Explore Krakow for the weekend
Never having been top of my to-do list, I knew very little about the Polish city of Krakow before I flew out. I was excited, however, to diminish its notorious association with stag and hen parties and find out what really makes this quirky city tick.
The small (former capital) city sits snuggly on the border of the Czech Republic and in the south of Poland but, despite its size, Krakow is a heavyweight when it comes to history. From its medieval ruins found right under the cobbled market square, to the infamous Nazi invasion during World War II, Krakow is certainly bursting at the seams when it comes to historical presence. Of course, you’ll want to delve into its deep and dark past, but present day Krakow has so much to offer. Move past the boozy weekend exterior and you’ll find a vibrant and fascinating city.
Explore Krakow for the weekend
Eats and treats
You certainly won’t go hungry in the city centre; the picturesque square is framed with authentic Polish restuarants. Spilling out onto the cobbles, every restaurant has its own table area decked out with fire heaters and fleece blankets to keep you toasty (and believe me it gets really cold) while you take in the sights of the beautiful square at night. You’ll get a lot of food for your money with the great exchange rate, so most nights I hit the square, munched on Polish dumplings (pierogi) and knocked back a few shots of traditional Polish vodka. But, although the square is full of sights and sounds, if you fancy a short walk through the side roads, you’ll find even cheaper places to eat.
There are a lot of Italian influences in the city, with many Polish-Italian hybrid restaurants scattered around the square. So, wanting to try something a little different, I headed out of the hustle and bustle and came across an old stone building with a heavy wooden door. On the other side of the wall you’ll find the Michelin-recommended La Campana. Here, I sipped on delicious red wine and ate platefuls of rich and creamy food – it was so good I went back the next day for lunch! What’s more, as the restaurant is hidden away from tourists it wasn’t expensive, and two of us polished off (pun intended) two courses and a bottle of wine for £45.
If, like me, you are an animal lover, make sure you head to the renowned cat café just outside the city centre. Kocia Kawiarnia Kociarnia is Poland’s first feline-friendly coffee shop. Free to get in, we entered through a Narnia-style wardrobe and enjoyed a latte with the graceful creatures. Admittedly, the food and drink isn’t top-notch but the opportunity to cuddle cats make up for it.
Where to stay
Although Krakow is a relatively small city, it’s best to book a hotel or hostel near the centre, which does mean a 20-minute ride from the nearest airport. I booked ahead with Blacklane taxis (blacklane.com) to get me seamlessly from the airport to the hotel at silly o’clock (the flights are the cheapest at this time!). This pre-planning is a must as the prices will shoot up if you book a ride from your hotel or airport, plus the taxi company were so friendly and my driver listed off local bars, including Coco Club which I ended up in until the early hours of the morning.
I stayed at the Excelsior Boutique Hotel (excelsior-boutique-hotel-krakow.hotel-ds.com), just a five-minute walk from the centre of the city. The four-star hotel was clean, elegant and fantastic for the money. You can opt in for breakfast each morning and the spread is gigantic, although be prepared for a week of frankfurters and eggs. Some days coffee and toast were needed.
Out and about
There’s a wealth of history in Krakow and available to check out at a reasonable price. I jumped into an electric car to see the Jewish quarter and the old town, where I passed Schindler’s factory and stunning churches decked out in gold. Definitely haggle with the tour guides who offer these trips, as I got a tour down from 400 to 200 zloty.
Depending on the length of your stay, I would highly recommend making the two-hour bus ride to Auschwitz. The bleak, ice-cold camps with their stories of death and horror are difficult to comprehend but, as our tour guide insisted, to ignore the camps and the atrocities that ensued would be to ignore the millions of innocent lives lost. I booked my ticket and bus at my hotel via Discover Cracow (discovercracow.com) which came to around 300 zloty. You can get this cheaper but the convenience of being picked up at my hotel trumped the slight saving.
If, however, your stay is brief and you still want to take in a little history, underneath the main square you’ll find the ruins of medieval Krakow. Home to original walkways and even the odd skeleton, it’s a definite must-see for culture buffs. For this you can buy a ticket on the door for around 18 zloty.
Finally, if you’re looking for a more active and personal way of enjoying the city, you can hire road bikes for around 180 zloty for a few hours. Bike hire shops are dotted around the city and going out on two wheels (complete with an oversized map) is a truly memorable way of seeing Krakow. Although be careful, the streets are difficult to navigate. I discovered the hard way and have a few bruises to show for it.
Krakow is a beautiful city, the people are kind and friendly and the chocolate-box architecture is truly magical in the winter months. If you’re looking for an easy weekend getaway make sure Krakow is on your list. But wrap up warm, it gets very cold…