First of all… why go to Krakow?
Wawel Castle, as seen from the bed in my hotel room!
Krakow is an offbeat hidden gem. It’s a bite sized city jam packed with culture, arts, ecclectic food and quirky history that can easily be explored in a long weekend. Go there if you want a taste of Eastern European charm but you don’t have time for a bigger city like Prague or Budapest. Krakow is far less clogged with tourists than some other big cities in central Europe. It is also far more affordable. The Swiss Franc, British Pound and US Dollar are all very strong against the Polish currency right now, which means you can stretch your budget much further. So go ahead, have that extra drink!
I didn’t see an Air B&B room in Krakow that was really floating my boat, so I decided to treat myself to a deal on a basic room in a cool hotel. I’m so glad I did. The staff at the Queen Boutique hotel was super friendly and responsive to my every need. Not only that, but upon arriving at the Queen Boutique completely exhausted after an 8 hour unscheduled detour to Warsaw (thanks for nothing, Swiss Air, I’m officially never flying with you again!) the concierge informed me that they’d upgraded me to one of their Skyview rooms, which had a perfect view of Wawel Castle. Talk about travel karma!
The Queen Boutique is located in an up and coming neighborhood right smack dab between Krakow’s Old Town and Kazmirez, the colorful Jewish district that’s packed with hip restaurants and funky night life.
With no time to waste, I headed straight uphill to check out Wawel Castle and Cathedral. It’s a beautiful spot and a great vantage point to check out the rest of the city. From there I high tailed it to Krakow’s Main Square, the largest main square in Europe. While you’re there, browse through Europe’s oldest bookstore and take a stroll through the Krakow Cloth Hall to check out the amber merchants. Don’t forget to check out what’s going on underneath the main square as well. The Ryneck Underground is an extensive subterranean exhibit leading you through the ruins of medieval Krakow. The interactive multimedia experience really helps you get lost in the past.
The view of Krakow from below in the Ryneck Underground
Day 2 was all about art! I had a blast getting lost on the wrong side of the tracks exploring Krakow’s impressive Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAK). While I was there MOCAK was focused on the work of young artists who came of age in post-communist Poland. There was also a fascinating exhibit based on Polish, German and Israeli artist’s response to Auschwitz.
Street arts in the MOCAK neighborhood!
After you’re done at MOCAK, don’t forget to visit next door at Oskar Schindler’s Factory. The museum is an immersive experience covering the German occupation of Krakow, the creation of the Krakow ghetto, and of course, how Oskar Schindler saved the lives of his factory workers. You can get a combo ticket that gives you reduced admission for both museums, well worth it!
Artist’s responses to Auschwitz
Who’d have thought a salt mine would turn out to be such a breathtaking celebration of human ingenuity? Wieliczka Salt Mine has been around for 400 years and is still a working mine today. It’s also an underground spa, a conference center and a concert hall! Over the centuries the minders have carved out cathedral sized underground chambers replete with epic sculptures and salt-crystal chandeliers. Illuminated underground lakes and rivers, and antique mining equipment that still works today completes this weird and wonderful journey.
Salt mine sculptures
One of the best things about Krakow is the food! If you can imagine it, you can find it in Krakow. The best thing is that you’ll be able to afford dining out too. Here’s my resto-redux…
Hit up Miod Malina for traditional Polish food. I loved the dumplings and mushroom sauce!
Kolanko No. 6 is an ecclectic little joint in the Jewish district that serves everything from beer, to smoothies to savory crepes and also doubles as a live music venue!
Street art outside of Kolanko No. 6
Moment has a hip retro vibe and serves breakfast until 4. What more could you want!?
Breakfast at Moment
Manzana serves creative Mexican cuisine, including the first authentic tasting margarita I’ve had since I moved to Europe!
Samui serves up mouthwatering Thai dishes only steps from the town square.
What kind of vacation is complete without an evening or two on the town?
Klub Kabaret is a performance venue that hits just the right spot between hip and slightly sleezy. It hosts a variety of lively theme nights from open mics, to burlesque to salsa dancing.
The view from the mezzanine at Klub Kabaret
Harris Piano bar is the legendary basement jazz club you shouldn’t miss.
What are your favorite weekend hidden gems?