1 August 2015

Krakow, Poland’s Best City?

Krakow is becoming more and more popular on the old ‘travel to-do list’ and there are many reasons why. This city has got such a charm about it that you won’t be bored of finding things to do and see, and you’ll soon realise why it’s more on the European itinerary than its capital, Warsaw.

I ventured to Krakow just after Easter in 2014. After spending Easter weekend in Warsaw, where nothing but a British pub was open, I was glad to be in the lively metropolis that is Krakow. And what a great metropolis it is! This city has something for everyone, whether you’re the poor backpacker, the drunken stag party, the historical nut or just the average traveller. I went as the poor backpacker, but also managed to get drunk, learn a lot of history and also be average, all in the space of a few days! So, what is there to see and do you ask? Oh, so much my friends. 

Top Sights

To kick start off the list, is the not exactly 'tourist' sight of Auschwitz. I wouldn’t exactly call Auschwitz a ‘sight’ but it is a destination to visit, and even though it’s full of history, heartache and sorrow, it is still a place aimed for visitors. However, I did feel uncomfortable on this trip when people were taking pictures around the grounds, especially selfies, but travel as you will.

Basically, Auschwitz doesn’t need an introduction as what can you say about recommending Auschwitz as a place to visit. The concentration camp was one the main reasons I wanted to visit Krakow, as I believe it is an important, but also interesting, historical sight to visit and appreciate. As much as a depressing and potentially horrible day, Auschwitz teaches you a lot about what happened at this camp, and it shows you a part of history, which hopefully we will never have to see in our lifetime. There are numerous tours from Krakow, and I booked mine from my hostel. The coach drives you to the camp, as it’s a distance out of the city, then a tour guide takes you around the camp and the huts. A lot of the camp was destroyed during the war, such as many of the gas chambers, but some have been rebuilt to show what really happened here.

It sounds terrible to say, but Auschwitz almost seemed like a movie set. Mainly because I’ve seen numerous films and documentaries about what happened here, so much so, that you recognise many of the buildings and images from the films you have seen. I have a few friends who say it would be too horrific to see the sights of Auschwitz, but the tour shows you just enough. There aren’t many graphic pictures, so you can still understand what happened here without feeling too depressed. It sounds terrible to say, as it sounds extremely selfish, but some tourists may be too put off going to Auschwitz, but I went and learnt a lot and felt it would be a place that many tourists can understand and appreciate. The tour takes almost a full day so plan your time accordingly.

Schlinders Factory

I thought this factory would focus a lot on the film ‘Schlinders List’ as the sight is the actual location where the factory was. However, it was more of a museum detailing what happened during the war. An educational and interesting place, and I learnt a lot without being too overwhelmed by facts. However, the museum did drag a little so maybe not on everyone’s to-do list if you don’t have a lot of time. Plus, combining a day of the Schlinders factory and Auschwitz can be a bit much.
But the factory can be covered in a few hours, and it’s about a 30-40 walk from the main city square.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Another popular tourist filled trip is the Salt Mine tour which I really enjoyed. Another day with a tour bus and a guide but not too commercialised. This sight is a UNESCO sight and apparently one of the most visited tourist sights in Poland, so what are you waiting for?! You're in a group of about ten and a tour guide takes you around the salt mine which was a running salt mine until 2007. Now, it exists as tourist destination, and also a wedding location... There are dozens of statues, carvings and even four chapels inside the mine, so it takes a good few hours to look around and complete the tour. It's worth a visit and how often do you go to a salt mine, honestly?

I’m starving, where do I eat?

Krakow is surprisingly a very cheap place to eat and drink, considering its becoming more and more popular. There are numerous restaurants, cafes and bars surrounding the city, and even the ones in the city square won’t break the bank. One of my favourites was Glonojad which is a vegetarian café near the Plac Matejki which is the one way from the train station to the centre of Krakow. It had a great selection of vegetarian Polish food, which might be a phrase to put most people off, but it really was incredible, fresh and cheap!

I read about going to Nowa Prowincja when I was researching my Polish trip. This is tucked down a popular street called Bracka full of cafes and bars, and it’s known for doing some fantastic hot chocolate. As a chocolate fatty I jumped at the chance to go here and I was delighted to see a pure baileys hot chocolate for a measly price. Spend all day there and get obese I say.

Gospoda Koko is another eatery just down the road and crazy cheap! A cute little restaurant/cafe if you're looking for a cheap eat with even cheaper beer but the quality isn't compromised! Then pop next door for cheap cocktails and board games! What more could a backpacker want...

Right, I’m full! Now where do I sleep?

My trip consisted of a Baltic-Poland backpacker jaunt which included staying at the most popular hostels with the biggest atmosphere. This of course leads to Greg & Toms hostels in Krakow, which are well-known around the city, both for good and bad reasoning. They owned three hostels in total when I went and I stayed at Greg & Tom’s Party hostel which lived up to its name. A clean and well-functioning hostel with a decent breakfast and evening meal most nights, and a great atmosphere to get the pub crawls going. So much so that you may find yourself at 3am standing on a Polish bar being entered into a wet t-shirt contest. So a friend of a friend told me…

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