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Jess Mc Murray
Walled old town with cobbled streets and stunning architecture? Check.
Winding river with castle perched on the edge? Check.
Cheap beer and plentiful food? Check.
Well, quite simply – it’s incredible. Because it does all of these things to perfection, and then much, much more. The first notable mention is that the hostel scene in Krakow is almost unrivalled. Hostels here are a destination, and not merely a place to sleep – most offering breakfasts that would knock the socks off a Hilton, and many also having free dinners, free drinks, and a bucket-tonne of fun.
In town, the city is so self-contained and compact (and beautiful…) that walking is almost always your better option.
my delicious dinner
Chicken bacon sub at the house of beer, off the charts
What seems so brilliant about Krakow is that it caters for everybody. If you’re out for parties, clubs, boozing and stag-dos – it hits the mark with incredibly cheap alcohol, friendly people, good music and a lively atmosphere. For those looking for idyllic old towns and castles, Krakow is almost chocolate-box in its beauty and quiet, windy streets away from the hubbub are only ever two turns away.
One not-particular-hidden-but-surprisingly-awesome gem is the Wieliczka salt mines. *Yawn* Salt. *Yawn* Mines. *Yawn* UNESCO. Hold on a second, actually; a mind-boggling 300-odd kilometres of salty-smooth tunnels, a chasmic salt cathedral with saline chandeliers and briny carvings, and tales of death, destruction and slightly questionable legends regarding mysterious salty rings. Sodium Chloride has never been so cool.
Wezze beer emporium
For day trips to the salt mines or Auschwitz, whilst the organised tours offered through hostel are hugely convenient, you can save an absolute bucket-load if you do it by public transport. Train is one option, but are so are the, errr… characterful (ok, read crazy) minibuses that run to some mysterious, hidden timetable, and depart from under the main bus station.
Culture-wise, the Kazimierz ‘Jewish’ district is a must-see, and the way in which the city is intertwined with Jewish history and the second world war (with the obvious links with Auschwitz – an almost obligatory day-trip for any visitor) mean that the place feels like a living, breathing history lesson – and an important and meaningful one at that.
Krakow is also packed with quirky, atmospheric, candle-lit cocktail bars and beer pubs – check out particularly Bunkier and Alchemia.
What intro-to-a-city guide includes a section on Laundry!? Stick with me on this – I haven’t gone crazy. Backpackers particularly are frequently tired of the tedious and surprisingly challenging task of doing laundry. Krakow has cleverly recognised this and targeted the market with… Frania Laundry pub! You go in, you hand over your laundry, order your pint (or a delicious snack) pick up a book or game from the shelf, enjoy yourself and at the end of it all – a nice pile of folded, freshly laundered linen. Honestly I have never been so excited about clean clothes.
Even though eating out really couldn’t be better value in Krakow, for those on a shoestring budget (or just those looking to mop up some alcohol after midnight) there are two must-haves; perogi (meatfilled dumplings) from the 24 hour perogi shop (be warned there’s no customer toilet, so this can end up being a bit of a risky post-drinking visit!) or the Zapikanka stalls dotted around the city (also no toilets, so actually now I think about it, as post-drink haunts these are somewhat questionable). When I was first told of Zapikankas – essentially pizza baguettes with a variety of toppings - I thought the hype must be overstated. I repent. I convert. I apologise a thousand times over for ever doubting. Don’t leave Krakow without a Zapikanka. Stuff them down your trousers and into your spare travel boots to maximise your fill, and then go out and spread the word: Zapikankas are the one true God.
The perfect foot long
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