In many ways, Krakow is the perfect destination for the backpacker or frugal traveler. The former capital of Poland has heaps of historical intrigue and is bursting at the seams with culture, but it’s also a city with a thriving local student and a young professional population who bring a new life and energy to the city! Essentially, while you can spend your day’s sightseeing, you can also spend your nights partying with the locals!
It’s hard to pinpoint the overall charm of Krakow, but it’s easy to list off its merits: breath-taking countryside landscapes, beautiful architecture, and unspoiled historical charm. And I simply loved it.
Where to Stay in Krakow
Krakow’s accommodation is great value for money; there are plenty of low budget options including tons of great hostels. My two favorites are Flamingo Hostel, which has an excellent central location, just a hop, and a skip away from the main square in the Old Town and Mundo Hostel, which is located within a quiet courtyard, conveniently placed between the Old Town and Kazimierz district.
If you’re looking for a more party-orientated style accommodation Greg and Tom’s Party Hostel is infamous for its awesome local staff and insane parties seven days a week. However, my tip to getting the best prices is to book through one of the cheaper Polish hostel networks like taniehostele.pl or nocowanie.pl, rather than an international site!
The Couchsurfing network in Krakow is also huge, with over 30,000 members online, or those of you who are very brave, I even know a few people who use Tinder for travel! If you’re looking for a cheaper option, but still want your own space, Airbnb has some great offerings.
If you really want to save on cash (and truly feel like a local) you could also try volunteering with accommodation opportunities. One of the best is WWOOF, where you can work on a farm in the Tatra mountains, but you can find many other opportunities.
Places to See in Krakow
The Royal Route
The architecture of the city was actually one part of Krakow that was left largely unscathed by World War Two and the city center is full of incredible historical buildings. Before a former King decided that Warsaw would make a better capital, Krakow was the former home of royalty and spending a few hours walking around the Old Town is well worth your time, even if you do have to fight your way amongst tourists and buskers! Highlights include Wawel Castle and the remnants of the thirteenth-century barbican.
The Jewish Quarter and Krakow Ghetto
Like other cities and towns in Europe that were directly engulfed by the Holocaust in WWII, Krakow has an interesting relationship with history and some difficult moments of history scar this beautiful city. Absorbing yourself into the history of Krakow, often means that as a traveler alongside the traditional voyeurism of looking at beautiful buildings and imagining yourself at the midst of a royal court, you must almost confront some more painful aspects of our history.
This is no more evident than in the Jewish Quarter and the former ghetto, where beautiful memorials to the Jews who lost their lives are littered throughout. Finally, Schindler’s Factory is an important pit stop to make, it’s a poignant reminder that even in the face of horror, human kindness can save lives!
It’s undeniable that visiting the former extermination camp of the Nazis, is an uncomfortable and challenging undertaking for any visitor, but it’s also extremely worthwhile. Lying just an hour away from Krakow, Auschwitz concentration camp has become a lasting physical reminder of the Nazi’s depravity and the sheer scale of their terror. Go in remembrance for the lives lost and appreciate that the trip is as both painful as it is necessary.
Where to Eat, Drink and Shop in Krakow
Once you’ve absorbed Krakow’s important history, there are plenty of places where you can spend a few hours relaxing!
If you have any pennies left to spend, head to Hala Targowa, where hundreds of people gather every Sunday morning to browse through stands packed with old books and all kinds of antiquities! Kazimierz is illustrative of Krakow’s multi-dimensional nature.
Historically noble in the day, the district of famous for its Jewish heritage sites transforms at night into the center of the city’s vibrant nightlife. Start at Plac Nowy, a destination within itself, where locals and travelers alike, gather to drink beers in the sun and eat Zapiekanki (delicious open top sandwiches) at Okraglak, or one of the other numerous delicious and cheap street food options in the Square.
After supper head to Alchemy, one of the original bars in the area, which is still synonymous with Krakow’s great nightlife. Expect jazz concerts, ambitious electronic gigs, and absinthe served with sugar and fire! Or, for long summer evenings, we also love Eszeweria which has an amazing beer garden, perhaps even the best in Krakow.
And last, but certainly not least, whatever you get up to in Krakow, don’t forget to try the local vodka!
Contributor: Jules Bukovsky
Jules Bukovsky is an independent traveler passionate about budget traveling and foreign cuisines. She has been traveling extensively in Latin America and Europe, recently she has moved to Krakow in Poland.