In January 2012, I moved to Krakow in Poland to escape the Norwegian winter. After living here for four months, I decided to write about my views on the city…
Krakow is an old, European city. The best way to experience it is to get a hold of a free map in a tourist information office, and just walk around in the streets. Get lost, wander down to the river, find a cozy bar in the Kazimierz district and get drunk. The magic of Krakow is not the main square in the old town, the Wavel castle or the St.Mary church. The beauty is found in the small side streets, the worn-down buildings and the old (by western standards) trams. I recommend exploring the Old Town and the Kazimierz district. Just remember that drinking in public in Poland is illegal.
Which brings us to the next topic: alcohol and nightlife. Krakow probably has hundreds of bars, restaurants and cafes in the Old Town alone. And you’ll never find them all: they are hidden underground, in back-alleys or on the third floor in some remote building. I remember walking through a bookstore, up some stairs, and suddenly arriving into a pub full of people watching a football game. I’d recommend some places, but there’s no point. Most places are extremely good, whether you’re looking for a loud club pumping techno, a friendly Irish bar where you can meet people, a cozy cafe to bring your future Polish wife to, or a cheap bar where you can pregameovac with 4 zł beer. Kazimierz seems to have a more quiet, cozy cafe scene, while the Old Town is larger, with more options and has a party-vibe to it. Generally, if people hand out flyers to promote a place, it’s not worth going to.
If you’d like to get out of the city, the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is located close to the city Oświęcim, an hour or two away by bus or train. I have not personally been to the salt mines, but according to friends who went there, it was not as interesting as Auschwitz. There’s also the mountain city Zakopane, around two hours away, where you can hike during the summer or ski during the winter.
Let’s be realistic, prices matter. Why have a single beer in a pub in Norway, when you can get more than five for the same price in Poland? Poland is cheaper than most European cities, and certainly cheaper than all western-European ones. A beer in a bar will set you back around 7 PLN, while a quality beer in a supermarket is usually around 3 PLN. Do you prefer the famous Polish vodka? No problem, a decent quality bottle will cost you slightly more than 20 PLN. Transportation is 1-2PLN on the tram per ride, while a two hour bus ride will cost you slightly less than 20 PLN. The obligatory drunken kebab is 10 to 12 PLN, and if you’re a person of finer taste you can get quality meals for as low as 20PLN, increasing in price depending on how much you’re willing to spend. A bed in a hostel averages at around 50PLN per night, but you can finder cheaper ones on Hostelworld. I paid 2000PLN per month (including electricity, water, etc) for my apartment, which included two huge beds and a sleeping sofa, and was five minutes away from the very heart of the city.
Slightly too many tourists, especially in the summertime. While walking in the main square and the surrounding areas you’ll be subjected to the line “Maybe strip-club tonight?” several times in a night. A lot of people are very friendly towards tourists and tourism, but a lot of Poles seem to dislike it too. I don’t blame them, after witnessing the Englishmen who fly to Poland, pissy drunk, wearing identical t-shirts saying “Brad’s Stag”. Or the Spaniards who travels in groups of sixty, turning a dead bar into an all-Spanish party within seconds. Don’t get me wrong, Krakow is not nearly as touristy as, say, Prague, and it is most noticeable in the summer season. I do predict a lot of tourism in the next ten years though.
Krakow is definitely one of my favorite cities in Europe so far. I once described it to a friend as a hedonist’s Mecca, but as he pointed out: “That would be Las Vegas”. With nearly 200 000 students and cheap alcohol, it’s easy to indulge too heavily in partying and fun, without realizing that there are other qualities to Krakow. But most of all, it’s a great place to visit if you’re a Tipsy Traveler.