This post is long overdue! A couple of months ago, at the end of June, I spent 5 wonderful days exploring the Polish city of Krakow. My boyfriend, Stewart, had managed to secure a number of tickets for football matches in France, as part of the Euros. Not wanting to miss out on any summer fun, I decided to tag along on a family holiday with my parents to Poland. Not having spent a holiday with them for over 10 years, since I was a teenager, I was a little dubious to say the least about how the week would pan out. I was worried we may revert to old tendencies of bickering and wanting to do different things. However, much to my elation, we had a fantastic week visiting the historic city of Krakow. Since I’ve moved out, and now see my parents once every month or so, we appreciate our time together so much more and thus get along much better.
My parents had both been to Krakow before, and so were eager to show me around and re-visit the many places they had enjoyed the first time around. After a short flight from Bristol airport, we began our descent into Krakow above fields upon fields of luscious green grass, yellow crops and woodland. Dotted all over the landscape were the cutest red roofed houses. They were quite literally the epitome of the house emoji! I had this picture of a grey, Eastern European landscape beforehand, and had no idea that the Polish countryside was so beautiful. It was really very similar to flying over a patchwork of English fields, only brighter and sunnier!
After a short taxi ride from the airport, we arrived at our beautiful hotel – Hotel Makysmilian, located just a 10 minute walk from the old town of Krakow, on Karmelicka street. This hotel had been recently renovated and included many before and after photos, framed and dotted around the communal areas. The transformation was impressive, and our family sized room was perfect for the three of us. Featuring 3 single beds, a sofa and arm chair, a desk, wardrobe, and large bathroom, we couldn’t have asked for more. Each day we had bottles of water, tea, coffee and biscuits topped up in our room. The bottles of water were particular great as we happened to land in a mini heatwave. Temperatures ranged from 28 – 32 degrees each day we were there. In a city this can feel at least 5 degrees hotter, but Krakow is blessed with many large, leafy green trees, and grassy areas to relax and take respite in the shade.
5 Things to do in Krakow:
- Wawel Castle
- Oskar Schindler Factory
- Auschwitz and Birkenau
- Eat Pierogi (dumplings) and Naleśniki (pancakes)
- Eat Italian at Mamma Mia restaurant
As I mentioned the old town of Krakow was just a short walk from our hotel, and this is one of the most famous parts of the city. This medieval old town is among one of the first sites chosen by UNESCO for a world heritage site. And it comes as no surprise why. Draped in history, both political and cultural, this stunning town features the equally beautiful Bazylika Mariacka church to one side of the market centre piece. Cobbled streets lead off in all angles, with many cafes, restaurants, bars and shops lined on either side of the roads. Although it’s a reasonably small area, there is plenty to see and you easily spend an afternoon soaking up the rays of the sunshine, and cooling off by popping in and out of shops as you meander your way around.
Further south of the main square is Wawel Castle, Krakow’s prestigious castle that sits on the edge of the river, looking out over the surrounding city. For the most part the castle is open free of charge. You have to buy tickets to go inside some of the buildings and visit the galleries, but to be honest, I found wandering around the grounds far more fascinating. The castle provides fantastic photo opportunities and is a must see for anyone visiting the city.
The castle leads down towards the edge of the river, and from here you can walk for miles along the Vistula river, visiting both the historic and modern sides of the city. Even in the height of summer, this provided a quiet, peaceful break from the bustling city streets. Also from here, if you’re feeling particular energetic, you can walk for about 30 or 40 minutes to the Oskar Schindler Factory, located on the south side of the river. Here we took a tour which lasted a couple of hours where you walk through a museum inside the factory, detailing the history of the factory and of course the history of the second World War. Although the museum touches on some sad points, it is not overly emotional and doesn’t show any graphic images. It concentrates more on the factory itself. It’s definitely worth a visit, and if like me you watch the film Schindler’s List before visiting Krakow, you will recognise much of the factory as it has been kept in its original design.Krakow also offers many tours of the nearby concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. This is something that I personally felt I had to see, however I must warn you that it is extremely upsetting, as I’m sure you can imagine. The tour lasts a couple of hours, but during that time you see many graphic images, videos and even personal objects from the thousands of people that lost their lives there during the war. It was heartbreaking to see, hear and read about. Many members of our tour group, including myself, were reduced to tears on more than one occasion as we made our way in and out of the various buildings of the camp. For me, Birkenau was much more upsetting, solely for the sheer size of the site. When you approach at the entrance, it’s impossible to see the borders of the camp. It’s that big. Although it was a scorching hot day, I was shivering from the chills that ran up and down me as we were informed of the countless war crimes that took place. Much of the site is now reduced to rubble, but some of the buildings used to house the prisoners are still standing. It is within those buildings that you get a real sense of the vast number of people crammed into each shack, bed, toilet… It’s horrendous but as you move towards the back of the site there is a large memorial, that offered a sombre end to the trip. However sad and upsetting I found the tour, I would highly recommend it. I understand not everyone may be able to stomach it, but this is an incredible part of our history, that should be witnessed so that we never let it happen again.
Moving on to something a little more light hearted (sorry, but I had to mention the tour), Polish food is certainly worth a try! Before heading to Krakow I did a little research on the local cuisine and made a short list of foods that I wanted to try. The first being Pierogi, a Polish style dumpling. These come in a variety of flavours with all sorts of different fillings, both sweet and savoury, but the classic is a potato and bacon filling. I say this is the classic, however I believe many Polish people disagree, with everyone preferring something slightly different. They even hold an annual dumpling festival where there are over hundreds and hundreds of different ones to try!
Polish pancakes, Naleśniki, are also a must! These are savoury pancakes, served again with a variety of fillings, and come with a healthy dose of tomato ketchup and mayonnaise on the side. We opted for the ham leek and cheese filling, but there was also a bolognese option on the menu that looked rather good also.
Polish soup is another great dish to try, especially if you head to Poland in cooler months. Traditionally Polish soup is served in a large bread roll, which you can then tear apart and use to mop up the soup. Similarly to clam chowder in San Francisco. There are a couple of different varieties of this too, but I believe the most popular is potato and sausage, which I chose. It was a rather odd taste, nothing like I’d tasted before. It was almost vinegary in flavour, and rather watery in texture. Much like vegetable soup you may find here, just more tangy. My parents weren’t so keen, but I really liked it. Considering how cheap food and drink is in Krakow, you can easily afford to try local cuisine and if you don’t like it, order something else! It is incredibly cheap. So much so that for 3 of us eating out in the evening – 3 starters, 3 mains, 3 desserts, 1 side, 1 bottle of wine and 1 beer – we spent no more than £30 – £40, including a tip! Incredible value for money. Trips and tours are a little more expensive, as they are catered towards tourists. But food and drink is ridiculously cheap. However, I would suggest wandering down the side streets of the old town, away from the main square, as it is here where you will find restaurants charging almost double!!
I also must tell you all about Mamma Mia, an Italian restaurant, located on Kramelicka street. Although not Polish, this restaurant serves up some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten… And I’ve eaten a lot! It was so good that we ended up eating here on two of our five nights in Krakow. This is not something I normally like to do, I prefer to try lots of new places, but we could not fault the food, service or ambience. Each pasta dish we tried was cooked and seasoned to perfection. The international wines on offer were well priced, as were the beers. Unfortunately I have no photos to show you. The food was that delicious that we dived straight in before I had chance to think about taking a photo, (REALLY not like me!!) so you can tell how good it must of been.