I know Poland has some political issues lately. But everytime someone asks me where they should travel solo to after I’ve said Budapest, I always turn my focus to Poland.
Every single Polish person I met was so nice while I was there in 2016. They all spoke English for the most part, luckily, and they were so excited to show you their beautiful country. It’s full of history and it’s also, at least in my experience, really safe, so that’s why I think it’s a perfect place for all you solo female travelers, especially if you’re just starting to explore the more eastern end of Europe. (Personally, I love Eastern Europe because everything is so historical.)
And what better place to start than Poland’s original capital, Krakow?
I recently looked at my itinerary from the three days that I spent in the medieval city and I thought it was perfect for a newcomer to the city so I wanted to share it with all of you. It is one of the most pristinely maintained cities in Poland despite World War II because the Third Reich intended to move the capital back to Krakow. For that reason, and because they also thought it was a very “German” city, they made sure it was unharmed in the chaos and bloodshed and bombing.
This is morbid, I know, but it’s the truth.
Here’s how I think you should spend a perfect three days in Krakow (spoiler: it includes a lot of pierogies):
I technically arrived the night before, so that morning after I’d slept a good 8 hours, at least, I was ready to see all of the basics of Krakow’s Old Town. I began my morning with a tour of the Old Town with Free Walking Tours Poland. It was incredibly interesting and we basically got to see 75% of the area including St. Mary’s Church, the Barbican, St. Florian’s Gate, the Market Square, Planty (the park that surrounds the Old Town), and Jagiellonian University, among others. It was 2-2.5 hours long and I loved every second of it. It’s the perfect way to get situated in the center of Krakow.
After grabbing some coffee at a local coffee shop like Kącik 6, you’ll wander all the way down and across the river to Kazimierz, the former Jewish ghetto, and over to Oskar Schindler’s Factory for a tour. It was moving, to say the least. After warming up with a plate of pierogies at Polakowski and coffee from KawaLerka, both in Kazimierz, you’ll find yourself in Ghetto Heroes Square for your third and final tour of the day, the Jewish Krakow walking tour. When you’re walking back to your accommodations in the Old Town, make sure to stop into Staropolskie Trunki Regionalne for a vodka tasting (duh).
You can’t go to Krakow without also taking a half-day trip to the Memorial and Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau. There are numerous tours so just pick one. Mine met just outside the Barbican so I ran into the huge outdoor market called Stary Kleparz before boarding the bus to purchase what was essentially a jelly donut which I’d read were amazing (it was) and a coffee to keep me warm on the bus. You’ll arrive back to Krakow around noon that same day and although you’ll be glad you went, you’ll never be the same again (most likely).
I’d suggest getting some air by climbing up to the top of the tallest tower at St. Mary’s Church and listen to the trumpet player play the same tune he does every hour. Be warned: the steps up to the top are unsettling, to say the least. Wear sneakers or whatever shoes you have that have traction.
After breaking for more pierogies for lunch at someplace like Pierogarnia Zapiecek (it’s a chain in Krakow but I thought it sufficed), you’ll head to the Main Square in the Old Town and go tour the Underground Museum to see what Krakow looked like before it was literally covered in garbage and they needed to build the city on top of the layer of trash (yes, really). So interesting! After you relax with some hot chocolate and pierogies at Banialuka, you’ll take your final walking tour during your time in Krakow, the Macabre Krakow walking tour and learn all about the dark underbelly of Krakow’s history which includes things like vampires and murderers.
This is more like a half-day in Krakow but you’ll still have more than enough time to tick off one of the big sights before you head out to your next city.
On your last morning in this beautiful city, I’d suggest taking a slow morning stroll through the entirety of the Old Town until you reach the southern border and there you’ll find Wawel Royal Castle. There are multiple parts to the Castle but I’d suggest taking a tour of the State Rooms and the Royal Private Apartments. My favorite part of the Castle’s square is that one of the planet’s main energy centers, also known as a chakra stones, can be found there. It is a legend and there’s no proof, but you’ll see a lot of people milling around in this corner and putting their palms up to the wall to soak in the natural energy. I’m all about chakra health and healing, so this was circled in a hot pink highlighter when I was planning out my travels.
You can also choose to buy a ticket to enter Wawel Cathedral across the way from the Castle. It’s beautiful and ornate. The last stop I’d suggest you make is to see the Dragon of Krakow. If you walk down a path to the area just beyond Wawel Castle, on the edge of the river, you’ll see a huge bronze dragon that breathes fire every few minutes when it’s not winter.
The dragon is part of one of Poland’s oldest folktales. According to legend, there was a dragon that lived at the base of Wawel Hill and demanded cattle every month for food, and if there was no food, he’d accept humans. King Kraukus, the ruler of the area at the time, called upon his two sons to slay the dragon. The two brothers did so by lighting a cattle carcass on fire and feeding it to the dragon, which burned him from the inside. The two brothers couldn’t decide who’d take credit for the defeat which lead to Lech, the other brother, killing Kraukus, the younger brother. After Lech was crowned king, the truth came out and he was banished from the country. Later on, the city ended up being named for Krakus. If I remember correctly, the Polish people now like to say that the dragon protects the city and you’ll find lots of little bronze statues of dragons in all the souvenir shops. (Pro-tip: You can see a purported “dragon tooth” hanging in the doorway of Wawel Cathedral, too.)
Grab some more pierogies on your way back to the train station and I think you’ll have gotten a good sense of this beautiful city.
The only thing that I think I missed was a visit to a cafe inside Jagiellonian University that supposedly served amazing hot chocolate. But if I did miss anything, let me know in the comments!
I loved Krakow so much and it was the perfect introduction to Poland for this solo female traveler. Everyone was nice, clean, and super affordable. If you have any questions about traveling solo to Krakow, leave a comment or shoot me an email!