This post is written by our co-president, Simran Thakral. Check out her original post here.
It’s been quite a while since I got back from Poland- safe and sound. I emphasize safe and sound because the reaction I got from friends when I told them I was travelling there was the same reaction I would have got if I had said ‘Siberia’.
To be honest, it was a spontaneous decision between my housemates and I to go to Poland. We were sitting in the living room one night browsing places to go for our spring break and somehow we came across a You Tube video of the beautiful city of Krakow. Poland? Okay, Poland!
I’m so glad we made that decision though. Poland is one place that will only cross your mind if you’re a seasoned traveller and have visited all the mainstream tourist destinations or if you’re a broke student looking for somewhere with cheap alcohol.
I don’t understand why though. Poland (or Eastern Europe, in general) is seriously underrated. It’s so rich in history and culture, has stunning architecture, loads of attractions, and great value for money.
Besides, what makes a place is not necessarily the list of ‘things to do’ on Trip Advisor. It’s the people that make the place- both the people you travel with and the people you meet. We met some really cool and interesting people on our trip which just added to the overall experience. That’s why Poland has such a special place in my heart.
Where to stay?
It was on one of my housemate’s bucket list that she had to make a friend in a youth hostel. After our failed attempt at doing so at the Wombats Youth Hostel experience in Budapest and London, we decided on a mixed dorm in Poland! Needless to say, we were not disappointed as met some of the most interesting and inspiring people!
In terms of the actual hostel, I’d highly recommend Patchwork Design Hostel in Warsaw. It was good value for money and the location was very convenient- just 10 minutes walk to Nowy Swiat (main shopping area) and about a 15 minutes walk to the Old Town. It is relatively new and clean- with the 3 shower rooms on each floor as well as a kitchen. The staff was also really friendly giving us recommendations for restaurants and things to do. If you’re into partying, there is also a group you can join from the hostel to go on pub-crawls.
Krakow, however, was a different experience all together. We stayed in Let’s Rock Hostel- which, by the sounds of it should already ring alarm bells. I don’t want to discredit the hostel as it was also good value for money and in a great location- 10 minutes from the Old Town and 15 minutes to Wawel Castle. The only downside was that it looked pretty dodgy and had pretty wild parties in the common room. But I guess some people would actually like that.
How to get around?
As both our hostels in Warsaw and Krakow were pretty centrally located, we could get to most places by foot. We only used public transport a handful of times when we ventured out of the city centre. In Warsaw, there is the metro and bus with one ticket valid for both. In Krakow, you can also take the tram.
What to do?
- Free Walking Tours
There’s no need to book those really expensive tours of the cities prior to arriving. An NGO in Poland provides free walking tours in some of the major cities. They usually meet up in the centre of the city with a flag. It’s free and open to all! You only chip in whatever amount you feel like. We went on three tours in total- 2 in Warsaw (Alternative and Crime) and 1 in Krakow- (Old Town Tour). I really recommend these tours- the guides were all really funny and brought their own twist to the city. This is a really great system because it encourages guides to make the tour really entertaining.
Warsaw Alternative took us to Praga- the most neglected district in Warsaw. It was quite an eye-opener to see the other side of the city. The ‘real’ Warsaw, if I may call it. Warsaw Crime took us around the main areas telling us what crimes happened in that place. In Krakow, we did Old Town tour. Too bad we missed out on the Jewish tour!
I don’t think I’ve ever done these many city tours on previous travels. But I’m definitely going to do them from here onwards because you really do see the city in a different light after hearing all the history (and sometimes tales or myths!).
- Paid Tours
As students, we stuck to mostly free tours. The only paid tour we did was the Auschwitz Tour as it was located outside of Krakow. We went with a company called SeeKrakow which included transport there and back, entry tickets, and a tour guide.
I would recommend everyone visiting Krakow to make the effort to visit Auschwitz. I wrote more about my experience here so I’m not going to go into details.
The tour was good but I felt it was a bit rushed. If you prefer to visit all the different museums within the concentration camp and go at your own pace, you should probably make your own way to Auschwitz.
- Museums and Parks
As Poland has such a rich history, there are many museums to visit. In Warsaw we visited the Uprising Museum which was about Poland’s communist era history. We also visited the Chopin Museum which documents the life of Polish composer Frederick Chopin. In Krakow, we went to Schindler’s factory- was really interactive but the line was really long! But I highly recommend it- it was really interactive and informative. The museum used to be a factory by Oscar Schindler who hid Jews during World War II.
If you have time, visit Lazienki Park in Warsaw. It’s stunning and is a nice change from being in the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
When in Poland, eat like the Poles do! Give Pierrogi Rouski or Russian Dumplings a try- its dumplings filled with potatoes and cheese. That’s the only dish I actually remember! But if I’m not mistaken, there were also potatoes pancakes, and sweet dumplings filled with berries!
Oh and one more thing. Try the ‘Milk Bars’ for some authentic Polish cuisine. They’re really affordable (but also hearty) food. The receptionist of our hostel recommended it to us. You can find these dotted around the city. I think there were around 4 in Warsaw and 2 in Krakow.
We later found out that the food was subsidised by the local council that’s why it was so cheap! These ‘Milk Bars’ are left over from the communist era and is now mostly frequented by students and, wait for it, the homeless!
Disclaimer: I’ve divided my ‘travel diary’ into three section- where to stay, how to get around, and things to do. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. For an exhaustive list of things to do, please visit Trip Advisor. This is simply Poland as how I experienced it and perhaps reading my experience will give you some inspiration!
Here are some pictures for inspiration!