During my year abroad, I spent the winter holidays travelling through four European countries (with an evening spent in country number 5). My third stop on this trip was in Kraków, Poland. I didn’t plan the stops on this trip, but rather joined a friend on her plans, so I didn’t know what to expect from Poland. We spent 4 days in Kraków and I honestly could have stayed longer.
As a Canadian, I didn’t expect to be cold in Europe, but the weather in Poland was colder than I was ready for. We arrived on December 28, 2019, and I have to say I wasn’t fully prepared for the weather. Though the temperature stayed around -5ºC, which seems like nothing to a Canadian, my toes frozen in my boots and I could feel the chill through my layers. Perhaps it was my clothing (I wore a jacket reserved for fall weather in Canada with fleece layers underneath, and cheap boots bought in Spain with no insulation), or living in Madrid had made me acclimated to warmer weather, but I was cold. I would definitely recommend to my fellow Canadian travellers not to underestimate the weather in Europe during the winter.
Despite the chill, we still managed to see much of the city. We took two walking tours and went on two excursions with our hostel outside of the city. We stayed at the Mosquito Hostel, which was just across from the Barbakan Krakowski, a 15th century gateway into the Old Town. The location for the hostel was excellent, and we were able to book our tours to Auschwitz and the Salt Mines through the hostel. There was also the option to eat at the hostel for free breakfast and dinner.
We arrived at 6 in the morning on a bus from Bratislava. The hostel staff were nice enough to allow us to check in so early, and to get a few hours sleep after our long night. We woke again around 9:00am, and started our tour of the city.
We took a free walking tour of Kraków’s old town. We started at the town square near the Bazylika Mariacka, one of the city’s largest landmarks (as the church’s towers dwarf the surrounding buildings. Our tour guide was fantastic. He had tons of information about the city, both true and legend.
We passed by many of the famous landmarks of the city, including the Church of St. Wojciech, the Seminary of the Archdiocese, the Jagiellonian University, the Wawel Castle and Cathedral and Smok Wawelski, a statue of a dragon the periodically breaths fire.
The Wawel Cathedral is a terrific example of this, but many Polish buildings in Kraków exhibit a mix of different architecture styles through the decades and centuries in which they were built. As the buildings were restored or expanded, the architects added new styles resulting in unique buildings such as the Cathedral. The Wawel Cathedral served as the coronation site for Polish monarchs when Kraków was the capital.
The city still had Christmas lights and decorations throughout. We explored the Christmas market set up in Rynek Główny a few times and bought fried pierogi. We stopped at the Rynek Underground Museum and learned more about the city’s history. After a quick browse of the Sukiennice market hall we headed back to the hostel to rest for the night.
On December 29th, we took a tour booked through our hostel to Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The trip was haunting and emotionally heavy, but our tour guide was very informative and I am glad we made the trip. This is an important piece of history to remember, a piece of history we do not want to repeat. I recommend you take a tour if you are travelling nearby. All visits to Auschwitz require a tour guide.
I do not wish to speak too much on the visit itself as I feel I am not educated enough to speak on the experiences of those imprisoned here so I will keep my notes of December 29th brief. After returning from the tour we ate dinner with the group at the hostel, preferring to stay in and digest our day.
Stay tuned for Part II: the Salt Mines, Kraków’s Jewish Quarter, Polish food and New Year’s Eve.