Accommodation: A two-bedroom, one-bathroom Airbnb apartment about a 10 minute walk from the Main Market Square and a 15 minute walk from Kazimierz.
Pretty cool: Head over to the Kazimierz neighborhood, the former Jewish district, and check out Singer and Alchemia, two of many cool bars and cafes in this hopping neighborhood. Pop in the nearby Galicia Jewish Museum while in the area. It is unique in that it shares stories, through photography, of Jewish Poles throughout World War II and the Holocaust. Grab a cup of coffee from the museum’s cafe before wandering through the exhibits. There’s wifi, too!
Don’t miss it: A tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. It’s a powerful visit that sticks with you forever. Everyone experiences Auschwitz differently, and everyone walks away changed. It is free to visit the grounds of both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau after 3:00PM [ 15:00 hours ], but I strongly recommend taking a guided tour. The tour is educational, depressing, maddening, and frankly, necessary. By walking around solo, you miss the educational aspect and personal stories that the guides share. I know of two options for booking a guided tour:
- Reserve a ticket through the museum’s website far in advance of your visit. You will be responsible for your own transportation from Kraków to Oświęcim, the town where Auschwitz is located.
- Book through an organized tour company, which will transport you from Kraków to Oświęcim and arrange the guided tour at Auschwitz.
I recommend the second option because it requires the least effort while also being affordable . All you need to do is arrive at the pick-up location in Kraków, and the tour company organizes the rest. I suggest booking the “basic ticket” with Escape to Poland, which cost $28.69 USD. The tour of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau lasts 3.5 hours in total, and transport is one hour each way. The company also plays a documentary about the Holocaust and World War II on the way to Auschwitz.
Wish I had more time for: Similar to Prague, Kraków is extremely affordable and just as charming as other popular European destinations. Spend several days in Kraków and then venture to other Polish cities, such as Warsaw, Poznan and Wrocław. I wish I had made time for that.
Must try food/drink: Pierogi … for every dang meal. You can bake it, fry it, boil it, steam it. The types of fillings are endless. There are pierogi with beef, pierogi with cheese, pierogi with potatoes, pierogi with fried onions, pierogi with spinach and mushrooms. [ Writer’s note: Reread this in Bubba’s voice from Forrest Gump. ]
Here’s a hint: It is nearly impossible to visit Kraków and not stumble into the Main Market Square [ Rynek Główny in Polish ], one of the largest squares in Europe. It is the perfect spot for a cup of coffee or glass of wine. From the square, you will see St Mary’s Church. Every hour on the hour, a trumpeter appears in the church’s tower to play a melody [ called a hejnał ]. The melody ends abruptly, honoring a former trumpeter who was killed by an arrow from afar in the 13th century [ so the legend says ]. While unlikely a true story, it is neat to watch the trumpeter and hear the melody, which was traditionally used as a warning call.
[ Next stop ]: Overnight train to Budapest, Hungary. Spend the extra money on a sleeper car.
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[ Follow the adventure to Budapest ]