After looking for a destination for our annual European weekend break with friends we settled on Krakow, Poland.
Our hotel was the Liv’inn Aparthotel, a fabulously modern hotel with excellent staff who couldn’t do enough for you. After arriving on a damp and cool day in June, we decided to walk from the hotel into the main market square, this was around a 20 minute walk.
As I have visited very little of Eastern Europe I wasn’t sure what would await us. In my mind the city would be made up of high rise concrete buildings left over from the communist days. How wrong can you be? Yes there are some high rise blocks lacking in character but in the centre these are by far outnumbered by beautiful historical buildings.
The Old Market Square is the main touristy area of the city, this is were you will find all the expensive restaurants and bars, along with many souvenir shops (the odd sex shop too!!!) Having said that it has a lovely atmosphere and worth spending some time there.
As always when I am away I like to indulge in the local food and drink, sometimes a little too much but we won’t dwell on that! So off we wondered up a few side streets (a little lost if the truth be told), when we came across a pretty little Polish restaurant. We were seated right away by friendly English speaking staff. As it was a bit chilly outside I decided to go for the Polish sausage soup in a bread bowl and a large local beer! Wow, this was yummy and very filling, I definitely recommend it.
The following day we had pre booked a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, which was booked prior to arrival through our hotel. The driver arrived bang on time to collect us in a modern and clean mini bus. The journey from the city to the Wieliczka Salt Mines in around 30 minutes. All the mines tours are done by a guide and everyone is given headphones so you can hear everything even if you are at the back of the group. Be warned that upon entering the mine you have to walk down an enclosed staircase, over 900 steps! This isn’t as claustrophobic as I had imagined it to be.
Once in the mine itself you are treated to many chambers with salt sculptures, underground lakes, even a beautiful church. Also down there are toilets, a restaurant and a shop.
Coming back to the surface was interesting as they use the old miners ‘open’ elevators. It travels very fast so you aren’t in there long, it just becomes a little amusing getting out as the doors open inwards!
Once back in the city we joined one of the Free Walking Tours, this is fast become one of our favourite things to do. The guides are always really knowledgeable and encourage questions. The concept is that you tip them the amount you consider the tour to be worth at the end, because of this the guides are alway enthusiastic, unlike some pre paid tours we have been on. The tour of the old town was really informative and showed us things that we would never have found on our own.
We also did a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter a couple of days later, which was definitely worth doing as I don’t think we would have even gone into that area otherwise. We learnt so much more about the horrors the Jews in this city have had to face over the years. It also included my first ever visit to a synagogue.
Of course when looking to visit Krakow you can’t help but consider a visit to Auschwitz, the site of a World War 2 concentration camp. This is situated about 1 hour outside of the city but is something everyone should visit. In order to do the camp the justice it deserves I have create a separate post for it.
The city has lots of good places to eat. Over the 3 nights of our stay we ate in both reasonable and expensive restaurants. What is most notable is the value for money you receive in Krakow. In one restaurant we paid the equivalent of £25 for a meal for 4 with 2 rounds of drinks! The more upmarket restaurants are a little more expensive, the total bill was equivalent to £80 for a 3 course meal (4 people), 4 beers and a bottle of wine!
The city seems to have a good night life (not something we sampled) ranging from lively bars to sex shows! With low prices on drinks its no wonder the stag and hen parties are starting to gather here. Having said that please don’t be put off, there are plenty of quiet bars to sit in and watch the world pass by!
Overall this is a great place for a short break, I will definitely be returning to Poland, maybe even Krakow again as I feel there is more to be seen.