Being originally from Poland, I always have people asking me: ”What’s your favourite city in Poland,” ”what do you recommend the most” and the main one ”how many times have you been to Krakow?!”
I finally realised, I have no answer to any of those questions. I haven’t visited many cities in Poland, do not have a favourite place and most importantly – I have never been to Krakow. Never.
Living in the UK for more than half of my life, I only really visited my little town and it’s surroundings where my family lives. Trying to visit everyone that you haven’t seen in about a year, during one week is tricky and the time always runs so much quicker than it should when you’re having a great time.
I decided its finally time to be a tourist in my own country, starting in Krakow.
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It is a city that managed to keep it’s charm throughout the years of war and invasive neighbours. You can also make your visit more unforgettable by adding a day in Aushwitz – I will do another post on this as it’s an extremely sensitive and interesting subject. Zakopane – an incredible town in the Tatra Mountains which is only a two hour coach ride away. Wieliczka Salt Mine is another brilliant option that sadly I didn’t manage to fit in.
I visited with my friend, but in all honesty – Krakow is one of those places that you could easily go solo to, especially when staying in a hostel. Due to me being able to speak Polish, we managed to find some really nice gems, I have listed all of the details below.
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Airport – John Paul II International Airport Kraków–Balice
Hostel – Goodbye Lenin Pub and Garden (5min walk to the main square). Great hostel with great character and atmosphere. Evening activities planned for every day of the week from movie nights to bbq’s and pub crawls.
Transport to hostel – Two options here:
Public Transport (approx 50 mins): Bus 292 from outside of the terminal (departs every 20 mins). Get off at ‘Plac Inwalidów.’ Get the tram no 24 to ‘Miodowa,’ walk for 3 mins and viola! Cost: around £1.
Taxi: (approx 15 min drive): Grab one from outside of the terminal. Cost: £11-£15.
Tip: When travelling to the main cities in Poland, use www.jakdojade.pl where you can easily check connections. You can change it into english too.
Note, that Auschwitz is on top of my list when visiting Krakow, however as mentioned before – I will do a separate post on it to at least try and give you an idea of what it’s like.
Free walking tour:
I can’t stress enough how useful this tour was. We joined it on our second day after walking around adoring the beautiful buildings and not having a clue what they actually are. They have a few tours to choose from such as Old Town and the Jewish Quarter. It will not only cover the best bits to see, but you will find out so much more than you ever could on your own. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and funny!
The Royal Road (Droga Krolewska):
Another great way of starting your sightseeing in Krakow. From starting from the city walls where the St Florian Church is, to walking through the Gothic Barbican (fortified passageway). You will then walk on the beautiful Florianska street, which takes you to the biggest medieval market square in Europe.
During the walk you will see:
St.Mary’s Cathedral is going to grab your attention first. Playing the famous trumpet signal every hour, it is beautiful inside and out. The atmosphere in the cathedral is magical, I wouldn’t recommend taking pictures inside as people find it very disrespectful.
Sukiennice, a Renaissance style textile market will be your next stop (still on the main square). This historic cloth hall was rebuilt in 1555 and is one of the most popular building in Poland. Inside there is an endless amount of stalls where you will find novelty and handmade goods. Note that the further into the market you go, the price will slightly (or sometimes drastically) decrease.
Horse and cart ride is perfect if you fancy a bit of romance or would like to feel like a king, you could skip the rest of the walking to the final destination of the royal road which I will talk about next. It’s a bit pricey at around £18, but in comparison to other attractions in the main European cities, it’s not much at all.
The Wawel Hill is the most important part of the city. I could go on and on about what you can see there, but instead I will save it for you to see for yourself. It’s a microcosm of the Polish History which includes the Royal Castle and the Royal Cathedral. Stunning.
Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter) – I would suggest the free walking tour for this side of the city as well. There is so many interesting stories and in-depth information that you may never hear about otherwise. If however, you don’t manage to do the tour, take a walk and just get a little lost – it will honestly feel like you have been transferred into the past. Krakow kept many of the buildings how they were and some of the shops and restaurants have the same signs as during the communism. Kazimierz also became quite hipster where you can go out for a drink and something to eat.
Kopiec Kraka (Krakus Mound) – a tumulus located in the Podgorze district with incredible views! Also, free views! Even tough it is about 3 kilometres from the city centre, it’s a nice walk if you have a bit of time to spare. Not many people know about this (not so) little gem especially tourists, so when asking around you might struggle a little bit. In my opinion a must, with beautiful panoramic views of Krakow and the surrounding nature.
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Cool places to eat or drink (and not only)
Note that because I prefer places with unique atmosphere, I will mainly talk about quirky places that might not necessary look very pretty. I figured that you can find those kind of places just by walking around. The ones below are honestly great!
Forum Przestrzenie – Now my friends, not many tourists know about this one so you’re in for a treat. Probably the coolest place to have a drink, food or simply just chilling in Krakow. Located in an abandon building on the riverside, during the warmer months you will find beach chairs and bean bags outside, graffiti and retro sofas inside. They organise great events from festivals to dj’s – it’s an incredible place where the locals hang out with a hipster vibe.
Nowa Prowincja – Now in all honesty, you cannot visit Krakow without paying this place a visit. Their hot chocolate is believed to be the best one in Europe. There are no words to describe how delicious it is. Their cakes are incredible too, with the best szarlotka (apple pie) in town! Atmosphere – brilliant, with old furniture and lots of candles around. You can even sign your name on the wall upstairs. It might not look special from the outside, but it definitely is.
Bagelmama – The name says it all, choose from sweet to cream cheese and even burger bagels that all taste delicious. It is located in the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) so it’s a good place to grab some breakfast before sight seeing. The bagels are made as you order, so it’s all nice and fresh. Great hot drinks too.
Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa – Now this, is something else and it’s awesome. 7 types of drink to choose from: vodka, beer, wine, coke, water, tea or coffee. You get a variety of shots, around 8 to choose from, nutella for example (I know). Every single drink, no matter which one is 4zl – less than £1. Then you have 6 simple, traditional dishes to choose from – 8zl / less than £2 each. The deco is very simple and old school with the communism feeling to it, I think thats what makes it so great, except the prices of course. Simple and great.
U Babci Maliny or any other Bar Mleczny (Milk Bar) – There is a lot of these and most are great. Simple, traditional and cheap polish food, everything about the milk bar makes you feel like you’re back in the times of communism. ‘U Babci Maliny’ is a hidden gem which you really have to look for – walking down a corridor, through a courtyard and down the stairs but its worth it. The rules at the milk bars are simple – you pay at the counter, collect your food, eat and put your plate back. Delicious and extremely cheap. Read on to see my list of must try foods.
Alchemia Bar – I feel like I’m getting carried away but there are just too many great places. This one is ridiculously cool and unique. The front door looks like an entry to an old abandon house, inside the deco is very old school including a wardrobe instead of a door. The atmosphere among the customers is incredible and I would recommend it in the evenings. Make sure you check what’s on as they often organise great events.
Stajnia Pub – The main reason why this landed on my must list is the atmosphere and the deco. Located in the Jewish District where the Schindler’s List was filmed, it might be touristy but as soon as you walk through their garden area you will fall in love. Once inside, you might see people dancing salsa and having the time of their life. It’s not a club, which I really like. The service is not the best and I wouldn’t go there for a nice meal but simply to have a drink, watch the amazing dancing and sink in the atmosphere.
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Food to try:
Zapiekanka – As you will probably read everywhere, this is a must try. A simple half baguette with mushrooms, cheese and any additional topping. The best ones are in the Jewish District – The New Square where you will see a round building in the middle.
Pierogi – Dumplings with many fillings to choose from, the main ones are: forcemeat, sauerkraut and mushrooms. Mushrooms and a cabbage or potato & cheese. But let me reassure you that the list is endless. You can also go for sweet such as bilberries or strawberries filled with the traditional curd cheese. Yummy.
Żurek – Traditional soup made of soured rye flour. It can be delicate and light or very hearty, stuffed with chunks of sausages and potatoes or boiled egg. If you’re lucky, sometimes it’ served in an edible bowl made of bread.
Barszcz – My favourite soup, made from beetroots, thickened with sour cream and served with chunks of bread.
Kielbasa – Honky sausages served with fried onions. They taste completely different to english sausages, so it’s a must try!
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Hopefully I gave you enough reasons to visit this incredible city, not because it’s in my country – but because it’s honestly worth it.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I also visited Auschwitz and Zakopane and would recommend both if you have a few extra days. Both are completely different but can make your visit to Krakow a truly unforgettable experience.
Eli x x x
Now here are some more pictures for ya all: