15 things in 5 days in Krakow

Krakow is definitely a must on your list of places to visit in Europe! What a charming city full of complicated, sad and recent history that captivates almost anyone. I spent 5 days running around this wonderful place with my mother, discovering different things, so here is a list of 15 things you have to do in 5 days in Krakow:

  1. Main Square – We were so lucky to be located right by the square, which is the central point of the entire city. From here you can pretty much go anywhere in the surrounding area so it is a good location to be close by, even just as reference point so you don’t get lost.
  2. Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral – There is so much more to do in this old town area other than just visit the castle and cathedral. With about 9 different tours available, we were only able to do 3 of these and I would highly recommend going there early so you have a choice of tours.
  3. Auschwitz – Such a horrible but fascinating and informative visit. I would advise you book this in advance, even before you land in Krakow. Most hotels will arrange if for you and it will take up the whole day. When you return in the evening make sure you do something fun as well so you don’t feel too sad and overwhelmed by it.
  4. Schindler’s Factory – If you are located near the city centre, I would advise you to get a taxi to the factory and then walk back. Through your walk I would also visit the last fragment of the Ghetto Wall and the walk will take you straight to the city. In terms of booking your ticket, if you go first thing in the morning you will get your ticket quite easily and you can do a combined ticket for other museums in the city and nearby too.
  5. The Jewish Ghetto – When you return from the factory you will go across the ghetto where you will still see ruins of buildings that were victims of the atrocities committed there during WWII.
  6. The Ghetto Wall – You should definitely stop by the last fragment of the Ghetto Wall. It gives you some perspective as to the impossibility of trying to escape the designated area they were given.
  7. The Gestapo Houses – Again another horrible but phenomenal experience. I found it deeply moving to see the cells and all the markings of things that people wrote in the walls. If you read my previous post about the cells (click here) you will be able to see one of the markings. Again really easy to find, it is just North East of the Ring Gardens.
  8. St Mary’s Basilica – Just beautiful and located in the main square, you can’t really go wrong! Just make sure you don’t visit during mass time, as you won’t be allowed to take any photos. 

  9. Krakow Cloth Hall – An amazing building but also incredible place for souvenir shopping.
  10. Wieliczka Salt Mine – Again I would advise you to book your tickets for this early, as like Auschwitz it is the most popular place to visit. You can also get disabled tours and these usually run at 8 AM which is fine as the mines will be practically empty and it is great to get around. The tours are led in several languages.
  11. Old Synagogue – If you haven’t ever seen a Synagogue before this is the perfct one to visit. It is located just outside the Jewish Ghetto and you will see several of these around but start with this one for a traditional building.
  12. Saint Peter and Paul Church – It is on the way to the Wawel Castle from the Main Square and it is just a stunning building to go spend some time in or even see for a concert.

  13. Church of St Francis of Assisi – This building is located in the intersection between the Main Square and the road that leads you to the Saint Peter and Paul Church. Its brick exterior should not fool you, the interior is very beautiful. If you doubt my words, go visit.

  14. Planty Park – These are the ring gardens I keep talking about. The Planty Park surrounds the whole centre of town and you can pretty much get anywhere simply by walking it. It was a favourite place of mine in my five day visit, as we got lost looking for alternative routes, admiring the trees and nature and enjoying the fresh breeze and scent that wafted into the city from this huge park.

  15. High Synagogue – Again this one is located near the Jewish Ghetto, and it is in reconstruction at the moment, but it is a beautiful and very peaceful building to visit. You will be asked to keep your modesty, so girls with bear legs will be given a scarf to wrap around their waist.

So here you are: 15 things for you to do in 5 days in Krakow! I hope you book a visit there soon and enjoy it.

Walking in Krakow

For all you people who believe there is more to life than an underground/subway, you are right! There are so many places that can be discovered by foot and truly appreciated after you have lost yourself in a really quirky and romantic cobbled street to get there. The sights you miss when you simply rush from tourist spot to tourist spot in a subway is deeply saddening, so my mother and I decided to save the pennies and work our leg muscles, and walking Krakow was a treat!

With lots of people and companies harassing you to take their guided tourist train tour, to join their groups and do their thing, it is pleasant to step back from all of that and just do what you think is right. Discover the places you want, get to know a city in your terms and to find the hidden treasures only you will come across in your own path.

Walking the city centre

Krakow’s Main Square hosts a variety of interest. If you walk around the whole square, hidden behind the cafes and all those esplanades you will find some plaques identifying the houses, who they belonged to and their historical importance.

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At the very centre of the Main Square you will be able to see the Cloth Hall. It used to be a building where people would come to trade all sorts of goods, but now it is open every day and showcases the most stunning handicrafts from Poland for you to buy. Great for souvenir shopping.

You will also find in the city centre St Mary’s Basilica. This iconic building is the cover of most postcards of Krakow and though it may seem like a simple brick construction from the exterior, the inside tells a very different story.

You will get a chance to spot some horse and carriages which you can take a lovely tour of the city in. I personally did not take one, but found them all very charming and the horses very sweet. It is a miracle that they keep the city so clean and not smelling of manure with so many horses around.

Make sure you have one of your meals in the Main Square, with so many restaurants available you can enjoy some real treats.

Further afield

Still a short walk away, you can follow a road directly to the Wawel. Here you can enjoy the castle, the cathedral, the Dragon’s cave and so much more. No more than a 10 minute walk from the Main Square it is definitely worth a visit and has so much to offer.

On your way to Wawel, make sure you take a quick peak at the St Peter and Paul Church. Such a beautiful building and it is worth spending a few minutes being mesmerised by its interior. Simple, beautiful and yet haunting. I definitely recommend it.

The Ring Gardens! Surrounding the entire centre of town, a ring garden which is worth walking around to see the city from a different perspective, enjoy the greenery and fresh air as well.

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Krakow is a very easy city to see by foot, so unless you are venturing out to the concentration camps and the salt mine, save your money, save the environment and put your best walking trainers on! I think everyone should feel encouraged to enjoy their cities by walking and discovering some really lovely hidden gems.

 

Schindler’s Factory and Gestapo Cells

Krakow is such a fascinating place, it is filled with iconic buildings that are sadly coated in so much misery and painful history, but make for an incredible city to visit. The culture that oozes out of every building, as if words were not enough to tell stories, you relive everything as soon as you enter a building. Schindler’s Factory and the Gestapo Houses did just that, invite you in to overwhelm you with the reality of the happenings in these places.

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The names of all the people that Oskar Schindler saved.

First of all, let me commend Schindler’s Factory for its mesmerising use of installations to create a path through the factory and make the museum as immersive as possible. Second of all, it is THE Schindler Factory, the enamel factory that without intending to saved so many lives. I find Oskar Schindler’s story really interesting, because he was just a German business man who bought a factory to make some money, and due to his moral compass and disagreeing with everything that was happening, saved countless lives. He did not agree with the politics and simply did what he could to help, from offering better quality meals, opening his own ‘camp’ behind the factory for his workers to live in and dismissing his workers before the Gestapo found themselves in the factory to call those names for extermination. He was in every way a hero and the museum not only gives you a huge insight to his life, the work at the factory and everything that was done there for the Jews and the Polish, but also pays reference and contextualises the entire setting by rebuilding the Jewish ghetto inside amongst so many other things.

You will find video accounts, diary entries, quotes from survivors and quotes from people who have since passed, it is so incredibly immersive and it consumes you to be inside. It is chilling and in my opinion made me relive the entire history of Krakow and WWII almost more than the tour around Auschwitz. With Auschwitz you are almost alienated from the situation because you have a tour guide who is speaking to you at all times, you have to be in and out of a barrack within a certain amount of time, and yes, even though seeing it is awful and realising the conditions that people lived in is  truly horrific, at the factory you walk alone. You take it all in on your own, you watch the video and audio accounts and feel as if you are being spoken to, you walk the entire space feeling like you’ve basically been in a time lapse and relived Krakow during WWII. It is so well built and almost intimidating in how upfront it is about the horrors that took place in the beautiful city and its surroundings during the time. Schindler’s factory is one of my top picks for you to visit in terms of museums, truly one of my favourites and I have been to quite a few!

I also really recommend visiting the Gestapo Cells. It is in the total opposite side of the city, North West of the central gardens, and although it is small, very much like the factory it makes use of its space to share the histories with visitors in as much detail as possible. Ulica Pomorska, where the cells are situated, is very easy to find, although the cells are extremely inconspicuous. Hidden behind a building, you walk through a path which features a wall with photos of almost everyone who was imprisoned here. You start by visiting a small museum which includes a lot of first person accounts of what happened there, from quotes, videos, audio recordings and items that belonged to individuals. Once you are finished reading all the histories you are guided to a secluded part of the building, a cellar almost. The cells.

I only have the photo below of the cells, of a quote carved onto the walls by one of the prisoners translated into English. Very much like Auschwitz it was all too real, too palpable. The space was so small, the markings on the walls that shouted desperation, the blood stains and the awful things that happened here. Days without food, or water or electricity, people were left alone to drive themselves insane, then above are a set of pipes that sometimes released gases such as tear gas, choking gas, smoke… anything that would make the prisoners suffer even more than they already were was present. Prisoners of war, Jewish people and Polish were all subject to this ill treatment, sometimes even if they did nothing to provoke it.

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These are two sites I definitely recommend if you are at all interested in history or simply want to pay respect to those who lived and suffered through WWII in this area. It is touching, horrible, makes your skin crawl and feel sick with desperation for those who had to endure this, but these places are an ode to the incredible survivors that these people are. I have a lot of love for Poland and the pain it had to go through but it is a truly majestic place and beautiful country, and I cannot wait to explore more of it in the future. I hope you will take the time to explore it too.

Happy reading, writing and travelling.

Click here for more information or to book your tickets to the Oskar Schindler Factory.

Click here for a tripadvisor page on Ulica Pomorska – Gestapo Cells.

Some personal accounts at Schindler’s factory of what happened at that time: