Craving more of our family’s global adventures? Stay updated and join our journey on Instagram! Follow @holanewmans! 

Captivating Krakow

Our first stop for this summer’s EuroTrip (aka Let’s Escape Valencia’s insane heat for July & August) was Krakow, Poland. Some seemed puzzled by our choice to begin here, but as Rick Steves notes in his guide, it’s in fact one of the most charming medieval cities on the continent. And as I’ll explain more in a subsequent post, visiting Poland is quite meaningful for me as the grandchild of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors.

Though there is much to see and do in and around Krakow, there’s really no escaping the profound legacy of the Nazi occupation here during WWII. Monuments, streets, plaques, and buildings all tell a story about this period of unfathomable cruelty, brutality, oppression, suffering, and ultimately genocide. Krakow was one of the few cities in Poland the Nazis didn’t destroy, because they were trying to make it a Germanic capital. Fortunately they failed, because its long history before the occupation, and during a doomed but valiant resistance movement, is remarkable.

Some highlights of our week in Krakow:

  • wandering the quaint Stare Miasto never got old, with the original fortress walls framing the gorgeous Planty park which encircles the perimeter of the old city; endless activity in the impressive Old Market Square; and visiting the Rynek Underground Museum to see the centuries of ruins found in recent excavations.
  • the famed Wawel Castle and the fire-breathing dragon sculpture (yes, it really does breathe fire every five minutes or so) – we didn’t go inside but the grounds and views are pretty enough.
  • Renting bikes to explore the broader city outside the Old Town, including biking along the river.
  • Krakow has huge parks and terrific playgrounds with splash parks like Wodny Plac Zabaw and Galeria Kazimierz which were great fun.
  • Daytrip to Wieliczka Salt Mine, a 700-year-old wonder of exploration and discovery with a guided tour. We visited 20 chambers down to 135 meters below ground, but the mine is so vast that it spans more than 2,000 chambers, 300 kilometers, and 300 meters deep! There are even 20 underground chapels, with intricate sculptures and carvings all made out of salt. Very cool for both kids and adults.
  • Visiting the Oskar Schindler Museum in the former factory, a moving and illuminating chronicle primarily about the occupation years.
  • Sampling traditional and tasty Polish cuisine, including at the communist-era, still-government-subsidized, cafeteria-style “milk bars.”
  • There are also numerous outdoor eating areas like Mural Street Food Park & Bar with food trucks and casual eats which are great for families. I also enjoyed browsing the stalls at the Stary Kleparz farmers’ market, with many varieties of delicious, locally grown berries and all the pierogi fillings you could ask for.
  • Finally, our visit to Krakow wouldn’t have been as enjoyable and manageable for all of us without an incredibly sweet, attentive, and fun-loving babysitter named Melania. She was actually the one who introduced us to the fabulous splash parks where Jacob had such a blast. Jacob had so much fun with her that he asked if we could bring her with us to the next city!

More on the solemn and reflective time here, including a journey to Auschwitz and touring Krakow’s Jewish Quarter sites, in a following post.