A couple of years ago, for my 40th birthday, Allan took me to Kraków. We decided that for each of our big 4-0 birthdays we would take a trip anywhere we liked, just the two of us. One place I’d always wanted to visit was Auschwitz so we booked a short break and left the day after my birthday in February.
We flew from Edinburgh with Easyjet and around 3 hours later we landed in Kraków. Following the crowds we headed to the train station and took the train to Kraków Główny station which wasn’t too far from where we were staying. The trains are quite regular and cheap, it cost around 10 zloty each which is £2 for a 15 minute journey.
Although trams and taxis are available we didn’t have much luggage so we decided to walk to our accommodation and see the city and its amazing architecture on our way. We chose to stay in a one-bedroom apartment in Stradom because it was within walking distance of the train station, shops, Wawel Castle and Stare Miasto, Kraków’s bustling old town. Our accommodation isn’t available anymore but there are lots of lovely, modern apartments on Airbnb and we were only £100 for a 3 night stay. After we had dumped our bags and freshened up we headed out for something to eat.
We spotted somewhere only a few streets away called Pod Baranem which looked nice and the menu had plenty of vegetarian options for me. The service was great and so was the food. Allan had goulash and I had pancakes stuffed with cheese and spinach, and for dessert Allan had a layer cake and I had an apple pie. With a couple of drinks added our food bill was only around £30 all in.
The following day we had to get up early to get the train to Oświęcim for our Auschwitz tour. From Główny it took around 2 hours to get there, including a change at Katowice, and cost around 10 zloty, which is unbelievably cheap!
We had booked our tickets directly via the official museum site. Although entry to both the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps is free, you can book tours with a guide in your chosen language for around 75 zloty, so about £15. I would really recommend taking an official tour as the information and insight provided by the guide is way more than you would learn on your own, and it really adds to the experience. Also you can ask questions as you go.
When we arrived in Oświęcim we walked to the wrong site but luckily there’s a free bus that runs between them and we made it in time! The tour started at Auschwitz I and, after having our tickets checked, we were fitted with headphones etc so we could hear our guide. She took us around both sites including the camps, the gas chambers and the firing range. We saw the shoes, the bags, the crockery and even the wooden legs and crutches taken from those who had arrived, having packed their valuables and essentials, in a destination that never should have existed. We saw the spent gas cannisters, an example of the rotten, paltry meals, and a wall of photographs, including children, named and dated, of those who had died there.
I won’t go into too much detail about the tour but I will say that it really is a profound and life-changing experience. Walking around and learning about the living hell that people went through and the lengths that the Nazis would go to torture them, I still got the feeling that no-one will ever understand just how absolutely horrific life there would have been.
Our walk back to the train was a sombre one and we stopped at a bar near the train station to fill in a little time. Oświęcim itself is quite a sleepy industrial city without a lot to see and do so we jumped on the next train back to Kraków.
Główny station is right next to a big shopping centre called Galeria Krakowska which is full of the usual shops as well as gyms, hairdressers, beauty salons, supermarkets and restaurants. After a quick look around we went for burgers and chips at Sphinx and bought cake and snacks from Carrefour supermarket before heading home.
Our third and final day was another busy one. We walked to Kraków Zabłocie train station, stopping for a delicious breakfast of pastries at Zielonym Do Góry before taking the train to Wieliczka to visit the salt mine. Although that may sound quite boring it was actually amazing!
The touristy part of Wieliczka we were in was beautiful, very clean and pretty, obviously having benefited greatly from the salt mine. We bought our tickets (around £18 each) at the ticket office and walked for a couple of minutes get to the entrance. Outside there are queues for tours in different languages so make sure you’re in the right one!
When you enter the mine the temperature quickly increases, especially once you have descended the 380 stairs at the beginning! The caves go deeper and deeper with a maximum depth of 135m below ground level and although the tunnels are quite small they open up into amazing spaces.
There’s sculptures, and underground lake and the magnificent St Kinga’s Chapel which is still in use for services, weddings etc but has the most amazing carvings in the solid salt walls. There’s a cafe and shops towards the end and an event space before you reach the lift. If you are claustrophobic be warned, this lift is tiny and cramped and you’ll be closer to strangers than you’d like to be! I think there were about 5 or 6 of us squeezed in together and it didn’t feel particularly safe but it’s the only way out!
Glad to be out in the fresh air after our 2-3 hours in the mine, we ate at a restaurant next to Rynek Kopalnia station before getting a train back to Zabłocie station and walking to Oskar Schindler’s factory. Because we had arrived later in the day we weren’t able to take the tour, but we were able to go inside and see a few exhibits in the foyer.
The final destination of our weekend was Stare Miasto which is a busy area full of restaurants, shops and museums. We picked a packed Hard Rock Cafe for our final meal and cocktails, overlooking the beautiful gothic St. Mary’s Basilica and the iconic Sukiennice, a cloth hall turned market built in the Renaissance. Walking back to the apartment in the evening through the shop-lit streets was the perfect end to our trip.
We would love to go back to Kraków. Although you can see a lot in 3 days I’d love to tour Schindler’s factory and spend more time in Stare Miasto visiting museums, shopping, eating and drinking! The city is really good value, with friendly people, and feels safe. The architecture is beautiful and you can see that that Kraków is rammed full of history.