KRAKOW: TRAVEL GUIDE
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Situated in the southern part of Poland, close to the borders of Czech Republic and Slovakia, Krakow is a popular choice for a lot of backpackers. Cheap, great night life and rich in culture, there is something for everyone in this whimsical city. I have previously visited Krakow once before, in 2017, and was eager to go back and rediscover it. The city is unbelievably well preserved compared to Warsaw, which had been heavily bombed in WWII, and almost all of the Old Town has intricate architecture and designs.
I flew from Corfu (you can read about my time here), to stop off in Milan for a night, before getting another flight to Krakow the next day. The process was fairly straight forward and all that was needed was a COVID self declaration form, which they gave on the plane. The cases were incredibly low in Poland, meaning almost everything was normal, except for shops which required masks. I quickly realised how much I enjoyed the city (again) and decided I wanted to spend more time there than the original week I had planned.
After a month or so of paying for hostels, I met a girl from Bournemouth and after 24 hours of hanging out, we decided we would rent a flat together. Q and I had originally said we would spend the next few months in the city, however after a month I made the decision to come back to the UK as I was launching Never Coming Home and I wanted to be hands on in the launch. In total I spent 2 months in Krakow, and would be eager to revisit some point soon.
Polish Zloty (PLN)
You can get away with spending next to nothing in Poland and still have a really good time. While Krakow isn't as cheap as some of the rural parts of the country or smaller cities, it's still easy to live off anywhere from £20 - £40 a day, including accommodation. Street food costs between £1.50 - £3 and a 2 course meal out costs between £8 - £15, hostels are between £7 - £12 a night and drinks in a bar are as cheap as £1.
HOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT
The John Paul II Kraków-Balice International Airport is a 20 - 30 minute drive from the old town centre and you can either opt for a train, bus or Uber. I caught the bus from the airport terminal, which took around 40 minutes and cost 4 PLN (£1), however an Uber costs 25 PLN (£5), so it's not that much more expensive and takes half the time. There is also an express train that runs directly from the airport, however this only runs a couple of times per hour.
WHERE TO STAY
Hostels in Krakow are just as cheap as every other aspect of the city and on average a dorm bed costs between £7 - £12 per night. There are plenty of hostels to choose from while you're staying in Krakow, however among the most popular is Greg and Tom's Home Hostel, Greg and Tom's Beer house, Let's Rock and Hostel One. They are all within walking distance of each other and are known to be some of the best out there, especially Greg and Tom's.
Initially I booked to stay at Greg and Tom's Home Hostel, which is just outside of the Old Town next to Galeria Krakowska (One of Krakow's big shopping centres). This hostel has won many awards over the years and has a great reputation, so I was eager to see the hype for myself. I stayed here for 3 nights before moving to Greg and Tom's Beer House, the more party orientated brother to Home Hostel, located right on Floriańska street, one of the main streets in the Old Town. Here felt much more social than the original Greg and Tom's, which is why I opted to move. Every night at the Beer House there was a free family dinner in the common area with a whole array of food you could pick from, including pastas, meat, bread, salads and more as well as unlimited free beer for an hour, however if you were staying at Home Hostel you could also join! It was a great opportunity to sit and socialise with other people, then afterwards there would be people chilling, playing games and drinking.
I stayed at the Beer House hostel for 2 weeks, however for about 8 days I was in bed with bad tonsillitis, so didn't really get to fully enjoy my stay. After those 2 weeks I moved to Let's Rock, which is where some friends from Budapest where staying (you can read about my time in Budapest here). It was definitely a welcomed change and I had a lot of fun here too.
When I decided to stay long term in Krakow I started looking for an apartment and found one right on Floriańska street, which is in the heart of the Old Town, leading off Rynek Główny (Old Town Square). I used Airbnb to find the apartment my friend Q and I would be sharing (click here for £50 off your first Airbnb stay) and found it's much cheaper to pay per month than per week, so for 1 month between her and I, we paid £570 collectively, so £285 each. For that price we got a really modern apartment with two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and a tiny living room with a smart TV so we could watch Netflix and Youtube (check out my Youtube channel here).
HOW TO GET AROUND
Cars can't drive through the Old Town, however everything is close enough that you can walk pretty much anywhere in under 10 minutes. If you're heading out towards the Jewish Quarter or further, you can get a Lime scooter or an Uber, but it's really not necessary. The cost of a Lime scooter depends on how far you go and how long you use it for, but it usually ranges from £1 - £5.
Ubers are VERY affordable and you can get a 30 minute Uber for less than £5. I had to go to the doctors a couple of times and the clinic was fairly out of the city, however I was only paying £2.50 per journey.
In my experience I found Krakow to be incredibly safe and even walking around alone at night I had no problems with people trying to approach me or feeling uncomfortable in anyway. Particularly in the Old Town there are always Police around, which wards off people trying to harass or take advantage of tourists. You do, however, get harassed with people trying to hand you flyers every day, but that's manageable!
In saying that, however, while Poland has come a long way in the past few decades, there is still a way to go in terms of an open minded approach to a lot of topics. During my time in the city I saw an anti LGBT+ protest and petition signing and protests against COVID rules. In particular I think the older generations are still very traditionally Catholic in their views, so walking down the street with my openly gay friend, we both got a lot of stares. I think being vigilant is always good no matter where you are, however in general Krakow as a whole is very safe l and I am thankful to say I felt very comfortable there as a solo female traveller, even at night.
WHAT TO DO IN KRAKOW
KAZIMIERZ (JEWISH QUARTER)
Krakow's Jewish Quarter sits right outside the old town and is one of the most trendy, creative parts of the city. With urban street art, galleries, quirky shops and bars ranging from shabby chic to fine dining cocktails, Kazimierz is well loved by tourists and locals alike. There is plenty of spots to discover as you wander through the streets and while you're wandering you MUST stop off for a Zapiekanka. These half baguette looking sandwiches are topped with a base of cheese (or vegan cheese), mushrooms and tomatoes, as well as any other additional toppings you like which you choose from on the set menu. While you can find these across Krakow and Poland, this Polish street food delicacy is best served from one of the little stalls in the Kazimierz market square. Here you can find 8 - 10 hole in the wall shops that all serve fresh Zapiekanka's which will have you drooling, not to mention they only cost £2 - £4, and they are HUGE!
Zapiekanki lajkonik II, Kraków Plac Nowy okienko 8 Okrąglak - here is the address for the market!
Wawel Royal Castle can be found just on the outskirts of old town and was one of my favourite spots to visit in the city. Built between the 13th and 14th centuries, this site is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world and has a unique mixture of medieval, renaissance and baroque architecture. It's Poland's largest church and now serves as one of the must do things in Krakow. The grounds are free to walk through and you can pay to enter to see some of the exhibitions showcasing some of the Polish royal family's history.
As well as walking through the grounds I recommend walking down beside the castle along the river, this is where you can find the Wawel dragon. Since the early period of Wawel's history there has been a popular Polish myth about this mystical creature, and down on the lower slopes of the castle is where you can find a large metal statue of the Wawel Dragon... which breathes real fire.
Krakow isn't known for it's swimming spots, however you can in fact swim while you're staying in the city. Zakrzówek Quarry is a 30 minute walk from the old town and is a popular spot for locals to swim in the summer months. The quarry is surrounded by a limestone cliff face on most sides of the water, however there is a path that leads down to the waterside where people sit and sunbathe, cliff jump or swim. While it's technically prohibited to swim in the water, that doesn't stop locals flocking there daily, just remember to take caution while you're visiting.
AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU AND SALT MINE TOUR
Poland has a long, dark history of oppression and the concentration camps situated around the country are a physical reminder of that. Auschwitz and Birkenau are among the most well known camps and are both driving distance from Krakow city. A lot of travellers choose to do a full day tour which includes both Auschwitz and Birkenau as well as a trip to Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the world's oldest operating mines. The salt mine can be found in the small town of Wieliczka and is 327m deep, with 4 churches, an underground lake and endless statues carved out of salt, you can also choose to lick the salt walls if you would really like.
The tour takes 12 - 13 hours including the drive to and from Krakow. You can find plenty of tour companies offering very similar tours at a similar price range, however this is the one I would recommend. As you could imagine the tour is very intense and mentally draining, so I would recommend doing it towards the end of your time in the city.
An hour outside of Krakow you can find Energylandia, the largest theme park in Poland. Filled with adrenaline pumping rides, food stalls, carnival games and even a water park (which wasn't open when I visited), this theme park will get your blood pumping. One of the boys I met at the hostel managed to get 8 free tickets through his work, however a general admission ticket only costs 149 PLN (£27), so it's not too expensive!
You can either get public transport or a private car to Energylandia, and I would recommend the latter. It's not much more expensive to rent a car and a driver and if you can get a group of 6 - 8 of you, it only costs around £10 per person.
KRAKOW'S OLD TOWN (STARE MIASTO)
Stare Miasto, better known as Krakow's Old Town, is the heart of the city. Despite being small you can still find a lot to do and see to keep you busy. Every street will seemingly lead you to the green belt, which is the circular park that surrounds the entirety of the Old Town walls or into the Old Town Square where you can find St Mary's Basilica, Krakow's iconic church. Along with Wawel Castle, Krakow's Old Town was one of the world's first UNESCO sites due to its well preserved historic buildings.
There are 2 things you can find a lot of in the old town... churches and bars. As a predominantly Catholic country, in Krakow alone there is over 100 different churches, all intricately decorated and unique. They are free to enter, my personal favourite is Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral.
In the Old Town you may also notice a lot of 'Milk Bars', these eateries are ex-socialist era workers' canteens where people could purchase affordable and nutritious meals. Now, they are the number one place you can find authentic Polish pierogis. These Polish dumplings are stuffed with either a sweet or savoury filling, such as meat, cheese, mushroom or berries, and boiled. They have been a staple in the local cuisine for decades and you have to try them at least once! Milk Bars are one of the cheapest places you could eat, with a plate of pierogis being as cheap as £0.50.
While you're spending some time in the Old Town you also should look at doing a bike tour around the city. Krakow is relatively flat and during the warmer months it's perfect weather for a cycle around! Here is a great tour to do, it only takes 4 hours but will show you some great sights in the city as well as take you along side the Vistula river.
The Pole's love to drink and you can find bars upon bars down every street you wander through. As a whole Poland is very cheap for drinking and it's definitely the place to come if you plan on partying. There are 3 main pub crawls you can choose from - Krakow Party Animals, Krakow Crawl and Krawl through Krakow they all do very similar routes and have similar price points, plus it's a great way to socialise with other backpackers!
BARS AND CLUBS I RECOMMEND
Banialuka is one of the cheapest you can find in the old town, with 5 Zloty (£1) beers and shots. This is a very local crowd and there was never any other backpackers in there apart from us, which was actually really nice
COSMIC GAMES AND WODKA BAR
These bars are a lot of fun and great for you and your new hostel friends (watch my Youtube video all about making friends travelling here) to check out. Cosmic Games is a bar that has mini golf, a ball pit and different games you can check out, while Wodka bar is, as you can probably guess by the name, a vodka bar. Vodka bars are super common to find in Poland and each one will have a wide range of flavoured vodkas for you to try, usually a tasting board is around £5 for 5 shots!
LITTLE BRITAIN AND BULLDOG
What better than to go to another country, just to be surrounded by endless British people. These two spots are right next to St Mary's Basilica and are British traveller central. I wouldn't recommend spending all your time here, however it can be fun to stop off for a drink or too, they also do a full English breakfast, which is the perfect hangover cure! Drinks are a little more expensive here, but that's to be expected at touristy bars like these.
AFTERBENG, PROZAC & COCO
If you're a lover of clubbing then these 3 are going to be your vibe for sure. Afterbeng, Prozac and Coco are some of Krakow's best clubs and you will have a lot of fun partying away! They all have live DJs, dance floors with multiple levels and of course, some over the top strobe lighting. Afterbeng was my personal favourite, the DJ always killed it with great mixes and there was even a bathtub next to the dance floor - perfect for drunk photos.
You should note that these clubs pack out on the weekends with lines that take FOREVER, so you may want to consider paying for a pub crawl, this way you can skip the line and go straight in!
For nature lovers Zakopane is the place to be, just over 2 hours away from Krakow you can find this little resort town right near the border of Slovakia. Zakopane is the gateway to the Tatra's, one of Europe's mountain ranges and throughout the year both locals and tourists flock here for summer leisure and winter sports. While I visited I had some horrible weather and so didn't even see the mountains as I had hoped, however I hope you have better luck than me! The town itself has a very German and Austrian feel with wooden chalet style exteriors, fur throws and big fireplaces to keep warm both inside and outside and mulled wine pretty much everywhere.
Flixbus offers bus services from Krakow to Zakopane for as cheap as £3 each way, unfortunately for me I left it to the last minute and paid £9, which still isn't too bad. During my time in Zakopane I stayed at Top Hostel, which is one of the only options available. The hostel was definitely on the more basic side, but I was only paying £8 a night so I wasn't expecting anything too fancy. They did offer free breakfast though which was a bonus!
While Krakow was incredibly accommodating for vegans, Zakopane was nearly the complete opposite. It was very much 'traditional' Polish cuisine, which mainly consisted of a different array of meats and sausages, potatoes in animal fat and soups. I'm not super fussy when I eat so I was happy to get anything, and so for my 3 days away I mainly lived off tomato or mushroom soup and potatoes if they were vegetarian.
There are SO many different hiking trails and paths you can take while you're in Zakopane and I recommend spending 4 - 6 days there, especially if you're a nature lover. As I said I was limited to what I could do because of the weather, however I definitely did make the most of it regardless. Morskie Oko (the Eye of the Sea in English) is by far the most famous hike you can take while in Zakopane. A round trip takes around 5 hours each way and when you arrive you'll find one of Tatra's largest lakes - you'll have to send me a photo of what it looks like because unfortunately the weather didn't permit me to do this.
On my first full day I went to the top of Gubałówka, where you can find plenty of lookouts over the Tatra Mountains, however... all I saw was fog. To get to the top of Gubałówka there is a tram that leads up from Zakopane town and only costs £7 one way if you're a student. There is also a bus that leads to the top, which is what I did on the way there, the bus is a lot cheaper (£2), however takes a lot longer, so it's up to you!
On the second day the group and I decided to go for an aimless hike in the hopes that we saw... something, after the disappointment of not spotting any of the mountains the day before. We hiked for a couple of hours each way in the sleeting snow and fog until we reached the border to Slovakia, if we had continued over the hilltop we would have walked into a completely different country! I am really keen to go back and visit Zakopane during the summer months - I definitely recommend checking the weather before visiting.
As I just mentioned Krakow is surprisingly good for vegans and vegetarians, probably due to the amount of tourists that flock to the city. Stare Miasto and the surrounding areas has endless good spots to choose from, and the best part is, it's all very cheap and delicious! Here are some of the places I recommend you try out:
No Bones actually makes me weak at the knees and I'm sure you'll love it just as much as me! Hidden away down a little alley, this eatery serves a wide range of all vegan food from pizzas, seitan steak, sharing platers with tofu 'feta' and my personal favourite was the breaded oyster mushrooms. You can also order No Bones on Wolt (a version of Uber Eats that you can find in Europe) and the best part is, for a starter and a main it's less than £8!
I had heard of people RAVE about Vegab well before I had stepped foot into Krakow, so of course I had to try it for myself. Vegab is exactly how it sounds, a fully vegan kebab, and it definitely lived up to the hype. You can eat in or take away and it works very similarly to a normal kebab shop where you get a base of vegan kebab meat (which is super tasty), classic veggies like Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion, then you can add a sauce of your choosing along with whatever style of kebab you like, they have a couple to choose from! I recommend the Beirut which is + hummus, tahini and pickled cucumbers!
During my time in Krakow I wanted to find a little spot where I could work and have some alone time. I ended up being a regular at Hot Gossip, which is a sweet little cafe just outside of the old town. The staff were always friendly and very accommodating, which of course made me want to go back even more. They serve brunch style food as well as some delicious snacks, I recommend the hummus, and of course coffees and smoothies, too!
Brunch is by far the best meal of the day and of course I honoured that by getting brunch regularly. There were a few different spots I tried out with my housemate Q, however our go to was Fitagain, which was just off Old Town Square. Here you can find classic brunch foods as well as plenty of vegan alternatives, I loved their tofu scramble!
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