Krakow: Undiscovered Gem for Budget Travellers
Backpacking around any continent can be a daunting experience. For many of us it can mean unmarked territory, straying away from the safety of package holidays and organised tours. It’s all about trying to do it yourself, setting your own route, travelling to the point of exhaustion and although not always, very commonly, travelling on a budget.
However, when travelling around Europe, particularly the main tourist destinations; Paris, Rome, Berlin and the like, it’s easy to get used to how expensive this form of travelling is compared to the type spent on gap years in South East Asia or Africa. Travelling around Europe can be unexpectedly expensive and sleeping in eight bed dormitories with strangers becomes custom; a hotel or even a private room a distant memory.
This however all changes when you reach Eastern Europe, particularly, we found, in Poland. In Poland suddenly we were able to comfortably afford a private hotel room with air con and an en suite as easily as we had been able to afford dormitories previously.
The city in particular you must see in Poland is not Warsaw, the capital, but Krakow. Krakow is packed with things to do and see, has amazing, traditional food, holds all of the culture that you are dying to experience and is perfect for budget backpacking. Not only are activities cheap, Krakow is a city that you can obtain a feel for just by walking around and taking everything in. The city is divided into two sectors; the Old Town and the Jewish Sector.
In the summer time, Poland can be a very warm country and hours can be spent experiencing the sights by foot, including browsing the stalls and watching the many artists and performers that reside in the town square, taking a walk along the beautiful and peaceful banks of the Wisla River with options of boat rides and admiring the beauty of the Wawel Cathedral and St. Mary’s church amongst an array of other religious buildings and sculptures. Not only that, but the majority of museums have one day a week that is free to the public, you simply need to check online which day this is before going, making your Zloty stretch even further.
Drinking in Krakow
After being acquainted to hearing of the typical party and drinking holidays being hosted in places like Ibiza, Magaluf and the like, I would never have expected to stumble across such a vibrant drinking scene in this quaint city of Poland. Krakow has a fantastic night scene with a range of places appropriate for not only different age groups but also suitable for families and groups of friends, as well as stag and hen dos.
Krakow is home to a variety of pubs, underground jazz bars all serving cheap and plentiful beers and lager on draft, as well, of course, as vodka. After viewing the idea of pre-drinking as unavoidable due to University, in Krakow, it was refreshing to experience that it is not a necessary precursor to a night out with drinks being so ridiculously cheap compared to standard European prices.
Once you have explored everything within the city and drank your way around the bars, there is one final must see when you come to Krakow: Auschwitz. From an early age we are taught about the Holocaust in school and facts and figures are repetitively drilled into us. After the initial shock of learning of the brutality, we become detached, as the constant reinforcement of the tragedy almost desensitises us to it.
Upon seeing the site of devastation in person and standing where so many have died before you, it brings all those facts racing into perspective and you finally feel the appreciation and sheer enormity of the atrocities that were committed there. I found this haunting experience to be an essential part of my visit to Krakow as it made the Holocaust finally feel real, not just something studied in history and depicted in films.
Although this harrowing excursion will leave you feeling hollow, it truly is an enriching experience, which puts into perspective how brutal humans are capable of being.
There is much more to Krakow than Auschwitz and the city should be appreciated for all it has to offer. However, I truly believe a visit to Krakow which excludes Auschwitz would be a wasted trip. With the vast variety of things to see and experience within the city and it being perfect for a budget holiday I cannot understand why it is not on the popular tourist route yet, although it is growing in popularity. More people should definitely discover what Poland has to offer, and you should go quickly before it becomes as busy and expensive as other major European cities.
Also check out our Backpacking in Gdansk article – we recommend checking out the north of Poland too!
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