Oh Poland, the country of vodka and perogi. When heading to Poland I had only ever heard of Krakow as no one I knew had been anywhere else. But that’s something I absolutely love about going to a new country, discovering unknown places or just going via word of mouth from fellow travellers. You will find this country to be extremely cheap and for us budget strapped backpackers Poland is the perfect place to spend a few weeks in, not only is it very affordable but there is also so much to see.
If you’re looking at the map to choose somewhere that sounds funny, Wroclaw comes up. Pronounced ‘Votsruv’, this city was like a fairytale. Think buildings designed like dollhouses with different shapes and bright colours, cobblestone streets, the friendliest locals and such a beautiful small city. Climb up to the tallest, narrowest tower in the city – get ready to work up a sweat – and enjoy a view like no other. If you’re passing through Poland with a couple of days to spare I highly recommend going to Wroclaw!
There are many hostels to choose from in Wroclaw but I suggest Grampa’s Hostel. With only 48 beds this small hostel makes it easier to socialise with fellow travellers in their great common room and because the staff and owners are backpackers themselves, they understand what you look for in a hostel. The hostel includes a fully equipped kitchen, comfortable beds, clean large bathrooms and free breakfast included. It will cost you between $AUD13-$15 (€9-€11) for a bed in one of their mixed dorm rooms.
Visit the gorgeous and peaceful botanical gardens and pack some bread to feed the many cheerful ducks. Explore the little islands located in the centre of the lake by walking over many bridges that link them, stopping at cathedrals and towers along the way as well as colourful street art presented on old buildings.
Head into the main town square for the best perogi (Polish dumplings) in the city, at a restaurant called Perogi. These aren’t you normal dumplings you may be used to at home, they’re by far one of my favourite dishes. So many different fillings to choose from, along with may different sauces. The menus are large and the combinations are interesting so bring friends along to order a few dishes so you can sample many different types and let your taste buds run wild.
Next we made it to Krakow (remember that it’s pronounced ‘Krakov’!). This is one of those cities where I urge you to book your hostel in advance! Get a bed at Greg and Tom’s Party Hostel, you won’t have any regrets! I don’t like booking in advance, but staying at a hostel like this really makes your time in Krakow something special! Just as the name suggests it really is a party hostel but even if you’re unlucky and don’t get a night here, you can still jump on the Greg and Tom’s pub crawls and participate in any parties they’re organising (for a very small fee). It’s cheap, clean, has free meals – breakfast and dinner – and the alcohol flows freely throughout their nightly events and activities. A bed in this fantastic hostel will cost you between $AUD21-$24 (€14-€17) during their peak season so all I can say is get in quick!
If Greg and Tom’s Party Hostel is booked out, don’t fret as the second best hostel to stay at would have to be Pink Panthers Hostel. Incredibly great location – a very short walk from the town square, organised events each night at the hostel like polish vodka tasting and karaoke, clean and large modern facilities and very friendly helpful staff. It was extremely easy to meet fellow travellers here and I’ll admit with them we did spend many nights at Greg and Tom’s Party Hostel. Booking a night at this hostel will cost you between $AUD18-$23 (€12-€16) for a bed in one of their dorm rooms during the peak season.
The pretzels are a must in Krakow, so be sure to stop by a street vendor. Some will also sell cream cheese to go with your pretzel, otherwise buy some from the supermarket. Your mind will be blown and your taste buds satisfied.
Spend a whole day smashing out the free walking tours; they are cheap and a great way to see the city and get some knowledge. I suggest taking the morning to do the Old Town walking tour, breaking for lunch at any of the nearby market stalls and continuing in the afternoon with the Jewish Quarter walking tour. You can take a stroll around the city yourself, but as the old town is beautiful and the Jewish Quarter is a little harder to find, I really suggest doing the free tour that meets in the town square each day.
Another great thing about the Old Town is that it’s surrounded by a large circle path that goes around the walls of the city. Hire a bike for a few hours and cycle around the walls or if you have a lazy afternoon go for a beautiful stroll.
If you’re into your history spend an afternoon or a couple of hours visiting the Oskar Schindler’s Factory, which has been turned into a museum that tells the story of Schindler and the Jewish prisoners of Plaszow. The permanent exhibition of Schindler’s Factory is entitled ‘Krakow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945’ which correctly summarizes its contents. A standard entry fee is €3.50 and a concession only €3.
I feel as though I endorse food a lot, but it’s usually my favourite thing about each place. I like to find the local delicacies and eat to my heart’s content. While you’re in the Jewish Quarter, whether it’s to explore the funky bars or flea markets, you must stop and try Zapakanki. It’s considered ‘fast food’ in Krakow and it’s basically an open baguette/pizza topped with mushrooms, melted cheese and tomato sauce.
We stumbled across this next place when lost, but promise me after you’ve eaten Zapakanki you will search for this local gem! You will know you’ve found Locy when you see the huge line forming outside the tiny store, and it’s the most delicious homemade ice cream I have ever eaten.
Though it is a horrible and confronting experience, take the time to visit Auschwitz. Note: this is not a place to go hungover, but as one of the most infamous places of recent history, any visitor to Poland must take the time to go. Some people do it themselves, take the train and wait in line to buy tickets. Though that allows you to walk around the area yourself, I was told by quite a few fellow travellers to take the tour. It’s not too expensive and the price includes travel to the concentration camp, both Auschwitz and Birkenau, and a guided tour. It’s long and heartbreaking, but leave an entire afternoon to spend there. The tour will cost you €39 and tickets are available through most of the hostels – it’s really worth the cost.
Wanting to stay in Poland a little longer, I made my way to the city of Warsaw. Unless you really want to do some shopping, or have a bus/flight/train leaving from Warsaw, I wouldn’t really recommend going. The shopping is incredible and very affordable, so if it’s your last stop before going back home you may as well enjoy all the benefits. Otherwise I was unimpressed. If you are there for a day you can spend your time doing the free walking tour, trying the local delicacy of bread, lard and a pickle – a lot nicer than it sounds – and window shopping.
Looking for somewhere to eat? Find a milk bar! They are scattered around the town and this is where you will find true authentic polish cuisine. The menu is in Polish and the ladies speak no English. Have fun picking and choosing menu items and surprise yourself. This would have to be the one major benefit of Warsaw.
I stayed at the Oki Doki Hostel which was only a short walk from the main train station and where majority of the buses stopped, so it was in the centre of new town and about a fifteen minute walk from the old town of Warsaw. The rooms are huge and spacious with each room having it’s own unique design and decoration. They have a well equipped kitchen which was extremely handy when preparing your own meals and a decent sized common room down stairs. Best of all the staff were so incredibly helpful and though I hounded them with questions, they had no hesitation with helping me to their full ability. A night at Oki Doki Hostel will cost you around $AUD19-$23 (€13-€16) during the peak season in a dorm room.
Transport to and from Poland is extremely accessible via bus and the bus stations are all located in the city centre. Berlin, Germany to Krakow: €24 with Polskibus. Berlin, Germany to Wroclaw: €18 with Polskibus. Prague, Czech Republic to Krakow: You will find this route to be very difficult as hardly any buses or trains will go direct and the ones that do are extremely expensive. The best suggestion that can all be done in one day is to take the train from Prague, Czech Republic to Cesky Tesin for approximately €14-€18, which is near the Polish / Czech boarder, then take the short walk to Cieszyn which is in the same city but on the boarder. Buses from Cieszyn to Krakow are very frequent so jump on that bus for around €4 and you will arrive to the centre of Krakow in no time. Prague, Czech Republic to Wroclaw: €18 with Poskibus. I actually found that route via Cieszyn confusing for me hence why I chose to spend a couple of days in Wroclaw and explore a new city which I had heard nothing about and then bus directly to Krakow. Vilnius, Lithuania to Warsaw: via bus for €17 with Simple Express.
I can’t even tell you how much I loved Poland!! One of my all time favourite countries and every person I’ve spoken to shares the same passion for this country, not a bad word can be said. A major plus to us budget strapped backpackers is that the lifestyle in Poland is extremely cheap and you will be shocked by how little you will spend. It’s a country I would definitely go back to a second time, even revisit some of these cities and hopefully also see more of Poland. The Polish are super friendly and talkative, even those who don’t speak English will try their hardest to start a conversation with you and suggest things to do to make sure you get the most out of your stay in their beautiful country.