If I had an extra day I would have definitely wanted to visit – its very popular with locals and for good reason!
I hope you have found my first timer guide to Krakow useful and has helped you plan your trip to this brilliant Polish city. If you want to see a 72-hour itinerary click here and also my vegetarian recommendations of where to eat and drink can be found here.
Have you visited Krakow? If not, is Krakow on your list?
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