Poland might not be one of the most popular stops, but you won’t regret making a trip to this historic city. You’ll see some of the saddest history, but you’ll also eat some of the best ice cream.
Main Market Square (Rynek Główny)
The main square of the Old Town serves as the city’s gravitational center. This is where the hustle and bustle happens. Dating back to the 13th century, this has always been the center of life in Kraków. So be there or be…well…just go, trust me. Street vendors are scattered throughout the square selling everything from osypeck, a traditional Polish dish of smoked cheese, to pierogis, the Polish dumplings that you’ve probably had before, but never like this.
In the center of the square, you’ll find the Cloth Hall, which was essentially the world’s first shopping mall. To this day it is still crammed with merchants selling amber, lace, woodwork and anything else a tourist could dream of. Be sure to exchange your bills for some Polish złoty if you want to pick up a souvenir! I got a music box that plays the Harry Potter theme song. Judge away.
Lody, or lood, is the Polish word for ice cream. And this is the greatest lood you are ever gonna get. The line will probably be stretching out the front door, so you can’t miss it. And it is most definitely worth the wait…it’s my featured image for a reason.
Wawel Castle (psst pronounce with the W’s as V’s—your velcome) is a castle located near the center of the city. It has a number of structures all situated around a main courtyard. Also try to find the Wawel Chakra—a place on Wawel hill which is believed to be one of the few places in the world that emanates a powerful spiritual energy—if you’re into that sort of thing.
You know…the one from the movie? Yup, it’s a real place. And some pretty amazing stuff went down there. In case you haven’t seen Schindler’s List, this factory was owned by a German businessman named Liam Neeson…I mean Oskar Schindler, who wanted to profit off of World War II by making supplies. He staffs his factory with Jewish workers to save money but arranges to protect them when the SS begin exterminating Jews in the Kraków ghetto to keep his factory in operation. But soon realizes that this is a way that he can save innocent lives. It’s also shot in black and white, so it feels very authentic.
The only really recognizable thing is the iconic gate and the outside of the building. The inside is now Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowaof, a museum of Kraków as it was under Nazi occupation.
Ghetto Heroes Square
If you haven’t picked up on this, a lot of the history in Krakow is incredibly sad. It was at the very heart of the Nazi effort against the Jews, so learning about its past is more difficult than many other European cities.
This memorial is haunting but very meaningful. It is simply a courtyard in the Jewish Quarter that contains 33 chairs made of cast iron and bronze to symbolize the tragedy of the Polish Jews who were imprisoned in the Kraków Ghetto during the German occupation of Poland during WWII and afterwards murdered on the premises of the ghetto and in several death camps.
After a long day of emotionally abusing yourself with the tragic history of this city, you’ll probably be in need of some comfort food. I definitely was. And this place is where you’ll find it! Translated, the name of this restaurant means Honey Raspberry, and the name is a perfect indicator of how charming it is. It’s located right near the main square, so it’s a short walk if you’re staying in near the city center.
Start off with some pierogis, but make sure to save room for some of the most delicious soup you’ll ever have. The name is incredibly long in Polish, but if you embrace your tourist-side and just ask for the soup in the bread bowl, they’ll know what you’re talking about. It’s a traditional Polish soup made from fermented rye with white sausages and an egg. Just trust me, it’ll ryes to the occasion.
In case you didn’t know (cause I sure didn’t before going here), Chopin, the famous composer and pianist, was from Poland. I just assumed he was French because he spent most of his life there and his name sounds French, but the Poles are very proud to be able to claim him. So, there are always little piano concerts going on featuring his compositions. I attended one while I was there and it was lovely.
This might be the reason you came to visit this particular Polish city, as was the case for me. I can’t really describe what it feels like to walk through the grounds of an actual concentration camp. To see the train tracks. To walk inside the gas chambers. To walk under the sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” a German phrase meaning “work sets you free.”
Book your tour in advance. They usually leave pretty early in the morning. It will be a somber day, so make sure you prepare yourself emotionally and get in the right headspace before you go. It’s hard to see, but I think it’s important that everyone does if they have the chance.
This place is heavy, but take it in and when you feel sad, just go to Good Lood! I went once a day…