Ok, I’ll be honest and admit I knew next to nothing about Krakow before I came here. And if you’re reading this thinking about how it’s never really crossed your radar, I’m telling you this little town should be right up there on your European to-do list! Upon our visit, myself and many other passengers all agreed that if it wasn’t for the country being on the Busabout network, we wouldn’t have thought to check it out. And I couldn’t be more grateful that it was, because this city is, for lack of a more creative word, beautiful.
Krakow is a culturally rich city that somehow managed to remain alive after the traumatic events of WWII. I am convinced it is a pure representation of the beauty that is Central Europe. On our first night, a group of us headed out with our Busabout guide Ciara to join in a traditional Polish meal at a local restaurant, Chłopskie Jadło. This was our first taste of authentic Polish food – and when I say ‘taste’ I mean feast, which had me rolling into food coma for only 12 euros.
Our first day out was a journey out of the magical town square, and instead into the dark remnants of Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp and human extermination centre during the German Nazi regime. I couldn’t tell you this trip was in any way fun. It was an eerie, confronting and incredibly uncomfortable encounter, but most importantly it was an unforgettable life experience. For the sake of preserving humanity it is a very important attraction for people all over the world to visit and something you should not surpass on a trip to Poland.
At night I needed some time to de-stress from the mental and emotional exhaustion that was the Auschwitz tour, so we roamed the streets of Krakow’s night market. There’s something about this old town’s mythical atmosphere that made me feel comforted, like I’ve escaped reality into a medieval world. Polish people are refreshingly warm and polite; the ambiance of the main market square at night was incredibly uplifting. Soothing sounds of the saxophone filled the air, and across the square were high-spirited live performers; reactions from the crowds of passers by ranged from toe tapping, to head banging, to jumping and dancing. Here I allowed myself a moment, to stop and appreciate life.
The days here seemed too short; we had a lot of sightseeing to cover with just two days here. We planned our walking route to check off as many sights as possible in a day. We began with the Royal Way, which goes straight through the heart of the town. It passes through St. Florian’s Gate and proceeds down to the Old Town Square, where we caught the conduction of the trumpet horns to mark the hour. We grabbed some snacks along the way at Old Town’s daily markets that were on for the next two weeks, and ended our day at Wawel Castle to get a glimpse of Smok the Dragon.
Along the way we made sure to grab some Pierogi’s – a traditional, polish dumpling with an assortment filling options like sauerkraut, meat, potatoes, mushrooms and cheese. Thanks to a few local recommendations and Trip Advisor, we made our way to lunch at Przystanek Pierogarnia, a small canteen style shack serving both sweet and savoury Pierogie straight out of a wall hatch. This place scored a 10/10 for me, and I had a whole mixed plate of 10 Pierogi’s for less than two euro!
As the days flew by the nights lived on in Krakow. With the super affordable (do not call anything cheap here – it’s considered disrespectful as they pride themselves on high quality) prices on everything, you can imagine what a haven this place is for a backpacker. We did a pub-crawl with Krawl Through Krakow, which was epically fun. We had an hour of unlimited booze to begin with (“power hour”), followed by drinking games and clubbing at some great venues. The cherry on top at the end of the night was our guide Scott personally walking a group of us to a 24-hour Pierogi spot, Przypiecek Krakowski. This was the best way to round out a night of drinking, and we even stocked up for the next days’ bus trip. Perfection.
I think I’ll be leaving a bit of my heart in this gem of a town. This place was like wandering through a four dimensional fairytale book with tales of fire breathing dragons, alchemists and knights. It is very easy to let your imagination run wild in a city as magical and as picturesque as this. Thanks for a great time Krakow; I will be back without a doubt!