Last winter we decided to celebrate new year's eve in Krakow, Poland. We were looking for a city we haven't visited yet, and which was afordable at the same time. Without any big expectations we flew to Krakow. I didn't have any clue about the country, nor the city before my arrival at the airport. Our gentle cabdriver Jozef drove us to our hotel at Jozefa street, which was located in Kazimierz, the old jewish neighbourhood.
Krakow is a small city. I'd recommend it as a lovely weekend trip of 3-4 days, which would be long enough to discover the beauties in and around the city.
My favorite part of Krakow was Kazimierz, because it was full of street art, new discoveries around every corner. It was the right mix of old historical buildings and modern art. Kazimierz is very lively at night. There are plenties of bars, and a big diversity of restaurants. I'd recommend to try every single polish dish in the city, because their food is amazingly delicious. I'd go for Pierogis [polish dumplings] any day! Check out the restaurant "Starka" at Jozefa Street, a lovely arty restaurant, which serves polish dishes. great wines and home-made vodkas.
The main square of the city, would be the place that reflects the image of Krakow the most. It's a huge place surrounded by old cathedrals and historical buildings. I think it's the biggest square i've ever been at. Because we were visting for new year's eve, the whole place was covered with food stalls, and a big christmas market [yes, after Christmas]. Same as Kazimierz, the square is surrounded by hundreds of restaurants and all kind of bars, jazz clubs, sports pubs, and old polish tavernes. The Royal Castle is just inbetween Kazimierz and the city's main square.
While in Krakow, I guess it's a must to visit Auschwitz, or in polish Oświęcim. Visiting a concentration camp was still on my check list. During highschool we had to read so many books about 2nd world war, and the concentration camps across Europe, that I had to witness this monsterous place on my own. Our cabdriver Jozef picked us up at our hotel, and drove us to Auschwitz, which took us about 50 minutes by car. The guided tour lasts approximately 2 hours. After Auschwitz you get another short busride which will bring you to Birkenau. Visiting both camps takes half a day.
After Auschwitz Jozef took us to Wieliczka Salt Mine which is located nearby Krakow. The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland. Now it's hard to tell if the salt mine is a tourist trap or not. Some rooms, mostly at the bottom of the salt mine, were quiet impressive, considering that all the statues, chandeliers, stairs, have been carved out of saltblocks. The floor, the ceilings ... they're all made out of salt. The negative part of the saltmine was the guided tour. We had a lovely guide, but the tour just lasted too long.
Sadly I can't tell what Krakow looks like in summer. We had some pretty cold and grey days in Poland, but they were the right match for the new year's eve vibe, and our visit of Auschwitz. Depsite the freezing weather, Kaziemierz was always busy at night, same for the main square area. We met a couple of polish people, who they were all super welcoming. It's a cheap city, so it allows you to have a good time, and enjoy your stay without carrying too much about your wallet.