A trip to this quaint old town is unbeatable for students on a budget, writes Daryl Bolger
Krakow is a tourist’s dream; with its virtually unrivalled old town (Vilnius comes close), excellent and affordable nightlife, and abundance of high quality hostels, it is perfect for students on a budget.
Not many sites were included in UNESCO’s very first list of world heritage sites, and even fewer cities were included, yet Krakow’s entire old city made the cut. Once there, it is not hard to see why it was bestowed with such a prestigious honour. The main market square, Europe’s largest medieval square, dates back to the thirteenth century and has to be seen to be believed. Bustling with locals and tourists alike, it houses traditional markets next door to chic designer outlets, with the odd elderly, wrinkled woman selling bread from a cart, thrown in for good measure. Otwo based themselves in the superb Flamingo Hostel just off the square. With rates from €3 a night on promotion, staff that bake cakes for the guests just for the sake of it and a free pub crawl every night, there’s no better hostel in Krakow. Not only this but they will also organise any tours you may wish to partake in, including one that includes AK-47 shooting, if that’s your thing.
The landmark most people will visit Krakow to see is Auschwitz. The most infamous of Nazi concentration camps is a short bus journey outside of the city. Visit in the depths of winter and the bitter cold will only add to a harrowing experience that will leave an indent on your conscience for some time. The site is well-run and the guides are keen to see that the atrocity is remembered. The exhibits are disturbing to say the least, but this is something everyone should see in their lifetime, even if it is just to ensure that we never allow it to happen again.
The Wieliszka Salt Mine is often visited straight after Auschwitz, perhaps to take people’s minds off the grimness of the experience. Home to, amongst other novelties, a cathedral made entirely of salt, it is a tourist attraction like none other. Guests will be brought on a tour of the mines (make sure not to queue in a group, as there is a separate entrance for this), which were operational until 2007. The tour can drag at times, but many of the sights are exceptional – a carving of Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ in a salt wall being one of the highlights. Do not just take our word for it; famous Poles Copernicus, Pope John Paul II and Chopin have all paid the mine a visit. It’s an interactive experience too – you can lick the walls and floors if you so wish.
Most hostels will organise a free pub crawl for you, and this being Poland, free vodka is in abundance. Clubs typically open very late with students’ favourite ‘Kitsch’ catering to revellers until a ridiculous 11am. Situated on the top floor of a dirty-looking old building, the stock advice given to new patrons is to “go straight to the top and don’t look at anyone.” “Just like being in Skins” is one way to describe a night in the club; it is split into a few rooms with one dedicated to filthy electro, where climbing on both the stage and speakers is explicitly encouraged. The bathrooms are vile and the clientele are a mixed bag, yet Kitsch is a very special place and no trip to Krakow would be complete without a visit; you’ll understand why once you have been there.
With the country hosting the party that will be Euro 2012, there will not a better time to visit Krakow than this summer; the city and indeed the country are buzzing with anticipation. With Krakow not hosting any matches, May is the perfect time to plan a trip to the Polish metropolis, as the city gets excited about their country’s upcoming matches.