Krakow, Poland: Why I Loved and Hated it

Poland is near and dear to my heart. Several years ago it was just another country in Europe that I kind of wanted to visit. But now, it holds much more meaning to me. Mainly because my husband and partner in adventure is of Polish heritage. That also means when I married my husband I took his long, hard to pronounce, very Polish last name. Now, we have an adorable, partially Polish toddler. I think it’s important to teach our daughter about her heritage, and Poland is a big part of that. That’s why Poland quickly climbed to the top of my list of countries I wanted to visit. On a recent road trip across Europe, we went a bit out of our way to visit Krakow, the popular city in Southwest Poland. While there are a lot of things to do in Krakow, many of the attractions will leave you with a heavy heart.

Attractions in Krakow Poland - Old Town

History of Krakow, Poland

Krakow, as with the rest of Poland, has been through hell and back. It has survived WWII, communism, and economic hardship. If Poland was a person, it would be that guy who constantly has bad luck. It would be the kid who gets shoved in a locker all throughout school. In fact, Poland has had such a bad run, that if it was a person it would be a guy who has the crap beat out of him every day of his entire life. That’s Poland’s history.

What I hated about Krakow, Poland

Empty Chairs Memorial Krakow Poland

That painful and dark history is very much on display in Krakow. In the Jewish Quarter, which was known as the Jewish Ghetto during WWII, you will find a museum and memorial depicting the horrific torture that Polish Jews endured. They were imprisoned, starved, enslaved, and murdered by the Nazis. You’ll also find the Empty Chairs Memorial on the outer edge of the Jewish Quarter dedicated to those who perished trying to help the Jewish people. And one cannot talk about the dark history of Krakow without mentioning the Auschwitz-Birkeneau concentration camps just outside the city.

Krakow Poland - Auschwitz

If you seek history in Poland, history you will find. While it is important to learn about and understand, the tragic history is numbing. It’s overwhelming. You can feel the heaviness when you walk around the town. I’m not really one who believes in ghosts, but if ever there was a place where I felt the presence of tormented spirits it was in Poland.

What I loved about Krakow, Poland

Parenthood and Passports - Krakow Poland

Don’t get me wrong, Krakow is a wonderful city. While you can’t deny it’s troubled past, what you will also notice is the city’s and the entire country’s resilience. Poland has been through hell, but it isn’t there anymore. The country doesn’t hide its bruised past, instead it showcases it so others can learn from it, and so travesties like the holocaust will hopefully never happen again. Krakow is a bustling and beautiful city with a vibrant old town that attracts millions of tourists. The city has a ton of great eateries, shops, famous churches, and museums all with a fairly inexpensive price tag. Even the Jewish District is now a lively area with exceptional restaurants, quirky pubs, and lovely, yet understated, synagogues. The economy is thriving.

Things to do in Krakow, Poland

Things to do in Krakow Poland - Wawel Castle

We spent less than a week in Krakow, and found plenty of things to do to entertain and keep us busy while we were there. If you only have 2 or 3 days in Krakow, you’ll definitely want to visit Wawel Castle, walk along the Vistula River, tour the impressive and elaborate Wieliczka salt mines, and explore Old Town Krakow. You can even take a horse and carriage ride through this charming part of the city.

Krakow Poland salt mines

Also spend some time in the Jewish Quarter, see the Empty Chairs Memorial, and visit the Jewish Museum. And as difficult as the experience may be, make the day trip to the Auschwitz-Birkeneau concentration camps. I think it is an important, historical site that everyone should see and truly understand.

Of all the places we’ve visited, Krakow is definitely one where I could actually imagine living. Perhaps it’s because we lived somewhat like locals while we were there. We rented an apartment, went grocery shopping, and ate at “home”. We did laundry and watched television. I even had to make a quick trip to the shopping mall to buy a new phone charger. I felt connected to Poland in a way I haven’t felt connected to another place before.

3 days in Krakow Poland - carriage ride in Old Town

Going back to my previous analogy, if Poland was a person, I’m pretty sure I would love him. It wouldn’t be the naive, immature teenage kind of love. It would be a deep, honest, longstanding love… The kind of love that only occurs once you embrace someone for who they are, past and all. To truly love and appreciate Poland you have to understand its past. And while it isn’t pretty, love isn’t always beautiful either. When you love something, you accept it for what it is, and when you see how far Poland has come in the last few decades, you can’t help but be amazed at the resilience of the country and its people. You can’t help but fall in love.

Have you visited Krakow, Poland? What did you think about the city and what attractions in Krakow did you most enjoy? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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36 comments on “Krakow, Poland: Why I Loved and Hated it”

So much history and an absolutely unforgettable past. I love the way you describe true love. I feel that embracing the past is what makes a better future. Beautiful post.

I haven’t been to Krakow, only Gdansk and Sopot in Poland. I find it to be a great cou.try, still cheap and with a very interesting history. In Gdansk I loved the Solidarity Center. Only problem with Gdansk is that it is overrun by Norwegians. They even have menus in Norwegian at restaurants there 🙂

When I visited Krakow I too was overwhelmed by the scale of the horrible history and Austwitz. The city and downtown area are hard not to fall in love with, I understand where you are coming from! You had great weather, your photo of Wawel Castle looks amazing with the strong blue sky.

There is a lot of sad history around the world. It’s important to understand and learn from it. The fact that you would consider living here means it must be a great place.

I agree. So many places around the world have histories that are just as sad and dark. Even the most vibrant and picturesque places often have horrifying pasts. It’s definitely important to learn about it and from it.

Ok so Krakow and Poland in general has been on my list for a while now! Would love to visit and looks like you had a great experience! I am a big history buff so would love to visit, explore and learn.

I still can’t get over your static front page, its beyond adorable. Thank you so much for the history, I could imagine visiting here and having goosebumps knowing all that happened. It’s amazing to see how far its come and how beautiful a city it is.

Beautifully said, Melissa.

You and Damon are the first Smuzynskis to visit the homeland since your Great, Great Grandparents-in-law Smuczynski (the original spelling of the family name) and Leppek came over “on the boat,” from Prussia and Poznan, Poland, in the 1870s.

Thanks for all the family history you’ve provided over the years. Damon and I really want to go back to Poland with you someday and spend more time exploring the whole country.

Poland is undeniably on top of my list too! It’s true – the dark side of history is always one of those things that we deny. But it is a huge part of a country’s heritage. Good or bad, we have to learn to embrace it. At least you have come to appreciate it and embrace especially knowing your husband is part Polish.

Czesc! My mom’s parents were from Warsaw and she had a long hard name to pronounce. My dream is to go to Poland and see the past. Thank you for sharing.

Awesome post, I’ve also heard from so many people people that visiting Krakow is a must! When I was last in Europe, I only had one weekend in Poland where I went to Gdansk. I would love to go back to Poland one day to explore more of the country. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!!

Lovely post! I also hold Poland close to my heart since my entire family is from there. I actually grew up (and still have) a typical Polish, hard-to-pronounce last name. I agree that Poland is and its people are incredible resilient. I like to refer to the country as a phoenix.

An interesting perspective on a city which I only hear praise on and which must splendid in deed. I think I can understand what you mean with heaviness. I’m from Munich and visited the nearby concentration camp. And it felt very heavy already. How heavy must it feel in Poland? Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Krakow seems like such a beautiful place! It’s hard to belueve it’s troubled past wasn’t really that long ago! Definitely important to learn aboyt.. but must be hard.

Dear Ms. Muzynski! I used to live in Poland for four years and am still deeply in love with the whole country. Especially Krakow and Wroclaw are cities that I would ORDER (haha) every tourist to visit, had I the power 😀 The history is definitely there, but as you say, it’s not a tormented city anymore and it’s just so lovely I have found no other like it anywhere in Europe.

I absolutely loved Krakow. To me the city represented resilience as it survived so much destruction. It was interesting/ eerie to be in a city where so much torture and heartache happened. I’m glad that they are in a better place, and there are reminders everywhere to learn from the past.

It must have been quite a heartaching memory to think of even today. I haven’t been anywhere with a dark history yet which is displayed soopenly yet. Maybe, some day I will be in a place like that and see what it is like to be in a place like that. The closest I have been to somethinglike this was a tsunami museum in Sri Lanka. It saddened me so much even though it was a natural disaster. It was heart wrenching to hear of it and be in the museum

I’ve heard lots of mixed reviews about the city so it’s great to get some more information. Thanks for this!

i really liked your post…excellent mixed review about krakow..well when i visited there i really liked the Cracow Historical Museum..This museum is a must see. It’s hidden underground & once inside you see why. It still retains the original paths & walls from the medieval streets & shops once buried for hundreds of years. You need to obtain tickets from the tourist information shop outside the cloth hall. You state what time you want to visit. Once in the museum there is a cloakroom to leave coats etc. There are some interesting interactive screens which help interpretate some artifacts. As you walk around there are screens playing images of the market place in medieval times. Look out for the medieval houses & workshops, they look real! There is a good balance of things to look at & things to read. Allow 2 to 3 hours if you want to take time & appreciate this fabulous museum.

So glad I found your blog! We are going to Krakow in just 10 days. Planning to visit Wieliczka. Hope the kids (9,6 and 4) will manage 🙂 Thanks for all the useful tips!

I hope you have a great time in Krakow and at the salt mines! Please let us know how it goes, and feel free to comment again afterward and provide any additional insight for other parents once you’ve visited. Happy travels!

I enjoyed reading your post. I am going to Krakow early next month and will definitely savour all the experiences you have written about, happy or sad. The city’s history is overwhelming and it’s resilience is exemplary. I am also looking forward to Polish food. Can’t wait to sample.

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