Kraków, Poland

Krakow has been up on my list of places to visit for a long time and finally, with a few days to spare, I made the trip. To be honest, I’m not sure that it really lived up to my high expectations but that’s not to say that it’s not an incredible city. I had a conversation with an Australian guy from my hostel and he thought it was the most beautiful and best city he’s ever been too. In my opinion, it’s beautiful, but not as beautiful as the likes of Prague, Tallinn, Vienna. It’s a lot of fun, but not as fun as Budapest, Dubrovnik or Bodrum. As much as I loved Krakow, it probably wouldn’t even enter into my Top 20 cities. If you’re looking for a weekend full of culture and fun and there are no other cities higher up on the list, then make the trip. It’s beautiful and cheap and yet to be completely bombarded with the large tourist crowds. It is hard not to be enchanted by the city’s medieval architecture, moved by its artistic and cultural heritage and impressed by the taste-tantalising gastronomy.

A few people have been asking me about the trip, what I did, where I stayed, where I ate, etc. so I’ve decided to put together this little mini-guide with a few tips. Visit Krakow – make up your own mind!

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Getting there

As always, it was Bla Bla Car from Vienna for me. The trip from was supposed to take around 4 hours but it ended up taking us around 6. The highway was full of traffic so the driver decided to take the Slovakian mountain route, which was just incredible! I feel like I saw a lot more of Slovakia and we even stopped for a sip of some crazy Slovak spirit to ‘keep us warm’.

I’ve heard a lot of great things about PolskiBus as well and while I’ve never used it, depending on where you’re coming from it might be worth looking into.

Also check out your normal budget airlines – RyanAir, EasyJet, etc as you might be able to score yourself a cheap flight with them.

Where I stayed

I stayed at Flamingo Hostel in the old town of Krakow. I booked this place because of the location and it didn’t disappoint. Located right near the old town square, everything was really close and easy to get to. The hostel was easy to find (despite me turning up and thinking I booked at a different hostel!) and it’s got a cool vibe. From memory, breakfast is included, although I never seem to be up early enough so I can’t comment on it. The staff here were friendly and informative and gave me a lot of cool tips on what to do, where to go, etc. There is a cool bar/common area here that plays movies and music videos on the big screen throughout the day and then they do Karaoke at night and if you know me at all you’ll know that karaoke is an unhealthy obsession of mine and always a guaranteed winner.

Tip: Don’t do the pub crawl. It was a waste of money and not really worth it. Do your research and you’ll find all the cool places to go easily.

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Where I Ate

Piwnica pod Kominkiem  – Bracka 13, Kraków, Poland

I met up with my lovely Kiwi friend, Zoe and we went exploring for somewhere nice and traditional to eat. We followed the recommendation of the hostel receptionist and went looking for another place, Koko, which we were told was traditionally polish – cheap and big. Neither of us had eaten much all day so cheap and big sounded perfect. We actually couldn’t find the place that was suggested to us so we pretty much went into the next thing closest. We found a place with a trip advisor poster on the door, which is always a promising sign! I was slightly put off by the fact it said ‘traditional polish cuisine’ in bright lights, although this place turned out to be awesome! It’s the oldest restaurant on the street and the name translates to ‘The Basement Under the Fireplace.’ The It was like polish fine dining! The atmosphere here was pretty cool, service was excellent, the food was so well presented and delicious, the wine was tasty and everything was oh so cheap for what it was. I’d definitely recommend this place!

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Milk Bar Tomasza – Świętego Tomasza 24, 33-332 Kraków, Poland

I met Gordon, a lovely English/South African guy and he took me to his favourite Milk Bar in Krakow. This is authentic polish cuisine at its finest and it definitely did not disappoint! I’m absolutely obsessed with pierogi’s and I had heard they were quite good here. Good is an understatement – probably the best I’ve ever had. Amazing flavours (I got a mixed platter) and HUGE portion size! I recommend sharing them if you don’t want to be rolled out the door. Milk Bar pays proper respect to its culinary roots, swapping slippered grannies for a staff of cute students and institutional interiors for a bit of colour and wall-length windows. The daily special (18zł) includes soup and entree and gives you three options of each to choose from, or select from the set chalkboard menu of pierogi, potato pancakes, crepes, bagels and breakfast options. Comfort, cleanliness and taste are all winners here!

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The Piano Rouge – Rynek Główny 46, Kraków, Poland

This place was perfect for a late-morning mulled-wine and soup overlooking the main square on a chilly day. Apparently they have live jazz concerts every night from about 9pm. Although we sat outside I did quickly nip inside to the loo – when you enter here for the very first time you will be struck by the decoration! Stairs covered with red carpet that lead you to three basement rooms and interior decoration that reminded me of manor chambers from XVIth century. Gold and glass chandeliers, mirrors and fabrics that cover historical walls. Baroque splendour! The menu is also impressive and the service – professional and kind.

Tip: The tomato and paprika soup and the Mushroom soup served in a bread bowl are to die for!

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Where I Did During the Day.

Auschwitz Day Trip

Definitely a moving must-do! I booked through my hostel and because it’s a fairly popular thing to do from Krakow, I’m sure you’ll be able to do the same. Generally these companies that sell to the hostels and hotels will have similar pricing so it’s not to competitive. I would definitely recommend booking a tour though, as opposed to doing the day trip by yourself – It was really worth it!

Tip: If you do it solo go early (if you’re on a tour you’ll be picked up around 8am anyway and fast-tracked in) as they’re only allowed to let 800 people an hour in. It sounds like a lot, but I’m glad I wasn’t one of the people waiting in the loooong queue in the rain waiting to get in.

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Free Walking Tour

I’m going through a stage of really loving free walking tours and I was very impressed at all the different freebies were on offer here in Krakow! Now, we all know how these work – The guides work for tips and only tips so you’re kind of expected to give a little somethin’ somethin’ at the end, although there is really not a lot of pressure. They do work hard though and they know their stuff so it’s always nice to give what you can!

Tip: If you can’t afford to give anything, a good review on Trip Advisor or the likes goes a long way!

What I loved about the Krakow walking tours is that there were a lot of different options. Not only were there different tours but they often had a morning tour and an afternoon tour, which is great if you’re nursing a hangover after a big night!

There are a number of Free Walking Tour companies but I went with this one, Cracow Free Walking Tours, as it’s what they were promoting at the hostel. Definitely check it out as it gives a great overview of the city. I find you realllly get to see a city by doing it this way!

Main Market Square & Old Town

Spend some time exploring the main market square while you’re visiting Krakow. I was there over Easter (a big event in Poland!) and there was really just a fantastic atmosphere just walking through the center. Not as crowded as the old market squares in other cities like Prague, this is definitely worth a visit to walk around and eat chocolate or ice-cream, sip coffee, or enjoy a refreshing cold drink. The square is lined with restaurants and people watching other people. In the centre of the square is the Cloth Hall where there were stallholders selling lots of amber, sheepskin rugs for about £25, and all sorts of souvenirs. Horsedrawn carriages lined one side of the square and flower sellers in the middle. Very picturesque!

Jewish District

This old part of Krakow is quite different from the old city center nearby. Just few blocks walk away from the old city center you enter into different style. Narrower streets, less tourists, lots of bars, cafeterias, and restaurants. Small idyllic character plazas folding themselves around corners. Houses, streets, pavement all asking for renovation which makes the character of these quarters. This area is pretty run down and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t advise staying around here BUT in saying that, I don’t think a visit to Krakow is complete without a visit to the Jewish District. It’s very fascinating to explore the area the jews lived at the time of the Holocaust and there s a very eerie, but cool vibe and a lot of character. A lot of companies offer free Jewish District tours, so I would recommend doing one of those or getting a bike and exploring yourself. I’ve also heard the nightlife is pretty great here, although I never experienced it – next time!

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By Gidget Gallaher

http://www.facebook.com/WeLoveWanderlust

Instagram – @Gidget.Gallaher

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