Kraków is probably one of the most beautiful European cities I’ve been to. The endless medieval buildings oozing history and character, a busy market square bursting with foodie delights and narrow back streets for discovering the most unusual vodka the Polish city has to offer – it’s every traveller’s dream.
At the end of February Dan and I spent 4 days in Kraków and had the most amazing time exploring the cultural capital. Our trip fell right in the midst of the Beast from the East’s arrival and experienced -15 degree temperatures with real feel estimates of up to -20! It was BLOODY cold, but the snow and ice made the city all the more pretty and weirdly contributed to us having such a unique and wonderful winter break.
There’s so much to do, see and eat but if, like us, you only have a few days to see the best of it, then these are my absolute musts when travelling to Kraków.
1. Try the Dumplings
Pierogi are a popular Polish delicacy. Unleavened dough stuffed with a savoury or sweet filling and boiled in water, they’re a must try traditional dish to order when in the city. The most common filling is a potato, cheese and onion mix known as Pierogi Ruskie and usually served with crispy onion and bacon pieces.
We knew we were to try the authentic dumplings while we were out there, and they’re on practically every menu, but we were entirely surprised by how delicious the Pierogi was. We finally sat down to our dumplings at the Piano Bar in the Kraków Main Square and, teamed with a pint, they were the perfect light lunch.
There are so many restaurants surrounding the square, it’s so hard to choose! But we tried around four or five and never had a bad meal; keep the TripAdvisor app handy and you’ll know where to hit and where to miss.
2. Visit Auschwitz
It’s an obvious one of course, but if you don’t visit Auschwitz when you’re in Poland you’re massively missing out. Regardless of whether history is your thing or not, discovering the story behind this infamous concentration camp is breathtaking and astonishing.
We’re huge history buffs so as well as the endless documentaries we’ve watched and my GCSE curriculum, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what went on at Auschwitz during World War 2. But being there, walking those streets and entering those buildings is absolutely something else. Eerie and emotional is how I’d describe it but also immensely fascinating.
There has been some incredible work gone into restoring the camp and creating an informative and moving museum, it really should be experienced. You can get free tickets to visit or you can pay for a guided tour in your chosen language.
It’s about a 1.5 hour journey from Kraków and there are many ways in which you can get there. We chose to travel by a local bus that departs from the main train station in the city, Glowny. For a return ticket it’s around £5 per person – can’t complain! There’s also regular trains for around the same price, whilst it takes less time there’s around a 20 minute walk from the train station to the museum and in those temperatures, there wasn’t a chance! You can even book an Uber for around £35.
I didn’t take too many pictures at Auschwitz, I honestly forgot and when I did remember, it felt disrespectful. But I am pleased I got a few as looking at them really reminds me of how it felt to be there.
3. Head to the Salt Mines
This is probably another trip you’ve been told by plenty to do whilst in Kraków. And that’s because you should.
The Salt Mines are in Wieliczka, a 20 minute public bus journey from the main square. There’s private taxis and tours you can book to take you directly there but the public buses are more than reliable and cost less than £1.80 per person. There’s a main bus station in the city centre and it’s the 304 you need to take you to the Salt Mines. Make sure to get off at Kopalnia Soli and it’s around a five minute walk from there. It’s all sign posted once you get off too!
Entry to the Salt Mines is 89 Zloty per person which works out to be around £20. If you want to take pictures you’ll have to pay another 10 Zloty per camera.
The tour begins by heading down over 380 steps to the first chamber which is 64 metres below ground. In total, you’ll go down almost 800 steps and end up being over 160 metres underground.
The chambers and mining tunnels are captivating and it’s really interesting to learn just how far in Polish history they go back. However, you’ve seen absolutely nothing until you reach the Chapel. It’s like entering another world or going back in time! St Kinga’s Chapel is entirely carved from the rock salt and is some of the most beautiful artwork I’ve ever seen.
My photographs do not do this justice.
The whole tour is around 2 hours long, with regular stops for refreshments and the toilet as you go along. I actually didn’t want to leave, and that’s not just because it was a whole twenty degrees warmer all those metres down…
4. Warm up with Traditional Polish Soup
Just like the dumplings, Polish soup features on almost every menu and while you may not travel to Kraków during the sub-zero temperatures as we did, you should still give this dish a go.
There’s a few different soups, some with white sausage, some with cabbage and some served in a crusty bread bowl but I settled upon the Wild Boar and Dumpling Goulash from No.7, another restaurant on the main square.
It was absolutely delicious, a thick stock with soft stodgy dumpling and meat that fell apart on my spoon. And with fresh bread dipped in it was exactly what I needed to escape the cold, despite being teamed with a chilled pint of Zywiec…
5. Get Smashed in the Wodka Bar
If you love getting a bit tiddly when you’re on holiday, you NEED to visit Wodka Bar. I’m not a fan of vodka at all, so if you’re not either, don’t let that put you off.
There’s, of course, a selection of your usual drinks such as lagers, wines and ciders that you can order at Wodka Bar but I highly recommend sampling the vodka tasting platters. You can choose from a phenomenal range of flavoured vodkas at a ridiculously cheap price.
Each tasting platter comes with six vodkas and the price will depend on the flavours you choose. The cheapest platter is around 33 Zloty and we paid between 36 and 44 Zloty for the few that we tried, which is around £9 on average.
Our favourite was without doubt the salted caramel, but we also enjoyed the eggnog, lemon and cherry!
The bar itself is a narrow, dinky little place that you may struggle to secure a seat in during busier tourist periods. The atmosphere is brilliant regardless, a cute and cosy place that you could sit in for hours.
Like we did. Which isn’t wise in that kind of crisp cold weather. Smashed.
6. Eat Breakfast at Milk Bar
Tucked away down one of the wonky, narrow streets behind the main square, Milk Bar is a hidden gem in Kraków.
It has a basic hostel-type feel as you walk in, that’s if you can actually see anything for all the people. If you want a tasty yet cheap breakfast in the heart of the city, this is the place! But you need to get there early as whilst it’s hidden away, it’s a popular spot.
Dan went for the huge Irish Breakfast consisting of all of the usual elements except we think they might have accidentally confused bacon with gammon. The slices of ‘bacon’ were about an inch thick! Perfect for a big eater.
I went for the scrambled egg and smoked salmon that was served with crispy white toast and butter. Simple but scrumptious.
There’s a few more traditional Polish breakfast dishes on the menu too, if you’re feeling adventurous.
I also want to give a shout out to breakfast at Miedzymiastowa (no, I do not know how to say it) part of a recently renovated cigarette factory that was directly opposite our apartment. The factory has been transformed into over a dozen restaurants and bars that still pay homage to their industrial heritage.
If you’re in the area, you should consider heading to Miedzymiastowa too. Buy a coffee and your breakfast is free! I suggest the egg and bacon roll, because who doesn’t want a side of fries for brekkie?
7. The Jewish Quarter
Kazimierz, or the Jewish Quarter as it’s well known, is south of the main square and was the centre of Jewish life in Kraków for over 500 years, before it was systematically destroyed during World War II.
It’s within walking distance from the Old Town and by doing so you’ll get a glimpse of the Kraków Castle too.
You’ll be able to tell as you walk that you’re beginning to enter the Jewish Quarter, the architecture of the buildings begins to slightly change and it slowly becomes much quieter too. There is still plenty to see and do however, especially when it comes to the bars and restaurants, they’re all vibrant with art and culture.
I highly recommend a gentle wander around the cobbled streets of Kazimierz, if only to take in the beautiful architecture and historical energy.
At the other side of the Jewish Quarter you can find Father Bernatek’s Footbridge, the infamous lovelock bridge of Kraków. Dan and I, the soppy little buggers that we are, added a lock I bought him from our third anniversary the previous week.
It’s a lovely little addition to your trip if you’re travelling with a significant other and crossing it will lead you directly to…
8. Discovering Schindler’s Factory
Again, a real must for the history lovers! Or if you’ve seen the classic movie hit, Schindler’s List, it’s quite a cool experience to actually visit this factory (now a museum) and have it all put into perspective.
Oskar Schindler was a German businessman in Kraków during World War 2 and used his political pull within the Nazi party to save the lives of thousands of his Jewish workers after seeing how they were persecuted by the government during that time.
Entrance to Schindler’s Factory is 28 Zloty, around £6 per person. The museum is pretty comprehensive for the pennies that you pay, a compelling way to spend a couple of hours if you fancy it.
9. Book a Table at Starka
The final highlight of the Jewish Quarter, and the foodie scene of Kraków in general, was Starka. With it being the number one rated restaurant in the city, I just had to book a table.
And my word did it deliver!
Starka is a traditional Polish restaurant that serves up authentic yet modern dishes in a cosy and intimate environment. The entire menu is mouth-wateringly tempting but here’s what I opted for…
The pan roasted lamb with a rosemary caramelised pear, blackcurrant sauce, potatoes roasted with onion and bacon plus warm caramelised beets. The meat was delicious, just melting off the bone and complimented beautifully by the sweet and bitter components of the dish.
Very unlike me, I also went for a dessert. The homemade Walnut Cake with golden coconut and a crispy chocolate meringue and garnished with almond flakes. The sponge was moist and full of nutty flavour albeit a hint of boozy Baileys cream.
The restaurant was bustling and a table reservation is highly advised, but if you’re an insatiable foodie, you must make sure you pay Starka a visit whilst in Kraków.
Our entire 4 days in Kraków was just brilliant, squeezing in as much as we could but also taking the time to get good and drunk. Just what we do best.
Have you been? Let me know what you got up to! Drop me a tweet @ProperScrummy!
Lots of love, LB x