One of my closest friends got married in Poland this year and since when can you visit a new country and not add a few days of exploration? After the wedding in Warsaw we travelled south by train and spent 48 hours in Krakow exploring the city and its surroundings. We arrived in Krakow on a warm summer evening, hungover and sleep deprived from the wedding (seriously though, I recommend Polish weddings), and it just clicked. I fell in love with Krakow almost instantly. Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter) was the perfect base from which to explore Old Town, Kazimierz itself and the opposite bank of the river for Oskar Schindler’s factory. I’ve compiled our activities into this 48 hours in Krakow guide and hope you will feel inspired to book a city break to Krakow!
Where To Stay in Krakow
If you search for accommodation in Krakow you’ll soon find that the majority are apartments for rent. You’ll also find very different opinions as to whether you should stay in Old Town or Kazimierz. Like I mentioned, we booked our accommodation in Kazimierz and I couldn’t recommend Kazimierz enough. The vibe is great (especially if you’re a bit hipster) and there are plenty of cool food places. Old Town is pretty and if that’s your main sight of interest, then by all means stay centrally. Personally, I found Old Town more touristy (there were plenty of tourists in Kazimierz too but fewer souvenir shops).
We found an apartment on Miodowa, which was close to restaurants, supermarkets and ATMs. I would strongly recommend the location! Our Krakow apartment was great and the owner is really friendly and helpful. They even help you organise airport transfer, which makes life a lot easier. The link for the apartment can be found here.
48 Hours in Krakow
Oskar Schindler’s Factory
It’s impossible to ignore Krakow’s role in WW2 and a visit to Oskar Schindler’s Factory provides a good overview of Krakow during the war. Oskar Schindler became a well-known name after the film Schindler’s List (although I’ve been told it was pretty overdramatised). However, the museum covers surprisingly little about Oskar Schindler and the factory. Instead, the focus is a timeline of Krakow from the beginning of the war until the end.
If you have even the slightest interest in history, I strongly suggest that you include this on your itinerary. The exhibition is really well made and showcases plenty of photographs from everyday life. It also includes statements and diary entries from residents (especially from the ghetto). For example, I’d never heard of Tadeusz Pankiewicz, but his name was mentioned multiple times during our Krakow visit and also shown in the museum. Through his role as a pharmacist he delivered messages between the ghetto and the rest of the city. He earned people’s respect by helping anyone, regardless of whether he knew them or not. What a great man.
Finally, beware of the queues here! We went at 9.40 in the morning and could just walk right in. When we left 2,5 hours later the queue was all the way down the street. Did people look happy about queuing in torrential rain? No, they did not, no. Be smart; get here early and pre-book your tickets on the website, link here. Note that you are only reserving a ticket; payment and ticket collection take place at the museum.
Lunch in Kazimierz
Oskar Schindler’s Factory is within walking distance of Kazimierz and I strongly suggest that you go for lunch in Kazimierz. There are plenty of options but for a quick lunch you should head to the food trucks at the intersection of Jakuba and Izaaka. They have some different options for food; hot dogs, Acai Bar and Korean food to mention a few.
However, the main reason you should come here is for dessert. Trdelnik is a spit baked cake served hot with filling covering the inside of the roll. Imagine a warm doughnut with a crispy shell. Sounds good already, right? You then coat the inside of the tube with warm white chocolate (my choice of filling). Oh my. Ehm, give me eight? Seriously, one of the tastiest treats I’ve had this year.
Crazy Guides Krakow Communism Tour
When I was searching for quirky things to do in Krakow, Crazy Guides Krakow Communism Tour came up. You basically travel to Nowa Huta, a Soviet model neighbourhood outside of the city, in a Trabant. Trabant cars were popular during the Communist era and Crazy Guides have a stable of them. In all honesty, I still can’t decide if I liked this tour or not.
Before I went someone at the wedding told me the tour is ‘interesting’. She then smirked and refused to tell me what ‘interesting’ meant. As we bounced around in a tiny car in torrential rain I was beginning to understand what she meant. When I looked behind me a worse for wear toy dog bounced his head with each bump. By the time we sat in a Soviet restaurant taking shots of hazelnut vodka, I fully understood the term ‘interesting’.
Maybe it was the rain, but for me the highlight of the communism tour was the Trabant itself. I left with a better understanding of Nowa Huta as a concept but would struggle to tell you what the neighbourhood looked like. The guide told us about the area and showed us pictures, but we spent most of the time travelling to and from Nowa Huta and in the restaurant (again, maybe because of the rain).
Apparently, there is also a deluxe communism tour where you visit an apartment and I imagine that might have been better for understanding Nowa Huta. I do think the Crazy Guides’ communism tour in Krakow is worth taking, especially if you like cars, but it depends on what you want out of it. I’d say go for the experience, but don’t expect a history tour.
You can find the link to their website here (and they do say themselves that it’s more about the experience).
Krakow Old Town
Once you’ve finished your Krakow communism tour, ask the guide to drop you off by Krakow’s Old Town. Perched on the top of every ‘top things to do in Krakow’ list, it would be a shame to miss Old Town during your 48 hours in Krakow. The biggest draw is the main square which is the largest medieval town square in Europe.
Apart from the square, I enjoyed looking at the architecture and it’s the kind of area that you should just randomly wander through. Turn down interesting side streets and all that. There’s no denying that Krakow’s Old Town is beautiful, but personally I wasn’t that keen on the touristy atmosphere.
Whilst a dark chapter of history, you shouldn’t visit Krakow and skip a visit to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau. There are multiple tour companies that will drive you from Krakow to Auschwitz. We went with Krakow Shuttle’s Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour and I would strongly recommend the tour company. The full day cost us 62 euros per person including hotel pick up and drop off as well as lunch. This is their website. There were roughly 20 people in our tour group.
On the way to Auschwitz I there is a documentary screening on the bus to provide some background history to your visit. Once you arrive at the camp, an official museum guide will show you around. Auschwitz I is the ‘museum’ part of the camps and is where you will spend the most time. It was originally Polish military barracks and was the first of the 40+ camps and sub-camps in the Auschwitz complex. It’s an incredibly sobering visit but I think it’s important to witness what happened here, especially considering the current political climate in Europe and further afield.
After the tour, you’ll drive to Auschwitz II – Birkenau which was the largest camp in the complex. You are shown around by the same official museum guide and the tour takes about 1,5 hour. Auschwitz II – Birkenau does not have exhibitions in the same way as Auschwitz I and things have been left more untouched.
You’ll be finished at Auschwitz II – Birkenau by early afternoon and head back to the bus. It took me a while to process the visit and, needless to say, the tour is really upsetting. If you want to learn more, the BBC documentary ‘Auschwitz – The Nazis and the Final Solution’ is a good additional resource. The documentary is available on Netflix in the UK.
Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour
After having lunch in the car park, you get back on the bus and drive 1,5 hour to Wieliczka Salt Mine. Upon arrival, an official tour guide leads you through the salt mines. Note that you have to descend 350 steps to reach the beginning of the tour. I lost count at step 78 or so, but those calves definitely get a workout.
The first shafts in Wieliczka were dug out in the 13th century and it’s crazy to think that they’ve been around for that long. The guide pointed out some of the original steps and it definitely made me appreciate the sturdy staircase we were descending. The tourist route lasts roughly 3 hours but despite that you only explore about 2% of the mine system. Apparently, you could lay out all the corridors in a straight line and get all the way to Warsaw. Crazy.
The total amount of salt extracted from Wieliczka could fill 3 Giza pyramids and the deepest you’ll go on the tourist route is 130m below the surface. The most famous room is the Chapel of St. King. Everything in this grand chapel is made from salt and the majority of the artworks are carved by amateurs. The chandeliers in particular are gorgeous.
To add to the novelty factor, they let you lick the walls at designated areas and also try some of the salt brine water. Salt has anti-bacterial properties so supposedly it’s not unhygienic. Supposedly. I obviously tried it cause how often is it socially acceptable to lick walls as an adult? I guess you could say it was….salty?
Our visit to Wieliczka Salt Mine was my favourite activity on the whole trip and I would strongly recommend it. After all, there’s a reason they get 1.2 million visitors annually.
Dinner in Kazimierz
Finally, the tour bus will drop you off at your apartment or hotel. If you’re staying in Kazimierz you should try one of the local restaurants serving Jewish cuisine. There is a string of Kazimierz restaurants on Szeroka worth trying. Out of the places we tried I would recommend Restauracja Plaszyl. By contrast, I wasn’t impressed by Restauracja Max 14 which was very understaffed.
Restauracja Plaszyl serves traditional Polish cuisine but also some Jewish specialties. I tried the Cymes stew, which was a pot of potatoes, carrots and beef that was lovely. My partner tried the Polish breaded pork chop and loved it. Finally, I need to share the very funky dessert I ordered. A very colourful pear made from white chocolate mousse that was filled with pear compote. Very funky but tasty. Prices for a main were about 40 – 50 PLN (£8 – 10), so very good value for money.
To round things up, I hope you’ve enjoyed this 48 hours in Krakow guide and feel inspired to visit. I’d never been to Poland before this summer and fell hard for Krakow. Visitors can find plenty of things to do in Krakow ranging from very dark history to unusual sights such as the Wieliczka Salt Mines. The traditional Polish food is also really, really good (unless you’re really into vegetables).
I would love to return to Poland and have already added a few more Polish destinations to my bucket list. I keep falling for Eastern European destinations (case in point; Riga) and the region is slowly becoming one of my favourites for weekend city breaks. Please let me know if you’ve ever been to Poland and have any must see recommendations!
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