My second trip to Poland included the historic city of Kraków, Wrocław – the second largest city in Western Poland, and the tiny village of Piechowice – hometown of my wife, Edyta.
I cannot rave enough about Poland along with the other former Eastern Bloc countries I have visited thus far. The people of these countries are welcoming, fun and many speak English. Few are more welcoming than Poland. The Polish are fun-loving people with an amazing sense of humor and can party better than the Irish. The food is to die for and if this isn’t enough to make you want to go to Poland consider this – Poland is still a great value for your U.S and Canadian dollar when you convert it to the Polish złoty. Kraków is consistently listed as one of the five least expensive cities to visit in Europe.
WHERE TO STAY: You must stay at or near the main square – a massive pedestrian only city block lined with restaurants, bars, shops and people. In the center of it all is the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), a gallery and market. The upper floor contains a museum of 19th century Polish paintings and sculptures.
The city center is a short walk from the main train terminal. If you fly into Krakow you can catch a quick train from the airport into the main train terminal.
Aparthotel Stare Miasto is an apartment hotel a block off the city center in Kraków for under $70 USD a night in February. Currently, you can book this room pictured below during the second week of June 2018 for $103 a night.
Address & telephone number: Gołębia 2, 31-007 Kraków, Poland +48 12 427 57 94
EAT: The Polish love to eat as much as they love to drink. For this one particular trip, I was glad Edyta was able to speak and read Polish. As we walked just a few steps from our hotel we came across a sandwich board sign that looked intriguing. It read Gospoda Koko. An incredibly affordable Polish restaurant with charm, large portions and holds some great surprises.
As we walked in the door we noticed Gospoda Koko had the tiniest dining area I have ever seen in my entire life. We panicked as every table was filled. But, Edyta kept her cool and asked the server (in Polish) if this was their only seating area. He waved her on and we followed him to a secret passageway down the stairs to what seemed to be a dungeon; and then suddenly, the room opened up into what could only be described as a castle parlor. The server extended his hand and Edyta thanked him for the help. We walked past tiny nooks and crannies of this amazing restaurant and until we came to the kitchen-dining area shown in the pictures below. You would never know this amazing chasm existed unless you entered the restaurant from the side alleyway instead of through the main city center entrance.
“Full Dinner” (pelny obiad) with soup and main course is 14 zł ($3.75 USD). They also serve breakfast and are open very late. Edyta once had a layover in Krakow, landing at Krakow airport at 11pm and still had enough time to train it to the city center and enjoy dinner at Gospoda Koko.
Address & telephone number: Gołębia 8, 30-001 Kraków, Poland +48 12 430 21 35
Pictured Above: Pierogi Ruskie 8,50 zł‚ ($2.21 USD), Plate of Pickles, Zupa Grzybowa (Mushroom Soup w/ bread)
DRINK: Now that you have loaded up on food in preparation to party in one of the best European cities known for its nightlife, it’s time to get your drink on! For a starting point, or to reload between clubs, hit up Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa (“Pump Room” of Vodka & Beer). Locals and tourists come here for $1 shots of the best vodka you will ever drink, and plenty of beer that’s cheap as well. Here you will also find really interesting vodka concoctions – we tried “wściekły pies” (mad dog), a vodka shot with raspberry syrup and Tobasco – definitely a unique (but delicious) experience.
Address & telephone number: Świętego Jana 5, 33-332 Kraków, Poland +48 797 980 405
Now that you have a nice buzz going, why not stop by Piwnica Pod Baranami (The Cellar Under the Rams) , the famous Parisian-style cabaret cellar that has been around since 1956. Many a poet and artist have been known to sit and enjoy a night or two in the cellar.
Address & telephone number: Rynek Główny 27, 30-001 Kraków, Poland +48 12 422 01 77
We concluded our night at Stalowe Magnolie, a swanky little spot with an interesting interior and a cigar bar. We lucked out as Stalowe happened to have a famous 80’s Polish punk band playing that night. We stayed and had a blast listening to the band play its list of hits to the delight of the packed house.
Update: Stalowe Magnolie is Permanently Closed.
Polish Fast Food: For an extra special treat after a night of Wódka and Piwo (Vodka & Beer), try what the Polish consider fast food: Zapiekanka – a polish pizza/open-faced sandwich that usually has mushrooms and cheese with ketchup on top, but there are many other options including onions, bacon, salami, ham , spinach, etc. So good.
THINGS TO DO: Kraków is one of the oldest cities in Poland, and unlike Warsaw, which was modernized by Russian Communist Era architecture (code for boring ugly buildings), it has maintained its medieval core that is breathtakingly stunning and gives you that ancient European vibe travelers crave.
The Wawel Royal Castle and Wawel Hill are a must see while in Kraków. These two sites constitute the most historical and cultural sites in Poland. For centuries starting in 1333 with the reign of Casimir III the Great, Wawel has been the residence of kings of Poland, served as the symbol of Polish statehood and now the Castle serves as one of the country’s premier art museums hosting five separate sections: Crown Treasury & Armoury; State Rooms; Royal Private Apartments; Lost Wawel; and the Exhibition of Oriental Art. Each requires a separate ticket.
FREE ADMISSION DAYS (only for individual visitors):
- Mondays–April 1: October 31 (9.30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
- Sundays–November 1: March 31 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.)
– Free admission pass must be collected from the ticket office.
Address & telephone number: Wawel, 30-001 Kraków, Poland
DAY TRIPS: There are two must see day trips from Kraków: the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz -Birkenau Memorial and Museum. We didn’t have the opportunity to travel to the salt mine since we were only in Kraków for 28 hours. Instead, we took a bus to the Auschwitz Memorial and walked the grounds for free. *Note, the memorial & museum admission is free of charge. The line up is for the the audio tour, which you do not have to purchase. The grounds are full of historical artifacts and lengthy information panels in each building in a multitude of languages; you will not be starved for information.
Getting There: For the cheapest mode of transportation you can take a bus from the main Kraków bus station (ul. Bosacka 18); most stop at the Auschwitz Museum entrance, but not all, so make sure beforehand otherwise you may end up at the Oświęcim bus station which is at the other end of town. The journey takes 1hr 40mins and costs 12zł. BTW-we couldn’t stop talking about the bus trip back from Auschwitz for the rest of our journey as it was hilariously dangerous. We had a touring-style mini-bus and our driver thought it was a Ferrari; he took us down winding mountainous roads (that were extremely narrow) like Jackie Stewart . When we weren’t white-knuckling the seats and holding our breath we were laughing out loud and eyeing each other; the back seat was a bad choice.
If you would like a less rambunctious tour to and from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum or to the Wieliczka Salt Mine we recommend Auschwitz-Krakow Tours.
If you can’t make it to Kraków, the next best option for a big Medieval Polish city is Wrocław. Situated in the southwest section of Poland, Wrocław is the fourth largest Polish city. It boasts the most bridges in Central Europe and has the second largest market square in Europe only to Kraków. Wrocław is full of beauty, engineering marvels and an equally energetic nightlife thanks to a very large collegiate population.
SLEEP: When in Wrocław we stay with family thus I have never stayed in a hotel within the city. However, if I were to pick a hotel it would be Centrum Dikul Hotel a great upscale accommodation in central Wroclaw, just fives minutes from the Market Square. The recently renovated cutting edge accommodations gives it a true European feel. They offer a free buffet breakfast, free WiFi, and free parking.
Currently, you can book a room during the second week of June 2018 for $103 a night.
EAT: Kurna Chata, a hidden gem, but within the Market Square, this quaint and homey bistro serves up generous and delicious fare. Order the pierogies.
Address & telephone number: Odrzańska 17, 50-113 Wrocław, Poland, +48 71 341 06 68
THINGS TO DO: The Dwarf Crawl Whomever came up with this idea needs to be given the key to the city. It is by far the best and most entertaining way to learn about and get acclimated with Wrocław. There are now 165 dwarfs scattered around the city as well as the surrounding suburbs; they hide among the streets and narrow alleys, eluding the sight of passers-by. They are usually near or on the property of a famous landmark, pub or restaurant. You can grab a Dwarf Map at any of the Visitor Centers scattered around the city and they even have their own website: http://krasnale.pl/en/ that lists the names of the dwarfs along with their locations in the city and a brief explanation of their pose. Our favorite dwarf was Pierożnik… the Pierogi eating dwarf.
Warning: The hunt becomes highly addictive; be sure to keep your strength up by stopping for some piwo (beer) and pierogi throughout the day, and expect to be hunting dwarfs well into the night. You will not be able to contain yourself from posing with the dwarfs.
People Watch: Wrocław market square is the second largest in Europe, so why not pull up a chair at an outdoor cafe with a glass of piwo, wódka or coffee and just watch. Sometimes sitting in the middle of all the hustle and bustle can be quite serene.
Catch A Soccer Game: Wrocław Stadium is one of Europe’s most modern elite standard stadiums and as such has hosted the European Football Championships – UEFA EURO in June 2012. It has a capacity of 42,000 and is surrounded by an external promenade. Śląsk Wrocław is the resident football club.
Bar Crawl: Wrocław has amazing food and drink options. Instead of forking over money to go on a walking culinary tour why not create your own bar crawl.
You can start at Spiż. Located in the heart of Market Square, Spiż is one of the first Polish micro-breweries. The biggest attraction: watch as they make their 500-year-old beer recipe from scratch.
Address & telephone number: Spiż, Ratusz 2, Wrocław, Poland, +48 71 344 72 25
Next take a 1 minute stroll over to Piwnica Świdnicka (Schweidnitzer Keller in German) the oldest restaurant/bar in Europe. It is located in the basement of the Old Town Hall in Wrocław located in Market Square. Imagine the secrets Piwnica holds within her walls. For over 700 years this restaurant has been visited by kings, queens along with artists such as Chopin and Goethe. Have a shot of fine vodka here as I did and be whisked back in time.
Address & telephone number: Piwnica Świdnicka, Rynek Ratusz, Wrocław, Poland, +48 789 091 686
Next set foot on a 5 minute stroll to Setka. Taking inspiration from the time of Soviet occupation Setka unabashedly covers every square inch of this hip pub with Soviet Era propaganda. The food and beer however are all Polish…inexpensive, tasty and satisfying. Get the pierogi plate, the pickle plate and the tartar to fuel your crawl.
The next bar, Czeski Film, is a 10 minute walk away, but that’s okay by now you might be getting tipsy. The expression “czeski film” is the Polish way to explain a situation when “no one knows what is going on.” You have the 1970’s Czech comedy Nobody Knows Nothing to blame. The film was so popular it spawned the Polish phrase. If you didn’t know, the Polish have an amazing sense of humor and they love metaphors. To use this film title as a metaphor for something literal is priceless. Yet another cave style underground bar, but as the saying goes “When in Poland…”
Address & telephone number: Czeski Film, ul. Kiełbaśnicza 2, Wrocław, Poland, +48 71 342 25 49
Now off to Czupito a shots, shots, shots kind of bar. You might think about ending your Pub Crawl here, however, with a belly full of rainbow shots there is probably nowhere better to go then PRL.
From experience I can tell you that once you drink too much vodka the Polish language starts to sound a lot like Russian. So, what better place to go when you are nearing a distorted state of mind than PRL. You will be met with a design of old USSR decor and traditional Polish food, with dishes such as “galaretka” aka jelly chicken, bread with lard and pickled cucumbers. Just in time too, for food is key at this point of the Crawl. Great place to end with live music, dance parties and karaoke. The events change nightly, so be prepared to have fun.
Address & telephone number: PRL, Rynek Ratusz 10, Wrocław, Poland, +48 71 342 55 2
Piechowice and Surrounding Cities
Located 10 kilometres (6 miles) southwest of Jelenia Góra, and 104 kilometres (65 mi) west of the regional capital Wrocław, Piechowice as of 2006, has a population of 6,494. This is a “village” town where my wife and her family are from. It is small but there are a few hidden gems on the way to or from the Czech Republic.
Piechowice is known to many cyclists for it’s excruciating training hills. It is in the perfect location in the South Eastern Region of Poland. The town sits at the right point of an almost equilateral triangle making up the three point area of Piechowice, Jelenia Góra and Karpacz. To the North lies Jelenia Góra, a mere 14 minute drive. It is a fairly big city with smaller yet delightful market square, tons of pubs and restaurants line the square. To the South East lies Karpacz a ski and spa town situated in the Karkonosze Mountains. Karpacz is a less expensive alternative hiking, skiing and spa retreat to the Alps. It has a population of 5,000.
THINGS TO DO:
Alpine Coaster: The most fun you will have on a ride. You are on a sled (with hand brakes) sliding on a track from the top of the hill. *Tip – Let the person in front of you get a giant head start. This will allow you to fly down the mountain without having to brake. Also, purchase the 2 passage ticket. The first ride is just a learning experience; the second ride is when you will learn to fly.
Opening hours: from 15.04 to 31.10. 9am – 6pm, from 1.11 to 14.04 hrs. 9.00 – 17.00.On Sundays and public holidays, the tour starts at 11.30.
1 passage ticket – 9 zł
2 passage ticket – 16 zł
5 passage pass – 35 PLN
10 passage pass – 55 zł
Address & telephone number: Centrum Rekreacji i Sportu Kolorowa Sp. with Oo ul. Parkowa 10, 58-540 Karpacz +75 76 19 098
Wang Temple (Vang stave church): Originally, this wooden church was erected in the Norwegian town of Vangsmjøsen, where its name comes from, in the 19th century. King Frederick William IV of Prussia purchased the church at the request of the Countess of Bukowiec (his Norwegian wife), and erected it on the Giant Mountains of Karpacz. The church was dedicated on July 28, 1844.
Inside the church are the original wooden elements made of Scandinavian pine: 4 corner pillars, 4 internal columns, 2 columns in the entrance to the choir and portals have been preserved from the original Norwegian construction. Temple of Wang itself is widely known as the church of happy marriages.
Opening hours: from 15.04 to 31.10. 9am – 6pm, from 1.11 to 14.04 hrs. 9.00 – 17.00.On Sundays and public holidays, the tour starts at 11.30.
Ticket prices: normal – 8 zł, reduced – 5 zł, entrance to the church square – 1 zł.
Address & telephone number: Na Śnieżkę 8, 58-540 Karpacz, Poland +48 75 752 82 90
A Great Place For A Drink or A Hot Cocoa: Bar Harnasiówka
Just a minute or two down the hill from Wang Temple on Na Śnieżkę, you will find a quaintly situated Bar Harnasiówka.
Nothing says living the dream like getting an ice cold piwo (beer) in a chalet at the top of a ski mountain. This little gem has a warm and cozy inside area and an outside sitting area for the brave. If you sit outside you will be rewarded with the smell of cooking sausages. Just a little bit down the hill on the right you will find a warm cheese stand called (oszczypek). It tastes like hot Gouda and it not only hits the spot on a cold day, but it will fuel your high altitude hiking for hours.
ORLINEK SKOKI NARCIARSKIE (SKI JUMP): After the war, Karpacz was returned to Poland from Germany. A sky jump was built in 1962, but collapsed during a storm. The current rendition of the jump seen here was built in 1978, then modernized in 2000 in preparation for the Junior World Ski Jumping Championships. The current record of 94.5 m (310 ft) belongs to Adam Małysz aka the “Flying Mustache”, who is one of the most accomplished ski jumpers in history, and a Polish cult hero.
The jump is no longer in use, but for a small fee you can climb the steep steps to the top (now you know why ski jumpers are so thin), and take in the view of any Olympic Silver Medalist. You can also zip line down from the jump for an additional fee. *Warning the ski jump sways in the wind and if you are afraid of heights this will terrify you.
Address and telephone number: Olimpijska, 58-540 Karpacz, Poland
SKIING & HIKING: During the summer you can use the lift to get 2/3rd s of the way up to Śnieżka. You can find rates, hours of operation and location of the chair lift here: Kopa. This chair lift brings you up the ski hill in the winter. Keep in mind the ski hills in the summer make for great hiking trails.
Address and telephone number: Karpacz Sp. z o.o., ul. Turystyczna 4 58-540 Karpacz +48 075 76 19 284
Śnieżka is magnificent summit that stands on the border of the Czech Republic and Poland. At an elevation of 1602m and is the highest summit in the Giant Mountains, in all of the Sudetes as well as Czechia. On the Polish side a disc-shaped observatory and restaurant was built in 1974, a weather station and the St. Lawrence Chapel. However, the observatory and restaurant were destroyed in a storm in 2009. Both are now permanently closed. If you are going to make the trek to the summit which will take 3 hours one way from Karpacz you will need to bring proper clothing, food and water as the climate can change at any moment at the summit.
ALL KARPACZ SKI LIFTS (Ski Hills): Here is a list of all ski lifts and links in the Karpacz area.
WHITE RAVINE (BIAŁY JAR) WINTERPOL
tel. 785 160 604, 506 198 421, www.winterpol.eu
- 6-seater cable car, length 650m, altitude difference 100 m, capacity 2800 persons/ hour, illuminated, artificial snowing
- Tape ski lift, length 50m, capacity 900 persons/ hour
SKI RESORT ŚNIEŻKA
tel. 75 76 19 284, www.kopa.com.pl
- Euro – T-bar lift, length 705 m, capacity 1400 persons/ hour,
- Grosik – T-bar lift, length 863 m, capacity 1200 persons/ hour
- Jan – T-bar lift, length 418 m, capacity 500 persons/ hour
- Kubusiowy Stok – tape ski lift, length 50 m, capacity 300 persons/ hour
- Liczykrupa – 2-seater cable car, length 924 m, capacity 1400 persons/ hour
- Liczyrzepa – T-bar lift, length 846 m, capacity 800 persons/ hour
- Złotówka – 2-seater T-bar lift, length 747 m, capacity 1200 persons/ hour
SKI STATION UNDER WANG (STACJA NARCIARSKA POD WANGIEM)
tel. 75 76 10 908, 601 571 195, www.podwangiem-ski.pl
- 4-seater cable car, length 400 m, capacity 2400 persons/ hour
- T-bar lift, length 200 m, capacity 700 persons/ hour
tel. 75 76 19 098, www.kolorowa.pl
- Kolorowa I – T-bar lift, length 370 m, capacity 150 persons/ hour
- Kolorowa II – T-bar lift, length 100 m, capacity 100 persons/ hour
tel. 607 110 468, www.wyciag-karpacz.pl
- Karpatka I – T-bar lift, length 350m, capacity 750 persons/ hour
- Karpatka II – T-bar lift, length 350m, capacity 750 persons/ hour
KARPATKA SKI PANORAMA
tel. 600 418 885, www.karpacz-ski.pl
- BabyLift – T-bar lift, length 80 m, capacity 300 persons/ hour
- Karpatka Ski Panorama – T-bar lift, length 310 m, capacity 500 persons/ hour
CENTRE OF ACTIVE RECREATION UNDER ŚNIEŻKA (CENTRUM REKREACJI AKTYWNEJ POD ŚNIEŻKĄ)
tel. 602 271 204, www.saneczkowagora.pl
- Centrum Rekreacji Aktywnej Pod Śnieżką I – T-bar lift, length 135 m, capacity 600 persons/ hour
- Centrum Rekreacji Aktywnej Pod Śnieżką II – T-bar lift, length 80 m, capacity 450 persons/ hour
- Saneczkowa Góra – T-bar lift, length 100 m, capacity 450 persons/ hour
tel. 783 959 868, www.stokrelaks-karpacz.home.pl
- Czarodziejski Dywan – tape ski lift, length 66 m, capacity 360 persons/ hour
- Relaks – T-bar lift, length 273 m, capacity 520 persons/ hour
tel. 75 76 18 277
- Lodowiec – T-bar lift, length 180 m, capacity 150 persons/ hour
- Lodowiec-Bobo – T-bar lift, length 164 m, capacity 200 persons/ hour
SKI LIFTS (WYCIĄGI NARCIARSKIE)
- Bambino-Ski – T-bar lift, length 100 m, capacity 120 persons/ hour, tel. 605 107 334
- Łosiówka – T-bar lift, length 110 m, capacity 160 persons/ hour, tel. 75 76 16 020
- Maciuś – T-bar lift, length 203 m, capacity: 750 persons/ hour, tel. 503 131 030
- Żółwik – T-bar lift, length 70 m, capacity 120 persons/ hour, tel. 537 679 370
Karpacz is a beautiful city anytime of year, but it really seems to come alive in the winter. I have been there both for the winter and the summer and enjoyed my time spent. In the winter you have skiing, cross country skiing, ice skating, tubing and hiking. In the summer you have mountain biking, hiking, the Alpine Slide (open year round) and beautiful scenic views of the Polish landscape.
SLEEP: One of the biggest hotels in the area the Hotel Gołębiewski w Karpaczu will have everything you need for a wonderful ski or summer hiking holiday.
AirBnB: You can also check out AirBnB for available houses and rooms for rent.