So, you have decided to take a trip to Eastern Europe and have allowed yourself just three days in Krakow, Poland. How should you make the most of your limited time?
Accommodations in Krakow range from upscale hotels to bed and breakfasts to apartments. Apartments offer a very good value, especially considering you can save on breakfast or lunch. Staying in Old Town allows you the convenience of returning to your room for a rest, a change of clothes or to drop off any purchases without having to call for a taxi. A good source for descriptions and online booking can be found at http://www.krakow-tourism.com/index.php.
Once you have dropped your bags off in your room, set out for an orientation stroll through Old Town (Stare Mesto). Krakow is a walkers delight with bubbling fountains, sidewalk cafes and ancient buildings offering up a mix of the ancient and modern. Give yourself time for a coffee and watch tourists and businesspeople going about their day.
Wawel Hill is one of Krakow’s most famous sights and is often described as the “spiritual soul of the nation.” People were living there as far back as fifty-thousand years. It houses the Royal Castle, where the tourist can view the multitudes of art, period furniture, and ornate tapestries. The Cathedral is also located here, and contains 18 chapels.
A tour to the Dragon’s Lair takes you down 100 steps to the cave where folklore has it that a dragon was slain. Back outside, overlooking the river is a huge statue of the dragon that, much to the delight of grown-ups and children alike, breathes fire every few minutes.
Grand Square or Rynek Glowny is the hub of the city featuring a walled plaza containing 47 historical buildings, cathedrals, markets, cafes and street performers.
An easy walk from Wawel Hill brings you to Kazimierz. This district embodies the history of the Polish Jews, and in fact, Stephen Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List was filmed here. The narrow streets and alleyways, markets, tenements and cemeteries were, following the extermination of the Jews during the Second World War, left deserted for many years. Fortunately, the 1980’s brought about a revival of the area, and it is once again thriving. The devastated buildings are being renovated, and Jewish cultural festivals and workshops continue to bring life back to the district.
Less than an hour away from Krakow lies Auschwitz/Birkenau , the largest of the Nazi German concentration camps. The best way to visit is on an organized tour, and several a day leave from all over Krakow. The tour takes you through both camps, allowing you to witness the horrors that took place here. There are exhibits of personal items such as spectacles, suitcases, toothbrushes and other effects that were taken from the prisoners upon their arrival. Tours of the gas chambers and bunkhouses are also offered. It is a very difficult, yet, I feel, essential tour if one wishes to better understand Poland’s history. Give yourself the most of a full day for this tour, it is not one to rush. See http://en.auschwitz.org.pl/m/ for more information.
If time allows and you have the desire, visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Lying 443 feet underground and reaching depths of 1073 feet, this is the largest preserved salt mine in the world, bringing in over one million visitors each year. Everything down to the crystals on the chandeliers is carved from rock salt. There are miner’s corridors, statues and even a lake. A cathedral and banquet hall (made of salt) can be reserved for private functions including weddings! Wear comfortable shoes, for you must walk 378 steps down to the main chamber. An elevator will (thankfully) bring you back to the top. For more information on Wieliczka Salt Mine, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wieliczka_Salt_Mine.
Three days in Krakow? Plan ahead and do your homework—it can be done.