RED: Don’t miss the ride up the mine shaft at Wieleczka Salt Mine
ORANGE: Eat and drink and learn in Kazimierz
YELLOW: Browse Polish books in English
GREEN: Eat cheaply and heartily in Krakow’s many snack bars
BLUE: Figure out how to ride public transport
Purple: Wave to the Bugler each hour on the hour
We had an amazing trip to Poland’s second-largest city in the winter, enjoying the amazing vibe of the main square and the dark bars of Kazimierz as well as the famous Wawel Castle and the incredible Wieliczka salt mine.
Salt Mine: On our last day in Krakow we decided at the last minute to take the bus a short distance out of town to the salt mine. We hadn’t really heard about it from anyone, but saw a brochure for it in the our airBnB flat and read a short description in the Frommer’s. We were so glad we went! An apathetic tour guide led us through an underground magical land with chapels, a cathedral, lakes, and streams carved out by devout miners. Is it difficult for you to picture this? Well just go! You won’t regret it for a second. Claustrophobes not to worry: You walk down forty flights of stairs to get to the beginning of the mine and it’s very open, airy, and spacious down there!
Kazimierz: This now semi-revitalized work-in-progress former Jewish Ghetto about 20 minutes walk from the Rynek Glowny is a must see in Krakow. We first wondered along some of the streets until we found a place called Bagelmama which served us amazing bagels with lox and cream cheese. Then we headed to the next door Jewish Museum where were learned about Jews in Poland from the times of Galicia to the present day. This is a complex and thoughtful museum so plan to spend at least one hour there.
While walking around Kazimierz you get the overwhelming sense that you’re in the wrong place. The buildings are half dilapidated and there was not another soul in sight, until we would duck in to the frequent cosy bar or coffee shop to find amazing desserts, cakes, and homemade vodkas. This area is very controversial because it is now becoming very hipstery/gentrified and there is little acknowledgement of the marginalization of people here (what’s new?) but it is worth seeing for yourself and deciding what it’s all about.
Massolit Books: We heard about this bookstore from our Frommer’s Guide, and went there to discover a very quaint bookshop. Try finding it on your own because it near the river walk and down a few windy back streets in a part of Krakow you might not know is there. We ended up buying a book called “The essential Guide to Being Polish” which we amused ourselves with over coffee.
Smak!: Bar Smak is just a regular small bistro outside of the Rynek Glowny near our AirBnB flat. It wasn’t really amazing or anything, but it’s worth mentioning that you can go into any place like this and get a meal for the equivalent of £2.50! Our favorite was called MilkBar in the Rynek Glowny where we had amazing food in a clean space for extremely cheap. Sidenote: Milkbar is the name of the Soviet Era places where you would line up to get food. Milk indicates No Alcohol.
Nowa Huta: Speaking of Soviet Era, if you really want to have a unique experience try and figure out how to get to the communist centralized development of Nowa Huta by public transport. If you arrive without killing your travel mate, you’ll have a semi-enjoyable time walking around and seeing the block of houses where people still live today. You can read about the history of the village and you can even visit the old Steel Mill where people worked. We did not go to the mill but we saw it standing atop a hill overlooking the village like some type of sinister lord over looking his minions.
The Bugler: Rynek Glowny is one of the most fairytale like places I have ever seen. We returned here time and again to just wander the back streets and most important, listen for the Bugler’s song at every hour. The best part is, he waves to the people below when he finishes his song, and we waved back along with other onlookers! It wasn’t like a quick excited wave, more like a slow wave as if he’s saying goodbye forever. It makes sense, because in the 12th century, the town Bugler got hit in the throat by an arrow mid-note. To this day, the Bugler cuts short his last note in memory of this horrible incident.