This week I hopped on a last-minute random trip to Krakow, Poland. My main motivator, to be honest, was seeing Auschwitz (I’ll write about that later). I’m leaving Berlin next week and so I didn’t want to be away from the city for too long, so me and my friend Ashley decided to take an overnight bus (big mistake) and then spend one full day at Auschwitz and Birkenau, and one full day in Krakow.
Poland’s got some crazy history, the basics of which you probably already know. Basically, Germany invaded during WWII and everything went to hell. It’s been a slow recovery, but I love the Polish spirit. I happened to be there during Eurocup, and Poland had just won a game against Ukraine. The excitement was palable; Polish folks are a patriotic bunch.
We managed to cram a lot into one day.
Oskar Schindler’s Factory
Admission on Mondays is FREE!
You’ve likely read the best-selling book, Schindler’s List. Or saw the movie with Liam Neeson. Long story short: Schindler was a womanising, drunken Nazi who took advantage of war business to run an enamel factory in Krakow. For whatever reason, he had a change of heart and ended up employing 1000 Jewish people at his factory to keep them safe from deportation to concentration camps. As time went on and the safety of his workers were in jeopardy, he gave elaborate bribes to other Nazi officials to keep his efforts secret.
It’s an incredible story, no doubt. And Schindler’s Factory might have been one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.
The museum takes you through the experience of living in Krakow under the Nazi regime in WWII. It’s incredibly well organised, and interactive. It doesn’t just cover life in Schindler’s factory, and in fact, there’s only a small space dedicated to Schindler himself. But you’ll definitely be moved.
Krakow Free Walking Tours
I’m a massive fan of free walking tours. They serve as an excellent introduction to a city, and they help me to get my bearings. I’ve literally done the Sandeman’s free walking tour in Berlin THREE TIMES because I love it so much and want my visiting friends to have the same experience.
So naturally, the first thing I did when arriving was seek out Free Walking Tours Krakow. These tours are excellent because they’re led by Polish locals, and the guides work hard to provide a good service because at the end of the tour YOU decide what it’s worth. I imagine this backfires a lot on the hard-working guides, as I saw several people leave very few dollars behind. So, don’t be a dick.
You’ll get an in-depth overview of the city, starting near Fabian’s Gate and then moving on to the clock tower, Stare Miasto (centre town), the Cloth Hall, and the castle at Wawel Hill. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love this.
PEROGIES! And milk bars
Um, I embarrassingly ate my weight in perogies during my time in Krakow. Literally. I had TWO perogie dinners one evening and then had perogies for breakfast and dinner the next day. If you don’t know what they are, they’re delicious little Polish dumplings. They’re wonderful bundles of joy.
Ashley and I were in search of a milk bar — a super cheap cafeteria-like dining experience in Poland. Milk bars were formerly subsidised during the communist era so that workers could get really cheap food on the run. Non-hungry workers are good workers!
Misreading the name, we wandered into Pierogarnia Zielony Kredens (I was looking for a place with a similar name). I’m not entirely sure if it was a proper milk bar but it sure looked like one. A little old lady who spoke only Polish ran the show and there were a handful of locals hanging out. Fortunately there was an English menu, and so Ashley and I ordered two plates of perogies (chicken, and then cheese) and two drinks.
The entire meal cost us less than $10 Canadian. And. It. Was. Unreal.
We were on such a foodie high that we decided we weren’t satisfied and then sought out another perogie spot, Pierogarnia KRAKOWIACY. We might have misjudged our stomachs because we ate a handful and took the rest of them home with us for breakfast. We actually preferred the perogies from Zielony, but we couldn’t complain having spent a total of $25 CAD for essentially three meals.
Perogies. Do it.
Then drink cheap Polish vodka.
Hang out in Mały Rynek
I don’t care how touristy it is, grab a drink (it’s still cheap) in the town centre, find an outside table, and take it all in. It’s my favourite thing to do in European cities and I feel you’ll get a good grip on the atmosphere of the place.
Rynek Główny is the centre of Krakow, and it’s helluva party. You can sit back with a beer, shop for shitty souvenirs at the Cloth Hall, or wander through to Mały Rynek…which I actually preferred. It’s the smaller square attached to the bigger one, and there’s much more activity going on here.
Stay until the clock tower chimes the hour. A trumpeter opens a window in the tower and trumpets a short song three times, with a comically abrupt ending.
We didn’t cover everything but we certainly left Krakow feeling satisfied. That’s more than enough for one day!