You might know that I’ve just got back from my second holiday to wonderful Krakow, Poland. I’m still discovering amazing things to do while I refine the perfect itinerary. These are my suggestions for a 4-day stay, taking in some of the best sights in and around Krakow. We stayed for 5 days, but only really had 3 ½ days there if you don’t count travelling to the airport.
We arrived in Krakow in the afternoon. After a 2 ½ hour flight from the airport, we took the very reasonably priced airport bus into the city centre and checked in to the apartment we’d call home for the next few days, which was located in the city centre just outside the Planty, close to the train/bus station and just a few short minutes’ walk from the main square.
After freshening up, with grumbling tummies, we walked into town to have dinner at our absolute favourite restaurant – u Babci Maliny. It’s a self-service restaurant that does traditional Polish cuisine – no fuss or frills but absolutely delicious. I had the mushroom and cabbage pierogi (boiled) with a mixed salad. My companions had Polish sausage and mash and meatballs in a dill sauce. Fully content, we walked to the brightly lit market square and had a beer in one of the many cafes. The weather was a comfortable 25C during the day, so it was balmy enough to sit outside each night.
My boyfriend and I grabbed a pastry and a coffee from one of the many bakeries as we hadn’t had enough time to buy food for breakfast in our apartment the night before. In fact, we never once utilised the kitchen of our apartment as the food was so plentiful and good value. We ate our breakfast sitting on a bench in the Planty Gardens which is a beautiful green belt around the old city centre and follows the locations of the old city walls before they became derelict and were knocked down in favour of this green space.
Every city we visit, my mum is a sucker for a boat trip. So we decided to take an 1 ½ river boat cruise along the Vistula River. When I say cruise, the boat was much more like a little wooden steamer, but it had so much more character than one of the bigger modern vessels with restaurants and whatnot. It’s much cooler along the river so if you’re suffering from the heat (it can easily reach 35C in summer) this is a great way to cool down and there are some beautiful views of Wawel Castle and various churches along the way.
The boat conveniently dropped us off at the foot of the castle hill, so we visited the lair of Smok Wawelski, the legendary Krakow dragon. There were plenty of children climbing all over the statue, but they were soon scared away when it started breathing fire!
By this time we were getting quite hungry, so we decided to sit on the main square and enjoy some traditional Polish cheesecake, cherry strudel and sharlotka (Polish apple pie). Fully refueled, we decided to see the Veit Stoss Altar in St. Mary’s Basilica which is worth the small entry fee. If I’d known about it, we would also have gone up into the tower where the bugle call is made from. It has a separate entrance at the base of the tower, so I didn’t see it until we had to leave.
The Krakow free walking tours meet outside of St. Mary’s Basilica and a tour of the Old Town, which included the Barbican, bugle call, a few churches and the Wawel was just about to start so we tagged along. It’s so much better to have the history explained to you than looking at the sites. Plus it’s free, so if you’re really skint or not that interested in church interiors you don’t have to fork out to hear about them (unless you want to give the guide a tip, which we did of course). The walking tours take a minimum of 2 ½ hours, so come prepared with comfortable footwear and a water bottle.
After walking around all afternoon we were ready for another beer and some dinner in our favourite restaurant with zurek (sour rye soup, trust me it’s delicious), barszcz (a thin beetroot soup), placki (Hungarian style potato pancakes with goulash), more sausage and pork escalopes.
We woke up early and joined my mum for breakfast in her hostel as we’d booked a tour to the salt mines at Wieliczka. The tour included the minibus to and from Wieliczka, entry fee and a 2 hour tour with a guide. It’s a fascinating place and differs to other salt mines because the miners have carved some amazing statues and monuments, even chapels, underground. The temperature in the mines is quite pleasant so we didn’t really need the long trousers and cardigans we’d brought. After our tour we were so hungry we had to have a grilled sausage at the mines before driving back to Krakow.
Late afternoon, we visited the new underground museum in the main square underneath the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall). The museum is all about the history of Krakow. It includes some amazing archaeological excavations that only came to light a few years ago when the main square was being repaved. It’s best to get a reservation or ticket beforehand, as they only let a limited amount of people in every hour. Make sure to leave plenty of time for this museum, it’s really interesting and is bigger than you’d think!
Then off to our usual dinner haunt for barszcz, fried pierogi of the meat and cabbage variety, a mixed salad, more potato pancakes and stuffed pork. Afterwards we sampled some local brew in a trendy tap house. Poland has a burgeoning craft brewing scene, so don’t forget to try some of the local ale before you have too many Zywiec lagers!
We had a bit of a lie in before walking to the main square in Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, where we met up with another free walking tour. We walked around the Jewish Quarter, via a few synagogues and the market, over the bridge to Podgorze where the Holocaust Memorial and Schindler’s Factory are located. After the tour we split our group. My mum took the tram back into the city centre and we decided to walk, with an ice cream halfway back into the centre as our reward.
In the afternoon we decided to take it easy and buy some things we wanted to take back to the UK. We had a look at the craft stalls and shops in and around the Sukiennice and market square, finally settling on buying homemade cured sausage, Wawel chocolates, amber earrings and delicatessen from Kredens (roasted hazelnut honey sounded way too good to pass by). On previous trips I’ve bought slippers with Polish embroidery, embossed leather work, and traditional printed Polish folk scarves. There’s a lot to choose from, but I make a point not to buy from the really touristy outlets as the quality often isn’t great.
To conclude the afternoon, we sat down in the square for a well-deserved beer and listened to the bugle call a few more times. Once we had worked up an appetite we decided to go for dinner. The previous day we’d found out that our favourite restaurant has another branch in Krakow with table-service. So for our last dinner we pushed the boat out with herring in sour cream, pheasant with Krakowian friend potatoes, tagliatelle with mushrooms and chicken covered with a sesame crust. We also sampled the vodka as a digestive, walnut for my boyfriend and cherry for me. It definitely helped send me to sleep before our early wake-up call for the airport the next morning!
I’d definitely say Krakow was worth a couple of trips, even if you’ve been before there are still so many things to do. We’d all been before and were really happy with the pace of the holiday – not too much rushing around and just the right amount of culture and relaxation whilst sitting on the market square.
There are a couple of things that we missed out this time that I did do on my first trip. We decided not to pay the entry fee for the Wawel Castle and Cathedral, as I’d been previously and the Castle doesn’t have much original furniture inside. Last time I also sampled more of the vodka (and the nightlife) which was amazing but I was in a very bad state the next day, so my consumption stayed moderate this time round! There are nightclub tours that hostels can arrange for you if you’re so inclined. We also took a day trip to Zakopane, Poland’s winter sport capital, but decided not to go again as there isn’t that much to see and do to warrant us taking a day out of our short visit.
I hope this gives you an idea of the best things to do in Krakow and inspires you to visit this beautiful city. The people are very friendly and most speak English, so don’t let that put you off. And please try the food, you’ll never look at potatoes and cabbage in the same way again!
Have you ever been to Krakow or anywhere else in Poland? Is it on your travel bucket list? Are there any other tips you have for travelling to Poland?