Again, based on my experience visiting Krakow and its environs over nearly 20 years, here are my Top 5 Krakow-based exursions. Some you’d exect, some surprises. Don’t forget to download from amazon your copy of Polska Dotty, to read during those quieter moments on your trip! My book offers bags more insight into many of the attractions listed below.
1. Auschwitz (Oswiecim in Polish) – this has to come first, for obvious reasons. It’s impossible to describe it in a couple of sentences. I devote a chapter to it and the so-called “Jewish Question” in my book. Three tips: be in the mood to visit. I’m one of those who thinks everyone should go there, but if you’re on a short city break to Krakow to unwind, well, you may not get out of it what you should. Secondly, be sure to visit Birkenau, too. Thirdly, attend with a good guide.
2. Wieliczka – spectacular salt mine that extends to 9 levels underground, inluding a cathedral and ballroom! Also a must-see. Tips here would be take a jumper, and be prepared to descend many steps at the start, and walk several kilometers. A scary but quick elevator ride back to the top!
3. Nowa Huta – won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is a chance to get some idea of what life was like under Communism: endless monolithic concrete blocks laid out as plazas – soulless and depressing but impressive in their own way. Take a tour with Crazy Guides, and that way travel around in the old cars from that era – I went in a yellow Trabant – and see the main sites such as the steelworks (outside only, I’m afraid) and a Soviet era tank.
4. Blonia bike ride – hire a bike on or near Planty, the shock of green that surrounds Krakow’s old town. Cycle through the Planty, an oasis of calm and cool, until you reach the Vistula river near Wawel castle. Head along the banks of the river behind the castle, turning in eventually to the large recreational area Blonia. Follow cycle tracks towards the end of Blonia, furthest from the town. Return to the old town via the student town, around Reymonta street. All this’ll give you a real feel for Krakow, and you’ll be amazed how much green and tranquillity there is just outside the heart of Krakow.
5. Dorozka ride – hire a horse and carriage just outside Hawelka restaurant (see my previous blog Top 5 Krakow Restaurants) on the main market square. Not the cheapest, so take the half hour (as opposed to one hour) option, asking to go on the Grodska/Wawel castle route. Feel like royalty for half an hour, and relax: it’s really comfortable! Unique and enjoyable way to see the old town.
Wildcard: Krakow zoo. Some way out of Krakow. Unusual because set in thick forest, and therefore very pleasant to visit. Good display of animals. The huge bison most impressed me. Bison roam free in another part of Poland. Don’t worry: it’s not Krakow town centre! The zoo might get very popular now Citta the elephant has been chosen to predict results in Euro 2012.