WARSAW & KRAKOW

Poland is underrated, in my opinion. I didn’t expect much prior to my weekend in Warsaw and Krakow, but I left with the impression that Poland is potentially my favorite country in Europe. A girl friend and I flew from Milan to Warsaw late on a Thanksgiving Thursday night and returned to Milan on a Sunday evening, giving us almost three full days in Poland.

First of all, if you’re looking for a charming, cheap, friendly getaway that isn’t too crowded, Poland is the perfect place. You won’t find as many English-speakers on the streets as you would in France or Italy, but the people are (overall) very friendly and helpful. We had no problems with transportation and there were plenty of English signs in Warsaw and Krakow to point us where we needed to go.

Poland uses zlotys as their currency, and one euro is equal to a little under five zlotys. So the currency really works in your favor if you’re coming from a Western European country. Exchanging currency isn’t necessarily cheap, and I really haven’t found a way around that. I obtained zlotys at Central Station in Milan prior to going to the airport. The old towns (which are the charming historic districts) in Warsaw and Krakow are absolutely beautiful, very clean, and full of history. Poland was by far the cleanest country I visited in Europe.

Warsaw and Krakow are culturally and historically rich, and anyone interested in WWII would really enjoy a visit to these cities. My friend and I went to Poland specifically to visit Auschwitz, located just outside of Krakow, but obviously Poland’s history is much richer and complex. I would recommend a quick read (even on Wikipedia) over Poland’s history as a country in order to understand what they’ve been through and their current state.

It’s important to note that Poland can be a humbling place. So many horrors have happened on their land and to their people. Not to mention, their government is still considered only recently their own. The older generation has seen and lived through unimaginable events, and many young people grow up without grandparents and great grandparents. The people are (seemingly, this is purely a personal opinion) more soft spoken. I definitely found them more approachable than the people I encountered in France and Germany. In fact, my friend and I asked for directions to the old town in Warsaw and a very kind, newly married Polish couple walked us all the way there.

As I said before, we went on Thanksgiving weekend, so it was a Thursday through Sunday trip in late November and it was absolutely freezing. It was the coldest trip we took. I’ve played softball in below freezing temps for hours into the night and I’ve walked to class in zero degree weather, but I’ve never felt colder than I did in Poland. It was a bone-chilling kind of cold that seeped through every layer of clothing. Being outside was miserable, but we did it anyways. With that in mind, I definitely recommend going in the spring, summer, or early fall.

I would have liked to spend more time in Warsaw since we really only had one day there, so this page is lacking a strong itinerary for the city.

MY ITINERARY

Auschwitz (Krakow)

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Auschwitz is without a doubt one of the most humbling, chilling places in the world. The horrors that occurred at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp are unimaginable. My friend and I thought twice before complaining about the freezing weather while walking around the camp (both the Auschwitz and Birkenau sites) when we remembered the stories of those that were brought here. I could go on for a while, but the point is that this is a place that is worth visiting. It’s an important part of history and shouldn’t be forgotten. Those that joined me in visiting are better people for it. We had a tour in English and it was excellent. I’ll tell you, they don’t sugarcoat anything that happened here. We payed 20 euros each for the Escape 2 Poland Auschwitz Tour. It was worth every penny considering it picked us up and dropped us off right outside of our Airbnb location. They have student discounts and videos to watch on the (warm!) van to and from the camp. It was much more intimate than a big bus and included a ticket and guide with the price. Lunch, however, is not included. So we stopped by a market on the way and grabbed some things to pack a sacked lunch. This is definitely the best way to go.

Galeria Krakowska (Krakow)

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This picture is watermarked, so it’s obviously not mine. The Galeria is the main hub in Krakow. It’s connected to Krakow’s train station, and is a great place to shop or keep warm when it’s absolutely freezing outside. When were were there, they had street vendors outside selling Polish street food, so we bought Polish sausages that were bigger than our heads and ate every bite (sooo good). We ended up walking to the Galeria a couple times because we wanted a few more layers of warmer clothes, and it’s a great place to walk around if you want to shop.

Old Town & Christmas Markets (Krakow)

 

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I meant to take pictures of the Krakow’s Old Town (historical district) in the daylight, but it was just too beautiful at night with all of the booths from the Christmas Market! The market took over the entire square and it’s beautiful. All of my Christmas gifts for my family and friends came from the Krakow market. They also had plenty of food booths to purchase pierogies (you can’t go to Poland and NOT eat pierogies), crepes, pretzels, sausage, pancakes, etc. along with cider and hot wine. Even in the cold weather, we ended up hanging out here for both of our nights in Krakow because it was so charming. Everything was relatively cheap too, so that’s also a plus. Aside from the market, Krakow’s old town is buzzing with plenty of night life and charming little shops and pubs. My friend and I enjoyed desserts and hot ciders at a nice little basement pub after our long, cold day at Auschwitz and it was the perfect ending to our day. Wawal Castle is also situated nearby. We didn’t have time to visit because we were only in Krakow after its public hours, but it’s gorgeous to see from the outside as well.

Old Town (Warsaw)

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We didn’t have the privilege of enjoying Old Town Warsaw as much as we would have liked due to time restraints and the below freezing temps (did I mention it was SO COLD?). However, we did have about two hours to walk around and have lunch. We ate yummy pierogies and walked in and out of shops before taking the bus back to the Palace of Culture and Science. It’s beautifully reconstructed after it was bombed during WWII, and it’s very clean. The city of Warsaw itself is clean and orderly, and as two female travelers, both my friend and I agreed we felt very safe walking around the city both by day and by night. It has a big city feel until you get to the Old Town, then it seems very charming and historic.

Palace of Culture and Science (Warsaw)

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Disclaimer: Our shuttle bus to and from the airport in Warsaw dropped us off and picked us back up in the parking lot of the Palace of Science and Culture. We didn’t have time to go in the palace, but we did get to hang out near it for a while. It’s the tallest building in the country and the eighth tallest building in Europe. My friends took a tour, although I don’t know which tour company they used. Information regarding different tours can be found here. I know you have the opportunity to see many rooms throughout the building and see a panoramic view of Warsaw from the top floor. Many visitors said you can learn a lot about Soviet history in regards to Poland, since the building was a “gift” from the Soviet Union to the Polish people during the Soviet’s control of Poland. Therefore, there are mixed emotions about the building by Polish people.

The Royal Castle (Warsaw)

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We were quite lucky when we went to the Royal Castle in Warsaw because they have free entrance into the castle on a few Sundays of the year (according to the local people that walked us to the Old Town), so we entered for free. However, this is not usually the case. But don’t worry! Due to euros being worth much more than a Polish zloty, it’s relatively cheap to enter (around six euros for regular admission and four euros for student admission). We were even luckier to learn that the day we arrived, they just so happened to be putting on royal ball reenactments at the castle, so were were able to sit in and watch many traditional Polish dances. It was random and totally awesome. They generally have information like this on their website, so even though we didn’t check the website prior to our arrival, we were lucky enough to go on a great day. It also features beautiful ballrooms and art.

TRAVEL. TIPS. ACCOMMODATION.

Flying to Poland. Even though our main reason for going to Poland was to visit Auschwitz and there are regular flights to Krakow (from Milan), we opted to fly instead to Warsaw then take a train down to Krakow. Buying a round trip flight from Milan to Krakow was about the same price to buy a round trip journey to Warsaw PLUS round trip train trip from Warsaw to Krakow, so we opted to see two cities for the same price. My round trip flight from Milan to Warsaw was 80 euros (Sky Scanner is the best site I’ve found to search for cheap flights in Europe). Once we arrived at Warsaw’s Chopin Airport, we took a shuttle from the airport to Warsaw’s city center. The shuttle runs until around midnight (I think the latest departure time is a little after 11:30pm) and the drop off and pick up location is in the parking lot of the Palace of Science and Culture, which is right next to Warsaw’s Central Station. We used Modlin Bus, which takes 40 minutes from the airport to the city center. It had heating and air conditioning AND wifi. We each paid only 11 euros for a roundtrip (from the airport on Thursday, then back again on Sunday). So cheap!

Train Travel. We used Polrail to take the train from Warsaw to Krakow and back for a total of 34 euros. We bought our tickets online in advance, so we had to confirm our purchasing by emailing our names and passport numbers to Polrail so they could send us our tickets electronically. I was initially nervous to do this, but everything turned out okay. It’s about a four-hour train ride from Warsaw to Krakow through the rustic Polish countryside. It was eery to think of how many prisoners took the same train route on their way to Auschwitz. The train was pretty full and stopped often, and it was very chilly. There wasn’t any heat and when it was that cold outside, so we had to stay bundled up even inside the train. But the trip wasn’t bad at all and the scenery was great.

Accommodation. Since we arrived very late in Warsaw on Thursday night (it was after midnight by the time our shuttle bus arrived in the city center), we had to find a hostel that had 24-hour reception, free WiFi, and was within walking distance to Warsaw’s central station. Luckily, Nathan’s Hostel was perfect! It wasn’t fun walking a mile that late at night in 15-degree weather with our backpacks as two females that didn’t speak the language, but like I said before, Warsaw felt like a very safe city. It was very quiet at night (probably because it was so cold and no one wanted to be out; I’ve read plenty about Warsaw having an active nightlife scene) and it was very well lit. Nathan’s Hostel was clean and very quiet. We opted to take two beds in a six-bed female dorm, but we were actually the only girls in the building that night so we had the room and single (private) bathroom to ourselves. It was 18 euros for each of us for the night and totally worth it. In Krakow, we stayed at a very charming, small, nice loft near the city center. It was about a ten minute walk to the train station and the Old Town. The host, Aga, and her boyfriend greeted us upon arrival and gave us all of the information we needed for our stay in Krakow. The apartment is for travelers only, so there is no one living there permanently. It is very bright, clean, and comfortable with reliable WiFi, all necessary amenities, a great kitchen, a pull-out bed, and a warm shower. While there are cheaper Airbnb offers in Krakow, I would stay here again. It was only $30 a night for two nights, so my friend and I each paid for one night.

Overall, I spent around 320 euros for my three days and three nights in Poland including airfare, accommodation, shuttles to and from the airport, two train rides, food (don’t forget to try to pierogies and sausage), gifts from the Christmas market, abtour of Auschwitz, and extra costs for the clothing I bought at the Galeria in Krakow. I’m looking forward to visiting again during the warmer months so I can explore more of both cities. Let me know what you think!

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1 Comment on WARSAW & KRAKOW

  1. Sara Pandolfino
    September 15, 2015 at 10:28 pm (2 years ago)

    I had no idea you had this awesome travel blog! It’s so great! Reading through our trip really makes me miss traveling around Europe, especially this specific trip, even if it was chilling temperatures, the cities were so beautiful and I wish we had more time there!

    Reply

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