After stepping off an eight-hour night train from Vienna, despite my trepidation as I walked down a cold and gray train platform at 6:45am and perused Kraków’s central streets, I found myself falling hard and fast for this European gem.
The buildings are beautiful and almost feel medieval, tourist information is posted in Polish and English, servers smiled, and the entire place seemed to yell, “Welcome to our city! Take your coat off and stay awhile.”
One of Kraków’s great strengths is how much it has to offer solo travelers. Though it’s a little off the beaten Western Europe track, it’s still a major city with plenty to see and do:
- Free Walking Tours: Unlike many free walking tours, Kraków’s guides are almost all natives, as they are required to take their examination in Polish. These tours are a great way to learn a few stories about the buildings you’ll be walking amongst during your stay, and they’ll show you parts of town you may not have visited otherwise.
- Cafe Culture: Situated around the Main Square in the Old Town are scores of shops and cafes with chairs outside. Whether you’re staying for just a cup of coffee or sitting down to have some pierogi, you can people-watch to your heart’s content in a beautiful setting.
- Historical Sites: Kraków’s Kazimierz district once housed the majority of the world’s Jewish population, and the historical significance of the area is profound. You can also visit Schindler’s Factory, take a tour of Wawel Castle (where Polish kings used to live), or see da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine painting.
- Nightlife: Whether your taste is a jazz bar on the outskirts of the Old Town, nightclubs off of Kazimierz’ Plac Nowy, or listening to Chopin concerts by the Main Square, there’s something for everyone who enjoys a night out.
- Proximity to Important Historical Landmarks: No trip to Kraków is complete without a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and museum. As one man on my tour said, ‘we have a moral obligation to humanity to come here’. Some people are afraid to visit Auschwitz, but it’s not a scary place. Instead, it’s an opportunity to discover some of humankind’s greatest atrocities and try to understand why we have still not learned many lessons of that time. If you want to take two day-trips from Kraków, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is also very popular, and shows a different side of the region’s history.