Our Favorite Cities – Warsaw and Krakow Poland
By: Laura Falk
Getting to and around Poland was surprisingly easy and inexpensive. Using Ryanair, our family flew from Eindhoven, NL to Krakow, took the train from Krakow to Warsaw, then flew home from Warsaw back to Eindhoven, NL. Before you go to Poland, make sure you have Zloty (Polish currency) as the Euro is not widely used. However, English is widely spoken and used by nearly everyone. The Polish people were very friendly and helpful.
In Krakow, we stayed at Apartmenty Grodzka 21. The rooms were large, bright, and airy. On the website, you can see each room type. Breakfast is included at the small traditional Polish restaurant next door and was a buffet/self-serve style. They’ll make you eggs, pancakes, or waffles if you’d like, but we found the buffet selection very good. If you have an early morning the next day, you can show up and pack a breakfast to go. The hotel/apartments are located along the Royal Route and a five minute walk (if that) to the Main Market Square (dating back to the 13th century), home to St. Mary’s Basilica and the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). You can sign up online in advance or simply show up to one of the many free walking tours of Krakow. You’ll see the signs/umbrellas all around the Main Market Square. The sight of the Krakow Ghetto is sadly unimpressive; it is simply a flat paved area marked with large, empty chairs. You can visit the building that served as a pharmacy (now turned museum) in the ghetto. Look for ‘Plac Bohaterow Getta’. Also on that side of the Vistula River is Oskar Schindler’s factory (located at Lipowa 4, 30-702 Kraków). This was a pleasantly surprising visit…the former factory is turned into a museum which details the events in Krakow during the Nazi occupation and Holocaust.
Be sure to visit the Wawel Royal Castle….its rumored a dragon used to live there! We did visit Auschwitz and we did bring out 3 year old. A lot of people have mixed opinions regarding bringing children. It is definitely a solemn place and not the place for children to run and scream/laugh. Our son was very well behaved. We didn’t allow him to run and we brought snacks to keep him occupied just in case. I say, if you’re in Poland and you want to go to Auschwitz, then you should go. Just be sure that your children are well behaved or else you will get disapproving looks and possibly snide remarks in a language you don’t understand. We hired an amazing driver who brought us to and from Auschwitz, brought us to the front desk to make sure we got in ok, and even stayed and waited for us while we toured Auschwitz. We thought he would just take us and drop us off, but he took very good care of us. He spoke great English and pointed out interesting sights along the way. Driving from Krakow to Auschwitz is about an hour, but you get to see neat countryside along the way. His name is Andrzej Drozd his email is firstname.lastname@example.org and his phone number is +48 604 315 028. If we end up in Krakow again, this is the man we will call.
In Warsaw, we stayed at Duval Serviced Apartments. It was a true hidden gem! The location was super safe…in order to get into the building, you had to have a special key card. Then, you had to scan the card to enter the stairwell that lead to the various apartments. Then, you had to scan the card to enter your specific apartment. So basically you had to have the special key card and scan it three times in order to access your apartment. No one could access the apartments from the street. We felt very secure at Duval. There are four different themed apartments, but we chose the Polish Chamber because we wanted a more traditional type of room. We requested a cot/rollaway bed for our 3 year old son and they provided a cute little bed that was absolutely perfect for him. The hotel/apartments were within 5 minutes walking distance to the Old Town Market Place. It has been completely rebuilt because it was destroyed during WWII, but it is beautiful and full of restaurants and gift shops.
Places to visit that we highly recommend are the Copernicus Science Center and the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The Copernicus Science Center is VERY hands on for kids, and there is a specific area for kiddos with a neat water feature. Our son did not want to leave! The Warsaw Uprising Museum is impressive and informative. Around the city of Warsaw, especially in the Old Town, you can see many plaques displaying information about events that happened at that spot during WWII or the Warsaw Uprising. It is sobering to stand in spots where Jews were executed or know that historical heroic acts were performed in these spots. There is a beautiful park called Ogrod Saski…you can walk around multiple paved paths and see various water fountains. There is also a playground in the park. At the far end of the park, there is a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame and Polish guards.
Overall, we loved Poland. The food and people were amazing, as was the history. My husband and I both agreed that we felt a little bit like we were walking around Soviet Russia, especially in downtown Warsaw where many of the buildings were a drab cement grey. We felt very safe and we ate very well. Be sure to bring your walking shoes!