We took a Jet2 city break to the amazing city of Krakow, nestled in the South of Poland, close to the Czech border. We have visited Krakow numerous times before. I knew exactly what this city break would entail – and so, that’s why I headed back once again. I just love this city – and have visited with my partner, on a girl’s trip and also on an educational trip with my son. This city is so versatile, there really is something for everyone.
The first time I visited Krakow was some ten/ twelve years ago, was to join friends for a traditional Polish wedding – and the city wowed me back then – as it still now.
The Jet2 deal we found was excellent value for money. We took direct flights from Newcastle, taking just over two and a half hours. Poland is outside the Euro zone and uses the Zloty as its currency (at the moment, there’s 5 Zloty to the Pound). The exchange rate is phenomenal – making purchases in the city, super cheap – my money went really far in Krakow. You’ll be impressed with just how far your money will go when eating out and drinking in Krakow.
Krakow is absolutely steeped in history – everywhere you look is just so impressive! Krakow used to be the capital city of Poland (up until 1611) when it was moved to its present site in Warsaw.
The city grew in size and stature as Krakow was ideally placed on both sides of the Vistula River, and became a hub politically and religiously. Controlled by Austria for over 100 years, it was returned to Poland after the end of World War One in 1918. There it remained in Polish control until just over 20 years later when it was invaded by Hitler’s Nazi occupying forces in September 1939. During World War Two, the city was bombed, but didn’t suffer as badly as other cities – and remains well preserved with wonderful colourful building and impressive architecture.
Here’s my Top ten of things to do in Krakow
Get Your Bearings
From arriving at Krakow (John Paul II Airport), we jumped in a taxi for a 25-minute trip to Krakow. The airport is super handy for the city, as it’s only 10 miles away – no longer transfer here and no getting ripped off either. We confirmed our price with our driver in advance (about 90 Zloty, about £18) and there was no hassle. I’ve since found out that using Uber is cheaper still at about 60 Zloty (£12). The trip was quick and efficient with a lovely, polite driver, who gave us a running commentary on Krakow and loads of hints and tips of what to see and where to visit.
We arrived at our aparthotel, the Belle Epoque Residence, which was just a 10-minute walk from the main square. The Belle Epoque was phenomenal, Jet 2 really know what they’re doing – offering amazing accommodation (4.5 stars on TripAdvisor) and some fantastic reviews – have a look online and you’ll not fail to be impressed. Belle Epoque is an amazing apartment that wouldn’t look out of place on Instagram!!
We just dumped our bags and headed straight into the heart of the city the main square – the RynekGlowny. You’ll travel through some lovely, full of character streets and suddenly the main square opens out in front of you – and WOW! You’ll have to pick your jaw up off the quaint cobbles!
Just take time to wander and meander the beautifully quaint streets. We enjoyed getting lost, taking a left and a right, here and there, and stumbled upon hidden courtyards and cellar bars. There’s plenty of time to use the map to find the top spots, but for the time being we loved just taking our time discovering the city – every time I’m here, I find something new. You can never get lost, as Krakow is encircled by the beautiful “Planty” – a gorgeous walkway/ park which surrounds the city. It’s now a beautiful greenbelt which replaced the old medieval walls.
Rynek Glowny – the Main Square
The Rynek Glowny is the largest medieval square in all of Europe and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, it feels as if you’re taking a step back in time – old cobbled streets, surrounded by stunning buildings with the Sukiennice (the old cloth market) taking pride of place. Now offering an array of handmade, Polish souvenirs, the building is very striking and sits at the heart of the city. Surrounding the Main Square are numerous bars, coffee shops and restaurants. In Summer, the square is be-decked with beautiful flowers and tubs and everyone sits outside under umbrellas whilst enjoying the local hospitality, whilst taking respite in the shade and also taking in the views. In Spring/ Summer, Krakow can get hot – so don’t forget your factor 50 as you’ll be walking around all day enjoying the sights! Equally, in Winter, everyone heads indoors, down underground to the labyrinth of cellars and courtyards to take respite from the weather. From here, you could also try a free walking tour from the Main Square – where you only pay what you think it’s worth!
Bazylika Mariacka – St Mary’s Basilica
Towering over the Rynek Glowny, you’ll not miss the impressive St Mary’s Basilica, truly a beautiful cathedral right in the heart of the city. This too, is now a UNESCO World heritage Site. It’s popular with the tourists, and also holds numerous church services throughout the days, so it might be best to check the times when you’re free to walk around (it’s generally open to visitors from 11.30am – 6pm).
On the hour, every hour, listen out for the bugler from one of the towers – you’ll hear the strains of a trumpeter, following a tradition that started in the 13th Century. The story goes that the town was under siege, and a lonely sentry spotted the enemy approaching, and sounded his horn. You’ll hear the tune end abruptly, and as the story goes, this replicates the exact moment the trumpeter was struck in the head by a flurry of arrows all those years go.
From the Main Square and St Mary’s Basilica, it’s just a short 10-minute walk to the imposing Wawel Castle. Set high upon a rocky outcrop (Wawel Hill), this was the first UNESCO Heritage Site in the World! Again, have your camera ready, as this castle is just magnificent and breathtakingly beautiful. Built from the 13th Century by King Casimir the Great, it’s built in an array of styles (Medieval, Baroque, Renaissance) and compromises of gold topped churches, courtyards, gardens and a museum. In World War Two, it was commandeered by the Nazis who used it as their base in the city.
Take time here to take a break, rest up and sit in the glorious gardens and look down over the River Vistula and the red tiled rooftops of the city. There’s a lovely little café that served snacks and drinks, at very reasonable prices and it’s a perfect stop for a bite to eat and charge your batteries up for the afternoon.
Just underneath the Castle, you might see crowds of families and children crowding round a hidden cave. Here lies the story of the Krakow Dragon, which lived under Wawel Hill. The dragon has come to represent the city and is a popular souvenir to take home for the kiddies.
There’s a lovely walk just under the castle and next to the River Vistula, where tourist boats bob up and down, waiting for the tourists. There are plenty of river cruises, party boats and you can also hire a rowing boat. Prices for the one hour sightseeing start from about £10! This is such a lovely way to put your feet up, relax and watch the city go by.
Wieliczka Salt Mines
I’d recommend that you buy your tickets for this tour from the Tourist Information Office in the Main Square. With the transport and the entry fee/ guided tour, the prices for this optional tour vary widely – so shop around! We joined this tour, but if you have limited mobility, or you don’t like heights or confined spaces then this is not for you! We arrived at Wieliczka after a 30 minute coach ride, and we taken down a flight of 380 steps (when you’re at the top of the shaft, don’t look down), this was followed by a 2 mile underground guided walk. Obviously, comfy shoes are needed. The underground mine is fascinating, with underground salt lakes and chambers, altars, statues, chandeliers and even a chapel – all hand-carved out of salt! Don’t worry, at the end there is a lift to take you swiftly up to the top again! Thank goodness!
One hour outside Krakow, lies the Polish town of Oswiecim, more infamously known in German as Auschwitz, the concentration camp where over 1.1 million innocent lives were lost, mainly Jewish. Liberated in 1945 by the Soviet Army, Auschwitz stands today as a sombre and thought-provoking memorial against tyranny. It’s not recommended for children under 14 – as it is a truly upsetting experience. However, it is such an important part of history, that I feel that it should be a “must” to see. The museum is free to enter, but you need to pay for the coach transfer and the guide – so again, shop around. It is totally unforgettable and an experience that I will never forget.
You’ll be dropped off first at the museum part of the tour, where you can visit the various buildings which tell the story of Auschwitz, the Nazis and the innocents that they tortured and killed in the gas chambers. Audio guides in English are available and whilst horrifying to hear, it is also deeply moving. We then took the coach again, onto the main camp, which is a sprawling monstrosity, covering land as far as you can see. The size is unimaginable and shows the true industrial nature of the camps. You might want to visit the website first to see if this trip is for you.
Kazimierz – the Jewish Quarter
From Wawel Castle it is only a short stroll to Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter which is in the north east of the city. The film Schindler’s List was filmed her and you can wander round safely, taking in the atmosphere. There’s plenty to see including numerous synagogues and museums. I’d definitely recommend eating here if you wish to try traditional Jewish and Polish dishes, as there’s plenty of authentic restaurants. It’s a very interesting area, you can wander round outside, but if you’d like to go in the synagogues then you might need to pay a donation and also wear a head covering out of respect.
We made our way by taxi (again at a very reasonable cost) to Schindler’s factory. Oskar Schindler was a German entrepreneur who moved to Krakow in World War Two, during the German occupation of Poland. He owned a factory that used Jewish people as workers – but Oskar helped to save over 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust. His factory still stands and has been converted to a museum (small admission charge), telling the story of the Nazi occupation and also of the Schindler Jews. As you’d imagine, it’s very sombre and though provoking but it’s still a “must see” if visiting Krakow. From the factory is a short walk to the Podgorze district, which used to be the main Jewish Ghetto – here you can still see remnants of the original ghetto walls.
The Planty is a beautiful, lush green strip of land that virtually surrounds Krakow city centre – it is possible to walk right round from the start at Wawel Castle and end up back there. If after all the tourist trips, guided tours and sightseeing, you just need time to chill out and relax – head here. There’s plenty of coffee stops, bars and restaurants, so just take some time off from being a tourist and enjoy the peace and quiet. It’s a lovely place for a stroll during the day – but it seems to be even more magical at night when the old fashioned lights twinkle over the parkland.
As I’ve said, I’ve been to Krakow now numerous times and it’s a city break that I never tire of. There is so much to see and do, and I hope that you enjoy your break in Krakow as much as I have over the years. Enjoy!