After a three night trip to Krakow earlier this summer, I can safely say that the city of Krakow has captured my heart! Wandering the streets of the city I felt as if I had been transported a couple of decades back in time. It has the perfect balance of culture and nightlife, while still being easily on the wallet. A true hidden gem among European cities, Krakow should be on the top of every young (or old) traveler’s list!
1. History and Culture
Krakow has a lot of rich history from World War II. Within an hour of the city by car, visitors have a chance to visit the Auschwitz I and II concentration camps, which have been converted into a museum/memorial. Group tours can be booked for as little as $20, which includes transportation, entrance fee, and lunch (to be enjoyed after the tour). It is a site that I personally believe that all individuals should visit at least once in their lifetime.
Within the walls of the city, tourists can wander through the streets of the Jewish District, where they can enjoy authentic meals, as well as a vibrant nightlife in a trendy, Bohemian neighborhood.
Another beautiful site to see is Wawel Castle. The castle and the hill upon which it stands serve as important cultural and historical sites for Poland.
While typically packed with a mix of locals and tourists, Market Square is a fun place to hang out during the day. Packed with restaurants and cafes, travelers can take in the sun while enjoying delicious food (or perhaps a gelato)! At night the square is a great place to catch some life performers as well! You will also find famous sites such as St. Mary’s Basilica and Cloth Hall in the vicinity of the square.
Krakow hosts various festivals throughout the year. My recent visit to Krakow happened to coincide with both the month-long Fringe Photography Festival, as well as a smaller film festival. Below is a photograph of one of the many studios involved in the 2015 Fringe Festival.
The Nowchuckie Centrum Kultury is a cultural center located approximately 45 mins outside of Krakow’s city center. It is easily accessible by public transportation. The center hosts a variety of art pieces, and provides a great opportunity to see the outskirts of the city. On my recent trip to Krakow I attended an amazing dance performance called Minus 2 by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. The schedule of upcoming events can be found on their website.
Pierogis – a doughy pasta, similar to ravioli, with a variety of fillings. Typically filled with some sort of minced meat, however vegetarian options of spinach, potatoes, or cheese are also available.
Zabikankes – an open baguette layered with a base of mushrooms and cheese, then covered in a variety of meats and/or veggies.
Gelato – although most people immediately think of Italy when discussing high quality gelato, I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing the gelato in Krakow was! Gelato shops can be found all over the Old Town area.
Placki Ziemniaczane, or potato pancakes – although not exclusively a Polish tradition, these pancakes are cheap and delicious, and can be found all over the city! Multiple varieties are available, however I found myself enjoying the original pancakes the most.
Vodka – If Vodka is your drink of choice then Poland should definitely be on your list of countries to visit soon. For as little at 4 euros you can have yourself a tray of 6 vodka shots! A one bar I was served a shot of hazelnut vodka and milk, which was by far the tastiest shot of vodka I have ever tried. Zubrowka, or bison grass vodka, is one of the most famous vodkas produced in Poland, and has become very popular among tourists. It can be identified by its yellowish tint, and the blade of grass that is placed in each bottle.
Beer – The beer in Poland is not only cheap but, in my opinion, very delicious! The most common local beers include Zywiec, Okocim, and Tyskie. Although I have not yet had a chance to try Okocim, I am quite a fan of the other two. Both beers are light, cheap, and easily to drink. A pint of beer at a local pub or restaurant shouldn’t cost more than $2, which makes a night out in Krakow much cheaper than other Western Europe travel destinations.
As I have emphasized throughout my post, Poland is undoubtedly one of the cheapest travel destinations in Europe. For only 4 or 5 dollars visitors can find themselves nestled into a cozy restaurant in the heart of the Jewish district with a plate of periogi and a large local beer.
Because Krakow, and Poland in general, is so cheap, you’ll find a ton of other young travelers exploring the city. This allows Krakow to have a lively nightlife for travelers to enjoy, without being completely overrun by tourists, as other European destinations so commonly are.
I stayed at Greg and Tom’s Beer House Hostel after reading a review on a list of top-rated European hostels. Although it is pricier than the average Krakow hostel, for $17 you have all your basic amenities including free Wifi, a full stocked kitchen with free tea and coffee, a welcome shot, cheap breakfast, and, best of all, FREE DINNER. The dinners consist of a soup appetizer and an entree each night, and it is completely free! This is not only a great way to save money, but also a great way to meet other travelers (because who doesn’t show up for free dinner??).