Yes. You read that correctly….Krakow, Poland. A city that has more Eastern European tourists than Americans. A city steeped in WW2 history and the holocaust. A city with warm people, incredible food, some insane historical heritage sights, and so much more!
When planning our epic European trip for 2018, we kept coming back to Poland and Auschwitz, trying to find a way to fit these two locations into our trip. With Munich (and Oktoberfest) being our main destination, we were able to catch a cheap and quick intracountry flight from Munich into Krakow. The flight was around $75 per person, one way, and well worth the time and expense.
First of all, the US dollar is strong in Poland, meaning it is affordable (nee cheap) to eat, drink and be merry for a fraction of the cost of other European cities. $1 dollar is equal to around 3 Zloty, so our money went about 3 times as far as we are used to.
We booked an incredible room at the Hotel Betmanowska Main Square Residence overlooking the main town square in Krakow. The hotel cost was about $120/night which is a huge splurge in Krakow! A typical room is approximately $30-60USD per night. We decided to splurge where our money would go further and enjoy the suite with jetted tub. The hotel staff was accommodating and friendly, speaking perfect English and giving us some great options to get to the sites we hoped to visit.
Things to do:
- Wieliczka Salt Mine – To visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine, we decided to take the cheaper option, which was a tour group with about 5 other people in a minivan. We were driven the 30 minutes to the Salt Mine, joined an American speaking tour, then were driven back to the hotel after the tour ended. This cost approximately $35/person USD. The Salt Mine was one of those places you just must visit once. It is incredible the history and the story behind the carvings and simply the beauty beneath the surface is breathtaking. Also, you can lick the walls, which was fun too.
2. Auschwitz/Bierkenau – We decided to pay the extra fee for a private driver to Auschwitz, and were we blown away by the service. The cost was approximately $80USD per person, which included our entrance ticket to the concentration camp. This seemed reasonably cheap for a private driver to take us the approximately one hour drive to the camp, stand in line to retrieve our tickets, direct us where to join the tour and also wait and pick us up after the tour of Auschwitz. Our driver then picked us up, and drove us the 0.5 miles to the second concentration camp, Bierkenau. The driver showed up looking like Jason Statham in Transpotting. Bald head, cool shades, tailored suit and top of the line Mercedes S Class. He had bottles of water waiting for us in the car. The level of customer service was top notch, definitely worth the additional cost to go private.
3. Kazimierz – The jewish quarter of Krakow is a bit of a walk from city center, but well worth it. We stumbled into an old Jewish antique shop that was fun. The street art is unparalleled and makes quite a statement. We did visit the Schindler’s Enamel Factory, which was super informative. Lots of information that revealed the often untold story of the Polish plight during the beginning of the oppression. Fascinating. One regret is we were never able to eat a Zapiekanka, which is a pizza bread type food, that came highly recommended. Definitely getting one next time!
4. Hammam Shahrazad – (ul. Smolensk 21, Krakow) – This traditional Turkish spa was the most amazing experience. We began with an hour long massage (we went with the Moroccan) which was incredible. Then we went for the full Ritual Hammam services, which made this experience over the top. We were given what looked like a shoe bootie cover, but was actually disposable underwear and bra. Then we were escorted into a marble room with two slab tables, a few benches and four marble bowl sinks. The steam came on and we sat in a steamy, foggy room for about 30 minutes before the girls came in to give us our Hammam. It began with a body scrub down with an exfoliating glove, then followed by an olive oil bubble wash, finally it finished with a complete hair washing and conditioning. This was the most amazing spa experience I have ever had! Highly recommend, and it cost about $240 total for 2 people for the full hour massage and hour long ritual hammam. There is also a cafe where they serve traditional mediterranean food and offer hookah. Seriously a dream of an experience.
5. Antyki-Militaria – An old military store with uniforms, jackets, flags, coats, pins, etc. Fun to look at. I purchased a Malta admiral jacket for $12 which was a good price and an interesting piece.
6. Unitarg Plac Targowy- (Grzegorzecka 3, Krakow) – This swap meet meets flea market meets random garage sale was a fun place to see locals and peek into the culture a bit more. Had to grab a Obarzenek (breakfast bread – imagine if a bagel and a soft pretzel had a delicious baby). There were little carts with men and women selling these all over the city, and they cost about $0.30 each.
7. Street food stalls – a lesson we learned the hard way, if you see an open air food market – stop everything and EAT! We passed through this incredible street food fair many times, always on our way to get dinner, thinking it would be there tomorrow. Then one day, we decided to head over there to eat and it WAS GONE! It had been a special celebration for Polish independence day and was packed up and GONE before we could eat the delicious smoked cheeses, sausage and potato specialties, pierogi, soups, pork knuckles, and more. We were bummed we missed it!!
8. Red is BAD – (Szewska 25) – This store sells quality souvenir t shirts and hoodies for kids and adults. Love the concept that is anti-communist. Also, Polish people love America and Americans, which is a change from other European experiences we have had.
Our favorite restaurants in Krakow:
Milkbar Tomasz -(Swietego Tomasza 24)- Order the Irish Breakfast and thank us later!
Kuchnia u Doroty (Augustianska 4)- The Kielbasa and the potato pancakes with goulash were amazing!
Camelot Cafe – (Swietego Tomasza 17) The fresh baked bread, the juice selections, the atmosphere, everything was delicious and reminiscent of LA’s famed Urth Cafe.
Pierogi Mr. Vincent – (ul. Bozego Ciala 12, Kazimierz) This was our final dinner in Krakow and it did not disappoint! Mountain Sheep Cheese pierogi, salmon pierogi, plum pierogi. Everything was incredible.
Some of our honorable mentions were the various quick markets and apteka (pharmacies). I always enjoy perusing the variety of snacks, treats, candies, beauty products, hand sanitizers, lotions, etc in other countries. I love walking through cities as if I lived there, attempting to recreate a “Day in the Life”. Bakeries, local coffee shops, parks, markets, I am here for all of it.
Wawel castle was a beautiful place to walk around and take in the view of the Vistula River. We did not pay to go inside the exhibits of the museum, but had fun walking around the grounds and snapping a few pictures. The sky was blue and the white puffy clouds made for some great shots. Saw Smok the dragon and snagged some souvenirs from one of the carts at the bottom of the castle.
Another noteworthy mention are the multiple and varying playgrounds peppered throughout the city and open spaces. The play structures are almost archaic, mostly made of wood and metal, very little plastic. I found Krakow to be a very family friendly city. Very safe. Very friendly. Kids can run around in the open spaces and take a break at one of the various playgrounds throughout.
Overall and AMAZING experience, and highly recommended. We will definitely be back to Krakow, Poland!