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2 Meaningful Days in Krakow, Poland Including The Holocaust Museum In Auschwitz

Despite two previous trips to Europe and skirting it each time, I finally had a short but meaning trip to Poland last year. And I'm ashamed to say that even this time it was because of a visa issue.

You see I had to fly to Budapest for a company retreat but it was too late to apply for a Schengen visa at the Hungarian embassy. I was told that the Polish embassy takes less time to issue so I did just do that. But since, the rules of Schengen countries are such that you should be either landing in the country of issue of visa or spending a significant time there, I had to make sure that I gave Poland enough representation, in my Europe itinerary.

But what started as just a visa hack turned out of one of the best things because Poland surprised me, moved me and impressed me all at once.

Krakow to Auchswitz by bus

To get to Poland, I took an overnight bus from Bratislava (where I was the previous day after 6 days in Budapest) and reached the Polish capital Krakow at around 5:30 am.

It was too early to do anything, including check in to my hostel, but it worked out great.

I checked in my bag at one of the lockers at the Krakow central railway station and immediately took a local bus to Birkenau. After an hour, the bus pulled into the village, just a few minutes of walk away from the Holocaust Museum in Auschwitz.

A sobering day at Auschwitz concentration camp and what is now the holocaust museum

As a history nerd, of course I knew about the Holocaust that happened in Nazi Germany in the 1940s. And from Anne Frank's diary which I'd read as a child, I'd certain visuals of the place.

Once inside the museum, you're checked in, searched, pay your ticket and the day begins with a showing of a15-minute documentary on what you'd witness at the museum.

Inside your group will be taken to the halls where the millions of victims stayed at the very same ground and suffered unimaginable brutalities at the hands of the Nazis. Inside glass enclosures are their personal belongings like crockery they hurried packed hoping to cook a warm meal for their family, footwear and clothes they were stripped off, and perhaps the most disturbing sight, snipped locks of hairs, as the inmates were shaved before they were to begin their time in the nazi prisons. (The only site in the museum you are not allowed to click pictures of.)

holocaust museum, krakow, poland

Finally the tour ends with the site where the gas chambers once were -- it's here that 1 million Jews - men, women and children and and other minorities were brutally stuffed in halls and killed with chemical gas en masse -- an operation that remains to this day the most horrible crime against humanity.

A trip to Auchswitz is not fun and games, but actually a rather dark and sombre one. But it is a crucial part of history and one must visit to gain a new perspective on what went down almost 100 years ago and how the Jews have since been on a persistent path of reclamation of their identity and a place in the world ever since.

Half a day in Krakow central

I was done at the Holocaust Museum by around 12:30, and after waiting a bit for the next bus back and getting a bland lunch at the only cafe in the vicinity, I finally boarded the same bus back to Krakow central station. I grabbed my luggage, and another local bus that'd drop me at the tram close to where I'd check in for the night - the Havana Party Hostel.

Now I'm not really the partying kinds, neither the beer-guzzling and beer pong playing age, but heck, it was cheap and I really wanted to feel like I was a gap year student doing a solo Europe trip and not a marketing exec who'd just wrapped up a 80-people corporate retreat!

So after being dropped near the tram line, I legged it to the hostel, a smooth 1.5km walk through the happening backpacker district. My hostel, almost was secretly located on the 1st floor of a Cuban bar underneath and noise was not only likely, but guaranteed! I checked in, got the rules, and stepped out to explore Krakow since I had very limited time in the city.

I walked to the market square, a beautiful sprawling plaza with buildings from the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods turned into hip cafes, boutiques and hotels.

Horse chariots, street buskers and others flitted about while I hunted for my dinner - Pierogi -- a polish staple albeit a vegetarian one. So I settled myself at a fancy cafe with warmth of a flaming torch and live music blaring outside. My Peirogi was a disappointment, but I was in a good mood, Krakow was lovely and cheap so far and I was looking forward to exploring more tomorrow. So after dinner and another walk around, I got back to my hostel, helped myself to a green tea, while others around - probably the actual gap year travelers - played beer pong and guzzled unlimited beer.

night out in krakow, veg pierogi, cathedral, clubbing

Once I hot the hit the bed and tried to sleep, I realise why choosing a 'party hostel" wasn't the great idea as sure enough, the music blared pretty much all night, and people in my dorm continued to stream in and out. I think at some point I had to shush at someone to keep it low! But I can't say I wasn't warned. You get what you pay for.

Walking tour in Krakow

The next day, I helped myself to the generous included breakfast the the hostel, packed my things and set out to explore the city with a Guru walking tour. My guide started with the market square which i'd already soaked in plenty the night before, the Santa Maria basilica (the most enduring landmark in old Krakow), a medieval gate where I quickly bough hand-painted art by a street artists, and walking through the old quarters into the Jagiellonian university, a 650 year-old university with its own museums! Losing track of the group at some point, I branched off on my own and hiked up to the Wawel Castle, with beautiful panoramic views of old Krakow on top. On my way back, I packed the gorgeous sesame-encrusted ring bread called "obwarzanek" in Poland which I remember as Simit from my Turkey trip just a year before.

Almost missed my flight (again!)

By the time I checked out of my hostel, it was 1pm and my flight out to Lisbon was at 4:30. I'd worked out the timings and it was going to be fine. I got on a tram to get to the airport bus that takes one to the Airport in just 30 minutes and things more or less go on time in Europe. Krakow is cheap and I had some polish Zloty change to spare, so I picked up some fresh blueberries and a packed salad from a supermarket on the way to the bus stop.

By the time I reached the final bus point, I realised I'd missed my intended bus by a few minutes and the next one would be in 30 minutes. S#*t! Now it was just an hour and half to go for my flight. I was getting nervous and angry at myself again -- was I going to miss my 150 flight because of the extra 5 minutes I spent buying €1 blueberries and salad on the way?

But just then a bus arrived and off I went, trying to not to look at my watch every 2 minutes, but I rolled into the airport by 3:45, it was thankfully a small airport, and I had nothing to check in and made it safely to my flight.

And in hindsight I was glad for the obwarzanek, the salad and the blueberries as I devoured them on my flight that I made it by the skin of my teeth. Sto Lat!

vegan in poland


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 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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