A long weekend in Krakow: Auschwitz, Old Town and Salt Mines Adventures
Krakow has been perched high on our bucket list for longer than we can remember and as soon as we had the opportunity to visit we jumped at the chance! With a long weekend on the horizon we had big plans to explore the Old Town of Krakow, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. We were excited to visit Poland, a new country for us both at The Whole World is a Playground, and our trip couldn’t come around soon enough. Krakow we’re on our way!
Krakow: our weekend itinerary!
Krakow Old Town
With only a long weekend to squeeze in all the sights our Krakow itinerary was jam packed! As soon as we arrived we hit the streets of the Old Town of Krakow and we instantly fell in love with both its history and its atmosphere. We touched down late on a Friday evening and the Old Town was buzzing with locals and tourists. We spent a fun few hours people watching with a 2 euro beer in the Main Square under the watchful eye of the stunning Town Hall Clock Tower and St Mary’s Basilica.
Visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was something we discussed a lot in the run up to our weekend in Krakow. We had a similar debate during a stopover in Phomn Penh when we were unsure if we should make a trip to its infamous Killing Fields but we’re firm believers in ensuring we understand the history of the places we visit on our travels. We decided to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau early on Saturday morning and our hearts were well and truly broken as we learned the terror and death that happened within its confines. A plaque on the wall with the quote ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ really hit home and gave us comfort in our reason to visit. Auschwitz-Birkenau is most definitely a difficult place to see: we saw and shed many tears during our time there and our evening was much more sombre as a result. Even so, we still feel Auschwitz-Birkenau is a place that should be high on the visit list during a visit to Krakow.
Our drive home included a stopover in Wadowice, the birth place of Pope John Paul II, and it was incredible to see the tributes in dedication to the former Pope.
In an effort to try and lighten our sombre moods before returning to Krakow we opted to visit the UNESCO site of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska a 17th century pilgrimage park with an amazing monastery and beautiful views.
Our Sunday was spent in Slovakia with visits to the traditional Vlkolínec folk Village and the Wooden Churches of Slovak. How did we end up in Slovakia?! During our rental car pickup at the airport we were asked if we would be travelling to any other countries. Other countries you say? ‘Sure’ Hertz said ‘as long as you don’t go to Belarus and the Ukraine’. It was like a lightbulb lit up above our heads! As soon as we arrived at the hotel we googled ‘closest country to Krakow’ and Slovakia was the winner!!
We ended up visiting two gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage sites and experiencing the beautiful Autumn colours in the Slovakian countryside. We still need to return to visit its capital, Bratislava, but our day trip was an awesome introduction to the country and a fun, unexpected jaunt!
We rounded up our Sunday with an evening in the Old Town and took a long walk through the historic centre. Wawel Castle was the highlight and we set up camp until its watchful dragon spat fire at us and made our day!
The Salt Mines
Our last morning in Krakow arrived all too soon and we were on the road at dawn for a visit to the UNESCO wooden churches of Southern Malopolska about 45 minutes outside Krakow followed by a trip to the Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines about 15 minutes outside the city. The Salt Mines were incredibly busy and we had to hang around for half an hour to get a spot on an English tour but it was more than worth the wait. After descending 400 steps we had a fab time checking out the salt chambers and the many salt sculptures throughout. The Chapel, sculpted by two miners during their spare time, was the absolute highlight of the visit and we were happy we persevered on the wait for a ticket.
Krakow Jewish Quarter
We wrapped up our weekend with a walk to the Jewish Quarter and a stop off at Schindler’s factory which, while devastating, filled us with hope. Schindler famously saved the lives of the Jewish workforce in the factory during World War II and the factory now serves as a museum.
Food and Drinks
Krakow was a great destination on the food and drinks front. We ate ridiculous amounts of ice cream and cakes, indulged in numerous kebabs and loved the fresh fish and steak on offer in every restaurant. We took a shine to the truck stop hot dog offerings and lived to tell the tale! 2 euro beers were an excellent accompaniment to the delicious food and, all in all, it was an excellent weekend for indulging!
Where we stayed
We opted for the Senacki hotel on the edge of the Old Town and we were very pleased with our choice – check it out on TripAdvisor for more info! The hotel had a boutique feel and our room, looking over the cathedral, was a real treat. The Old Town is a perfect location for accommodation and we were able to walk everywhere in town.
Getting Around Krakow
We wanted to visit Auschwitz and the Salt Mines and decided a rental car was best option for us. Our day trip to Slovakia was an added bonus and we loved the freedom of having our own transport. We rented a car from Hertz when we touched down at Krakow airport. The traffic can get congested in the very centre of Krakow and there are some serious issues with driving up one’s rear end when it comes to overtaking but we managed just fine! Parking was aorund 20 euro for a 24 hour session.
So there you have it: 2 countries, 3 nights, 5 UNESCOs and a really great weekend! We adored Krakow Old Town and the Salt Mines were a real treat. Auschwitz, while a difficult and sombre experience, was a fascinating insight into a world history which we’d often rather forget. Our jaunt to Slovakia was an added bonus and we loved our day trip to a new country. We can’t wait to return and explore more of both Slovakia and Poland!