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COGO Travel's Max Heads to Krakow

A short weekend trip to the former capital of Poland, Krakow promised a humbling reminder of the atrocities of World War Two; however I discovered much more than I had bargained for. Krakow is an underrated Eastern European gem with a festive city culture and delicious food.

Krakow has an unmistakably rich history steeped in war time culture memorials which is evident in the older district of the city Kazimierz. I would very much recommend a walking tour of this area specifically as there is so much to see and learn, I chose the Schindler’s list tour made famous by the world-renowned film. The most interesting areas of the tour in the district are the Old Synagogue, which now houses the Jewish History museum and the ‘Remuh cemetery’ which is known as the Old Jewish cemetery. The culture of the Polish Jews is tangible, and it is so evident in this tour that their religious customs made up a vast majority of the cultural customs of Poland. Schindler’s Museum is in the old factory which in comparison to the Old Jewish quarter is relatively modern in architecture and design providing you with a modern approach to the history of Oscar Schindler and his story during the Holocaust where he saved dozens of people.

Krakow’s main market square was absolutely brimming with sensational smells and festive treats as I visited in early January. I would highly recommend travelling to Krakow during this time as the city is still festively decorated and its extends the Christmas spirit which is always welcome in my books. The square is in the centre of Krakow and is an easily walkable distance from most of the hotels located on the outskirts of the city. Polish traditional food is perfect for the cold weather as its carbohydrate based most of the time with lots of stews, dumplings and cheese stuffed delights. I found the food was very cheap and you can easily go out for a meal having a starter, main meal and dessert for under €15 per person however the common currency used in Poland is the polish zloty. My favorite food personally is the Polish pierogi which is a dumpling that consists of dough filled with cheese, potatoes, onions, mushrooms and meat. There is a lot of great cafes, traditional restaurants and market stalls within the famous Cloth Hall where you can pick up traditional Polish souvenirs. The monument of Adam Mickiewicz located in the centre of the square is an exciting spot as most of the city’s talent is attracted to this area on the form of dancers, comedians and living statues.

Three tours which I feel are a must when visiting Krakow is Auschwitz, Birkenau and the Krakow Salt mines.

Firstly, Auschwitz and Birkenau take you on a journey to a very humbling period of time in World War two during the Holocaust where over 65,000 Jews were killed. Both Auschwitz and Birkenau are situated over an hour’s drive from the central city, so I would recommend taking a day to visit the camps. I would also highly recommend a tour of both camps as they are very overwhelming with so much to see and in order to fit both in one day it’s good to have a guide to give you background information and explain the most historically pertinent areas of the two camp sites.

The Krakow Salt mines was a mind-blowing experience and a memory I will keep in my top travelling adventures. I would recommend a guided tour and to pre-book the tour otherwise you may end up queueing for a lengthily period. The tour can last between 2-3 hours and begins by descending into the mine by a staircase and returning to the surface by a lift up the Danilowicz shaft from the 3rd level (at a depth of 135 meters). The Salt mines showcase some incredible hand-crafted architecture by the miners and many locals regard the mines as one of the man-made wonders of the world.

Overall my trip to Krakow was filled with lots of unanticipated cultural discoveries and visiting world renowned historical sites. Krakow has so much to offer in way of culture and it’s very affordable as the local currency (the zloty) can go a long way.