If you’re new to backpacking and looking for a city to visit, or planning a trip around Eastern Europe then Krakow is definitely the place for you! The second largest city in Poland offers history, food, culture and a cool vibe which makes it a great place for backpackers or ‘snap packers’. If you’re tempted to visit I’d do so sooner rather than later, as its popularity is on the rise, and could one day rival Prague as a city break location.
After stumbling across the term ‘snap-packing’ in a HostelWorld article, I thought it’d be cool to create a guide for those thinking of planning a city getaway, but who might want to try somewhere different than the big cities. Krakow has everything a backpacker or snap-packer could ask for without being overwhelming, and this guide is here to convince you to go and check it out!
It’s bloody cheap!
Poland is a backpacker’s dream, when I visited it was 7zl = £1 which meant that prices for food and drink was incredibly cheap and easy to work out at shops and cafés. Whilst in Krakow I met backpackers who were on trips which hit cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Milan and this had drained their budget to the point that they had arranged to work for accommodation at their hostel in Budapest. I would definitely suggest looking into visiting Poland if you are planning a Eurotrip purely for the fact that it is budget friendly and an amazing place to visit.
There’s no shortage of hostels to stay at in Krakow, and during my visit I stayed at two hostels, the first I stayed in a dorm and the second my friend and I had a private room.
Let’s Rock Hostel is a great hostel located minutes away from the main square in Krakow it’s about 20 minutes walk from the train station. The directions are given very clearly on the hostel website, which is a big plus, especially if you’re first time backpacker. The hostel is made up of three storeys, with the reception on the first floor, and dorms on the second and third. The amenities are great, from memory there were loads of bathrooms on each floor so if one shower was occupied you could go and find another one around a corner somewhere. The hostel offers a free breakfast, this is a no-thrills breakfast, but a breakfast nonetheless.
The Let’s Rock hostel staff are a friendly bunch and are keen to make your stay there as fun as possible, the hostel advertises an array of events they put on in the hostel every night of the week including Polish Vodka tasting (which we didn’t get to stay for) and beer pong night. They also offer the chance for you to take part in bigger nights out grouping up with other hostels, such as a tram party and pub crawls. For our first night we didn’t feel like going to the tram party so we took part in the beer pong, winning 7-2 and then one of the hostel staff took us to some bars in the Plac Nowy area which is a pretty cool part of Krakow. On our second night we decided to take part in the hostel bar crawl, which started in a sports bar, and moved onto various bars and clubs, including one where you can dance on the bar, an opportunity I didn’t pass up!
Dizzy Daisy Downtown Hostel was booked for our last night in Krakow and didn’t have the party vibe that Let’s Rock had. It offered us a cosy private room, and a really cute kitchen where we ate noodles and garlic bread for dinner as we recovered from our whirlwind tour of Poland. If you’re looking for a quiet stay in Krakow then Dizzy Daisy is the place for you.
Things to do:
Before I visited Krakow I wrongly thought it was the place you went to in order to visit Auschwitz, I realised this view was well and truly wrong as soon as I got there. Krakow has loads of places to visit, such as Wawel Castle and the Schindler Museum. I decided to take a Foods of Krakow tour run by Free Walking Tours Krakow, this was a really cool way to spend my loose change in Krakow whilst getting to try Polish food. It started at 11am and the first place we visited involved having a shot of Vodka and a piece of ‘Afterbite’ (cured herring). The tour took us all around Krakow, trying soup in the Jewish Quarter and then stopping at the Pierogi Festival (held in August). If you’re in Krakow you must try a Russian Pierogi they are delicious!
There are things to do and see in Krakow which suit any budget, and honestly just walking around the city is a great way to take in the city, as the architecture is stunning and in summer the temperature is perfect for wandering around taking it all in.
A snap-packer guide to Auschwitz:
If you’ve ever thought about travelling to Krakow, then there’s a chance you’ve thought about visiting Auschwitz. At first it may seem a bit daunting to arrange a trip to the most depressing place on Earth, but it is pretty straightforward and cheap to get there if you’re on a budget. Now I know budget and Auschwitz may sound a bit disrespectful at first, and you might want to make the most of your visit by going on an organised tour. However if you are on a budget, it is possible to visit the camp by taking public transport and by walking around the camp by yourself, you don’t have to pay for a tour.
Auschwitz can be reached by train or coach if you planning your own visit. The easiest option is to take a coach to Auschwitz from the coach station located directly outside Krakow Glowny station. The trip only cost 14zl for a return which is incredibly cheap. The coach takes around an hour and a half, and make stops at other locations, but it drives you directly to Auschwitz I. (In case you didn’t know and wonder why I’m saying Auschwitz 1. Auschwitz is made up of two camps: Auschwitz 1 the concentration camp and Auschwitz Birkenau the death camp).
Once at Auschwitz I entrance is free unless you want to take a guided tour, in which case the ticket office offers a few different tours throughout the day and it’s worth checking out the website. Conducting a self-guided tour is a good option if you’re on a budget, and is what myself and my friend did when we visited Auschwitz. At first I wasn’t too sure about going around the camp without a guide, other backpackers had said that it could be done and allowed you to take in the camp by yourself, going to somewhere like Auschwitz you feel as though there is a ‘proper’ way of visiting, however walking around the camp unguided allowed us to fully take in the horror of the place at our own pace. Ultimately it’s up to you how you choose to visit Auschwitz, and from experience you don’t have to take a tour to understand or get the most out of it.
Both camps are vast, and there is a lot to take in and see. We dedicated a whole day to it, but we arrived quite late in the day, arriving at 13:30 and leaving on the last coach at 18:30. Unless you are part of a timed tour, or don’t walk around the entirety of both camps, a visit should take around 3 or 4 hours. My friend and I spent 6 hours, averaging around 3 hours in each camp. Don’t rush your visit, it is intense and emotional and you need time to see everything and to process what you see.
In our case the day we visited Auschwitz was the day we’d planned to take an overnight train to Prague, not making a note of the coaches returning to Krakow Glowny meant we ended up getting the last coach back to Krakow, and missed our train. I’m thankful we spent as much time as we did walking around Auschwitz, as it’s not a place you plan on returning to in a hurry. However the stress of missing our train to Prague did not lighten our moods after a very intense day, so don’t make the same mistake we did!
It’s definitely worth visiting Auschwitz, I found that even though I’d studied the holocaust in school and sixth form, the reality doesn’t hit until you visit it yourself. Though please for the love of God, do not take a selfie in front of the demolished gas-chambers like I saw one visitor doing…
This feels like a very heavy end to a post encouraging you to go to Krakow, but rest-assured there is a lot to discover in Krakow. Revisiting my trip for this post makes me feel as though I barely scratched the surface of what Kraków has to offer.
If you’re planning a Eurotrip and want a break from Western Europe prices, go to Krakow, like Brasov it is so worth going somewhere you wouldn’t usually put at the top of your travel bucket list!