Following my visit to Warsaw (which you can read about here), I caught a three hour train that took me directly to one of the most stunning cities in Poland; Krakow! From the very first moment, I was captivated by the architecture, the parks, the colours, the history, and the plethora of shops/restaurants/cafes. A friend of mine told me that I would fall in love with this place and as it seems like they were absolutely right!
✏️ It is definitely worth buying a 1st class train ticket. The difference in comparison to second class’ price is usually not more than 20 zloty = £4! There’s more cabin space, less people, and a guaranteed seat.
The eye catching Basilica
During my visit to Krakow, I stayed at the Vienna House Andel’s hotel. It was a stunning hotel located only a couple of minutes outside the old town. Upon my arrival, without wasting any time and although the heavy rainfall, I started exploring the old city. Passing through the St. Florian’s gate to enter the town, the first thing that caught my attention was St. Mary’s basilica…
I could not keep my eyes off this building for as long as I walked down the Royal Road. Eventually, I ended up at the heart of the town, the Market Square, where I got a much better view!
It is probably the the most impressive building in the Market Square. Not only because of its Gothic architecture, but also because of the legends associated with it! If you get the chance, you should definitely try and go inside. And do not miss the famous Trumpeter of Krakow! Every hour of every day, summer or winter, a trumpeter will appear at the window of the tallest tower of St. Mary’s to play the Hejnal call. So keep your eyes at the window! 🎺
The famous Market Square
The Market Square is located in the heart of Krakow and it was originally designed in 1257. Although many years have gone by, it has changed very little in the years that have followed. I could not help but notice the architecture of the buildings in the square, which made me feel as if I had been transported to medieval times.
During my visit, there was a Beer Festival taking place. So there were many little pop up shops in the centre of the square selling beer and other local goods. They brought a different atmosphere to the town and made my visit very unique! 🍻
Eros Bendato (Eros Bound)
Further up the square at the western corner of the Market Square, I stumbled upon one of my favourites sculptures; Eros bound. It was made by the Polish artist Igor Mitoraj who offered it as a gift to the town of Krakow. Over the years, the sculpture has turned into one of the most popular landmarks of Krakow and it usually surrounded by many people!
A beautiful town
The more I walked around, the more I kept discovering things that made Krakow one of my favourite towns. One being the amount of galleries and street artists you can find in the heart of the town! The paintings made the streets so colourful that it was impossible for me to not stop and stare for awhile.
I once again took a free guided tour for the old town via Walkative, which I definitely recommend! As you walk around the town and through its parks, you will learn about the history of Krakow in more depth; its kings, the architecture of the buildings, the various symbols, the saint of the town, the legends, and many more! Here are some more pictures from my tour:
The oldest University of Poland
As I kept strolling around the heart of the old town, I also stumbled upon the oldest university in Poland and the second oldest university in Europe; Jagiellonian University. It is a place where many important people studied, including Copernicus. It has a unique baroque/gothic architecture and a lot of history, and it is definitely worth visiting it!
A gorgeous castle with a fierce dragon
Being in Krakow, I could not have avoided visiting one of the most beautiful and oldest castles, the Wawel castle! The castle is said to be 1000 years old, and it is only a 15 minute walk from the main market square. It is build on a hill which is the highest part of the city.
✏️ Some people assign magical properties to the hill – they say that Wawel Chakra is responsible for a flow of unique energy there and they come a long way to visit the area for spiritual reasons
There are many elements that make this castle unique. The main one being the Wawel Cathedral, which you can see almost immediately, as you enter into the caste.
As I walked further in, I was mesmerised once again by the beautiful architecture of the buildings, the gardens, the view, the little shops, and the history of this place.
In a castle, you will usually also find a dragon. And this place was no exception to the rule! If you keep walking to the northeast part, you will find the popular beast that made the life of the locals and the king extremely difficult! I have to warn you though, you have to be careful because this dragon actually spits fire! Make sure that you read about the legend associated with this dragon! It is a nice story!
Stained glass and an underground museum
I don’t know about you, but I have always been fascinated by the stained glass windows usually found in churches. There is something that makes these windows magical… maybe it is the way that glass changes the colour of the light as the sun rays hits them. As a result, I could not resist visiting the stained glass museum.
I had the unique opportunity to discover how these beautiful pieces of art are made in the workshop, whilst I also had the chance to see some of the best stained glass windows hosted in the permanent exhibition they offer. Margaret, the tour guide, was passionate about glass window making and described the details of the painstaking process of how this art is made.
In the museum, I also discovered my favourite piece of art; The Apollo. It portrays the famous ancient Greek god surrounded by other Gods, representing the solar system as proposed by Copernicus. It one of the very few stained glass windows that capture a theme from science rather than religion! I liked it so much, this picture is now my phone background!
Finally, it is definitely worth visiting the Underground Historical Museum of Krakow located exactly underneath the main Market Square! It is a brand new museum, equipped with the latest technology, that transports you back to the medieval times and shows you the history of Krakow and its people! It is an experience that you should not miss!
To my surprise, while in Krakow, I discovered few restaurants where the food was truly mouth watering!
- Molam Thai Canteen – It is an amazing Thai restaurant! The menu changes every day according to the fresh ingredients they can find.
- Pizzeria Cyklop – An Italian restaurant with the best fresh pasta!
- Bistro Bene – A beautiful bistro with great food and coffee! Its breakfast is delicious.
- Stara Pączkarnia – One of the oldest doughnut bakeries in Poland!
The Birkenau camp
Having travelled all the way to Krakow, it was inevitable not to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum. No matter how much you have read about this place, or how many documentaries you have seen, nothing compares with experiencing this with your own eyes… During my visit, I got to see both Auschwitz I & II camps.
✏️ The museum is 1h30min away from Krakow. There are quite a few ways you could get there including catching the local bus or a taxi. However, I definitely recommend using tripadvisor to book an organised trip, otherwise you might end up waiting outside the museum for a very long time! You can book with and without a tour guide. Approx cost was £48 per person.
First stop was the The Birkenau camp, the largest camp out of more than 40 camps and sub-camps. From the very first moment I was able to feel the heavy atmosphere of this place. Words can’t actually explain the feelings you feel… sadness just doesn’t cover it. I went through the gates and I started following the main train rails which led me to the wagon that is now left at the sight.
I stopped and stared at it for a while. And although wagons usually leave you indifferent, this one doesn’t. Because whilst looking at it, you can’t comprehend that people… human beings… life… were transported like animals. People suffered. People were tortured. Families were destroyed. And at that very moment… you can’t help but feel angry.
From that moment on, every step I took drove my imagination to its limits. I was constantly trying to imagine (and with the help of my guide book) what had happened here. But the extent of what truly happened was imaginable. It was so bad you can’t actually imagine it…
A little bit further down from the wagon are the ruins of the gas chambers and the crematoria – “the killing machines”. There is also a lake where SS soldiers scattered human ashes from the crematoria. I found myself staring at these buildings, knowing how many people were murdered there. I am not sure I know the words to express how I felt…
At the same camp, you will also find the barracks: the places where people lived in the most inhumane conditions. If you step inside, you will witness exactly what that means… You can still see the “bunk beds”, where each row was supposed to accommodate 7 people. And you can’t help but notice how cold it is in there. I visited early summer; can you imagine sleeping in this place during the winter?
You will also find few buildings that were used for specific purposes/punishments, including Block 25 or “The Death Barrack”. Whoever was sent to this building were sentenced to die…
Having spent almost 2 hours at The Birkenau camp, it was time to visit Auschwitz I and the actual museum. After 15 minutes on the bus, I found myself in front of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work will set you free) gate.
It was difficult not to stop looking at this gate; picturing thousands of prisoners walking through it on their way to long hours of hard labor. I was stunned.
The structure of this camp is a bit different in comparison to the other one. In fact, almost every block can be visited and it explains the history of the horrors.
The Blocks at the museum
First was Block 4. Apart from the history behind this place, it also held some of the most moving evidence of the dreading events that took place here; almost two tons of women’s hair can be found in one of the rooms. You can also see it in the form of carpets too..
Next is Block 5. There you can see even more evidence of the crimes. You can see a mountain of people’s glasses, another mountain of prosthetic limbs, shoes, pans, bowls, suitcases, and many more personal items.
In Block 6, you will find photographs of the everyday life of the prisoners in the camp. In the corridor there are also countless profile pictures of the imprisoned people, both women and men. Thousands of pictures. So many that they had to stop taking pictures and start tattooing the prisoners…
Right next door is Block 7 where you will get a chance to see the primitive housing and sanitary conditions in the camp and Block 10 (which you cant enter) is where medical experiments were conducted. Following the road leads you to the courtyard of Block 11, where more than 5000 people, mostly political prisoners, where executed…
At this point, I felt like I had seen enough and wanted to leave. I was disgusted, angry, sad, and left with so many unanswered questions as to why and how this happened. I decided I did not want to see anything else. But there was one more place I had to see. Probably the scariest of all – the gas chamber.
The gas chamber
Towards the exit of the museum is The Gas Chamber. I am not sure why, probably because other people did, but I decided to go in. The moment I stepped in, I absolutely regretted doing so. It was scary and absolutely terrifying place. It was dark and cold. The building had no windows apart from the small hole in the roof where the SS threw the gas in. All I could think of was that no one would voluntarily step in this place a few years ago, and I had just done that! I was walking in the place where thousands of people had lost their life. I immediately needed to leave. It was a very intense experience that made me feel incredibly sad. But, I am glad I visited.
It took me a while to shake off the feelings from spending the majority of a day in Auschwitz. I couldn’t even sleep properly for a few days. Though, I think it is a place that people need to visit, to understand what happened and to avoid such things from happening in the future. There are still those who don’t believe that the Holocaust happened, or cant believe that it was as bad as it was claimed to be! Well…a visit to this place will definitely prove them otherwise.
I definitely recommend going. But, visit this place with respect. And be prepared as it will be a very emotionally intense experience.
Until the next time..