Planning Your Polish Itinerary
So you are planning a trip to Poland! You probably think of vodka, beer and (Kiełbasa) Polish sausage. Well let me tell you, there’s so much more to Poland than its cuisine and alcoholic beverages! Each Polish city offers something totally different. Choosing where to stay, dine and have your first beer is all part of building a great itinerary.
That’s why you should plan to visit different parts of Poland to get to know more about this magnificent country.
It’s impossible to see a whole country in just 7-14 days but having a well-planned itinerary will help you to see the best of each city you visit. Poland has lots of history, culture, attractions and delicious food just waiting for you to discover.
How to Get from Warsaw to Krakow? Plane or Train?
After spending two super days and nights in the metropolitan city of Warsaw, my next stop was to Poland’s second biggest city, Krakow.
It was a tossup whether to take the 300 kilometre / 2-hour train trip from Warsaw to Krakow but I found a very cheap domestic flight through Skyscanner. In hindsight, it would have been quicker to book a train ticket online through Intercity and travel Warsaw to Krakow by train, when you factor in the time it takes to check in and get to Krakow airport.
During my 55-minute flight, I revisited my planned Krakow itinerary to make sure I knew exactly where my visit to Krakow would begin.
Where to Stay in Krakow? | Krakow Old Town Accommodation
Aparthotel Betmanowska Main Square Residence is an amazing hotel, and I couldn’t have asked for a better location in the middle of it all! Positioned right in the centre of the old town and only 50 metres from Cloth Hall, a place on my list to visit.
The staff ensured that I had everything needed throughout my stay including a bowl of fresh fruit and a cold bottle of Italian Prosecco wine which I wasn’t expecting. Each private bathroom also comes with a hairdryer and complimentary toiletries.
Wawel Castle | Wista River
After a pre-arranged early hotel check-in, the perfect way to get orientated in Krakow was to stroll along the Royal route and take in the panoramic views from the UNESCO listed Royal Wawel Castle overlooking the Wista River.
Wawel Castle is Krakow’s number one tourist attraction and one of Europe’s most spectacular medieval castles. The children will love having their photo taken in front of the mythical Wawel Dragon Statue at the foot of Wawell Hill.
Krakow Salt Mines
No visit to Krakow is complete without a visit to Wieliczka Salt Mines. The 700-year-old Wieliczka Salt Mine was at the very top of my list of attractions to visit in Kraków.
Located approximately 25 minutes’ drive from Krakow Old Town Centre. I arrived at the UNESCO World Heritage site, ready to take the Viator tourist tour and experience the adventure of a lifetime underground.
You cannot enter the salt mines without a registered guide. It’s best to book your visit days in advance with a Krakow tourism company to avoid the extra long lines.
On my visit the lines were very long, and visitors were open to the elements. So, come prepared for sun, wind and rain. There is only a limited amount of daily tickets and it would be terrible to miss out experiencing a tour of the salt mines.
Photography is allowed but you need to buy a permit (10PLN) at the booth outside or from the attendant near the Grand Cathedral below in the mines. This was not well policed, and I doubt a permit is really necessary, but I wasn’t prepared to take the chance.
Krakow Things to Do | Salt Mine Tours
Your Wieliczka Salt Mine journey begins 380 steps below. This impressive Salt Mine tour has a little under 3.2k / 2 miles of corridors, and 800 steps that take you 1.6k / 1 mile deep into the earth. Visitors who experience claustrophobia or have dodgy knees may find this tour unsuitable for them.
Taking an audio tour was a good move as I could easily hear the guide’s talks through the headphones. I will tell you that you will need to wear something warm when visiting the Salt Mine, as the temperatures underground are quite chilly. However, you will stay fairly warm as you wander through the corridors to each of the 20 chambers.
Miners Route and Pilgrims Route
There are two other tour routes to choose from. Miners’ route and pilgrims’ route. The miners’ route covers the historic section of the mine, while the pilgrims’ route is for those who want to focus on the religious aspect of the area. I now know why Wieliczka is known as the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland.
The site includes both the Wieliczka Saltworks Castle and nearby Bochnia Salt Mine. Although the tunnels are constructed of logs of wood, most of the mine is otherwise made of rock salt as well as the dozens of magnificent sculptures throughout.
Harsh Working Conditions for Men and Horses
The working conditions of the mine were not the best, so the miners created four chapels to pray and reflect in. The patron saint of the mine is the 13th century Princess Kinga who has a grand chapel and large salt statue dedicated to her in the Saint Kinga Chapel.
It’s here and throughout the mine that you will also see several stunning chandeliers. They might look like glass, but they’re actually giant salt crystals from rock salt which has been dissolved and reconstructed.
Were Horses Used in the Salt Mines in Krakow?
From the 16th century, horse power was used in the Wieliczka salt mines to raise and lower baskets via treadmills, mechanical cogs and trolley pullies. The horses were lowered into the depths of the mine by harness which was a one-way trip as the horses never left the mine again!
These ‘horse treadmills’ as they are referred to have been preserved in time by the salt and are still operational. The mine’s stables (Eastern Mountains Stable Chamber) has been converted into modern salt chambers, where guests can stay in comfortable beds and indulge in therapeutic services.
Wieliczka Salt Mine Hotel
Located on the lower levels of the mine is also a hidden wellness day centre, where you can relax and enjoy the health benefits associated with the packages offered in this peaceful oasis. If you want to experience something quite different perhaps you may like to stay a night in one of the hidden underground rooms and breath in some of world’s cleanest air.
I spent quite a bit of time at the Salt Mine, especially since I wandered through the Kraków Saltworks Museum before I left. That didn’t leave me much time to see much throughout the rest of the city, but I made sure that I could make a stop at Cloth Hall, or Sukiennice, as it is called locally.
Rynek Underground Museum off the Main Square
This marvellous wonder can be found in the Old Town area of Kraków. While I was there, I also managed to stumble upon the Rynek Underground Museum and St Mary’s Cathedral.
Cloth Hall Krakow | Oldest Shopping Centre in Europe
Cloth Hall dates all the way back to the 14th century, which is why it has earned the nickname of the oldest shopping centre in all of Europe.
The original building was destroyed by fire in 1555, but that didn’t stop the locals from rebuilding, so that everyone could enjoy shopping from the vendors throughout the centuries. Of course, there were approximately three centuries when this market was not the place to be, but that changed once again during the end of the 19th century.
It was fun wandering from vendor to vendor, looking at all the handicrafts, souvenirs, amber jewellery and shot glasses that are now the most popular sales items in Poland.
I was thirsty and hungry after my shopping adventure, and it was getting late in the day, but I was determined to explore the underground museum before it closed.
The Rynek museum opened in September 2010 after excavation of the square commenced back in 2005. Located four metres underneath Krakow’s Main Square, this popular museum is a sanctuary of architecture relics, worn stone paths and other objects preserved in time.
During the excavation process, merchant stalls filled with coins, clothing, and jewellery were found, as were the remains of people who were buried during the 11th century.
Rynek Underground museum is very interactive, so plan to spend much more time there than I did! Only 300 visitors are allowed in the museum at one time so pre-book your museum ticket with Viator tours in advance to avoid missing out.
Krakow Restaurants | Polish Best Beer
Trying beer in Poland was high on my list to do so I grabbed a Tyskie beer from Polski Pub before heading to another local restaurant called Starka Restaurant & Vodka for some authentic Polish cuisine and more vodka tasting.
Kielbasa (meat) sausage and pierogis (filled dumplings) were on my food list to try when in the country, and both Polish dishes did not disappoint. I may have over indulged in a little too much of Gabriel’s homemade Vodka 9! As I slept the night away and found it a little difficult rising early the next morning.
Day 2 in Krakow
Places to Eat, Drink and Stay in Krakow
In all metropolitan cities there are some restaurants and cafes that come highly recommended by locals or found on travel review websites like TripAdvisor. But did you know TripAdvisor also offers holiday, short and long stay rentals on par with Airbnb.
Before joining my pre-booked Viator guided tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau, I headed to Bunkier, a large local café off the main square of Krakow, just behind Planty gardens for early breakfast.
The café and coffee was excellent and if I had more time I would have loved to spend an hour or two in the adjacent Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art which displays current work of Polish and international artists.
Krakow Tank Beer
Poland has a well-developed beer culture which is uniquely crafted to the highest standards in distributing, storing and serving of beer. Other countries have adopted this ‘tank’ method of brewing however, there are only a few places in Krakow where you can drink Tank Beer. Bunkier café is where I got to taste Tank beer for the first time. It tasted fresh, crisp and was my favourite beer in Krakow.
Krakow is one of the cheapest cities in the world to buy a beer. In general, most alcohol in Krakow and all of Poland is not expensive. Hence, why Poland is a popular destination for tourists looking for a fun time without breaking the bank.
How to Get to Auschwitz Museum?
You have three options to visit Auschwitz. Visit as part of an organised group, visit independently or join a guided tour at the museum.
The best way to get to Auschwitz is to book an organised tour online that includes transport with a Krakow Tourism Company like Viator. If you are planning to travel to Auschwitz museum on your own, the easiest way to get there is to buy a bus ticket from Krakow Bus Station. Those who choose to visit the site independently, it is important to book your ticket at least three days in advance.
Tours are available each day in English and organised tours offer hotel pick up around 8.30am. It’s a full day tour so you will need to allow at least 7 hours and comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
Security is Tight and Large Bags are Not Permitted
Your backpack and handbag must be smaller than an A4 sheet of paper which is strictly enforced. Luggage storage is available on site for 4 PLN. Again, visitors are out in the element so come prepared for all weather conditions.
Trendy Krakow Neighbours and Places to Eat and Drink
Although, I wanted to go back to Bunkier and try more tank beer, I decided to find another local restaurant near my hotel. When I travel, I always like to visit the neighborhoods close to a major city. I’d heard about an abandoned old tobacco factory that had been brought back to life and just a 15-minute walk from my hotel.
‘Tytano’ is a massive urban lifestyle complex made up of 6 buildings that have been converted into buzzing trendy cafes, bars, restaurants and alternative businesses. It is super cool, very hip and attracts a younger crowd and curious tourists.
This is a unique side of Krakow that you won’t see anywhere else in Poland. Tytano precinct is busy and noisy with friendly chatter and vibrant people enjoying each other’s company. Don’t miss visiting this one, you will love it!
Harris Piano Jazz Bar
During the day, I stumbled upon a club off the main square in Krakow different from any other. I knew I couldn’t leave Krakow before checking it out. Harris Piano Jazz bar (Rynek Główny 28) is a unique place offering visitors beautiful music with exceptional energy in a gorgeous underground cave. It is the only club in Poland, where jazz concerts are held every day.
It is here you can listen to a great music, relax and enjoy a delicious beverage or two. The calendar of events caters for everyone from the classics to new age for a small cover charge (25PLN).
Harris Piano Jazz Bar has existed since 1997 and has been connecting the audience with the musicians ever since. The jam sessions are very interactive and full of energy. Each night offers something different from folk jazz, blues, Latin, fusion, funk and soul. If classic jazz is your flavour, then make sure you are in Krakow on a Tuesday or Sunday nights. Friday is Blues and Rock’N’Roll night and Saturday night offers new Polish talent or a foreign artist of any kind of music.
There are three cosy underground rooms but reserve your spot in the biggest room in front of the stage. The other rooms are more ideal for dining on Italian cuisine or chatting with the live music in the background. Here is the place where you can rub shoulders with famous people and musicians together with those who love music.
Kazimierz | Krakow Jewish Quarter
Before leaving Krakow, I decided to get up super early and do a quick trip to Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter.
Since the 15th century, the Jews have resided predominately in one part of Krakow called Kazimierz. Here you will find the oldest synagogue in Krakow and one of the most important religious communities. Kazimierz is a beautiful district with stunning architecture and a charming feel that draws you in to its 500-year-old traditions and culture.
The famous producer, Steven Spielberg shot the award-winning movie Schindler’s List in the Kazimierz Jewish District. The movie was based on the novel ‘Schindler’s Ark’ written by Australian novelist Thomas Keneally.
There is a real atmosphere to be felt here as you walk down Plac Nowy and Szeroka Street which are overflowing with charming restaurants and live music that spills out into the streets and main square.
The best zapiekanka (baguette sandwich) in Krakow can be found at the New Square on Plac Nowy street. Delicious foot long hot subs with various toppings are served on fresh, light bread directly from the oven.
Nowa Huta | Socialist Realism Suburb
Those staying an extra day in Krakow, why not do something different and take a city car (tram) or Viator tour to the steelworks suburb of ‘Nowa Huta’.
Discover the history surrounding the socialist realist architecture that was designed by the Communist regime back in the early 1950s. This utopia city was created for 40,000 steelworks and their families.
The suburb features rows of pre-fab colourless apartment blocks, tree-lined avenues, parks and man-made lakes. Included in the design of the city was large underground bunkers to shelter the entire population in the case of nuclear war.
The Nowa Huta Communist Museum was closed for renovation (May 2019). Before making a special trip to the museum visit the website for more up to date information.
Where to Eat at Nowa Huta?
Nearby to the Nowa Huta Cultural Centre you’ll find a selection of food trucks and cafes. Stop by Max Grill for a foot long polish sausage or delicious burger. You won’t be disappointed.
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