Krakow is the perfect destination for a weekend break. Flights aren’t too expensive (though you might have to swallow your pride and travel with Ryan Air) and it’s only 2 hours away (with 1 hour time difference). It is a pretty, small city, where you can easily walk the main sights and where your Zloties (about 5.6 to the pound sterling) go a long way. Ideal for those who want to party, or soak up some culture, or just have a relaxing break. I can’t recommend it more.
Bistro Charlotte – classy French cafe
This French bistro is perhaps not very ‘Polish’, but it is a wonderful place to come for brunch, lunch or a chilled out glass of wine. The décor is light and airy, with big wooden tables and vases of lilies which make the place smell heavenly. Prices are very decent, and it attracts mostly a local crowd. There is also one in Warsaw.
Ed Red – A meat feast
Tacky tag line (‘Nice to meat you’) aside, this is a great restaurant for a boozy meat feast. Carnivores will love this meat orientated place – with its ‘Soho cool’ vibe, dim lighting, exposed brick walls and cosy tables. Their big selling point are their dry aged meats – we went for a dry aged rib-eye and it was mouth-wateringly good. A litre of wine will set you back less than a tenner. Ask them to reserve a table by the window.
Bal – off the beaten track brunch
This place is a bit of a walk to get to, past Kamizierz and across the river, into Podgorze, the old Jewish ghetto. But it’s worth it. Minutes from Schindler’s Factory you will find Bal, a café in an old warehouse. It has a distinct Shoreditch feel to it, with high white washed walls, trendy exposed lightbulbs and menus scribbled on blackboards and mirrors. The service is rubbish, but it is a great, hip, and most importantly local place to come for brunch. Avoid the juices, which are straight from a carton, but the coffees are good and their food (especially their buttermilk pancakes with fruit compot) is delicious. When we went there was some sort of farmers market on and it seemed like the place to be on a Sunday morning. They even have wifi for the Instagram-addicted.
Cupcake Corner – for a Western sweet treat
Yes, this place has a very Western feel to it, but for those with a sweet tooth, definitely stop by and grab one of their sensational cupcakes or muffins. It’s just off the main square, so pop in like we did and discover the beauty of the Old Town while enjoying a Red Velvet cupcake.
If you want some authentic Polish food, then try Babcia Maliny. Their pierogi (Polish dumplings) – the vegetarian option – are delicious and the portions huge. Expect tacky and hilarious ‘traditional’ décor as well as awful service. It’s a pretty hilarious experience though. Other Polish foods you must try are placki (pancakes), barscz (beetroot soup not dissimilar to the Russian Borscht), obwazanki (pretzels – you can buy these for 30p from stalls throughout the city) and zapiekanki (baguette topped with mushrooms, a little like a pizza).
Bunkier Café – Chilled local park hangout
Café within a contemporary art gallery, on the Planty (gardens surrounding the Old Town) on the Western edge of the Old Town. This is the place to come to in the summer, where this open, airy café practically merges with the park surrounding it. We came here for a cocktail (£2) before dinner, but this is also a place to come to for a coffee and one of their mouth-watering cakes. Or a pizza with fresh rocket and mozzarella, which smelled amazing as they came by. Beware that this place gets packed, as it’s very popular with locals too, so worth booking ahead.
Herring Embassy (Ambasada Sledzia)– Hectic, fun-loving, vodka-shotting dive bar
Ul. Stolarska 8/10, Krakow 31-043
Best place to end the night. This upbeat, heaving, uber-cheap dive bar is the best place to come for 80p flavoured vodka shots (hazelnut is the best) and herring with any combination of onions, sour creme, egg, chives or just on its own. Don’t come here if you want a quiet drink, the music is pumping and most people are drunk by 7pm. Expect a mixture of tourists and locals, but unsurprisingly the tourists are the ones you’ll hear over the music.
Tram Bar – For relaxed pre or post-dinner drinks
Ul. Stolarska 11, 31-043 Krakow
Opposite the pumping Herring Embassy you will find a slightly more subdued place (though by no means quiet), where the name might give you a hint of what to expect of the décor. A tram traffic light, wooden tram benches as seating and old posters of trams certainly give you a good sense of the theme. But don’t let that put you off. The raised window seats are a great place to sip the (good) house wine while you people watch. The owner is utterly charming, happy to help and keen to make your visit as pleasant as possible. He succeeded in our case.
Stara Zajezdnia – the place for day drinking
This is the perfect place for a (home-brewn) beer or glass of wine in the sun. Relax in their colourful sun loungers on their expansive terrace. Full of locals keen to catch some rays and socialise. There is no better place for day drinking than here (apart from perhaps on the Rynek Glowny main square, where the prices are high and it’s overflowing with tourists). If you get hungry you’ll find an old car park round the corner with a number of food stalls. The mini Polish version of Street Feast, without the entrance fee.
The Old Town
I’d heard good things about Krakow – I knew I should expect a beautiful city. But I was taken aback by quite how stunning the city – especially the Old Town – truly was. Highlights are of course Rynek Glowny (the oldest Medieval Market Square in Europe), which is huge and majestic and a focal point of the Old Town. I can understand why it has won awards world wide for its beauty. Other highlights are seeing Leonardo da VInci’s ‘Lady with an Ermine’ at the Czartoryski Museum and St Mary’s Basilica, the twin-towered church with dominates one side of Rynek Glowny.
In the Old Town, this charming, picturesque cobbled street leads from the foot of Wawel Castle straight into the Old Town. I loved the coloured houses, each different, with its own character. My favourite bit is half way down, where you will find the impressive Baroque Jesuit church of St Peters and St Paul’s (of 1619), which contrasts to the (much older) Romanesque church of St Andrew’s (of 1090).
Wawel Royal Castle
On Krakow’s wide river Vistula you will find the imposing and beautiful Wawel Castle and Cathedral, perched on Wawel hill overlooking the city. You can easily spend a whole day wondering through the grounds of Wawel or you can just admire it from slightly afar (like we did).
Kazimierz – Jewish District
This is a short walk from the Old Town but it’s arguably where the life and soul of Krakow is (at least for the young). While it doesn’t have the beauty of the Old Town, it certainly makes up for it in atmosphere and adventure. Plac Nowy, with its weekend flea market and plenty of bars and cafés, is the heart of Kazimierz, and is fun to walk around. It’s a great place to come in the evening and just bar hop all night amidst Krakow’s cool kids. Being the Jewish District, you’ll find a number of synagogues (Temple Synagogue has beautiful interiors) but also two beautiful and rather imposing churches: St Catherine’s and the Church of Corpus Christi. Both worth a visit.
Schindler’s Factory – now WW2 Museum
A bit of a walk outside the city centre you’ll find Oskar Schindler’s old factory, where during WW2 he saved over 1,000 Jews’ lives by persuading the Nazis that their work in his factory was essential for the war effort and saved them from Auschwitz’s claws. It has now turned into an excellent museum about the Second World War. Perfect to combine with brunch at Bal afterwards to cheer you up.
Or Oswiecze as it is called in Polish. An hour and a half journey outside of Krakow you will find the death camp which killed between 1.1 – 1.3 million Jews during WW2. Both Auschwitz and Birkenau (the extermination camp) are worth visiting. Be prepared, this is a harrowing trip and it will stay with you after you have departed. At Auschwitz – the first camp – the ‘barracks’ have been turned into separate exhibitions, focusing on different aspects of ‘life at Auschwitz’. Birkenau is reached by a shuttle bus or a taxi (10 minute journey). Here I was shocked by the vastness of the camp (and they had plans for expansion). You pass through the famous ‘Gates of Hell’ and, while there is no set route here, this is really a place for reflection and remembrance. Read Primo Levi’s ‘If this is a man’ before you go.
Angel House – Good value
If, like us, you know you’ll spend little time in you room and as much time as possible exploring, then Angel House is perfect. The rooms are comfortable and clean, the bathrooms new with good power showers. This is less a hotel then a ‘guest house’, with 6 rooms and a communal area where (an average) breakfast is set out for you in the morning. You can use the fridge though and make coffee or tea throughout the day. Apart from that you’re on your own. We paid £40 a night, an absolute bargain. You’re 5 minutes’ walk from the Old Town and about 10 from Kamizierz. Ideal.
Hotel Stary – Splash out
This beautiful hotel has the perfect location, right in the Old Town’s centre. While at the pricey end for accommodation in Krakow (rooms are from about £170), it’s still a bargain compared to a five star hotel in the West. If you’re after all the facilities they have a pool and a spa. In the summer they have a roof terrace, perfect for evening drinks, with lovely views of the city.