Harrowing as it may be, a trip to Auschwitz is almost reason enough alone to visit Krakow. The entire complex, about 50km from Krakow, has been preserved as a museum to honour those who died in the Holocaust. It's estimated that 1.1 million, mostly Jewish people, died at Auschwitz alone. It's a figure that most humans can't contemplate, and can overwhelm many visitors when the reality faces them so abruptly.
The complex is divided into two key areas. The first is Auschwitz I where the inmates were kept in horrific conditions. The barracks that housed them now present haunting exhibits that paint a clear picture of life in this, the most infamous of concentration camps. From the ordinary, the mountain of shoes and spectacles, to the horrific experiments of Dr. Mengele, you won't easily forget what you see. There are also exhibits on each country's response to the Holocaust, from the bravery of the Poles and Dutch, to the less than heroic efforts of my present home country, Hungary.
The second area is Auschwitz II (Birkenau). This is the death camp where over a million people were murdered in only a matter of years. A visit here may prove too much for some people after witnessing the horrors of just those who lived in Auschwitz. You'll need to steel yourself before you get on the bus to the Birkenau.
Transport to Auschwitz is relatively easy. There are regular buses from the bus station next to the main train station. The buses take about 2 hours. You can find out which bus is going to Oświęcim (Auschwitz in Polish) on the big timetables inside the station. Just find the bus number in the park outside, and get onboard. You pay the bus driver. There's a timetable for return buses where you get off at the museum.
Buses between Auschwitz I and II run from just outside the main entrance.
A large mound of excitement
I''m not sure how many folk visit Krakow's mounds. They are a curious phenomenon, originally suspected of being burial places of kings, and more recently thrown up as monuments to national heroes (for example Tadeuz Kosckiusko).
Take a tram from the centre up to the Salvator terminus, then walk up the tree lined road (or wait for a bus) to the mound atop Sikornik Hill. There are cafe's a, chapel to St Bronislawa and even a hotel here, plus views to the centre, the ring of the Planty and away beyond to smoky Nowa Huta and its smokestacks
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Wieliczka Salt Mines
A visit to the Salt mines is a must. I just loved it, but at times did feel a bit closterphobic. You descent into the mines climbing down 300 odd steps, but it is well worth it. The historic Wieliczka salt mine has been continous from the Middle Ages, constructed on nine levels, these excavations strech for 300 kilometers and reach a depth of 327 meters. A walk through the mine takes approx 3 hours and you do about 3,5 kilometers and in total climb about 800 stairs.
From Krakow you can get here by public transport using bus 304 which takes about 20 minutes. The bus starts from Kurniki street and the cost is 4 zl one way, make sure you have a valid ticket as plain clothed inspectors will slap you with a hearty spot fine if caught without one. The bus stop where you must get off is called Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli. The tours for individuals cost 75 zl and there is a guided tour approx every half hour in English, German, Spanish, Italian, polish and French.
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Midway between Auschwitz and Krakow are these series of ponds, originally dug in the middle ages and stocked with fish. Today, the whole area is a nature preserve and a haven for birds.
Not easy to find, so I would suggest finding a guide or even a group. Binoculars, spotting scope and insect repellent are all suggested items to bring. A good bird book on Europe will be handy as well.
Towarzystwo Gimnastyczne Sokol
I'm not going to pretend I understand the history of this building. Even though I've translated the site below it's pretty complex and very detailed indeed.
As far as I can make out, the building (dating from 1885) was the base for a society which worked with young people, teaching gymnastics and 'modern' physical education but also..in the early years of the 20th century...preparing them for an armed struggle for an independent Poland.
You can read more on the site below (in Polish). I just liked the building very much, especially the rather lovely golden mosaics on its gable end.
You'll find it on Marszalka Josefa Pilsudskiego, near the junction with Ul. Retoryka and Ul. Garncarska.
- Historical Travel
The Josef Pilsudski monument
I came across this monument whilst wandering the outer edge of Krakow's historical centre. My guidebook had no information and there is no English inscription, so I had to wait until I got home to research it.
The monument, created by Czeslaw Dźwigaj and erected in 2008, is set at the junction of Ul. Retoryka, Ul. Garncasrka and Marsalska Josefa Pilsudskiego. It is made up of several parts: the General himself on a red marble plinth, a flagpole and..the part which initially caught my eye...the figures of four soldiers moving forward together.
Pilsudski had a fascinating life, leading a group which sought Polish independence from Russia, organising paramilitary units which could form a future Polish Army, 'forming the Polish Legions which fought in the First World War and...eventually..becoming the leader of Poland from 1926-1935. The life of this man was hugely complicated and far too detailed to describe here. You can read the wiki page below to get more information.
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The 'market' stalls inside the Sukiennice are very nice. The permanent 'craft' market in the wooden huts next to the Sukiennice is also very nice, with lots of good value things to buy.
But they are not 'proper' markets used by ordinary Krakowians. There are some of these a little outside the historical centre but still within easy walking distance and worth browsing around.
The market at Plac Nowy in Kazimierz surrounds a strangely-shaped building, the Okraglak, used as a kosher slaughterhouse and butcher prior to the Second World War. When I visited in March 2013 the market stalls were pretty much deserted but when I've visited in summer they were busier, with stalls selling secondhand goods, souvenirs and fresh produce. I suspect that this market now largely caters for the many visitors who pass through Plac Nowy on their explorations of Kazimierz.
The market held in Rynek Kleparski. (you might see it marked on maps as Stary Kleparz) was quiet when I visited and took my photos around 8am on Tuesday, but by mid-morning on Thursday it was very busy indeed. It's all undercover (not surprising, given Polish winters) but open to the elements at the side. Two sides are lined with small permanent 'shops' selling meat, bread, cakes, dog treats, clothes, shoes, underwear etc etc...and in the middle there are 'traditional' market stalls, also selling vegetables, cheese, eggs, flowers, socks, slippers etc etc. It's a fascinating market to browse around. I was very impressed by the number of layers worn by the ladies on the market stalls (and they certainly needed them).
'Proper' markets anywhere always give a good insight into how ordinary people live and what their preferences are. For that reason alone they are worth exploring..though you'll also find the prices for goods on, for example, Rynek Kleparski are lower than on Rynek Glowny.
Rynek Kleparski is to the north of the historical centre, just outside the Planty. From the Barbikan and Florianska cross Ulica Bastowa and walk up Ulica Warsawska towards the Grunwald monument. Take the first left and you will come to Rynek Kleparski.
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Bishop Erzam Ciolek Palace
I'm not one for spending hours and hours in any museum: they very quickly make my head spin. I much prefer smaller museums, where there is just enough interest for an hour or so's browsing.
In 2013 circumstances dictated that I had time to spare but restrictions on filling that time. So I decided to visit this wonderfully-renovated 'palace', itself dating from the 1400s and now housing a collection of Medieval religious artwork.
If you have any interest in Medieval art this place is definitely worth visiting. The 'religious' element is irrelevant: much (most?) of the artwork produced during the Medieval period in Europe was related to religion, simply because the Church was the major commissioner of such pieces. But that does not detract from the skill of the workmanship or the beauty of the pieces.
I particularly liked the way one can get very close to the paintings and sculptures on show: it's fascinating to see exactly how the paint was brushed on, or how the fingernails were carved.
Particular highlights, for me, were the 14th-century sculpture of a serene Madonna with chirpy (albeit bat-eared) baby Jesus, the various very-gory-indeed depictions of the martyrdom of sundry saints and the strange 'Hall of Death' which features coffin portraits from the 1600s. Seeing the faces of real people makes history come alive.
I also felt this in the final room, where there is a series of full-size portraits of various Polish and Lithuanian 'hetmen' (top military officers from the mid-1500s to the late 1700s, when Poland and Lithuania formed a 'commonwealth'). They were all hefty, muscular men, mostly with fully-shaven heads and looking very, very fierce indeed. I was fascinated to see that just one of them had a very 'modern' haircut with a stripe of hair left running along the top of his otherwise-shaven head!
There's another gallery which has Orthodox religious art from the same period (with a very good collection of icons) but, unfortunately, it was closed when I visited.
Make sure you look up during your visit to see the original, beautifully-painted and intricately-decorated wooden ceilings.
One ticket will get you into both galleries. In March 2013 entrance cost 12 zloty.
You'll find the palace at 17, Ulica Kanonicza, which runs parallel to the lower end of Ulica Grodzka towards the castle.
Closed Mondays, open 10-6 Tuesday to Saturday and 10-4 on Sunday.
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Fr Bernardek footbridge- love locks
Sometimes in walking around a city you're visiting you see things that really give you a small glimpse of how locals really live and some of the things that are important to them.
We were coming out of the Jewish Quarter and there was a bridge that goes over into Podgorze, at first glance it is nothing special, just your ordinary pedestrian bridge. But as you are crossing you see all these locks attached to the bridge. Look closely and you will see the locks (ordinary padlocks) are inscribed with the names of couples before they get married.
Cool! I like it:) I wish them many years of love
The bridge is named after Laetius Bernatek (1847-1927) a monk and pharmacist. It spans the Wisla, uniting Podgorze with Kazimierz, so if you take a walking tour of Kazimierz you will probably pass by this bridge.
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Explore Polish culture-native(naive/primitive) art
The Ethnographic Museum is a delightful stop along the way if you are walking from the main square to Kazimierz District. It's worth visiting this charming little museum for a look at true native art which is copied by the soulvenires we see in many shops.
Their collections of early furnishings, farm tools, costumes, and other assorted early treasures of Poland is nicely displayed and preserved.
Upstairs Gosia took a dreadful pic of me standing behind a costumed board where you stick your face through. I include it here for your amusement.
There is an excellent book written by a doctoral student at Cornell University in the US about the period between 1848 - 1914 in Poland. The author used the Ethnographic Museum for some of her detailed research, which I wish I could have the time to do myself. The Nation in the Village was written by Keely Stauter-Halsted and is extremely helpful in understanding the daily life of the villagers in southern Poland as they came from Serfdom to their national identity in Austrian Poland.
Don't forget to stop in their charming little gift shop where you can find painted wooden toys, books, cards, and other replicas of early crafts.
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St. Bartholomew's Church, Nowa Huta.
St. Bartholomew's Church in Mogila, just outside of Nowa Huta, was built in 1466 as the second church to stand on this spot. It was erected by a royal carpenter, Maciej Maczka.
Two late-gothic chapels are attached to the nave. There is a richly decorated portal which ends in a lancet arch. The rococo polychrome decoration of the interior dates from 1766.
It is the oldest surviving three-naved timber church in Poland.
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Professor’s garden is a garden on Krakow’s University. The entrance in the garden and university is free, but you can also have a guided tour. I think there is a door from the street to the garden but when I was there works were being done so you had to enter from the inside of the university.
The garden is really small, but quite charming. It has some scientific inventions and you can play with them and read the side explanations.
I don’t know how it is during classes’ period, but it deserves certainly a bit of your time in Krakow.
The second photo shows the passage from the university to the garden.
Tour of Nowa Huta
Visiting a Soviet funded socialist realist suburb probably isn't at the top of the average Krakow visitor list but my husband was sold by the idea of traveling by Trabant, a teeny tiny car popular in communist times. We were picked up at our hotel and I was the lucky one who got to stuff myself in what appeared to be a backseat for the ride to Nowa Huta, about 15-20 minutes by car from the old town in Krakow.
Our 1st stop was the town square to show us what the original scope was for Nowa Huta and what would have been there had they continued. They started work in 1947, just after WWII, but never fully realized their grand plan. You can see a photo of the giant statue of Lenin that once stood in the central square, a 1979 bombing attempt only dented his foot, but he was successfully removed in 1989 and sold to a Swede and now lives somewhere outside of Stockholm.
Then it was back into the sardine can for a tour of some of the more significant spots-the lake that never was, Arka Pana, the church built in the shape of an ark; and the steelworks that gives Nowa Huta it's name, for a time it was named after Lenin and employed 38,000 workers but is now owned by Arcor Mittal and employs a mere 5,000.
While not impossible to tour Nowa Huta on your own, you'd still probably want to use some form of public transport to get around or do as we did and go on a guided tour. Our guide was very young and they had prerecorded information that he stopped and started as we passed by the important sights in Nowa Huta. We booked the tour from our hotel the day before we went.
Grab your camera and follow these tips for a photographers view of Krakow.
You will of course photograph the ‘A list’ locations, the ‘Postcard ‘ shots are obvious, Mariacki church (St Mary’s Basilica) Sukinennice, horse carriages, Wawel castle etc, but try to be different, not many of the photographers exhibiting in the city this month achieved this by following the pack and taking the same shots as everyone else.
I have to confess that after 12 years of visiting and now living here, I long ago stopped considering myself a tourist, yet I still do photograph the usual places, almost weekly. It’s a compulsion, an addiction, the city really is just so beautiful and looks great through the lens. Like living with a supermodel, you might get used to them, sometimes irritated by them, but it is so tempting to whip out the camera for just one more shot.
Such is Krakow, a city of superlatives, breathtakingly beautiful filled with many irresistibly photogenic places and people, crying out to be photographed.
As someone who is equally passionate about Krakow and Photography, I can assure you that there is no better time for a photographer to enjoy the delights of photographing Krakow than when you are surrounded and inspired by so many wonderful exhibitions.
Krakow from above - Krakow looks good at ground level, but it’s true beauty is revealed in greater splendour from above. There are many opportunities to get above those grand town houses and look down on the city.
Akademia Muzyczna w Krakowie, Academy of Music, Cracow ,Ul. Tomasza 43 – Take the lift to the rooftop café for splendid views over the city rooftops.
Krakow Balloon, Most Gunwaldzki, A 10 minute flight in the tethered balloon to a height of 186m, rewards you with great panoramic views of Krakow and far beyond. 9am – 8pm, 38zl
Jubilat Roof Terrace, Al. Krasińskiego 1 – There is a choice of rooftop cafes on the roof of the Jubilat department store with views across the River Wisla to Wawel. Whilst there, browse the department store for a traditional shopping experience from days gone by.
St Mary's Basilica Tower is open for visitors on selected days from May until August:. Climb the 239 steps to 51m above Rynek Główny and look down at the hustle and bustle below. Time your visit to reach the top on the hour and witness the Hejnał bugle call from up close.
Wander up alleys and passageways to discover wonderful atmospheric courtyards and architecture, find patterns in the stonework and staircases. Don’t be afraid to wander into these courtyards, go behind the large wooden doors and seek out the secret Krakow, hidden from the tourist view, seemingly frozen in time, unchanged for decades, sometimes centuries
Stroll around the Planty – The former moat, now a green park that encircles the old town. A welcome escape from the busy centre with numerous photo opportunities.
Ul. Kanonicza is widely agreed to be the prettiest of Krakow’s streets, leading from Wawel castle towards the Rynek, take a detour at the top of the street don’t follow the crowds onto Ul. Grodzka, instead turn left to Senacka street, a surprisingly quiet little corner of the old town.
Mały Rynek, - Walk through the pretty, tranquil Plac Mariacki, by the side of the church and through the archway into the often overlooked Mały Rynek, a stones throw from the Rynek.
Walk along the Wisla – Start in front of the Sheraton hotel where you will find chess players concentrating on their next move. Walk past Wawel Castle and the fire breathing dragon. Continue to the point where the Wisla separates two of Krakow most historical districts Kazimierz and Podgórze.
Explore Kazimierz, often described, as shabby chic, the former Jewish centre of Krakow now reinvented as one of the trendiest parts of the city. By day, take in the history, and Jewish cultural heritage, by night the cobbled streets and alleys ooze atmosphere. The interiors of cafes such as Alchemia, Singers, Mleczarnia and Eszeweria have interiors reminiscent of half a century ago. The passage between Jozefa 12 and ul Meiselsa will be familiar from ‘Schindlers List’, and also happens to have a great beer garden.
Cross the new footbridge and wander the atmospheric and evocative Podgórze. Don’t be put off by the often crumbling facades, a legacy of decades of oppression and neglect. Podgórze was the site of the Jewish Ghetto and this is where you can find many photographic opportunities such as Plac Bohaterów Getta, the scene of many atrocities remembered by the unique memorial, a fragment of the ghetto wall survives at ul Lwowska, not far from the former Schindler factory, now a museum and its near neighbour the Museum of Contemporary Art, Krakow (MOCAK).
Visit one of the Krakow mounds, Kościuszko is the better known dominating the skyline above the Błonia Meadow with a fine view across the city and beyond, but I would suggest visiting Krakus mound. Located on the edge of Podgórze between the former Ghetto and the site of the Płaszów camp, near to Park Bednarskiego The mound is much smaller but from the top you can look down into the Liban Quarry where Płaszów inmates were forced to endure hard labour and where more recently Spielberg recreated the Płaszów camp for the film Schindlers List.
Markets – Krakow has many markets which provide opportunities to capture some of the colour and character of the city.
The Flea Market at Hale Targowe, an eclectic mix of goods ranging from rubbish to hidden gems and antiques.
Stary Kleparz market, Rynek Kleparski – Mostly selling general goods, fruit & veg, busy and a taste of real Krakow life.
Flower market, Rynke Glowny. – Colourful and accessible
Second Hand Clothes Market – Plac Nowy, Sunday mornings.
Night Photography – Many of Krakow’s public buildings and monuments are floodlight and can attract photographers like moths to a lamp. Use a tripod and experiment with HDR techniques.. Take in a jazz concert at Harris Piano Bar, Rynek Glowny or Muniaka, on Florianska, great for aspiring concert photographers or to relax after a day trotting around the exhibitions.
Street Photography – If snapping people in the street is your thing, then you will not be disappointed. Krakow is alive with opportunities for candid shots, whether it be street performers, kids chasing pigeons, chess players by the river, a sleeping drunk on the Planty or any one of Krakow’s esoteric or eccentric characters.
Social/Documentary Photography - Seek out the quirky unusual Krakow sights, try to document the aspects of Krakow life which are slowly disappearing. The kiosks, the Krakow pretzel (obwarzanek krakowski) sellers, communist era socialist buildings, traditional quirky eclectic shop window displays.
Black & White – Krakow is timeless, think black and white, think tones and textures, guaranteed that you will capture scenes which will be impossible to tell if they were taken yesterday or in 1940.
Festivals – May/June is festival season, check cracowlife.com for dates of festivals during your visit.
Museum of History of Photography, Muzeum Historii Fotografii, Jozefitow 16 http://www.mhf.krakow.pl/?action=eng
Photo Friendly Café – Pauza Café on Florianska hosts great exhibitions in the main bar and in their upstairs gallery, better still they have a great selection of quality international photo mags available on the bar.
Vintage Cameras – Krakow once had many Foto Komis, shops selling a huge variety of vintage or second hand cameras where you could snap up a bargain or treat yourself to a Russian Zorki (Leica Copy). One of the few surviving shops can be found at Zwierzyniecka 16.
To help you capture the magic of Krakow, here are a few tips on photography in general and Photographing Krakow in particular.
Photo Tickets – Some of the tourist sites, notably Mariacki church and Wieliczka salt mine insist that an additional Photo/Video ticket is purchased, (10zl), this is usually a sticker which should be worn in a conspicuous place to fend off over zealous security staff.
Safety – Krakow is a very safe city, indeed it could be considered to be safer and less prone to street crime than many other European cities. The usual common sense precautions should be applied such as never leaving your kit unattended and whilst it is easy to get caught up in the moment when looking through the camera you should always be aware of your surroundings if venturing out at night in less busy areas,
Photographing the Locals - Be polite and respectful. Don’t be the pushy tourist with a camera. Some people, usually the older generation are less keen at being photographed.
Try to tell a story with your images. – Take an interest in the person and what they do, that way they are more likely to look beyond the camera and be more open to being photographed, giving you a more relaxed and natural subject.
Explore – Krakow is a wonderfully evocative city. Stray off the beaten track, wander down alley’s into passageways and hidden courtyards which often reveal a rewarding surprise.
Don’t be afraid of bad weather, the light reflecting off rain soaked cobbled streets can look wonderful.
Get in close - Look up. Capture the detail in the architecture, the old glass street numbers, ornate portals and stonework.
Daytrip to Zakopane
As I stayed 4 days in Krakow, I took the chance of a daytrip by bus to Zakopane. Its location in the High Tatra mountains makes it Polands most popular ski and hiking resort. It offers a nice mixture of provincial charm and busy touristy atmosphere.
There are plenty of buses serving the Krakow to Zakopane route (110 km).
Nevertheless, on busy days it is recommended to buy the ticket in advance to guarantee a seat.
A trip takes between 2 and 2.5 hours. Depending on the bus operator the single fare varies from 8.50 to 11.0 Zloty (2004).
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