Exactly one year ago, I reached another Important Milestone™ in my life when my youngest brother Jerry and I embarked on our first holiday ever together, just the two of us. We had a little under five days and a shoestring budget to spend, which is why my favourite destinations Poland and Slovakia were a perfect match for our plan.
We started and ended our holiday in Krakow. I fell in love with this city on my first trip to Poland nine years ago, and I’ve kept going back ever since. When it comes to a perfect city getaway, Krakow has it all: culture, art, history, beautiful parks, inspiring architecture and an excellent selection of restaurants. In addition, everything is still so cheap (for a Finn, at least) that burning through your cash takes more than an average amount of effort.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that after my umpteenth solo trip to Krakow, the most central sights in the city had started to feel, well, seen. That is why it was especially nice to bring Jerry there with me, because I immediately started to look at all the familiar places from a new perspective. While travelling solo, it’s easy to end up in a certain kind of rut where you keep doing things the exact same way you always do them, whereas in fresh company you’re more likely to try things you normally wouldn’t even think of.
This trip was basically a collection of first times for Jerry: first touch of Poland and Slovakia, first active holiday in the mountains in his adult life, first stay at an excellent (Greg&Tom Home) and poor-as-hell (B Movie) hostel, and finally his first time riding an electric scooter. A pretty good combo for a a five-day holiday, in my opinion. In the name of simplicity, I have combined all the Krakow-related stuff from the beginning and the end of our trip under this same post, so the pictures are not in any kind of chronological order.
It was the last week of September, but the weather was warm and summery, making it all the more fun to sample the outdoor cafés and restaurants in the city. We had the first of many coffee and cake breaks at Polonia Wax Café by the tourist-ridden Rynek Główny square. Points for the sunny terrace, but a huge minus for the fact that we thought we’d never get out of there, as the only waitress in the joint disappeared into thin air when it was time to ask for the check. It wasn’t because of rush hour, either – there was only us and another unfortunate group present at the time. Fed up with waiting, we managed to scrape up enough loose change (no tip!), left it on the table and got out of there. The other group stayed behind looking annoyed as ever. Steer clear of this one.
We had a much better experience at the Academy of Music (Akademia muzyczna w Krakowie) rooftop restaurant, which I hadn’t come across before this. The entry to the restaurant goes through the same door where you would enter the academy, just keep going up until you reach the roof. Our lunch was tasty and seemed quite traditional. I cannot remember the exact price we paid, but it was very cheap considering the views from the terrace! In case of bad weather, it’s also possible to sit in the cosy indoor area. At least last year, they kept the place open until the late evening, which in turn opens a whole new opportunity for sunset dining. I can definitely recommend trying this for the views alone.
We also visited pop up cafés on our way around town and tried one of the old town restaurants for dinner. I’ve already forgotten its name, but it had the same problem as Polonia Wax Café: it was difficult to get the check even when the restaurant was closing soon. Of course, the immediate surroundings of the biggest tourist attractions generally may not offer the best possible service nor the best value for your money. It’s best to choose your dining spot well before you actually get hungry, otherwise you’ll end up like us and just go wherever there’s a free table. We may have accidentally ended up at KFC at some point of the night, as well…
On the last night of our holiday, we went for Jerry’s birthday dinner at Plac Nowy 1, which is located in the restaurant hub of the Jewish quarters of Kazimierz. For this occasion, I had actually made the effort to check out the ratings in advance because nobody should eat crap on their birthday. The service in Plac Nowy 1 was friendly and fast, the meal was delicious and the portions nicely plated, and the drink list had good options even for those who don’t like beer (i.e. me). We liked the decoration and atmosphere, as well. Quality doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either – a two-course dinner with drinks for two came to 162 PLN (~35€) in total. Sloth stamp of approval for this one!
The Lights of Krakow
The many electric scooter companies operating in Krakow offered quite generous referral incentives; the best deal we found was 27+10 free minutes per referral, and even when the freebies ran out, it still didn’t break the bank to keep riding. Over the couple of days in Krakow, we must have spent several hours just scooting by the Vistula River and on the narrow streets of the city. Zooming around town on the warm Autumn evenings with the wind in our hair really put us in a holiday mood, as if we had been somewhere much further south of Poland. The scoots were also perfect for checking out some of the sights outside the city centre, of which many were beautifully lit after dusk.
Jerry wanted us to visit a random black light mini golf place, which unfortunately looked more interesting than it really was. Still a nice place to chill out for a bit, post-lunch. One night we also had to test a shisha bar just because right before our trip, our other brother J had reminisced about his legendary night in some “crazy fun shisha joint”. Unfortunately the aforementioned night had been so legendary, that all J could remember of the place was that it was fun, there was smoke and it was somewhere in Krakow. OK. Equipped with this information and being lazy detectives, we just ended up at the shisha bar closest to our hostel, but Dubai Shisha clearly wasn’t the birthplace of those legendary hookah tales. They didn’t even have most of the tobacco flavours advertised on the list, and the drinks could have been stiffer, as well. However, I did like the psychedelic decor. At least we did something out of the ordinary for me!
Sunset on the Krakus Mound
The ancient Krakus Mound has been thought of as the final resting place of the legendary King Krakus of Krakow. Today, it’s a popular viewpoint and apparently also a good place to have your wedding pictures taken – we spotted at least one photoshoot on our way up the hill. The mound is located on top of Lasota Hill, approximately 3 km from city centre, and you can get quite close to it by scoot. :) On the way, there’s also an interesting zigzag ramp, of which Jerry took full advantage and entertained us both with a spontaneous parkour show jumping around on and over the railings. Travelling with a monkey was so much fun!
We timed our Krakus visit strategically so that we could also watch the sunset while up there. I had somehow managed to avoid all mentions of the five mounds of Krakow before that, so there’s still something new left for me to see on my next trip, granted that the Rona situation ever allows us to travel again… Anyway, as the whole roundtrip only took us under two hours, I can easily recommend this to anyone visiting Krakow for a day or two.
Bonus: Day Trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine
After touring the city and its many cafés and restaurants, we still had about half a day left in Krakow – perfect for checking out the Wieliczka Salt Mine. They do sell package deals with transportation from the city centre, but we decided to catch the local bus instead. Perhaps the tourist buses would have had better air-con, because ours was an uncomfortably sweaty ride through the suburbs in the scorching September heat.
In the mine, basically everything is made of salt: the floors, ceilings and walls. Our guide even told us to “taste the wall” at one point of the tour. They’ve carved dozens of salt statues, and there was a massive hall of salt with wall art and altars also made of salt. We also came across a couple of eerie underground grottoes filled with water, among other interesting things. However, so many of our friends and family had hyped up the place so much in advance that we perhaps expected a bit too much of the tour. In the end, it was a nice experience, but not mind-blowing. Still a cool place to see once in a lifetime.
Prices (September 2019):
- Greg & Tom Hostel: ~70 PLN/bed/night in a 6-person dormitory
- B Movie Hostel: ~32 PLN/bed/night in a 4-person dormitory
- Plac Nowy 1: a two-course meal and drinks for two, 162 PLN in total
- Tickets to the Wieliczka Salt Mine: 93 PLN for an adult, 84 PLN for a student
To read all the posts in English on this trip, use the tag travelswbro19EN.