Kraków is Poland’s best attraction and the city has been drawing in more and more tourists each year. Perhaps best known for its picturesque main square, where the pigeons almost out number
the people, here are five spots in the city and around it that no visitor should miss.
1) Rakowicki Cemetery. I know what you’re thinking. A cemetery? But trust me, as the largest and most elaborately decorated cemetery in the city, this is a site tourists should see, especially to better understand Polish tradition and appreciation for the deceased. If you can visit Kraków during All Saints Day weekend, even better. Droves of Poles flock to this cemetery to light candles and deliver flowers to the graves of their loved ones and pay respects. It’s a moving scene and unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Other central European cities have similar traditions on All Saints Day, but no one can top Kraków’s. To get there, take tram No. 2, which stops right outside the cemetery. You can plan your journey here.
2) Auschwitz-Birkenau. If you’re in Kraków, you should visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest network of Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers that Hitler’s Third Reich ran during World War II. You should set aside a minimum of 3.5 hours for this visit, and you have to see them both to get the full experience. It’s best to visit the site with a guide, as some areas are blocked off without one. You can book a tour that picks you up from your hostel or hotel in the city center, provides transport and lunch, and takes you through both camps. On the day of your visit, be sure to give yourself some scheduled down time after the tour, as it takes a heavy emotional toll on most and you may not want to be out on the town right after such a visit. For more information on the camps, now operating as a memorial to those who died, visit the home site. Auschwitz-Birkenau is a must if you’re to begin understanding what Jews in Europe went through during Hitler’s reign, and to of course learn more about World War II.
3) The Cupcake Corner. If you need a pick-me-up after visiting Auschwitz, go back to the city center and relax at the Cupcake Corner, a quaint shop just two minutes walking from the main square great for some lounge time. The cupcake cafe offers all kinds of melt-in-your-mouth bundles of deliciousness, including peanut-butter chocolate cakes that dissolve upon first bite, and it also serves coffee drinks and muffins. Furthermore, the bakery offers a nice escape from the bustling streets and is the perfect place for some quiet reflection after seeing the concentration camps.
4) The Wieliczka Salt Mine. I know this one also sounds strange, but Kraków is known for its salt mines, and this one is not to be missed. While the traditional tour gives you a condensed history of the mine, also a UNESCO heritage site, it also offers beautiful views of the breathtaking underground mini city. The tourist route includes an underground chapel, and it wouldn’t be complete of course without tasting one of the walls yourself. Be sure to take your student ID, as admission prices are cheaper for those under 26, and set aside about four hours for this site, as it is a bit outside of the city center.
5) Wawel Hill (and castle complex). I know what you’re thinking. Another castle. But really, this one is not to be missed. Located just a short five-minute walk from the main square, Wawel Hill, on which the Royal Castle and cathedral are located, it sits atop the Vistula and is the site where the earliest Krakow settlements began. The castle complex offers nice views of the city, and also includes several museums and exhibits. It’s enough to just have a nice walk around the complex, but for history buffs, the museums offer a deeper look.