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One of the most famous European cities to visit during the Christmas period has to be Krakow.
I've had so many friends visit the city, or have Krakow on their list of "definite places to visit", that I actually felt ashamed (as someone with Polish blood in the family) that I hadn't visited myself up to yet.
Finally though, Lloyd and I were at last committed to making the trip, so what better time to do so than when the city is at its most festive?
[A gorgeous accompaniment to my write up. Husband Lloyd has been on the video edits again! Crank up your viewing settings to luscious 4k]
Krakow is not short of places to stay, and for the price per night, I was pretty much blown away.
"Aparthotel Stare Miasto is located at Ul. Golebia 2, just 120 metres from the Main Market Square (Rynek Główny) and 900 metres from the Wawel Castle.
Each and every one of our apartments was built with great care for detail and was designed made to create the best experience for you on your stay. All of our apartments feature air-conditioning, free WiFi, LCD TV and a fully-equipped kitchenette, a refrigerator and an electric kettle. All apartments are serviced daily."
Four nights for two people in a deluxe room at Aparthotel Stare Miasto cost us just £230 (1080PLN), with breakfast included. With flights then only costing £70 each return, and the airport to hotel transfer costing only £7 (32PLN), you've got yourself an incredible European stay for under the cost of one night's mediocre stay in London. Go figure.
Our room was very spacious, with marble flooring, a spa bath, and beautiful exposed brick walls. The living space was open plan with a perfectly functional kitchenette, and a double bed to the far side with incredibly comfortable mattresses.
Note that there isn't a minibar for those of you who like such luxury, however we were very happy with the generous fridge for us to store our own drinks and snacks.
The room also came with several tables to sit at, with one as an ocassional seating area, and one set for dining.
From the hotel itself, you are literally within a moments walk from some incredible eateries, and the main square itself, which during December will be dotted with festive stalls, delicious food stands, and spiced drinks galore. The perfect location.
Breakfasts start from 7am until midday, which is the latest I've ever known a breakfast service to go on until! I definitely recommend including the breakfast in the cost of your room upfront, and it works out at 7PLN per person per day (£1.50) where you get the choice of any "main" from the menu, plus one hot AND cold drink. If you were to pay for breakfast "as you go", then each plate is 12PLN or £2.50pp, with drinks at 6PLN, or £1.30pp.
Not very much, unless you have the appetite of 30 athletes.
One of the major charms of visiting Krakow, and I think Poland in general, is how low the cost of food and experiences are as a tourist.
For an exceptionally hearty two course meal for two people, including the odd vodka shot, soft drink, and beer, you can expect to spend only £16 total (a generous shot of Polish cherry vodka was only 5PLN, or £1!!!).
Many deliciously filling Polish dishes in exceptional restaurants cost only around 25PLN per plate (that's around £5.30), which include bread and Polish lard (Smalec: A delicious pork based pate style meat combo with onions and garlic) starters complimentary.
I enjoyed a VERY hearty polish "sour rye soup" in a bread bowl for 20PLN (around £4), which I could honestly hardly finish, entirely home made, and filled with deliciously fresh and local produce.
The Christmas markets were also full of delicious, traditional Polish foods and drink to enjoy, and again the prices were shockingly low. My favourite Polish beetroot soup, or Borscht, was only 6PLN from a market square stall (£1.28), with DELICIOUS Polish dumplings (pierogi) only 12PLN for 6 (£2.50).
During a short stay in Krakow, I can wholly recommend at least two incredible tours which you should consider taking. I will potentially go through these in their own posts, because actually there is so much to say about both of them, but for now I'll just give you an overview of the cost, and what you can expect.
Please note that this may not be for everyone, and I certainly do not recommend this for families with small children, but I do massively reccomend it for those who are wanting to learn very directly about the harrowing and emotional history of the Nazi concentration, labour, and death camps of Poland in World War II, to get a very close up view of what real life really was like for the victims of the Holocaust.
"Explore the history of the Holocaust and the Nazi concentration camps on a full-day tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau from Krakow or Warsaw.
An English-speaking driver will pick you up from a pre-arranged meeting point in Krakow/Warsaw, and transfer you by comfortable vehicle.
See both the KL Auschwitz and KL Birkenau camps and learn more about their history at interesting exhibitions. Discover more about the UNESCO World Heritage Site as you visit the remaining prison blocks, gas chambers, and crematoria buildings. See the remains of the railway ramp in Birkenau, where the prisoners would arrive to meet their fate.
Experience the horror of the largest concentration camp complex of the Holocaust, now opened as an emotional memorial to over 1.5 million victims murdered by the Nazis."
The tour company themselves arrived punctually at around 7:30am at the door of our hotel, and drove us direct to the site of Auschwitz camp by around 8:45am. On arrival there is a cafe to grab a drink before entering the site.
You MUST be aware that no bags larger than an A4 sheet of paper can be taken around the grounds of either camp tours.
Photography is permitted, however there are some sensitive areas where you are told not to. There are very few, and you will 100% understand why this is the case when you are told (at least you will if you have a heart).
The tour guide we had was incredibly well spoken in English, and extremely direct and thorough with her information. No stone of history was left unturned, hence why I say this may not be for the more emotionally driven people sensitive to this kind of experience.
All in all the tour lasted around 6-7 hours total, which included both camps and a 20 minute lunch break, until returning back to the door of your hotel by late afternoon.
Seriously, it's an experience I shall never forget. We were so very well looked after, an intimate group so the information delivered felt personally delivered. If it's something of interest to you, go learn. Go pay your respects.
Worth every single penny at only 179PLN or £38pp, you can have your very own personal guide pick you up in a classic Polish Trabant, and drive you around the once communist district of Nowa Huta, just 15-20 minutes from Krakow old town.
"A major stop on “communist” tours of Krakow, gritty Nowa Huta is a Social Realist district with huge housing blocks that were built for propaganda purposes. The PRL Museum explores Poland under communism, while the brutalist, volunteer-built Arka Pana Church is a symbol of Polish Catholic defiance of communist rule."
Info taken direct from the Crazy Guides website.
Our driver and guide for the day was 'Agnes', and she was absolutely awesome. She arrived punctually, dressed in 1970s fashion (amazing), and drove the bumbley little Trabbie like a pro.
Agnes was exceptionally knowledgeable and friendly, with a great down to earth sense of humour. The car only came to a halt once, but after a quick switch over to the reserve fuel tank, we were hilariously on our way again.
Food and drinks at both the cafe we visited and 'milk bar' were included in the price of the tour, which is pretty astonishing as the portion sizes of pierogi and borscht at the milk bar were more than we could manage!
Do check out my saved highlight of this trip on my instagram profile to see the tour first hand, and in more depth. It was absolutely incredible. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.
The part where we were taken to a communist apartment "frozen in the 1970s" was such a fantastic touch. It's a museum all of its own. Honestly, you must consider this if you're ever in Krakow yourself.
You can read more about this tour, and the many others that the Crazy Guides have on offer, over on their official website. It's better to book direct, rather than via third party, as the service is faultless and you don't suffer any third party commission.
Visit Krakow. Honestly. It's a beautiful city to absorb culture, enjoy an easy pace of life, and experience delicious foods every waking moment of the day.
As you've read, it's an exceptionally affordable retreat, for the amount of quality and hospitality you receive in return.
The winter months leading to Christmas will bring you the wonder of Christmas preparation, whilst December sees Old Town in full festive bloom, with the sweetest market in Europe to enjoy.
For architecture and history fans - lap it up. Krakow has its castle, the Crazy Guides, and much more to sink your teeth into. Guided city tours by heated car are at every corner too. You've no excuse to learn more.
A few extra tips I'd like to pass on would be:
Tip your service staff. We never had bad service ever, and the appreciation of a tip of your choice is so warmly received.
Learn some basic Polish. It's a difficult one, but learning some basic words like "hello", "goodbye", "please", and "thank you" have the locals showing levels of appreciation through the roof. It feels only polite to do so anyway, of course.
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