Mad Dogs in Krakow
Poland probably isn’t on your top destinations in Europe, but it definitely should be. The more time we’ve spent in Central/Eastern Europe, the more we have fallen in love with it. There’s a certain Old European charm that comes with the lesser traveled Eastern side of Europe that the Western big cities can sometimes lack. Spending time is Krakow was a nice little break from the big city life, especially since it is less popular and less traveled than the capital city, Warsaw. We had three days in Krakow altogether but one whole day was taken up by visiting Auschwitz, which is why we chose Poland in general. You can read all about our Auschwitz experience and why we think everyone should visit, here.
Trav Tav’s Tip
Poland is probably where we felt the biggest language barrier, we were told that something like only 30% of Poles actually speak English. When we were here, it was pretty few and far between that we found English speakers. And take it from us, Polish is a HARD language. you can’t really take the word pronunciation for face value, because even the town of Krakow isn’t pronounced how it looks. “W”‘s are actually a “V”/”F” sound, making Krakow, “Krah-kof”. So even if we tried to pronounce something in Polish, we were most likely going to botch it. When in doubt, just use hand signals!
We personally took an overnight bus to get into to Krakow from Berlin, but there are many easy options to get here. Even though it isn’t the big city of Warsaw, it is still really accessible – especially by train and bus. There is also an international airport located 6 miles outside of town. It also goes without saying that a car is the most functional if you want to travel around at your own pace, but the public transportation is very practical.
where to stay
We found a great Airbnb with amazing hosts in a little suburb of Krakow called Zielonki. It was a car’s ride outside of the main center of Krakow, but our hosts picked us up from the central station when we arrived. We were still close to the public bus that could take us to the trams to get into town, and the public transportation system is easy to learn even with the language barrier. If you’re staying for a longer period of time and have a car, the outer suburb of Zielonki is a great way to enjoy local life. Otherwise, there are many great options for hostels, hotels, and Airbnb’s within the city center and outlying neighborhoods. If we didn’t have such great hosts and a way to get to and from town, we would have stayed closer to the tourist area.
Trav Tav’s Tip
Our host wife Emily (who married her Polish native Jacek) is an expat from the States and writes her own A – Z guide on everything Krakow and Poland on her blog, Emily’s Guide to Krakow. She has spent a lot of time compiling unique things to see and all the local favorites that are off the beaten path!
things to do
We got in to Krakow around 5:00 am so we had to kill some time before everything in town opened. We couldn’t get any shut eye at the train station, so we ended up waiting til the sun came up and started toward the Old Town. When we found it, we walked around the square watching it come to life. The shop owners were opening up and sweeping their patios while they get everything prepared for the day. One of our favorite things to do in a city is get up early before everything is open – exploring the peaceful, quiet streets before the buzz of the morning rush starts. Krakow was one of our most memorable morning explorations, that’s for sure.
The Market Square or the Rynek Główny is the pride of Krakow, especially since it’s the largest medieval square of Central Europe. Here you will find one of the world’s oldest shopping malls, a few museums about Krakow’s history, the Town Hall Tower, restaurants, musical performances, horse drawn carriage tours, and the start to walking tours. We of course joined a walking tour to learn about all the city’s nooks and crannies from a local. We learned the history of the Market Square and headed out in the rest of the Old Town to see its highlights.
St. Mary’s Basilica
The church of St. Mary’s Basilica is also located in the Market Square, but deserves an introduction of its own. Its most notable attraction is the city’s long held tradition of the bugle call, the hejnal mariacki. It is played every hour on the hour and is worth the stop to listen to. The tune breaks mid-melody to honor a trumpeter who was late on warning the city of Mongol invaders and subsequently shot in the neck. The church itself is free to enter for worship but tourists will have to buy tickets through a side door to view the inside. St. Mary’s prides itself on the blue, starred ceiling and 15th century wooden altarpiece depicting the Virgin Mary’s Quietus with the Apostles, although there is reconstruction going on until 2020 that may make some of the art in the church unavailable to see.
The Wawel Complex sits atop a hill that overlooks the Vistula River on one side and Old Town Krakow on the other. The most notable buildings are the Wawel Castle and the Wawel Cathedral, both important politically and culturally throughout history. The Cathedral is free admission to see the interior, although you will have to pay to see any of the special crypts or the museum. You can also take a tour of the Castle, but you’ll have to pay to see anything within the castle walls. Strolling the grounds of the complex and the inner courtyard of the castle are free of charge and make for a peaceful, quiet moment away from the buzz of the town.
St. Francis Basilica
On our walking tour we learned the history of St. Francis Basilica, although our note taking skills were lacking so any local tips we learned about it are lost. The small brick church was the first brick building in the city, dating back to the 13th century. The Art Nouveau interior is the most colorful church in Krakow and although it wasn’t our favorite church we’ve ever seen, it is worth checking out.
This green area around the Old Town dictates where the medieval moat once protected the city. It’s a great place to walk and enjoy the sunshine or picnic near the only surviving defense tower, Floriańska Gate.
The district of Kazimierz was once the center of Jewish life in Krakow, before WWII and its destruction of the Jewish nation. Jews once flourished in this area of the city before being sent to outlying ghettos and concentration camps and only 3,500 of the Krakow Jews survived the Holocaust. Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend the time we wanted to in the Jewish Quarter, but that was due to more time spent in Auschwitz – so we still got our history lesson. We did however, get to see of the most well known parts of Krakow’s history, Oscar Shindler’s factory. If you’ve seen Schindler’s List then you know how impactful Oscar Schindler was in saving a lot of those 3,500 Jews. If not, that’s the short story – Oscar Schindler was actually a member of the Nazi party who vouched for many Jews by buying an enamel factory, employing those Jewish workers, and saving them from getting murdered in the concentration camps.We had actually reserved tickets to Schindler’s Factory online, but by the time we made it back from Auschwitz, we had already missed the last tour of the day. BUT, there’s no way we came all this way and didn’t get to see at least the outside – even if it was dark, closed, and 10 pm. It is a free museum to visit so do yourself a favor and make sure to see it because this was the most BUMMER miss of Krakow.
These are pics of some of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler’s Jews) saved from the factory.
where to eat + drink
◊ Charlotte’s – Located in the Old Town, this is the CUTEST little French style bakery with cheap prices and great breakfast! It was recommended to us by our Airbnb host and it was one of our favorite places to get down on some delicious, fresh baked goods!
◊ Marchewka Z Groszkiem – This local gem was also recommended to us by our hosts and it was such a fun experience! We had seriously authentic Polish food here, that’s for sure. If you’re feeling like getting adventurous, try a hot beer and very yummy Polish flower tea, accompanied by some dumplings and stew.
◊ Gospoda Koko – This was also a recommendation from our Airbnb hosts since it is cheap, authentic, and filling. They eat here very often and like to take their friends, family, and guests to get a unique Polish dining experience. We ate at Koko’s for $13 altogether and each got a 2 course meal with a beer, a steal for something so close to the Market Square. It’s a little hard to find, but worth the search when you’re in need of a budget friendly meal option.
◊ Mad Dog with Jacek’s dad – Our Airbnb host cooked us a fantastic traditional Polish dinner and hid dad came over to hang with us for the night. He was the cutest Polish man and he made us Mad Dogs – a little shot full of vodka, raspberry syrup, and tabasco! If you get a chance, find yourself a Polish native to make you their favorite specialty and a shot of Mad Dog to complement the meal.
All in all, being in Krakow was such a great introduction to Eastern European culture. We’re so glad we chose to visit here, even if we only got a little glimpse of the town with big character. We will surely be back to this magical place!
Make sure to tell us in the comments below what we need to see when we go back.