Top three must-see spots and local tours from Cracow, Poland
Cracow (Poland) turns to be an excellent place to stay, as well as a great spot to take a local tour from. Undoubtedly there are a lot of marvellous areas and popular attractions to explore in the Cracow region. However, Auschwitz- Birkenau, Wieliczka Salt Mine and Zakopane can be called the most important ones. Their history and associations with these places are as contrasting as night and day, but it also emphasizes the wide range of attractions and tourist destinations available to visit from Cracow.
A local tour from Cracow – Auschwitz- Birkenau – a symbol of the Holocaust
Auschwitz has become a world-widely known symbol of Nazi war crimes, terror, genocide and
Holocaust. The Camp, established by Germans in 1940 in the suburbs of Oswiecim, shortly after became the largest extermination point in Europe. In this particular place the final solution to the Jewish question (the Nazi plan to murder all European Jews) was enforced.
The first transport of Poles to KL Auschwitz from Tarnów prison took place on June 14, 1940 and
since that time until January 1945 between 1.1 and 1.5 million people died there, 90% of them being Jews. The second largest victim group at Auschwitz Nazi Concentration Camp were Poles (83,000 deaths), along with Jews and Poles thousands of Romanians and Slavs lost their lives there (Berenbaum, 2020).
Last January (27.01.2019) marked exactly 75 years since the liberation of the camp by the Red
Army. As a former member of army filmmaking crew, Aleksander Woroncow says: even the time that has already passed has no power over the images he saw on the day of the camp liberation. Those views and images cannot be erased. In his memoirs we read: “What we saw was a horrible, terrifying view. There were barracks, lots of them in Birkenau, where on camp beds half-dead people were lying. They looked like skeletons coated with skin and their sight was distracted and empty. They had been suffering from hunger and sicknesses, they were exhausted. When they saw us and we explained who we were and why we had come there, they started trusting us. Everybody was crying, women, children and also men. I think that even our commanders couldn’t have known the range of crimes committed by Nazis in this concentration camp. What I saw there was the most terrible, scariest and touching thing I have ever witnessed.”
For those who would like to know the story of this concentration camp we recommend our guided tour to Auschwitz-Birkenau. You can book it via our website or choose our option on GetYourGuide.com. We also recommend reading the diaries, books and memoires written by the witnesses and survivors of the tragedy that took place in the Polish city Oświęcim, commonly known as Auschwitz-Birkenau .
Selected works about Oświęcim:
“This way for the gas, ladies and Gentlemen” – Tadeusz Borowski
“Smoke over Birkenau” – Seweryna Szmaglewska
“My path to freedom. A memoir of a survivor of Auschwitz” – Karol Tendera
A local tour from Cracow – Wieliczka Salt Mine – how the salt labyrinths mesmerize thousands of visitors every year ?!
Many popular cultural or historical sites have their legends and myths around its origins and founders. Wieliczka Salt Mine is not an exception to this rule, and the story of its beginnings goes back to the 13th century when Polish duke Bolesław V the Chaste asked the Hungarian princess Kinga to marry him. They got engaged and Bolesław gave Kinga a beautiful engagement ring. To follow the tradition of those times, Kinga had to bring her future husband a dowry so she could become his wife. However, she didn’t want to offer neither gold nor any other valuables. Instead of them, she wanted to present salt to her soon-to-be subjects, people of Poland. Kinga’s father agreed and gave a Salt Mine in Marmaroszu (currently Romania) to his beloved daughter – it was his engagement gift to the future duchess.
Kinga was aware that this salt mine was far from Cracow and transporting salt to Poland could be troublesome. While visiting the mine she dropped her engagement ring to the shaft, left it there, and set off to Poland – during her visit, while exploring the land nearby Cracow, an amazing discovery happened. They found a block of salt, but with Kinga’s engagement ring in it. Since then, she is believed to be the patroness of valuable salt stem, and her cult in Polish salt mines continues. In fact, there is a beautiful salt chapel of St. Kinga that you can see while visiting Wieliczka mine!
Salt, nowadays seen as a commonly known spice, used to be called “ the white gold” and in Medieval Ages was seen as very valuable currency. During the reign of king Casimir The Great (14th century), salt was responsible for one third of the income to the royal treasury.
When it comes to the structure of Wieliczka Salt Mine and the length of its underground corridors, initially they were dug low and winding. Later on, when miners got more experience, the passages were widened and better organised. Total length of currently existing corridors in the Mine is approximately 245 km, while the visitors and tourist have an access to only 3,5 of them. Even though it may seem not too much, it’s just enough to prove how marvellous are Wieliczka’s salt labyrinths!
As the statistics say, almost 1,8 mln people visited Wieliczka Salt Mine only in 2019, what makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cracow region. You shouldn’t miss it either!
A local tour from Cracow: Zakopane – city surrounded by mountains
Zakopane is often said to be the winter capital of Poland but the truth is that Zakopane attracts crowds all year round, regardless the seasons. In summer, hundreds of tourists come to Zakopane to find peace and quiet surroundings, but in winter it is entertainment and winter sports that is particularly looked for. Usually in the second half of January the ski jumping competition takes place in Zakopane – ski jumping as a popular Olympic discipline has many fans and admirers in Poland. In fact, Polish ski jumpers are one of the best groups in the world! Athletes like Wojciech Fortuna, Adam Małysz or, the current champion, Kamil Stoch, are world-widely known for their winter Olympic results. During the winter-time Zakopane offers plenty of activities: dog sledges, snow labyrinths, ski slopes and thermal pools in the area nearby. Breathtaking views and magnificent mountain trails with various difficulty levels are available the whole year. Additionally, Zakopane and Tatra mountains region keep fostering its unique tradition of Polish highlanders (pl. górale). In Zakopane one can taste original highlander cheese “oscypek” and other specialities of the regional cuisine. What is also worth mentioning is Slovakia’s attractions just across the border, for instance: amazing thermal pools in Tatralandia or famous treetop walk, Bachledka-Zdziar.
Zakopane and Podhale, the region of Tatra mountains, also has its legends and mysteries. The most famous one is about a chivalrous bandit “Janosik” who stole from the rich and gave away to the poor… In Poland the legend of Janosik, Polish-Slovakian highlander is still vividly told. In fact, Janosik has his own monument in Terchová, (Slovakia) plus, every Pole knows the TV series about Janosik’s adventures (even though he is actually a Slovakian national hero). But honestly, who doesn’t enjoy stories like this one?
Our team at Legendary Krakow will be more than happy to help you see all of the mentioned places and more. Feel invited to come and explore the region on your own, can’t wait to see you here!
1) M. Berenbaum, Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland, January 14.2020. Encyclopædia Britannica
2) M. Szafrański Ponad 1,8 mln osób odwiedziło w 2019 r. zabytkową Kopalnię Soli w Wieliczce 24.01.2020, retrived from https://dzieje.pl/dziedzictwo-kulturowe/ponad-18-mln-osob-odwiedzilo-w-2019-r-zabytkowa