It would go against standard January tradition if I didn’t prioritise spending valuable hours trapesing the internet for city breaks over getting ahead on my ever-growing pile of university work. Fast forward nearly 5 weeks into the present day, I’m still a stressed-out literature student drowning in novels and secondary readings – but I’m also a stressed out student with another European city checked off of her list. So why Poland? I’ll be honest and give an incredibly blunt answer that rings true to many people travelling to eastern Europe for a weekend – because it’s cheap. Not only is it cheap out there, but it’s also cheap to get too. I paid just over £100 for flights and accommodation for 4 nights and 3 days right next to the city centre, and that was including paying extra for better flight times to give us a bit more time. So what can you do with just over 72 hours in Krakow? Mine went a little like this:
I stayed in Kazimierz, located inside the Jewish Quarter, which is extremely rich in history with a mix of architecture and beautiful buildings post pre and post war. In its regeneration, it’s a scene for younger, artier types with quaint cafes, cobbled streets and an ever-growing bar/café scene yet, it’s hard to miss the darker side of history whereby approximately 17,000 of its inhabitants were sent to extermination camps across Europe. While I decided to walk freely and explore the old Jewish Quarter by myself, there are a lot of free walking tours which you can join to learn more about the history of Kazimierz.
We arrived in Krakow around dinner time & in search of food we found ourselves in Max 18 overlooking the Grand Square in Krakow. We chose to eat some cheese, onion & potato stuffed dumplings with a couple of pints of Zwyiec and to say that you’re in the heart of one of the main tourist attractions, food and drink is relatively cheap. The night-time consisted of a trip to quirky Harris Piano Jazz Bar hidden downstairs just off the main square for some beautiful music and a few too many gin & tonics.
I don’t think any trip to Poland would be complete without a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and this is what we dedicated our first proper day too. It’s an incredibly difficult and harrowing experience, but an important one I feel for remembering the 1.1 million people who lost their lives there. While I plan to do a separate blog post about this excursion, what I will say about the trip is that books and history lessons will never do it justice. It’s very easy to become detached from the facts and numbers on a page, but seeing the sheer size of the never-finished Birkenau complex, or 2 tonnes of real human hair in front of you, or the physical scratch-marks on the gas chamber walls really reaffirms the horror of what really went on. Entry into Auschwitz-Birkenau is free, but to guarantee entry on the day I would recommend booking through a tour operator as you’re not guaranteed a place if you turn up on the day.
While in Krakow we also visited the famous Wieliczka Salt Mines deemed as a UNESCO world heritage site for the incredible salt sculptures and architecture inside. We took the tourist route, but there is a more active miners route you can take however you cannot access St Kinga’s chapel this way. The tour starts by taking 300 steps down into the mine and throughout the tour you gradually descend to 135 metres below the surface. The tour itself was interesting, albeit slightly boring at times, but St Kinga’s chapel is definitely a must see. Located hidden in the underground, the whole chapel is carved entirely out of salt (including the chandeliers) and is often used as a wedding chapel due to its beautiful and meticulous attention to detail. There’s also a restaurant, function room and gift shop all located deep inside the salt mine – and I picked up a cute lil crystal candle holder for around £1.50.
Just to reiterate the earlier point of cheapness, we had a beautiful meal at Pino consisting of 2 bottles of red wine, a starter, 2 mains, a pudding, and a Bailey’s coffee for under £30. Likewise, I tried my first custom-made vegan burger at Krowarzywa for less than £3, and had 2 pints of beer and a large pizza for less than £6. We also paid the equivalent of £1.40 a pint in a little Irish bar in the square which we later found out from a local that this is expensive as you can get them for around 70p out of tourist areas! So if you’re looking for a cheap city break in a beautiful country with a rich history – Krakow is definitely the place for you. – Until next time, Jess x