How Krakow managed to stay off the mainstream tourist map for so long we’ll probably never know. What we do know however is that the Krakow of today is considered Poland’s cultural capital and never fails to place within the world’s top ten most beautiful cities. Of course, all this newfound fame and fortune is starting to have an impact and things are getting busier than ever. As such, now’s really the right time to check out this still marginally undiscovered gem and make the most of it before the mass tourism hoards well and truly take over.
With just two days in Krakow, it’s quite astonishing how much you can get done. For the first day, there’s really nothing more splendid to do than to wander the Old Town and take in the sights of the UNESCO World Heritage Market Square. It’s the biggest of its kind in Europe and now has a mercifully more appealing name than several decades ago when it was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz. Much of the Market Square and the Old Town remain exactly as they were hundreds of years ago, though it’s good to see that where the buildings have been restored, it’s been done faithfully.
Stop for a coffee or take a horse-drawn carriage for a tour, before strolling down the Royal Route to the stunning Wawel Castle. Legend speaks of dragons dwelling in the caves below the castle itself, so feel free to go exploring the Dragon’s Lair and see what lurks beneath. You’ll then be in an ideal position to stroll along the Wisla River for a short while before coming the south end of Krakow’s painfully fashionable Jewish District called Kazimierz.
Kazimierz is a hotbed of cafes, bars and restaurants built into what used to be the old workshops of the area. Now Krakow’s most stylish district, it’s undoubtedly the place to head for evening drinks and a wonderful late night bar scene which in some venues goes on 24 hours a day. Take an evening stroll across the Lovers’ Bridge to Podgorze for a much quieter nightcap before calling it a night.
Organise the trip in advance and your second day in Krakow can be used to visit the world-famous Salt Mine of Wieliczka and the former concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. The latter can be found in the town of Oswiecim, about an hour and 20 minutes from Krakow and easy to reach by public transport. Much of the year you’ll need to take the trip around the camps with a guide, but this really is the only way of learning the most important details of the events that took place and gaining a real insight in the atrocities.
The Salt Mines of Wieliczka can be reached in about 20 minutes by car or 40 minutes by bus and represents a truly once in a lifetime experience. With dozens of incredible chapels, statues and even an underground lake carved from nothing but pure salt, this hidden labyrinth never fails to inspire and enchant. It’s again necessary to take a tour and the trip lasts around three hours, but is easy enough to fit into a single afternoon.