Polish Holiday: How to spend a weekend in Kraków

krakow

Every journalist is kind of a history geek at heart. What can I say, we just love to hear a good story! And Kraków, Poland is the kind of city that’s chockfull of stories. Poland was the next destination on my travel bucket list, considering it neighbours Germany and a flights from Berlin to Krakow only start at around 100 Euros (AirBerlin). My lovely Canadian friend Katie flew down from London to join me for an adventure around Poland’s second-biggest city.

Kraków’s aesthetic is raw and gritty, and it reminded me of Berlin in that way. Over recent years, the city’s proliferated in cute cafés, avant-garde graffiti and underground bars, but there’s a dark cloud of history here from only 70 years. The events that happened here leading up to and during World War II make this, in my opinion, one of the most important destinations to go to in Europe. 20150228_142624 So here are my recommendations on how to best see the city:

  • Take a taxi from the airport.

I was arriving a couple hours earlier than Katie, so I thought I’d try to take the public transportation into the city. Let’s just say, it was totally sketchy. A stop or two after the airport, some really drunk Polish guys climbed onto the bus and  started punching each other. One guy just sat in the back bleeding out of his noise for quite awhile. A few minutes after the fight, I started coughing — I thought it was just me, then I realized everyone on the bus was coughing. Myself and an American couple were hanging our heads out of the bus trying to figure out if it was something inside or just in the air. What a first impression of Kraków, right? My parents are reading this right now, mortified. It was definitely what you would call an “authentic” experience (especially looking around and seeing old Polish men taking shots of vodka out of little bottles in their pockets) but as far as safety and convenience is concerned, a taxi is the way to go. It only takes 20 mins into the city compared to an hour, and should only cost 85 PLN (around 20 Euro).

  • Book transportation to Auschwitz beforehand.

It’s so important to go to Auschwitz if you’re going to be in Kraków, and I’m going to write a full blog about it later. But I would definitely suggest booking the bus tickets before hand. We were around 30 people squished into a 20-seater bus, and for those standing during the 1.5 hour trip, it honestly looked awful.

Apartments once occupied by Jews in the former Krakoów Ghetto

Apartments once occupied by Jews in the former Krakoów Ghetto

  • Take a tour.

I’m so not this typical tourist that gets on a double-decker and listens to a tour guide, but I’m sure glad I took a private tour in Kraków. There is so much history I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. We paid 300 PLN for a 1.5 hour tour around the city in a heated cart, and we were also able to negotiate with the guide and tailor the package to see exactly what we wanted to. The history of the buildings was so interesting, from synagogues turned into Nazi stables to a former Nazi prison that is now a high school. One of the most powerful stories was about a pharmacy located in the Jewish ghetto, where the pharmacist hid Jews and tried to help them. Director Roman Polanski was in the Jewish Ghetto before he escaped, and he dedicated his award for The Pianist to the pharmacy, which you can see on the tour today.

“Under the Eagle” Pharmacy

  • Stay in Kazimierz

If you’re interested in learning about Kraków’s history, the Jewish Quarter is right in the thick of it. There are lots of neat little shops and bars to be discovered here, and many beautiful synagogues. We saw a few groups of Jewish schoolchildren over the weekend, and thought that was really cool. Kazimierz is also only a 10 minute walk to Old Town, and attractions like Wawel Castle and the Main Square.

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Graffiti in Kazimierz

  • What to eat…

Some of my favourite spots to grab a bite: Bagel Mama (try the cinnamon raisin bagel), Wele Restauracja (traditional Polish food and live music) and Zapiecek (24 hour periogi, need I say more?)

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BBQ ribs, sauerkraut and fried potatoes at Wele Restauracja

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