“You have to go east!!!!!” was what my bunkmate at my hostel in Budapest hollered in a British accent so proper you would have thought she was straight off the set of Downtown Abbey.
Up until that point my perception of Eastern Europe came mostly from watching Soviet themed movies with my Dad and they did not paint a picture that was in line with the excitement that filled my bunkmate’s voice.
Part of me thought she was crazy or exaggerating but my unending wanderlust got the best of me and I decided to brush off my fears and listen to the adventurous angel on my shoulder.
I purchased a ticket with Eurolot and off to Poland I went, not knowing what to expect or what I was going to encounter.
Arriving In Krakow Poland
On arrival at the airport I was surprised to see a giant billboard of Mike Tyson promoting an energy drink. I thought to myself, Mike Tyson still has star power??? Especially, in Poland.
That and many other things would surprise me about Poland during my stay. I went to my immigration officer, an older Polish lady and without a fuss I was granted entry into the country. A driver I had booked with my Hostel was waiting with a placard with my name on it.
I approached him and he said “Dante?” to which I responded “yes!!!”, he led me to his car and drove me to my hostel, an old soviet style block of apartments that had been remodeled for the sole purpose of serving as accommodation for travelers.
After checking in, I decided it was time to go explore. I planned to stay in Krakow for two days and I had such a great time that I ended up staying for two weeks. Based on my experiences, here are a list of 10 awesome things anyone who travels to Krakow must do:
1. Visit the Wawel Royal Castle
The origins of the Wawel royal castle go back as far as the 11th century and due to war has passed through the hands of a few foreign powers. It was however returned to the poles in 1911 who began a restoration that would last until the later part of 20th century. Apart from the fact that it is very grand, a lot of Polish legends were born here so it is definitely worth the time and money to pay it a visit.
2. Walk along the Vistula River
This is the longest and largest river in Poland and a walk or cycling along the river is quite relaxing. There are also a few bars where you can go to get a drink or socialize along the river.
3. Explore The Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz)
European Jews suffered a great deal during the second world war but the brunt of the persecution was felt by Polish Jews, the Jewish quarter was the epicenter of Jewish life for about five hundred years and taking a walking tour through the Jewish quarter can be quite an eye opening experience.
However it’s not all doom and gloom here, there is actually a great amount of art galleries, nightlife and restaurants in this part of town. So make sure you include it in your Krakow itinerary.
4. Stay In A Party Hostel
If you are in the 18 to 35 age demographic, Krakow is known as Poland’s main party city, there are several party hostels that will properly indulge you in the cities never ending partying. I stayed at the Mosquito hostel when I was in Poland and it was seriously one of the best experiences I ever had.
5. Shop At The Main Square In Krakow
If you want to buy locally manufactured goods, then shopping at the Cloth hall located in the Main square is your best bet. They have everything from paintings to other kinds of arts and crafts that a tourist can purchase.
6. Visit The Wieliczka Salt Mines
This is one of the oldest salt mines in operation and it attracts over 1 million visitors a year. There are tours that lay bare the history of the mines which I personally found to be quite fascinating.
7. Indulge In Krakow’s Amazing Nightlife
I have partied quite a bit and I must dare say Krakow has some of the most amazing nightlife I have ever experienced. Websites like where2b.org can give you insider information on where to party depending on what day of the week. Krakow due to its large student population is awash with college-aged people cooling off at the city’s bars regardless of what day of the week it is.
8. Pay homage At A Concentration Camp
While this portion of your itinerary could be eerie and uncomfortable, I would still encourage visiting the concentration camps as this could a reminder of what could happen when we as humans allow evil to prosper within our midsts. Another place you can visit as a tribute to the bravery of some who stood up to the brutality of the Nazi’s is the Oskar Schindler museum.
9. Hang out In Krakow’s Main Square.
Krakow’s main square is a great place to pass off time. There are tons of great restaurants located here and also a few statues to emulate while taking pictures. Not to mention the local street performers showing off their talents.
10. Whet your Appetite with Polish delicacies
Polish cuisine comprises primarily of meat, starch, vegetables and different varieties of soups. The one dish that stood out to me were pierogies. A heavenly concoction of baked dough with whatever choice of meat you like.
In all Krakow, Poland was an amazing experience. I visited Krakow a couple more times because of the bond I formed with the city, it’s people, the food and culture I hope I get to go back soon. Till then, as they say in Poland “do widzenia”!!!