Kraków is a big city with a lot to see. Luckily we had a whole week here (more time than we usually spend in one place on our vacations). And we lived in the most wonderful apartment. It was huge (it had a walk-in closet!) and had a pretty outdoor space.
Since our apartment was so lovely, we’d probably be partial to whatever neighborhood it was in, but we really liked Podgórze because it seemed less touristy – and like a real neighborhood that people live in – while still being well-connected. The Jewish ghetto in Kraków was also in Podgórze. We visited the memorial sites: the Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta) and the last remaining portion of the Ghetto wall.
Kraków’s Royal Route
The apartment we’re staying in is well-stocked with tourist books and brochures, so one day, we packed the Rick Steves and went out to walk the Royal Route, which passes by a whole bunch of the city’s most historic landmarks.
Florians Gate and Barbican
Main Market Square
St. Mary’s Basilica
Adam Mickiewicz Monument
The big head sculpture (real name: Eros Bendato) was pretty cool
As was this goat.
Church of Saints Peter and Paul
The route finishes with Wawel Castle, which we decided to tackle on a different day. It’s up a long, pretty manageable hill (Sarah did the climb without her oxygen… albeit slowly and with breaks). It’s a must-do while in Kraków. Everything up there is beautiful: grounds, buildings, views, everything! We went on a Monday, when some of the exhibits are free, but unfortunately got there too late and there were no more tickets (not sure when you need to get there, but assume close to opening time which is 9:30). But we were happy enough to just walk around the grounds.
We paid 3 PLN ($0.75 today) each to climb down to the “Dragon’s Den” – a cave that surfaces at the popular, fun dragon statue. It was just a small cave, and probably not something we’d recommend doing. But the fire-breathing dragon (Smok Wawelski) is free for all. Dracarys!
The Salt Mine
We did another pretty touristy thing while in Kraków: we went to the Salt Mine (Kopalni Soli Wieliczka). We took a 20-minute public bus outside the city and then waited on line for another 20 minutes (our timing was fortuitous… sometimes you can wait up to an hour) to join an English-language tour of the mine. We went on the hottest day of the week, so it was a delight to roam around 100+ meters underground where it was cool. The mine is not for the claustrophobic. Upon entering, one must climb down 350 stairs in a very small wooden stairwell (we are very good at finding stairs that descend). Once there, the guide takes you on a tour of three levels of the mine (there are 17 levels), through winding routes showing off sculptures made by famous artists as well as miners themselves. You end up climbing down a total of 800 stairs and ~135 meters. We enjoyed it, but if you’re only in Kraków for a few days and are not a mine-enthusiast, it’s not a must-do.
Eats and drinks:
- With a great kitchen in our apartment, we cooked a lot. Yay for fresh vegetables! The supermarkets in Kraków were prima.
- We ate dinner out once – at a Georgian restaurant called Chinkalnia Krakow. We were lured in by their khinkali (meaty soup dumplings) – and luckily the restaurant provided detailed instructions on how to eat them:
- We went to Milk Bars twice for delicious, cheap lunches and enjoyed pierogis, pancakes with broccoli, and zurek (a traditional Polish soup).
- After our Wawel Castle visit, we had lunch at a spot right at the bottom of the hill – Pod Wawelem – which (lucky for us) had a special on schnitzel and beer. It’s known for its huge portions and we weren’t disappointed. With the special, a .4 L of beer only cost $0.75… cheapest one yet!
- In a nice square just over the bridge in Kazimierz, we had two delicious treats. Ursa Maior serves their own craft beer. We tried the strong ale and the barley wine. Both were excellent. Note, this is also where Justin conducted a very important piece of hockey league business. The small ice cream shop, Good Lood, had long lines every time we walked by so of course Sarah had to give it a try. The salted caramel was perfect.
- We conducted a proper Polish porter taste test (you can find wonderful things in the supermarket). Out of the two we tried (yes, only two), the one from Browar Okocim unanimously won.
- Kraków seems pretty flat all around – great for people like Sarah who hate when surprise hills get in the way of a delightful stroll.
- Public transportation is easy to figure out and inexpensive. Trams and buses cover the city well and there are ticket machines at most stops and on most vehicles. Before arriving, Sarah asked our Airbnb host how to take public transportation to the apartment from the central train station. Clearly not knowing who he was dealing with, he recommended a taxi. A taxi! A tram costing 2.80 PLN ($0.70 today) each took us right around the corner from the apartment. Tip: if you’re traveling in Kraków, Google Maps doesn’t yet have public transportation routes, but Sarah found this website which is super easy to use: http://krakow.jakdojade.pl
- The Vistula river is great. There are nicely paved running and biking paths and stairs and ramps leading down. It’s nice for exercise or just hanging out.
- Planty is a close second when it comes to outdoor awesomeness. The park surrounds the Old Town and is a lovely place to stroll.