Out and about in Kraków
Polish Zloty (zł)
Central European Summer Time (CEST)
When and why to go
Bursting at the seams with historical treasures, affable people and of course, cheap food and beer, Krakow is one cool place for a city break. From WWII relics to its infamous Milk Bars and, of course, Auschwitz, exploring it all would take forever. But no matter how long you spend in Krakow, you can't fail to notice one of Europe's most culturally rich cities has risen from its dark past like a phoenix from the flames and become something of a cosmopolitan dream. The best times to go are autumn and spring when the tourist hordes have disappeared and the weather is mild enough to walk around in comfort.
A history lesson at Auschwitz
The sobering Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is a must-see when you're in Krakow. It’s not exactly a cheerful activity, but for a real life history lesson that you'll feel forever afterward, it's worth it. Roundtrip tours from Krakow include a guide who'll explain the history of this UNESCO World Heritage site, and how 1.5 million people from all over Europe perished at the hands of the Nazis. Tour its protected exhibits, documents, 150 buildings and 300 ruins, because it's better to see a site like this with your own eyes, rather than try to comprehend the tragedy of the Holocaust from a history book.
Food and drink
One of the highlights of Krakow is stuffing your face with fine Polish cuisine for a price so cheap it's almost frustrating. Try Pierogi (dumplings), delicious pasta shells stuffed with meat, spices and veggies. The Kotlet schabowy is breaded pork served with mashed potatoes and sprinkled with dill. In fact, most things here are covered in dill, so get used to it! Another fave is Placki ziemniaczane, potato pancakes served with beef goulash. Most dishes go great with beer, and the craft beer revolution is in full swing here. Start with local beers Zywiec and Warka Jasne Pelne and then follow your boozy heart. Get involved!
The Rynek Glowny (Main Square)
As the throbbing heart of Old Town Krakow, The Rynek Glowny (Main Square) is a mighty 10-square acres and stakes its claim as Europe’s biggest market square. It's also one of the best places in the city for some breakfast. Order the Polish breakfast special: a hot plate of kielbasa sausages, sliced ham and creamy soft cheese. Then work it off with a stroll and admire the stunning yellow and peach pastel-coloured buildings. Don't miss a selfie opportunity by the 13th-century Gothic Town Hall Tower either. There are plenty of squares in Europe, but this is undeniably one of the most beautiful.
Schindler’s Factory Museum
German industrialist Oskar Schindler was a spy and a member of the Nazi party. He bought an enamel factory in Krakow before the German invasion. As the war continued and death tolls rose, Schindler used his connections to save the lives of more than 1,200 Jews who worked for him. His story was told in Oscar-winning movie Schindler’s List. This factory is now a museum telling the story of life in Krakow during World War II. And of course, how Jewish communities were systematically eliminated. It’s a heavy but important part of any trip to Krakow.
Eat at a traditional Bar Mleczny (Milk Bar)
For a proper Krakow dining experience you need to pop into a Milk Bar. These unpretentious local diners have always been the places to come for cheap meals. Even more popped up after WWII as a result of communism, subsidised by the Polish state. Prepare your ears for 90s rock music, which always seems to be blasting from a set of ancient speakers. But if you don't mind Livin’ on a Prayer while eating your sausages, you’ll be fine. You won’t get authentic Polish cuisine in a place like this anywhere else. Just remember Milk Bars don't serve alcohol, so it's a place to line your stomach first... just like real milk is supposed to do.
Hang out in the Jewish Quarter
For over 500 years, Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter) was the bustling centre of Jewish life in Krakow. Destroyed in the war, it fell into disrepair and became one of Krakow’s least salubrious districts. Thanks in part to Spielberg's Schindler's List its fortunes took a turn for the better in the 90s. Now this bohemian ‘hood boasts some of Krakow’s hippest bars and eateries. It's a great place for wandering around and to get a sense of how far the city has come since WWII. If you visit during the summer Jewish Culture Festival, expect Kazimierz’s streets to be pounding with live music and much celebration of modern Jewish culture.