Monday was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. In honor and recognition of that, I am featuring Krakow, Poland this month.

In early 2018, I reached out to my friend Claire in London to discuss maybe visiting her for the May holiday weekend (Memorial Day in the US, Spring Bank Holiday in the UK). She told me she was planning a trip to Poland and invited me along. I’ve read and learned a great deal about Auschwitz and the holocaust but knew very little about the city of Krakow. I was surprised by what I found – a stunning city with beautiful architecture, a fascinating history, great restaurants – and incredibly inexpensive! I’m talking $2-3 glasses of quality French wine and $80/night 2 bedroom loft apartments in Old Town.

Top 5 Things to Do in Krakow

Main Square/Old Town: There is so much to see within the old town’s defensive walls. Wander through all the streets, check out the Town Hall tower, St Mary’s Basilica, and Wawel Cathedral. Have a drink or coffee and dessert overlooking the main square from Cafe Szal.

Kazimierz: This is Krakow’s Jewish Quarter and you could spend an entire day here. It is no small area and there is so much to see. Prioritize the areas and sights that are most important to you and map them out but definitely also wander aimlessly as there are so many little flea markets, cute shops, murals and street art. This is also where Steven Spielberg shot Schindler’s List.

St Joseph’s church: From Kazimierz, walk across the Bernatek foot bridge into the Podgórze district, passing by lots of charming cafes on the way to St Joseph’s – a neo-gothic Catholic Church. It is impressive both inside and out. We were lucky enough to witness a wedding ending, after which the entire wedding party hopped on motorcycles and drove off in a loud and dramatic display.

Wieliczka Salt Mine: 378 steps down 54 flights is an underground world like no other. The salt mine, excavated from the 13th century, produced table salt until 2007 and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The shafts and elaborate passageways extending over 178 miles are impressive on their own. But add to that an underground lake, 4 chapels, statues carved out of rock salt, and a cathedral with chandeliers made by hand from salt crystals (total Meat Loaf – I’d Do Anything For Love vibes) and you will leave in utter amazement.

Auschwitz-Birkenau: As you can imagine, this is incredibly heartbreaking and somber but it is definitely worth doing. It took me awhile to decide if I wanted to ever write about this visit. It was an emotional day and doesn’t really feel travel-blog-appropriate. But I think our guide’s sentiment, the message she ended the day with, compels me. She said, “This isn’t a tour, but a tribute. Every person that visits here and remembers what happened is paying tribute to those that lost their lives. This is something important.” So with this I pay tribute, to the more than 1 million lives lost here in vain, to those who risked everything and sacrificed themselves to save others, to those who fought back, to those who never got to say goodbye, and to those who survived but are forced to live with the memories and nightmares of this painful time every day of their lives.❤️