Regional Travel Advisor, Sarah Booth recently visited Krakow in Poland. Sarah gives her inside knowledge post trip on why this is a great destination for school trips abroad.
Krakow is peaceful, beautiful, clean, and felt very safe. If you stay in the Old Town make sure you build in time to explore. Everything is close by and I would recommend a walking tour to find your feet which is not hard to do as everything is centred around the main medieval square ‘Rynek Główny’. During the German Occupation, the market square was subjected to a Nazi rally attended by Der Führer himself when the square’s name was changed to ‘Adolf Hitler Platz’ (fortunately the moniker didn’t last long). The square has stunning architecture and lovely souvenir shops with amber, ceramics, lace and handcrafted goods, but there are also the likes of Zara and Sephora (most shops are open until 10pm).
The Cloth Hall with its underground museum is a great place to pick up all kinds of souvenirs or just to wander through. You will hear the famous bugle call on the hour that comes from St Marys Basilica. You can expect to pay more in the main square, but even then, it’s not expensive for anything and picturesque by day or night with the restaurants (many underground), horse drawn carriages, and stunning churches. Wawel Castle is worth a visit. It consists of a number of structures from different periods situated around the Italian-styled main courtyard and it’s free to wander around the main areas (closes at 5pm). I would say it’s worth building in at least half a day in your in your itinerary to explore the area or maybe take a trip on the tram!
You get a far better exchange rate in Poland and take zloty rather than euros (it was about five zloty to the pound (Feb 2020). Your money goes a really long way there and I struggled to spend it! You must sample the local foods too: dumplings, goulash with potato pancakes, sausages, or a miners’ lunch is yummy! Yes, it looks different, but it tastes great. There is a Hard Rock Café and MacDonald’s for the less adventurous. Karmello chocolate shop is worth a visit – the most amazing boxes of chocolates to take home (if they make it that far!).
A few people pre-travel asked why I would want to go Auschwitz Birkenau – I would say it’s not a case of wanting to, but something you should do, especially in our current climate with tolerance of other cultures and religions still an issue today. In the words of George Santayana “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. This is a visit that will stay with me for the rest of my life. You normally watch a video on the way there to gain more of an understanding of what you’ll see, and you have headsets linked to your guide which means everything is explained as you walk around. It’s not a place for selfies, take two-zloty coins for the toilets, and snacks/drinks can be purchased there.
I visited Auschwitz Birkenau & the Wieliczka Salt Mine in the same day – it meant it was a long day of about 12/13 hours but it is doable, and the Salt Mine was light relief after Auschwitz. You need to walk down 800 steps, ending up at a depth of 135m – don’t worry you get the miners lift back up which is cosy! You will admire landscapes that can’t be found on the surface, such as saline lakes and beautiful underground chambers with stunning salt crystal chandeliers, including the unique St Kinga’s Chapel (hand carved out of salt). You will learn about old mining tools and machines and the methods of salt extraction and transport used in the past.
For school trips, I would say a four-day tour to Krakow is perfect, as you can then also fit in Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz & Schindler’s Factory. You could also combine your trip with a night or so in Berlin. A visit to this stunning city is a must in my eyes as it has so much to offer and so much history that should never be forgotten!
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