Natalie Alcraft on 05 March 2020
My friend and I had an open page when we were looking to plan a short trip away together. We quickly decided on Krakow, the flights were cheap and I knew of its popularity to UK guests over the past 2 years or so, so we booked in for 3 nights.

We had decided Auschwitz and the Wieliczkca Salt Mines were a must and spent our first day exploring both. The Salt mines are a fascinating underworld 64 metres and nearly 400 steps below surface. The sculptures and chapels are a sight to behold, nothing prepares you for the moment you arrive at the Chapel of Saint Kinga, an enormous hall lit by chandeliers that took three men 67 years to carve and decorate. The mines are a labyrinth of corridors and walkways and a guide will tell tales of how the workers mined and manoeuvred the salt over the years.

TOP TIP: Go early, we arrived at 8am and the mines were quiet and go with a guide as they really bring the stories to life. Wear layers it can get warm depending on the time of year you go, in the summer it would be a great place to cool off.

After visiting the mines in the morning we took the trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau in the afternoon. Nothing will prepare you for either. We are all too familiar with the tales of the holocaust but to stand there and walk through it is something that will stay with me forever. It was a very dark period in our history as humans, over 6 million Jews were exterminated during WWII, 1.1 million at Birkenau. The sheer size of Birkenau is frightening there were blocks and barracks as far as the eye can see. Visiting both sites gives some insight in to the horrors of the prisoners' ordeals, it is a very tough visit but a very important one. It is important we hear their stories and don't forget the stark warning and lessons learned.

TIP: Don't self guide Auschwitz, a guide is vital and their information and accounts deserve to be heard. You can take photos but no eating drinking or using your phone and rightly so this place deserves your full attention.

Eating out in Krakow is plentiful, the main square is a beautiful setting but can cost you more due to its location. On our second night in Krakow we went on a walking food tour of Krakow which was my highlight of the whole trip. We met with our guide and group in a travel book shop where we started with beers and bagels plus a local smoked cheese which was very salty and went down well with the beer. Our guide, Olga then took us to a Milk Bar which in the Soviet reign was where people went for their dairy produce but are now self service restaurants and it is here we tried Polish soup, 3 flavours smoked, sour or beetroot. All were lovely and not something I would have tried without Olga's recommendation and knowledge.

As Olga guided us through the old town to the Jewish Quarter she enlightened us about the architecture and history of the city. When we arrived at the traditional Polish restaurant there was a feast of Pierogies (polish dumplings) potato pancakes (my favourite) and stuffed cabbage leaves, pudding was apple fritters and one of the best things I have ever eaten. We finished with a vodka shot in the Jewish Quarter somewhere now renowned for food and drink. The area now has 300 Jews there, there were 64,0000 living there before WWII, Krakow hopes more Jews will return. There are 7 synagogues in the city and although we didn't get to one they are worth a visit. Learning about the food the Polish people cook and enjoy really allowed us to understand their culture in a way that a city tour wouldn't do, to combine the two was genius and one I will definitely do again.

The Polish can do a pudding...or dessert, or cake you name it! Their bakeries match those of Paris and breakfast on both days was coffee and a pastry or croissant in one of their many bakeries that line street corners. TOP TIP I would always avoid B&B on a city break, go room only and get out to eat like the locals do - a bakery is a great way to do that.

TOP TIP - there are films you can watch and books you can read before your trip. Schindlers List I would recommend to watch (or again if you have seen it already) and I had read the Tattowist of Auschwitz (by Heather Morris) before I travelled - I now plan to read a lot more and have started on Cilka's journey (also Morris). You can visit and tour Oskar Schindler's factory to understand more about the movie and how Speilberg brought it to life and what Speilberg did for Krakow, the history of the Jews became part of the history of the city again thanks to that movie.

All in all Krakow is a gem of a place, beautiful and diverse architecture, lovely people, we were overwhelmed with the friendliness of everyone we encountered, great food and a very clean city steeped in history. A definite must and a perfect city break getaway.