Candice Gleeson explores Krakow over a long weekend and brings back four recommendations for must-do experiences in Poland's second city.
Krakow (or Cracow) is one of the oldest cities in Poland, and certainly among the most beautiful and endearing. With incredible medieval buildings, pretty gardens and a fable involving the defeat of a dragon, you will be enchanted from the moment you arrive. The city is teaming with things to do, and if you only have a long weekend to spare, you'll want to use your time sparingly. Get value for your weekend with these four unmissable experiences.
1. Feel small in one of the largest town squares in Europe
The main square of Krakow, Rynek Glowny, is where it all happens. Dating back to the 13th century, this enormous rectangular space is home to beautiful townhouses and churches, with the Cloth Hall smack bang in the middle. Inside the Cloth Hall you'll find local traders selling their wares; everything from jewellery to homewares and souvenirs for your friends left at home. Around the perimeter of the square you will find an array of restaurants and jazz bars which are lively until late in the evening. Try the Harris Piano Jazz Bar for cheap cocktails and a lively band.
2. Remember history's horrors at Auschwitz-Birkenau
A sombre but important experience, Auschwitz-Birkenau is every bit as haunting in real life as you might imagine. Take note, you will need to book during the busy period, which runs from April to October. Auschwitz is the most famous part of the camp, and where the museum is housed. Here is where you will see possessions of the prisoners, portraits of them taken by the official camp photographer, where they slept and where they worked. Photographs are allowed in most areas, but please respect the signs where photographs aren’t allowed. The second part of the tour was Birkenau, which is a huge plot of land separated by train tracks. Birkenau had four gas chambers and crematoria. Once the Nazis realised they would be defeated, they attempted to destroy most of the evidence with fire. The crumbled and burnt buildings still remain and really drive home the cruelty and horror.
3. Take the Wieliczka Salt Mine tour
Wieliczka Salt Mine, as with Rynek Glowny, dates back to the 13th century. Touring a salt mine may not be top of your bucket list, but this is no ordinary mine. Once you get into the depths of the earth - we’re talking 135 metres - you'll discover an amazing world full of chambers, tunnels and sculptures all carved from salt. There's even a recreation of Da Vinci’s Last Supper carved entirely out of salt, and not one but four chapels and the piece de resistance of the mine is the Chapel of St Kinga. Every single piece of this chapel, including the sparkling chandeliers that hang above, is made of salt. It took over 30 years of work before it was finalised, and is truly a marvelous sight to behold. The tour will take about two hours and there is a lot of walking so be sure to wear comfy shoes and take a jacket - it is especially cold in the underground lake chamber.
4. Eat as much Polish food as possible
Where to start? Everything is quite cheap, even fine dining establishments, so if you want to have a well-rounded experience then we recommend eating at cheap and cheerful places during the day and then sitting down to a nice meal with wine of an evening. Rynek Glowny and the surrounding area is packed with great options. Chimera offers both quick and light meals during the day and fine dining at night in the cosy cellar underneath. If you’re after a late night munch, be sure to grab a Zapiekanka. It’s a large open half baguette served hot with mushrooms, cheese and ketchup, and is a popular street food. It will cost you next to nothing and will soak up all the beer in a flash. Sweet tooth? You'll find many little hole-in-the wall bakeries dotted around the city offering a plethora of sweet treats. Keep an eye out for Lajkonik which sells sweet rolls and Polish cookies for a much needed dose of glucose after all the walking you’ll be doing. Grab a Wisniowa Kruszynka (yeast dough with cherries and a crumble topping) if you really want to know what heaven in a bun is.