Kraków is extremely rich in culture and history with well-preserved Jewish heritage and grand medieval buildings nonchalantly perched on street corners. I particularly liked that the city isn’t over the top tourist-friendly and still hasn’t succumb to the Western corporate culture. Not to mention the possibility of buying a vodka for the same price as water in a bar, or eating a three course meal for under £10. The Southern Polish city completely surpassed my expectations. Although I stayed for three days in Kraków, I could’ve easily stayed longer.
Getting into Kraków city centre
From Kraków-Balice airport arrivals, follow the signs to the train station. Don’t bother buying a ticket at the platform unless you need to pay by card. Simply get on the train going towards Wieliczka and buy a ticket on board from the conductor for 9zl (£2). Get off at the 5th stop, Kraków Główny (the main train station) after 20 minutes.
I personally wouldn’t recommend taking the bus. Although it’s half the price of a train ticket, the journey time is far longer, especially if there’s traffic.
Tip: Much to my horror, Google Maps doesn’t load Kraków public transport. Instead, I used the Jakdojade website to look up trams and buses during my three days in Kraków.
Where to stay in Kraków
I stayed in The Secret Garden Hostel located in Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter) for three days in Kraków. I particularly loved this neighbourhood for its abundance of quirky bars and cheap restaurants with wholesome vegan and gluten-free food! It’s also a quick walk to Wawel Castle and the Old City. The best part was that when I was feeling lazy, I could take the tram right beside the hostel (only 1.90zl/40p for a single ticket). It was such pristine and peaceful hostel to chill in after exploring Kraków all day. Read my detailed review here.
How to Spend Three Days in Kraków
When I arrived in Kraków, I made a list of things I wanted to see from Google Maps. My three day itinerary doesn’t include the salt mines as I thought it would before I visited… Instead, I’ve listed the far better attractions which I saw during my three days in Kraków.
Wieliczka Salt Mines
I’m only listing the famous salt mines here to warn you against seeing them. Since you can’t visit the salt mines on your own for safety reasons, I booked a tour for 120zl (£20). Big mistake. The tour guide gave us minimal information about the mines. He seemed really unhappy to answer my questions and even tried to brush them off… There isn’t even any details about the mines pinned up anywhere which I found strange.
At one point, the tour guide pressed a button on the wall to light up some salt gnome sculptures with Disney-like music playing in the background. By then, it had become clear to me that this was an attempt at entertainment rather than education. They even forced us to wait for 30 minutes near the end in an area with a cafe, playground, gift shops and blasting pop music, obviously wanting more of our money. I was honestly taken back by the obscene commercialisation. Overall, the salt mines themselves are beautiful at a glance, especially the cathedral. Sadly, greed has turned this promising educational experience into an expensive tourist trap.
With nearly 10,000 5* reviews on Tripdavisor, I’m actually astonished that I could be so disappointed. Although upon investigating further, it seems as though the majority of bad reviews have only come in recently… I regretted wasting a few hours there when I could’ve spent my three days in Kraków more wisely.
You have been warned!
Wawel Castle and Cathedral
Bordering along the Old City and Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter) stands this huge castle. It was built for King Casimir III the Great, and in 1978, it was declared part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After I saw the Italian-styled courtyard, the Wawel complex became the most impressive architecture I saw during my three days in Kraków.
The main square
Rynek Główny is the 13th century main square in Kraków, lined with old townhouses and churches. It’s the perfect place to find a cafe and have a drink while people watching.
The long hall got its name during the 1300s when it was used as a hub for trading cloth. Nowadays, it’s lined with stalls selling jewellery, clothes and even ancient weapons. Obviously, with such a central location, it’s become a tourist hot spot. However, it’s handy for buying souvenirs.
St. Mary’s Basilica
The Gothic church is a really grand structure in the main square of Kraków. Visitors don’t have to pay for entry at the back entrance (which I went into by accident). Tourists are supposed to go in through the side entrance where there’s a 10zl (£2) general fee or 15zl (£3) which includes access to the tower.
St. Florian’s Gate and Barbican
The Polish Gothic tower was originally used as a watchtower for defence against the Turkish in the 14th century. The Barbican located directly behind St. Florian’s Gate was once connected to the old city walls and marked entry to to the Old Town. Now, it holds exhibitions.
The Jewish District
Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter in Kraków, is a charming area which once had a morbid past. Now, it’s an urban network of arty restaurants, quirky cafes, lively bars and brilliant street art. The food is much cheaper here than anywhere else and the nightlife is much more authentic and less touristy. Take a tour to learn it’s deep history, or wander through the streets at night to absorb its vibrant atmosphere. Also, make sure to visit Plac Nowy.
Personally, I recommend finding accommodation and places to eat in this area simply for the great quality and cheap price.
Located in Kazimierz, the Jewish District, is the oldest standing synagogues in Poland. Again, it has a devastating history as Jews were executed along its walls. Surprisingly, the beautiful building survived World War II.
Visit the museum which is in the former factory of Oskar Schindler. It’s a really informative place to learn about German occupation of Kraków. It opens from 10am to 6pm between Tuesday and Sunday as well as 10am to 2pm on Monday. Entry costs 21zl (£4.50) and admission is free on Monday. Tours are also available.
Tip: Buy a Memory Trail ticket for 28zl (£6) which covers the Pharmacy, Schindler’s Factory, and Gestapo Headquarters. It’s handy since the ticket is valid for 7 days and allows you to skip the queues.
Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps
Spend a day at the two concentration camps in Auschwitz near Kraków. Everyone should make the effort to learn about the tragic treatment and execution of Jews during World War II. Without a doubt, I’m sure that it will have a profound impact on your perspective on life and humanity as it did on mine.
Either take a tour for around 120zl (£25) or pay 26zl (£5.50) for transport only as entry to the two camps is free. The journey takes about 3 hours in total, and I spent nearly 5 hours at the camps.
Morskie Oko Lake
If you are willing to make a 15 hour day trip to see truly mind-blowing nature, make your way to Zakopane and then the Tatra National Park. From there, trek for 2 hours to Morskie Oko Lake and enjoy a cold beer or warm tea while admiring the dramatic mountain range. It’s completely worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
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