I fell in love instantly with the Polish city of Kraków when I visited with my boyfriend for my 21st birthday back in November. Before this I’d never considered visiting Poland, and probably couldn’t have even named any of its cities aside from Warsaw, but I’m so glad I was persuaded to give Kraków a chance (thanks, internet). I now think it’s seriously underrated in comparison to other European cities, and it’s an absolute bargain of a weekend break from the UK!
I visited Amsterdam twice for my previous two birthdays, and although it’s a fantastic city the fact that it’s so popular and touristy means it’s ridiculously expensive. If you’re only going to Amsterdam for the coffee shops then it’s fine but drinking there costs an absolute bomb. It’s actually unbelievable how much further your money will go in Kraków on everything – accommodation, transport, food, drink. We stayed 3 nights in a lovely apartment right by the main square (Lounge Apartments Kraków) for way less than 2 nights in Amsterdam cost. When we first ventured out we had a huuuuge meal with mains, starters and sides each, plus a few beers, and couldn’t believe it when we worked out the bill came to around £25. At the time of our visit £1 was equal to about 6 Zloty; most bars in the main square charged around 7-9 Zloty for a spirit and mixer and 7-8 Zloty for a pint of beer. SO CHEAP! And this was in the main square; the further we ventured down the side streets prices just kept getting lower. You can easily have a mad weekend in Kraków on a budget… I imagine it’s kind of similar to how Prague used to be before it became such a hotspot for partying tourists? So definitely jump on Kraków before it also gets overrun by worshippers of the Lad Bible.
The price list in a tiny bar off of the main square…
The nightlife in Kraków is wild and you’d never struggle to find a place to drink. I read somewhere that it has the highest density of bars per-square-whatever of anywhere in the world… I obviously don’t remember the exact statistic but just take my word that it’s absolutely rammed with bars, pubs and clubs. All of the side streets leading off of the main square are packed tightly with one after the other; you can literally walk out of one and go straight in next door, making your way round like so all night. And as I mentioned before, they’re all ridiculously cheap. If you feel like sampling somewhere a bit more rough around the edges then head down to the Kazimierz district, the old Jewish quarter. It’s a really cool area with a similar abundance of bars but it’s not as touristy and sanitised as the main square, the bars are really quirky and unique and you’ll find a lot more locals drinking in them. Full disclosure, we actually had a couple of hairy moments down here – a few places seem to be for locals ONLY and we basically got stared out of one before we dared to order a drink, and driven out of another by a creepy guy who wouldn’t leave us alone. Discovering where not to go kind of felt part of the adventure though, and generally the Kazimierz was so much fun…the Polish definitely know how to drink!! I’d recommend the absinthe bar ‘Absynt Cafe’, absolutely lethal but a must-visit. If you think you can handle your drink the regulars will soon show you otherwise – me and my boyfriend Jordan both nearly threw up after a shot of their weakest absinthe, (half a shot in my case) which they thought was hilarious. I also discovered Soplica in Kraków, my new favourite tipple. It’s a vodka that comes in loads of different flavours but the hazelnut is best; it’s like doing shots of Nutella and they sell it pretty much everywhere. For me, the only downside to nightlife in Kraków is the trashy europop dance songs that are played constantly in every single club. Or it could just be the same song on repeat, I have literally no idea. Funny at first but it couldn’t be further from my kind of music and it really starts to grate on you after a while!
I’ll start off by saying that Kraków is a meat lover’s paradise. I refuse to believe that vegetarians exist in Poland and if they do then I don’t understand how they survive. Meat seems to be so heavily ingrained into Polish culture and they don’t mess about with portion sizes either, I was in heaven! Most meals we ate in restaurants were based around meat and polish dumplings, and there’s lots of stews and other hearty stuff that was ideal for the freezing weather. Even out at night there’s food everywhere you look – there are market stalls all around the main square selling all kinds of giant sausages and pork that stay open until really late. One night Jordan had something called a ‘pork knuckle’ on the way back to the apartment… I’m still unsure as to what it actually was but it was literally oozing out grease, delicious, and probably contained about 5000 calories. We also came across a magical place that just looked like a shopfront with an all you can eat buffet of sausages, bread and cheese where you could stuff your face and then go round the back and down some stairs to a little hidden bar. You’re seriously bombarded with food everywhere you go, it’s amazing. But if you’re veggie you may want to bring a packed lunch.
A late night sausage fest
Kraków is a fairly small city and it doesn’t have any famous major attractions on par with the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, but there’s still plenty to do and see. The biggest tourist draw in the city itself is Wawel Castle, a huge castle complex built as the King’s residency in the 14th century. You can look around the magnificent grounds and it’s really something to behold, the architecture is beautiful and kind of made me feel like I was in Disney’s Anastasia… she’s Russian I know, but it was definitely giving me Slavic princess vibes. There are a few sections inside that you can pay to look in, but there isn’t much to actually do at the castle for free other than walk round it and freeze your nuts off. That said, it’s stunning and isn’t to be missed on a visit to Kraków. A couple we met recommended us the Wielickza Salt Mine tour which unfortunately we didn’t get round to doing as we got too caught up in eating and drinking, but I definitely want to do it next time! It sounds like a really cool excursion, I think they take you about 130 metres underground and show you around inside lots of caves and salt carvings. I’ve since looked at photos of the tour and it looks incredible, and I really regret not doing it now! If you’re so inclined you can also visit Auschwitz on the train from Kraków in about an hour, but we chose not to as it’s a full day visit and we only had three days in Poland, plus it’s so sad and I’m not sure it’s something I’d like to do anyway.
Jordan at Wawel Castle
One more thing I’d like to add is that you shouldn’t let the practically Arctic temperatures put you off! We went to Kraków in late November and even though it was beyond freezing I think it’s the perfect time to visit, as long as you’re prepared. I loved wrapping up in a massive furry coat, hat, gloves and scarf every day, and without being cheesy the wintry weather made it feel almost magical. It even snowed on my birthday!! Being so close to December meant all the Christmas decorations were up too, including lots of festive market stalls and a huge tree in the main square which was really nice.
So these are are just a few reflections on my first of hopefully many trips to the lovely little Polish city, Kraków. I can’t sing its praises enough, and if you’re looking for a European break somewhere a bit different, without the crowds, costs or clichés of Paris or Venice, then I think you’ll love it too. I can’t wait to go back and maybe see some more of Poland too… if anybody has any other Polish travel suggestions then please let me know!