KRAKÓW, Poland – One of Poland’s largest cities, and definitely one of its oldest and prettiest too, Kraków remains an underrated destination in Europe. This, despite its rich history, thriving culture, amazing nightlife, and especially – affordable prices. But let’s change that, shall we?
Visit the Old Market Square
At 10 acres, it’s Europe’s largest. Also, it’s definitely one of the prettiest this writer has seen, beating ones from this continent’s popular, Western side.
There’s just something so romantic and dreamy about the place. Despite being littered with shops, it doesn’t give you the feeling that it has gone over to the dark, touristy side. We’d recommend it for shopping and dining any day.
The Poles are truly passionate about preserving their beautiful culture, and are very proud of it. You’ll see their traditions are still part of their daily lives with locals still buying flower wreaths and putting them on little girls’ heads.
Poland is also famous for craftsmanship so don’t miss the chance to shop for fine home decor, wooden toys and kitchen items, as well as jewellery.
Hear the Trumpet Call from St. Mary’s Basilica
This beautiful basilica offers a beautiful, solemn place for prayer inside. No photos were allowed but trust us when we say it’s truly grand and a must-see, especially for Catholics.
It is also famous for the Hejnał Mariacki (St. Mary’s Dawn). It is played every hour, by a lone trumpeteer on the highest tower of the basilica. The five-note anthem stops abruptly before completion to commemorate a sentry that sounded the alarm by playing the hejnał in 1241 to warn the city about a Mongol invasion. He was shot in the throat with an arrow, so he wasn’t able to finish the song.
Explore the Grounds of Wawel Castle
King Casimir III, the Great’s residency, is not shabby at all. It’s a gorgeous mix of medieval, renaissance and baroque architecture. Being on a hill, it also boasts of a beautiful view of the city and the River Vistula.
Are you big fan of Game of Thrones? Legend has it that Kraków was home to a dragon named Smok (The Hobbit, anyone?) back in the day. He lived in a cave near Wawel Castle, and his bones are said to still be inside the castle. Although lots of people say that those are just whale bones, we’ll stick to believing they’re Smok’s.
Take time to reflect at Auschwitz
The site of harrowing atrocities during World War II, Auschwitz is about a 45-minute drive from Kraków’s city centre. It’s open for tours and we’d definitely recommend you take the guided ones.
A three-hour guided tour costs about PLN45 (USD12.38) per person. It takes you from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz II, where most of the Jews and Nazi-regime political prisoners were killed.
The tour lasts three hours, so switch your heels up for comfortable footwear. Auschwitz II, in particular, is more grass and muddy soil than pavement. This visit puts the Holocaust into perspective, and gives people in this day and age a time to reflect on how important freedom is.
Visit the Salt Mines
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is an underground treasure which Poles are very proud of. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that’s both eerie and enchanting at the same time.
Underground chapels and lakes await visitors, as well an 800 step climb. Don’t worry – you only have to climb down.
There’s a lift at the end of the tour that brings you back up the surface. Nevertheless, comfy shoes are a must as there’s a lot of walking involved. Wear a sweater too, as temperatures in the mine are pretty low.
Have some traditional, Polish Pierogi
These Eastern European dumplings are in almost every restaurant in Poland. You get to choose what goes inside, but we highly recommend feta and spinach with some garlic sauce on top. Not so good on the breath, but really great in taste.
Lastly, we’d also recommend you try the obwarzanek krakowski. It’s Kraków’s softer, chewier, braided version of a bagel. You get a choice of poppy seed, cheese, and other toppings too.
Have you been to Kraków? Share some of your favourite experiences below! – The Binge