I recently had the good fortune to visit the beautiful city of Krakow which is situated in the South of Poland. With direct flights from several local airports plus a flight time of around 2.5 hours it makes the ideal short city break.
My hotel for the duration was the 4* Novotel Centrum located just a short walk from Wawel Castle and the old town so a great location. The Novotel was spotlessly clean with a great breakfast buffet (plus the usual useless hotel toaster)! Not a problem as the freshly baked bread was delicious. With friendly staff, great food and really comfy beds it made for a great stay.
The market square (the second largest in Europe) has a great atmosphere with cafes and restaurants all the way around. As the weather was around about 28c while we were there (mid-September) it was lovely to sit outside and watch the world go by. There are restaurants galore in this area, open both in the day and evening, offering typical Polish food alongside quite a bit of Italian as well. Prices were very reasonable both in the restaurants and in the hotel.
We took an English speaking guided tour on our first morning which included the Market Square, Cloth Hall, which is great for locally made crafts, the University which is one of the oldest in Europe plus St Mary’s Church which is so beautifully decorated it could be mistaken for a Cathedral. There is a small charge to enter the church. Look out for the trumpeter who, since medieval times, has sounded a warning of potential attack every two hours, he might even wave at you! Lastly we visited the rather beautiful Wawel Castle situated on a bend of the Vistula River and dominates Krakow skyline.
The afternoon saw us taking a trip to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This is now on the UNESCO World heritage list and rightly so. This is an experience not to be missed. It is an underground world of chapels and figures carved out of the walls by the miners. The highlight is most probably the chapel of St Kinka who is the patron saint of salt miners, it has sculptures, religious figures plus richly decorated chandeliers all carved out of salt. A truly wonderful experience. You can even get married in this church! Visitors must go on a guided tour, the start of the tour does entail walking down 350 steps. If you are of reasonable fitness this won’t be a problem as they are in sets of six then a small landing you just keep going down. There are a total of 800 steps, however, there is a lift which you may be able to use if necessary. The lift is used to return to the surface. The tour will take about 3 hours. The temperature down the mine stays at a constant 14/15c so not really cold. Open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Tours are available to pre book from the UK.
The next day was a guided tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Our guide was a lovely girl called Anna. She was very well informed and made sure that she covered all the most important facts about the history of what happened there. It was a very thought provoking experience. It has been left virtually untouched and is now a museum so this terrible time in history will never be forgotten.
The afternoon was another guided tour of the Jewish Quarter called Kazimierz this is a lovely and lively area with lots of street cafes and restaurants. Musicians are playing everywhere. Made me think of Paris! You will see the locations where Schindlers List was filmed.
Out last free day was spent revisiting the Wawel Castle, Cloth Hall and St Mary’s Basilica plus coffee and cake in the main square! There are also a couple of boats moored up by the castle where you can get a lovely lunch overlooking the river at a very reasonable price.
As Krakow is the City of Chopin there are piano recitals that you can go and see in beautiful surroundings. It was also the home of Pope John Paul 11.
We managed to see most of the main sights while we were there. I think I would really like to go back one day as I am sure that there are a few things we missed! It is a very walkable city plus there are plenty of trams and taxis to get around if you prefer.
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