Krakow '“ a city we should all visit

Some holidays you remember for amazing views you have seen; others for fantastic local cuisines you experience.

Friday, 1st August 2014, 6:06 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:57 pm

Some holidays you remember for amazing views you have seen; others for fantastic local cuisines you experience for the first time, the people you meet, or sampling different cultures from outside your comfort zone.

Then, there are the rare trips that you remember not for what you saw or who you saw it with, but for how you felt. Krakow is certainly one such destination.

Krakow is just over 50 kilometres from Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Nazi's most infamous concentration camp still casts a dark shadow over the picturesque and welcoming Polish city.

It is almost impossible to visit Krakow and not acknowledge the horrors of the Nazi regime. It permeates much of the city, particularly the Jewish Quarter, and is an inescapable and, at times, blunt message from the past. And so it should be.

While Krakow is a wonderful example of Eastern Europe at its best - complete with some eye-catching architecture, unmissable traditional food and, especially in the summer, a relaxing café culture that demands nothing less than an afternoon's sun- soaked people watching - it also has a place as a gateway to history.

Anyone keen to learn more about the horrors of the Holocaust will almost certainly visit Krakow. And anyone visiting Krakow - for whatever reason - should include a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

It is as far from an enjoyable afternoon as any tourist could spend. But a more vital few hours would be near-impossible to find.

There is simply no point in attempting to portray the emotions one feels when walking through Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is indescribable. It is something so intensely personal it must be experienced rather than read about. Nothing can prepare you for the cocktail of emotions you will almost certainly feel. But, in a strange way, you will be glad you felt them.

For those who don't feel able to visit the concentration camp, a less emotionally-raw option is Oskar Schindler's Factory in Krakow. The museum provides an incredibly-detailed insight into the experiences of locals during Nazi occupation, the terrible treatment of Jewish people, the creation of a ghetto in the city and the prisoners who inspired the Steven Spielberg film Schindler's List.

There is, however, more to Krakow than the Holocaust. Aside from the museums, Krakow boasts a thriving bar and restaurant scene and anyone with an interest in religious architecture will also be well-served by a visit.

Situated in the corner of Krakow's thriving and bustling market square is the Bazylika Mariacka, an elaborate church and home to a magnificent 15th century altar - a giant pair of doors which open to reveal a dramatic depiction of the ascension into Heaven. Even those without religion will be impressed.

Krakow is a city that will never escape its past. But it does not feel weighted down by it. It is a beautiful, friendly and inspiring city which survives long after the regime that persecuted many of its residents has been consigned to the history books. A trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau is harrowing. But a trip to Krakow can be uplifting. The former is one of those places people feel they should visit. The latter is one they will want to return to.