Of all the cities I visited during my fall break when I lived in Paris, I think Krakow was my favorite. There was something magical and quaint about this city.
Krakow, unlike Warsaw, was left almost untouched by the WWII bombings of Nazi Germany. That means that much of its buildings and streets have been around for centuries. It felt like stepping back in time, but in a surreal way – there was still much to see from the 21st century.
I arrived in Krakow on a bus from Budapest, and after picking me up from the bus stop, my friend and I ate at a restaurant that served very traditional Polish food. I’m still kicking myself for not taking a picture of the restaurant’s interior because it felt like being in the living room of someone who lived ages ago. The meals were very hearty and delicious – just what you needed for a cold Polish night.
My First Impressions of Krakow
After dinner, we walked around the main square which is a most see if you want to get a feel for the quaintness of old Krakow. That is the area where you feel truly transported to the days of yore – what with the clip-clopping of horses hooves from carriage rides around the square, musicians playing music that uplifts and transports you and being completely surrounded by buildings you know others looked at years and years ago. This is all complimented by a quiet and vibrant bustle of people living their daily lives or exploring something new. To top of the magical illusion, every hour, on the hour, a trumpeter plays a tune that he abruptly cuts short from each of the 4 windows of the towering St. Mary’s Church.
Just that night, I learned about three different Krakow legends that were quite visible in the square. That was one of the things that was magical about Krakow. They had so many legends that seemed so finely woven into the very fabric of the city that you couldn’t help believing they might be true. For example, there is a legend about a dragon that used to terrorize Krakow. And of the side of Wawel Hill, next to the river that the dragon likely drank so much he burst, is a stone fire breathing dragon!
Exploring Krakow’s Old Town
Friday through Sunday, I was in Warsaw and Berlin so I didn’t get to experience weekend life in Krakow. On Monday, I hit some main tourist attractions. My friend had to work so his younger brother took me to the underground museum known as The Archeological Museum of Krakow. The museum contains artifacts from a huge archeological excavation of the main square. Much of what they found and learned from this endeavor was artfully displayed in the museum. We got a glimpse into life at different ages in Krakow. It was a really cool museum and I highly recommend it. We ended up rushing through the final parts (movies that showed reenactments of different things from ages ago). I wanted to go on one of the Free Walking Tours that started at 2pm.
My friend’s brother was skeptical of it but even he ended up enjoying the short part he heard. It’s because our tour guide was very funny and packed with lots of information. It was on this tour that I learned many more legends about Krakow and many jokes about Warsaw. The tour was only about two hours but I felt like we saw a good chunk of the city, including where Pope John Paul stayed when he visited.
Krakow’s Crown: Wawel Hill
Tuesday, I explored more of Wawel Hill (where the gorgeous castle with the same name is located and where our tour ended the night before) with my friend’s mom and I got to try a pierogi, as well as some bomb raspberry tea. The restaurant guy told me it was a local winter special but my friend had never heard of it, so who knows. The pierogis were great though! They are a bit like dumplings.
Monday night, when I realized I had seen most of the main sights in Krakow, I tried to make plans for a day trip to Auschwitz but it’s definitely not something you can plan the night before. The best way to go there from Krakow is with a professional tour service – they pick you up and drop you off. This requires that you had told them you were coming. I ended up finding a hop on hop off bus that was going there – but I discovered it at 8:25am and they would leave at 8:30 am…yikes. So long story short, if you are trying to make the most of your time in Krakow and you are there more than two days, one of them should be used for a day trip out of the city. If Auschwitz isn’t for you, there are Salt Mines and other sites that are a day trip away as well.
All in all, if you have a chance to head to Krakow, I definitely recommend it. Whether as part of a tour of Eastern Europe or as its own excursion, it’s worth the visit. It definitely helps to be staying with a local that knows all the city secrets. but regardless, I’ve yet to be anywhere else quite as magical….except maybe Strasbourg but that was Christmas magic. Krakow feels like the kind of magic we read about in kids’ books. Real magic.
Anyone who has been to Krakow, do you agree? What other cities do you think just have a certain magical charm to them?