I will be in Krakow 4 to 5 days and would like to know suggestions of where to go. I will do the city walking tour and visit the salt mine church but am not interested in the tour of the concentration camp as I have been to others before . Is the day trip to the mountains and baths worthwhile? Would it be worthwhile to stay overnight in the mountains? Are there any small towns that are interesting? We don’t have to stay all our nights in Krakow but also don’t want to spend 9 hours driving to Gdańsk to go to a new city given our limited time frame.
We usually check out the "Things to do" menu on TripAdvisor for questions like this. Lots of good info there, along with reasonably objective reviews. With it we've found a number of lesser known little gems in places we never would have discovered otherwise: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g274772-Activities-Krakow_Lesser_Poland_Province_Southern_Poland.html
Krakow itself is in my opinion interesting enough to spend 4-5 days there without risking boredom.
I was just in Krakow. Plenty to do. Hopefully you have 4-5 full days. I think the best place for you to start is the Rick Steves guide. I like the list of "attractions" and use his rankings as a first step for deciding what I want to do. I used his walking guide the first day we were there to familiarize myself with the old town. We did most of the churches, the castle complex, the Shindler museum, Kazimierz, cemeteries and more. The folk museum in Kazimierz is something many do not do, and I really enjoyed it. My husband went to Auschwitz, I did not.
I got a lot of information from trip reports on this website. Here is mine. It is too long, I know, but there are plenty of details.
We decided against going to Zakopane (mountains) because the travel time for a day trip was too much for us. Honestly, I would not go anywhere, because for most people, you don't have enough time for Krakow already. Especially since you are doing the day trip to the salt mine church.
I suggest that you go to the In Your Pocket website and download their guidebook for Krakow Krakow PDFor just play around with their website. They have tons of good timely info on things to do and see. Yes lots of sponsored ads. They also do many other cities in Europe so its good to know. The Wawel castle was worth more than a quick walk-by. Art interest? Look for where DaVinci's "Lady with Ermine" is at, which some consider his best work.
Zakopane is the mainstream place to go in the mountains. Its been a summer/winter sports center for decades, so pretty touristed and convenient. Where you are going from there would influence other suggestions.
I agree with Stan on "In Your Pocket", and will also agree that Wawel is not a "walk by". We spent about 2/3 of a day there. We went on a Monday or Tuesday and most parts except the cathedral and its museum were free. We did get there a bit before opening and by mid day it was pretty busy. The have a nice little cafe with meals, treats and drinks. We stopped there for our daily gelato.
. . . and check out the mysterious energy vortex while at Wawel.
No reason to leave the city because there will be no problem finding things to do in Krakow. Great city and I think always under estimated. You have the Schindler Factory Museum, Wawel Castle, Main Square, Jewish Quarter, Rynek Underground and even though you mention you have been to other concentration camps, Auschwitz is a sight worth seeing because it is presented very well as a historical chapter of WWII. Last, but not least, there are wonderful restaurants in Krakow which are so inexpensive, you will look twice at the conversion rates. LOL.
Definitely check out the National Museum when in Krakow (https://mnk.pl/branch/main-building), the best art museum in Poland. Home to the famous da Vinci painting "Lady with an Ermine", just as interesting is the history of the painting itself, having survived the partitions of Poland, WWI, and especially WWII when it was stolen by the Germans (among many other things they stole).
Their collection goes beyond "art" in the traditional sense, as my favourite exhibition in the National Museum is called 'Arms and Uniforms in Poland', with authentic pieces dating from from 12th to 20th centuries, including beautifully crafted armor, swords, firearms, cavalry regalia, and original Napoleonic military uniforms.
I really, really liked Zakopane, two hours south of Krakow by bus in the high Tatras mountains. I spent 3 weeks traveling Poland, Czech Republic and Vienna last month. Zakopane and Karlovy Vary were my two favorites; I like long hikes in nature followed by spa experiences.
Krakow can definitely fill 4 or 5 days easy but sometimes I just need a break from museums, churches and other sites. Zakopane was a wonderful alpine experience somewhere between Lauterbrunnen and Chamonix at about 1/4 the price of either with great opportunities to interact with Poles and see how they have fun.
After an 11 mile hike to Oko Morskie, I needed a spa day which I found at Chocolowska Baths. No advance appointment was needed, though I would double check if you go. I had a mud bath, a half hour head to toe salt scrub followed by an hour massage in a beautiful spa setting for about 75 dollars. Bliss.
If you go, I’d recommend an overnight. The krakow-Zakopane bus runs frequently from behind the train station and costs less than $5. Zakopane has wonderful architecture of chalets and mountain huts with a certain alpine feel that makes it easy to love. I stayed in a chalet at Restaurancja Javorina and was very happy there.
It was my first trip to Poland but definitely not my last!
I was sorry we didn't have time to take the short train outing to to Tarnów. I agree that "... in your Pocket" is very useful. Wild horses could not have dragged us to a salt mine tour, church or not. But we did love visiting the historic churches of Krakow, and were lucky enough to encounter (and get tickets for) a secular concert in an historic Synagogue. While Auschwitz is marred by crowding, you are mistaken in crossing it off. It's like saying you don't need to see a castle in Krakow because you saw a castle in Prague. I've been to two other camps, and Auschwitz was not like them at all. (I'm including the physical remnants to be seen, not just the emotional or visual experience.
OTOH, I found Schindler's Factory to be canned and over-rated. It wasn't wasted time, but it was a Disney version of tragedy. (Sorry, Disney ... ) It is called Schindler's Factory for a REASON. It's not called "Schindler's List."
While Krakow is full of tourists, it's a wonderful experience. We (age 69/64) had an experience we've never had in 40 years of travel. A chattering bunch of Israeli middle/high? school girls insisted, nay, demanded that my wife go ahead of them in the women's toilet line!
I thought Schindler's factory was a good experience. One take away was that Schindler, while not completely self serving, what he did was in his best interest as well as the Jewish families he helped.
I don't think a person that chooses to not go to Auschwitz is making a terrible mistake. I didn't go, and I have had plenty experiences in life and during my trip to Poland that impacted me greatly and caused me to reflect on the experience of many during WWII.
Auschwitz is a day trip from Krakow which takes some planning and is more difficult with COVID, especially given the current COVID levels in Poland.
I took a couple of free walking tours that were excellent. One ended at the Schindler Museum, which is not about Schindler, except for a side exhibit. It's in the old Schindler factory, hence the name. Visiting it was an outstanding WWII experience. I thought the salt mine was somewhat interesting but overall a bit of a let-down. It was also a schlep to get there by public transportation. I've never been to a death camp, never thought it would add to my understanding.
Do put Gdansk on your list for another trip. It deserves a full 3 days.
I did the Crazy Guides Deluxe Communism Tour in 2017 and loved it. It's fun riding around in a Trabant. It's part kitch (the tour guide refers to guests as "comrade") and part history (Nowa Huta is pretty amazing). The food at the milk bar on the tour is wonderful.
Here's the link: https://www.crazyguides.com/krakow-tours/communism-deluxe-tour
Sadly, the price has gone up quite a bit. I paid 42 euro in 2017 for a shared tour with another solo traveler.
As of 2018 there was a walking tour of Nowa Huta being offered. As a Cold War junkie I enjoyed it a lot.
I'm not sure which concentration camps you have been to, but going to the death camp of Auschwitz is definitely a must. I would also go to the Schindler factor, make sure to see the square at night, St. Mary's Church is beautiful, do the walking tour of Kazimierz and eat there perhaps at a Klezmer dinner concert if possible. Make sure to go up to the Castle and see all it has to offer, and check out some of the art museums. Zakopane was cool as well if you want another trip out of the city. Underground museum and the Salt Mine are also good to see.
I'm not sure what the time frame is for this trip. Right now and I would anticipate for the near future, COVID cases are quite high in Poland. We avoided any tight places and crowds.
My husband went to Auschwitz. The minibus was absolutely packed, and my husband stood most of the way. Only my husband and another man were masked. So, from a COVID perspective alone, travelers should really think about if and how they want to do Auschwitz. My husband was not too impressed with the tour and there was little opportunity to explore independently.
When people say any site is "a must", my first reaction is that we are all different. This applies to the Holocaust death camps as well. I think most understand there was a holocaust. Most people understand it was well beyond horrific. Most believe it should never happen again. Many of seen maps, photos, movies and descriptions of the camps. Some people are greatly impacted by visual input, for some audio input. Some folks feel things very deeply. For some, they could end up with the visions of the holocaust for the rest of the trip, or their life. Plus, I think people that really NEED to go to go see the death camps, in terms of taking in what happened and perhaps change the type of person they are, are the ones most likely skipping it anyway.
When Passion of the Christ came out, I was hearing, "every Christian should go". I didn't. I'm still Christian.
Of course Auschwitz isn't a must-do. No place is a must-do. I've spent a great deal of time in Europe but have skipped the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Eiffel Tower and Westminster Abbey. Each visitor should cater to his or her own interests, but it's good to keep in mind that exposing oneself to new sorts of places may arouse an unexpected interest.
I took a public bus to Auschwitz. They only sold as many tickets as there were seats, so it wasn't a rush-hour sort of experience. The camp uses buses to move visitors from Auschwitz to Birkenau; it's a short ride, but that bus could potentially be crowded.
Because I was traveling by public bus rather than on a tour, I was able to spend as much time as I wanted at the camp. I've observed lots of tour groups going through museums, and they never spend anything like as much time there as I would want. That's the trade-off for the convenience (or perceived convenience) of taking a tour. Of course taking a tour is usually considerably more expensive.
All tours of the Auschwitz I camp are conducted by camp employees, whether you arrive on a tour or on a public bus. It's the luck of the draw whether you get a great guide or not. Mine was fine but not outstanding. The group was largish, but visitors wear earpieces so they can hear the guide. It's not a high-end-tour experience, but that's not available at Auschwitz (unless there's some sort of special-access deal I'm not aware of). I think we were on our own at Birkenau; I remember walking around by myself there.
The COVID-19 numbers in Poland are not good right now, and a packed bus--especially one full of maskless people--would make me nervous.
A note to jules m's post: I'm sorry the van was crowded. It's important to know that even the richest tourists are not permitted to take their guides into Auschwitz. Only proprietary guides can take you through. It's worth noting that different nationalities not only get spoken language to suit, they are taken to buildings that specifically cover their nation's experience when deported to that camp. Part of my point is that the word "tour" is not well-defined in jules m's post.
I don't agree that there is limited time for independent visiting. While the (free, proprietary) bus between the camps doesn't run continuously, you get time before you are scheduled to re-meet your guide at Birkenau, and you can stay at Birkenau for as long as you want.
Because I do resent being (sometimes) expected to have unresolved grief about 9/11, I'll give the writer a pass about why Auschwitz is not a "must". But being a tourist in a place you'll (possibly) never be again (which includes Rome, Paris, London, or other applicable city) changes the definition of "must". I think it is also fair to say that the Holocaust changed the modern world in as large a respect as either World War alone did, which affects "must" as well.
Tim, when was the last time you were there? It is my impression that the tours and what is available to see have changed under COVID. I'm not sure what your point is about private guides and richest tourists. We travel frugally. We did some research on how to see Auschwitz and used guidebooks including RS guidebook and the tour was different than what was described prior to COVID, is what I'm saying. There was no time to independently wander around on his own. My husband used public transportation from Krakow and we purchased his Auschwitz ticket online in advance from the official website. The bus company sold tickets, but then let everyone on that was waiting so that for many it was standing room. They couldn't really tell us when the next bus would come, they were only using small vans, and because my husband had a timed ticket he chose the crowded minibus.
During a specified time period which was pretty much all of the day after 10am, the visitor is only allowed to see all areas of Auschwitz with a guide. Birkenau could be visited independently.
In Poznan we went to a former synagogue that had been completely stripped of ornamentation and the Nazis put in a pool. It hit me hard. I was in tears. I think I understand the horrific events of the holocaust.
EDITED TO ADD: I'm not saying don't go to Auschwitz. I'm not saying don't go because the tour is bad. I'm just saying people have to look into their own hearts and at their trip itinerary and decide on their own what is appropriate for them, and take COVID into account if that is something they try to manage.
Fair question: 29 Aug 2019. Hired private car service mentioned by Rick.
We toured Auschwitz in 2013. What the guide explained to me, is that people are required to use the on-site guides, because they couldn't manage all the tour groups and individuals wandering through and lingering in places, if it was all up to paid independent tour guides. I think it would be unsatisfying without a guide because they point out details and locations you couldn't necessarily find on your own, as well as answering inevitable questions. Once we got to Birkenau, we had all the time we wanted, but there wasn't actually that much to see as far as exhibits - just a place to absorb.
PS there is a major traveling exhibit of Auschwitz, hitting only a few places in the US. Currently in Kansas City, until March 20, 2022. Well worth it if interested.
I agree if you are going to visit Auschwitz, some sort of tour is important.
I think it would be interesting to have a forum "discussion" of alternative Holocaust sites in Europe that make an impact. That of course, would be a new thread, but I'll mention one in addition to the Poznan synagogue. In Torun, at the Church of the Virgin Mary, there is rather extensive information on Father Stefan Wincenty Frelichowski who ended up at Dachau. While subject to extensive torture he continued to minister to other prisoners even taking the place of other prisoners that were being tortured/killed.
I think it would be interesting to have a forum "discussion" of alternative Holocaust sites in Europe that make an impact.
There are a number even in Poland that are arguably as significant as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka extermination camp (1 hr from Warsaw) and Chełmno extermination camp (between Gdańsk and Poznan) come to mind.
They were equally as horrific, with Chełmno being the first Holocaust extermination camp, unfortunately little but ruins remain of these places, as they were destroyed by the retreating Germans to hide the evidence of their atrocities, there are museums on site however for those few who visit. Auschwitz-Birkenau is unique as it largely remains well-preserved compared to other Holocaust sites.
I should have stated alternatives to extermination camps. Sadly, there were many, many of them.
Another site that felt very impactful to me is the row of shoes along the Danube in Budapest.
I went on a WWII and Holocaust research trip that I planned out for my own interests. I visited many WWII museums in Europe and three concentration camps. Here are my favorites in the recommended order:
WWII Museum in Gdansk
Blizna Museum in Blizna, Poland (the site of Camp Heidelager, the largest SS training camp outside of Germany) Many people are unaware of this museum. It is about an hour's drive from Rzeszow.
Auschwitz and Birkinau
Schindler's Enamel Factory Museum
The Museum of the Polish Home Army in Krakow (relatively new) If you have Polish heritage or are interested in WWII in Poland, this is an outstanding museum.
In Krakow you want to sleep in the Jewish ghetto (Podgórze) and visit the Main Market Square in the old town.