Krakow, a cultural center of Poland. For everyone who still associates Poland with war and communism, times have changed. The city you will find today is home to bohemian cafes, hip bars and museums for all interests. Also seeing its streets filled with more and more tourists each year now is the time to visit Krakow.
Depending on where you are coming from, Poland might be a cheaper destination, but for me on a budget, I still looked for the better deals around town. As a Canadian citizen, I am granted a 90 days Schengen tourist visa on arrival, but some nationalities do require to apply for one beforehand. Here is a list of countries that do not require a visa to travel to Poland. Here you can find more information on visa applications.
For the duration of our trip, we stayed at the , conveniently located near the city center. This meant we saved on transport fees and managed to walk to most of our destinations. The hostel offered a fully satisfying free breakfast, which we enjoyed each morning before our daily activities. They also offered free dinner, cooked by the receptionists themselves, and evening entertainment, as well as bar recommendations for those who are looking for a good night out. With the number of students residing in Krakow, the city remains as alive at night as it does during the daytime and is certainly not lacking in clubs that will make your evening memorable.
We arrived at Krakow airport early. A bus connects the airport to the city center on a journey of about 30 minutes. It is by far the cheapest option and completely practical. Our first day was cloudy but fear not, even then, the Old Town Square is sure to blow you away. Colorful houses surrounded the square with the Cloth Hall as a historical centerpiece. Now holding a multitude of stalls selling all sorts of souvenirs, the Cloth Hall used to be, as his name indicates, the main trading venue in Krakow. It is also home to parts of the Krakow National Museum, which offers free entry to the permanent exhibitions on Sundays.
Standing tall on one of the Square’s corners is the Mariacki Church. A peek inside is definitely recommended. A ticket is required to visit the altar and presbytery but the rest of the church is free of charge. As well as being stunning, the Mariacki Church is also the starting point of Krakow’s free walking tours. The different options include touring the Old Town or the Jewish Quarter. If you are in a more somber mood, a macabre tour is also offered a few evenings a week. We opted for the Old Town tour, which took us through the history of a Middle Age Krakow up to the Second World War. The tours last about 2.5 hours and are tip based, meaning the guides are generally very enthusiastic as well as being informative. A definite recommendation.
After our tour, we perused the Old Town on our own, heading towards Babcia Malina, a great place for lunch. When going to Poland, it is essential to taste the soups. In this restaurant, Zurek – sour rye soup – is served inside hollow bread and is perfect to warm you up after hours of walking. If soup is not what you are after, you will definitely find something to your taste in the large menu offered. The food here is everything you can hope for; tasty, big portions and low priced. As a bonus, the décor screams traditional Poland.
With full bellies, we walked down Grodzka Street, passed the church of St-Peter and Paul and its Twelve Apostles, continuing south into Wawel grounds. The Wawel Castle is a myriad of architecture due to all the restorations it underwent through time. It is now a museum but we decided instead to stroll along the Wisla River and enjoy the firebreathing dragon, a symbol of Krakow – admittedly the dragon is not very impressive. If you are tired of walking, there is the possibility of renting a bike for around 10PLN a day. The riverside is a perfect place for a bike tour. We had dinner at Pod Wawelem – in English “Beneath Wawel” – where special menus are offered at lower prices, varying according to the day of the week and where the beer is sold in liters.
On our second day, we visited Schindler’s Factory in Podgorze. We paid the entrance 21PLN. To be noted, the museum is free on Mondays for a limited number of tickets. The museum easily takes 2 or 3 hours of your day but the information given inside is substantial, clear and easy to follow. However, if history is not your thing, the MOCAK – Museum of Contemporary Art of Krakow – is located directly next to the Schindler’s Factory. Parts of Podgorze being the Jewish Ghetto during WWII, you will most likely notice a few memorials during your time in this area. We took advantage of being here to head still further south and go up Krakus Mound where it is possible to enjoy a view of the city at no cost at all.
Our last day in Krakow came too soon. We strolled Kazimierz’s cobbled streets. The Jewish district holds a Sunday morning market on Plac Nowy, the central square. It sells everything from war memorabilia, handmade or antique jewellery, clothes, and records. We made a lunch of Zapiekanka; a long open baguette topped with tomato sauce, mushrooms, cheese a variety of your choice of toppings. We sat at the crowded Alchemia bar and enjoyed a sweet cider. Kazimierz is definitely the area for nice, cheap street food and funky bars. We spent the day going in and out of multiple second hand shops and craft stores that the district has to offer. Some of the synagogues are also open for visits. In the evening, we opted for an Italian restaurant and then moved on to Singer, a vintage bar with burgundy wallpaper and frightening paintings.
We managed our full trip, flights from London, activities, food, and souvenirs for about 750PLN or 200US. The morning saw us heading back to the airport with great memories of our long weekend.
Visa Requirements: As a Canadian citizen, a Schengen tourist visa is granted on arrival for a maximum of 90 days. However, some nationalities require a visa before entering the Schengen area.
About the Contributor
Name of the Contributor: Stefanie Auger-Roy
I am Stefanie. I was born in Canada and became addicted to traveling years ago when Internet cafes and payphones were necessities to speak with people back home. My goal is to taste as many different foods as I can during this lifetime. I enjoy discovering different cultures and photographing architecture
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