Krakow, a city in the south of Poland, is a vibrant European city with a beautiful old Town. Krakow offers a great long weekend trip away, with a great party scene with great free walking tours explaining the varied history of the area. It also is one of the closest cities to one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, the concentration and death camps at Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. While it is not a fun trip to visit the camps, it is a humbling and worthy experience.
A weekend trip to Krakow – what to do
Free walking tour (pay what you want)
The free walking tour is highly recommended and is available around the Old Town, the Jewish Quarter and a number of other more specific tours. The guides who run the walking tour are all locals – so you get a lot more of an authentic experience during the tour and some personal insight into what Krakow was like to grow up in.
Crazy Guides Tours ~150 ZLY (~£25)
Crazy Guides was the highlight of my time in Krakow. The premise is simple – you get picked up in a 1970’s era Communist car called a Trabant, and get driven around a suburb of Krakow set up to be the ‘perfect communist city’. Oh and the guides themselves are crazy drivers, you get to try some Polish vodka, and the car is little more than a lawnmower, that leaks when it rains and may or may not breakdown. If this sounds like your thing, definitely book in advance for this trip!
Nowa Huta is the name of the Communist suburb, set up basically as propaganda to show the world how perfect the communist life was. The main employer was the local steel factory, which is still runnning today, owned by ArcelorMittal – the sign that the King (Communism) is dead, long live the King (Capitalism).. an Indian steel entrepreneur who owns the majority of steel works around the world owns the steel factory set up to showcase communism to the world.. Marx/Lenin/Stalin would be turning in their graves!
Auschwitz Concentration Camp – (12ZLY to 150 ZLY ~£3 to £30)
There are many different ways of getting to Auschwitz, depending on your budget. Inyourpocket.com has a good summary of these options here.
Prepare yourself for what is a very emotional and sobering day. You start off with a visit to Auschwitz, which is still largely all together and is a small gated village, not what you expect at all. It is definitely worth going through this area with a guide, where some of the stories are heartbreaking.
The second area is Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is the well-known site, seen in movies such as Schindler’s List, and where the worst of the horrors took place. There are still many of the houses still standing, but the death zones, the gas chambers and the incinerators, were blown up at the end of the war. Be prepared to be shocked, but it is worth seeing to ensure that it never happens again.
Schindler’s Factory – (19ZLY ~£5 )
Following one of the most heartbreaking events in human history, it is worth visiting a feel good story – Oskar Schindler’s factory story is now well known through the movie Schindler’s List. It has been turned into a museum, which will take around 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. You can easily get a taxi there from the Old Town or use one of the many taxi guides that go around the city to get a story of Krakow on the way to the factory.
Getting to Krakow
Flights from London – ~£80-£200 return
Krakow has flights direct from around Europe, but from London there are not many flights over a long weekend period – so it is best to book far in advance. Ryanair has flights from Stansted that you can get for ~£80 if you book early enough.