I can’t recommend the city of Krakow highly enough. One of the most enjoyable and informative ways to get acquainted with this beautiful city is take a four hour cycle tour with “the cool tour company”. Our group of four were lucky enough to have a guide to ourselves for the afternoon and he personalised the tour to suit our interests. Matheus was incredibly knowledgeable about his city, taking us round the old town, along the river Vistula, and into Kazimierz - the Jewish district. You don’t have to be fit to do the tour as you make frequent stops, and over lunch Matheus was able to answer any question we put him about the history of Krakow. We enjoyed cycling so much that on another day we hired bikes ourselves and cycled out of the city, along the river and through leafy suburbs to the Koscuiszki mound, a man-made memorial to an 18th century Polish patriot, which commands great views of the city. The company does other trips on foot and further afield which also come highly recommended.
I went to Krakow with my friend to hear her daughter sing in her Leeds choir in a number of wonderful churches in Krakow. We felt - reluctantly - that we should visit Auschwitz and Birkenau camps while we were there. I'm so glad we went. I came away feeling there isn't anyone on the planet who wouldn't benefit from having a closer look at the stark reality of such an event in living history. Sobering, moving and unforgettable.
Auschwitz - if you happen to be in Poland, this should be on your itinerary. You'll need a whole day and there are excellent tours operating from out of Krakow. My tip: take a tour but get there early before the crowds arrive to allow you some time for private reflection before thousands of tourists descend to pose (while smiling!) in front of the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign. The tour will take all day (there are two sites to visit - Auschwitz and Birkenau). To gain some minute impression of the unimaginable hardships endured go at the height of summer or deepest winter. End the day reflecting on the infinite courage humans are capable of (there are examples of this which shine out like beacons among the cruelty and horror) in one of the many excellent local restaurants in the old Jewish quarter in Krakow. You may never enjoy the taste of food, the warmth of an open fire or the feeling of how lucky we are to be alive more than now.
Head for the heart of the Jewish quarter, Kazimierz. At Plac Nowy you’ll find the original Rotunda market selling local produce but at the weekends the market expands with antiques and junk on Saturdays and second hand clothes on Sundays but you need to get there early – it starts at 5.30am.
Then follow the old city wall encircling the Old Town, now a 4km park segmented with tree lined avenues and Art Nouveau and Romantic architecture. Explore the cobbled streets and relax with the locals on the grass by the river at the base of Wawel Castle.
Look out for the dragon sculpture at the entrance to the cave beside the western slope and wait patiently for a few minutes to witness it breathing fire.
Google map: bit.ly/T8ggyZ
The Museum is located on the site of and, partly, in the workshops of Schindler’s former factory. MOCAK focuses on exhibiting contemporary art of the last two decades. In the Museum’s own collection can be found works of international artists, among them: AES+F, Tomasz Bajer, Edward Dwurnik, Krištof Kintera, Ragnar Kjartansson, Jarosław Kozłowski, Robert Kuśmirowski, Lars Laumann, Bartek Materka, Maria Stangret, Beat Streuli, Krzysztof Wodiczko.
You will find the permanent exhibition of the MOCAK collection in the basement (Level –1) and the current exhibitions on the ground floor. The gallery in Building B accommodates current individual exhibitions of design, sound and text. The Museum also houses a library, a bookshop, a café and a – unique in Poland – specialist conservation workshop for contemporary art.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is only 80 km from Krakow and a great experience. The mine has been producing salt since the 1200s and was the source of one-third of Poland's total income under King Kazimierz the Great. In the 1800s the miners started creating sculptures and even carved the largest among underground chapels carved in rock salt and embellished with salty sculptures, salt chandeliers and bas-reliefs. There are over 200 miles of tunnels and chambers that are currently maintained by former miners. The tour inside the mine is informative and fun. Also, if you suffer from asthma or breathing problems (like me) you will love being down there as the air in the mine contains large quantities of sodium chloride, magnesium and calcium ions which help control and improve the respiratory system. This is also the reason why the salt mine has its own Underground Rehabilitation and Respiratory Treatment Camp.
Daniłowicza Street 10, 32-020 Kraków, Poland
+48 12 278 73 75
Google map: bit.ly/qSBb3k
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is only 80 km from Krakow. There are organised tours which take you there or you can catch a local bus www.krakow-info.com/wielicz.htm
The Respiratory Rehabilitation Camp has its own website: www.kopalnia.pl
A legendary cave found hidden in the western slope of Wawel Hill, where visitors can journey down a tight, spiral staircase into the 81m cavernous dragon's den below. Children and adults alike will enjoy the rich 12th century story and history attached to the cave and, better yet, the metal sculpture of the dragon itself that breathes fire every few minutes.
I don't recommend going to Auschwitz unless you're prepared. When I visited with my aunt, I was very under prepared. We watched a video on the coach up there, which helped a little in my understanding of the camp itself. I hadn't done it in school so I wasn't entirely sound with what happened in WWII regarding the concentration camps.
I stepped off the bus into thick snow as it was a week before Christmas. Even in my four layers I was still freezing. Everything is very bleak in the first camp. Although the buildings are large red brick and very neatly arranged, everything seemed dead.
In Auschwitz, you can feel the silence. Nothing really moves. Even when my aunt would stumble in the snow or mutter something under her breath, I couldn't pay any attention. It was like something was stopping me from seeing this place in the 21st Century.
I'm seventeen with blonde hair and blue eyes. I'm not religious, I have no serious disorders and am pretty normal I suppose. My aunt is gay and very openly so. Standing next to her, realizing that I would never had been considered for a place like this where she would have been without question made me feel hideous.
Going to the Birkenau camp was actually a lot easier than Auschwitz. The landscape is so open and freeing that I couldn't quite get my head around the awful things that happened there.
To anyone going to visit the camps, I highly recommend taking a tour. It is a lot less stressful, you get every single piece of information you could possibly take in and they are very professional.
Also, I think it's best to go in the winter. A summer trip would be no where near as moving than standing beneath the entrance, freezing cold realizing that this was the last thing many people ever felt.
Avoid the organised trips (99 -160 pln). If you do want to go independently, it is 65 plns, plus 10 for taking photos in a poor light. The local 304 bus from Krakow stops outside. You have to go down hundreds of stairs to a depth of 64metres just to start - many more steps ahead! Be prepared for light, long, boring tunnels. Vastly overcrowded. The only highlights were a chapel and a hall with chandeliers. Unlit densely packed miners' lifts back to top. Not for the claustrophic or disabled persons. There are loads of great attractions in Krakow. Put this at the bottom of your list!
Located on the edge of Krakow, at the last stop on the tramline is a nest of hyper malls and rampant development. In the middle of this sits the lone surviving building from the once massive Solvay Soda Ash Complex which employed at its peak 3,000 men and their families.
"Solvay" has a complex and fascinating history (Pope John Paul II worked there during World War II to avoid deportation) but stands today as a forgotten monument and symbol of the transformations that have occurred in Poland over the last 20 years. Solvay has quietly become the defacto community center of the area - and a dedicated space for creative and artistic production.
Conceived and curated by Halfslant, NOWA SODA: Solvay Transformed is a month long artist in residency which challenges four international artists to create a site-responsive installation while bearing witness to the past and present of the building. Four artists have each developed proposals that address not just the history of the building, but the living community that uses the space every day.
Last stop on tram number 8 heading towards Borek Fałęcki
You don't need to pay for an organised trip to Auschwitz. Catch the PKS-Oswiecim bus which leaves from the lower floor of the bus station behind the railway station. Ask at the ticket office if you can't find it. Pay on the bus (about 18zl for a return ticket). The bus is slightly larger than a minibus and when I went it was driven fast on the bumpy roads, so be warned if you suffer from travel sickness! It picks up and drops off along the route, but it is obvious when you arrive outside the Auschwitz camp gates and the driver announced it on my trip. Your ticket has return times printed on the back and the bus picks up outside the gates where it drops off. Journey takes about 1hr.20mins. Frequency of trip varies but is about twice an hour during the main part of the day. You don't need a guided tour of the camp. Buy a small booklet (c.7zl) and read the comprehensive display boards. Entrance is free. Allow two or three hours for your visit.
Bus station on ul.Bosacka behind railway station.
This unassumingly boutique Hotel on Sw Agnieszki in Kazimierz (two minutes from Wawel Castle), is an expression of the Polish Romance. It used to be an old schoolhouse, and if you look hard the signs are still there to see.
I must start with the breakfast room, with its walls full of tableaux, tasteful bric-a-bric, with the whiff of a bohemian salon has more character and imagination than a thousand chain or 'specialty' hotels. They lay the table with lace cloths specially for you - none of this pile 'em high buffet nonsense - and bring fresh juice and coffee and the meats and cheeses are delectable.
If there was a failing, it was that my single room was too cramped (perhaps the old detention chambers) and the noises of early breakfast begin to echo around the building around 7am. At €61-79 per night, a jewel worth a higher price.
"Alef" Hotel,Świętej Agnieszki 5 Street, 31-071 Kraków
Austrian fortifications, some of them huge, many of them in good condition. An alternative to the usual tourist nonsense and accessible on a bike.
All around the city (start with the two on ul. Kamiena (nowy kleparz) and then head for any one you fancy. They are marked on a good city map. Type tweirdza krakow in google for more.
I love Krakow. If you like Prague and the charming atmosphere of old european cities. You’ll love Krakow, too – I promise! European history is omnipresent: starting with Romanic buildings from the 10th century, when Krakow was an important retail centre, you find early sacral buildings and a castle (Wawel Hill).
A university was founded in medieval times, which made the former Polish capital a leading intellectual centre. There is a long list of buildings from throughout the centuries to explore. Don’t forget about the influence of Jewish life and culture. To get an idea of the amount of things to explore and the variety, start with a hike along the royal route.
But what makes Krakow so special? Its living and lively urbanity. Some grand old cities appear like a museum with inhabitants as living accessories, but not Krakow.
We visited the site of the Jewish Ghetto (in Podgorze) on the other side of the river in the morning and spent the afternoon/evening wandering our way through the bars of Kazimierz. It was the best day I've spent in Krakow.
Everybody talks about Kazimierz with its young and funky atmosphere, but I hadn't heard so much about Podgorze. The river is about 20 mins walk from the main square and as soon as you cross it you're in the Ghetto Heroes Square with it's atmospheric memorial of empty chairs. Visit the Pharmacy under the Eagle which has been turned into a small museum (it's on the opposite corner of the square - keep going, it's not obvious until you're literally outside it!) to get a handle on what it used to be like. The displays are pretty meaningless without the audio tour, so spend your zlotys and get informed. When you've done that, cross the road using the underpass, follow your map, go through the foot-tunnel under the railway and find yourself at the Schindler Enamel factory. It wasn't very well signposted, or that easy to find on foot, but it's about 8-10 mins walk from the Ghetto Heroes Square. It was being renovated when we were there - looks like they're finally going to turn it into something, rather than the basic display there at the moment.
After a subdued morning we hit Kazimierz, and I can't recommend the bars and restaurants of this area highly enough. Stick to soft drinks/halves of the lethal beer/one drink per establishment, and you should be able to manage at least 10 of the fantastic bars - every one has something unique about it, and they're all within stumbling distance of each other - just keep going round and round!
I used the Cracow-Life website a lot beforehand, and you can also pick up free copies of the paper version in most bars - lots of info, especially on going out.
Get yourself to Krakow and enjoy a fabulous, accessible city with a great atmosphere and friendly locals.
Great place - Krakow's Jewish quarter, and no stag parties, well, I didn't see any.
The Tempel synagogue is a must-see, lots of nice cafes and bars as well. A friend of mine told me about this website - www.jewishkrakow.net - got lots of information on Kazimierz, but it seems like it's just got started so lacks information on hotels and the like. Looks promising though.
Kazimierz is about 15/20 minute walk from the Krakow's main market square, alternatively get a tram,, 2.50 zloty for a one way ticket, or a taxi, 10-15zloty from the main market.
Krakow is a city wrapped in legend, where time flows differently, and where every moment becomes a moment of history.
For centuries, Krakow was the capital of Poland, the seat of kings, drawing great scholars and artists from the whole world. It is their talents and imagination we must thank for the city's rich legacy of unique historical relics, which reflect the most important trends in European culture.
The renaissance Royal Castle at Wawel, the gothic St Mary's Basilica, the historical trade pavilions of the Cloth Hall, the former separate Jewish city of Kazimierz, and even the Nowa Huta district, absorbed by Krakow together with its socialist-realist, industrial architecture, are all places which make a visit to Krakow extremely worthwhile.
Although the city no longer plays such an important administrative role, for many people, thanks to its rich history, Krakow nevertheless represents a synthesis of all things Polish, connecting tradition with modernity.
In the special atmosphere of the beautiful and mysterious streets of the Old Town and Kazimierz you will find everything you need to allow you to escape from everyday life.
Galleries full of exhibitions, cafes, pubs and restaurants: all of this is an integral part of any visit to Krakow.
You can't beat Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) when it comes to looking for souvenirs from Krakow: Amber, silver jewellery, linen table cloths, stained glass, wooden chess sets and decorative glass are among the most popular buys.
On the first floor, there's a gallery of 19th century Polish Art, housing paintings by Jan Matejko, Henryk Siemiradzki, Józef Chełmoński, Julian Fałat, and the Kossak family.
After shopping and sightseening have a rest in the Noworolski cafe, a favourite of a certain Vladimir Lenin during his stay in Krakow.
In the middle of the Market Square (Rynek Glowny).
In 1079, King Bolesław the Bold accused the bishop of Kraków, Stanisław Szczepański of treason.
According to the legend, Szczepański was beheaded and then chopped into pieces. The Royal Family then became cursed. To appease the spirit of the bishop, the Pauline Church was built and the Royal Family made regular pilgrimages there to atone for the killing.
Szczepański was canonised in 1253. There are other famous Polish people buried in the church including painter Stanisław Wyspiański. The church has a lovely tranquil feel to it.
West end of ulica Skałeczna
The Salt mine has been visited by many high standing people, including Prince Edward, and is an awesome sight. The tour takes you on a trip down the mine in stages and explains about the workings and the medicinal properties the climate has. However, what is truly spectacular are the many salt carvings and the magnificent commissioned church at the bottom. From the altar, which features a picture of the last supper, right down to the tiles on the floor, everything is carved from salt. This place is truly a wonder of the modern world.
There are trips from the Old Square - Stare Miastro, and a train leaves regularly from Krakow Glowny Railway Station;
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