THE ULTIMATE POLAND TRAVEL GUIDE – Warsaw, Krakow, Auschwitz & Katowice

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Poland is one of those destinations that not many people think of visiting at first, but once they do, they fall in love with it. The same thing happened to me. This ultimate Poland travel guide will help you plan your trip to the last detail and hopefully make you as excited about going there as we were.

 

I visited Poland in February 2018 and, speaking from experience, this is not the best season for a trip there. It was freezing cold, minus 20 degrees to be exact, and I had never experienced anything like this in my life. If you don’t want to have to look for shelter every 30-40 minutes just to warm up a bit and start feeling your toes again, then definitely plan your trip during the warmer months of the year.

 

Despite the ruthless weather, we were committed to make the most of our vacation and see as many things as possible. We managed to visit Warsaw, Krakow, Auschwitz and Katowice in just 4 days! I’ve compiled this very long guide with my top recommendations on all things Poland and I hope it helps you organise your trip the best way possible.

Warsaw

Getting there

Our trip began from the capital – Warsaw. We flew from Vienna and landed at Chopin Airport late in the evening. There are a few options to reach the city from this airport:

  • Bus: The bus lines 175 (day bus), 188 (night bus) and N32 (night bus to the Central Railway Station)  connect Warsaw Airport to the city centre. Additionally, lines 148 and 331 connect to other destinations within Warsaw. A single ticket for up to 75 minutes journey would cost you 4.40 PLN (1 Euro). There are also options for daily tickets, group tickets, weekend tickets etc. Read more here.
  • Train: S2 (to Sulejówek Milosna), S3 (to Central Railway Station) and Masovian Railways trains operate from the airport to downtown Warsaw on a daily basis. This is the fastest and most cost-effective way to reach the city. It will only take around 20 minutes and the prices are the same as for the bust. The railway station is located beneath Terminal A. Read more here.
  • Uber/Taxi: We used Uber to get to our accommodation, and it only cost us €10 in total. Taxis would be respectively slightly pricier. If you happen to call an uber, bear in mind there are only two pick-up points and they are not allowed to pick you up from just anywhere. These pick up points are AB or CDE and both are located in the upper floor.We had some trouble finding them, because we had no idea there were strict Uber pick up locations, so definitely ask someone who works at the airport for directions. They are usually very friendly and helpful.

 

Where to stay in Warsaw

Warsaw has a great public transport system which makes things very easy for us tourists. The most attractions, however, are located in the area of The Old Town, so I do recommend looking for a room somewhere around there.

 

Accommodations in Warsaw are quite affordable (just like everything else), and even if you are travelling on a budget, you could afford to stay in a hotel. Head over to booking.com to check the best deals for hotels and get 10% back from your stay with this link.

 

My friend and I rented an Air Bnb room, which was located within a few minutes walking distance from the Old Town. We paid around €10 per night/person, which was amazing for what the place had to offer. Take advantage of our €26 discount for your next stay with Air Bnb by clicking this link! Then head over to their website to check some offers for your stay in Warsaw.

 

Another option would be to stay in a hostel. Hostels provide a great opportunity to meet other travellers and create new friendships along the way. Let yourself experience something new and be more adventurous! Here are some of our top choices with prices starting from as little as €8 a night:

 

 

What to see in Warsaw

The biggest attraction of Warsaw is the remarkable Old Town (Stare Miasto). The place dates back from the 13th century and all the beautiful colourful buildings create such a nice cosy atmosphere.

 

The Royal Castle is right at the ‘entrance’ for the Old Town – at Castle Square. You cannot miss this place as it is a huge open space with a statue in the middle, called Zygmunt’s Column. This is also where the Free Walking Tour begins.

 

 

Main Market Square is the heart of the Old Town. During winter cute little kiosks appear, where you can grab something to eat or drink. In the colder months they also have a small ice rink for all of you ice skating lovers.

 

 

St Anne’s Church is located right next to Castle Square. It is often overlooked by tourists, which is a huge mistake! This is one of the oldest and most notable landmarks of the city. The church had to be rebuilt several times until it received its final Neoclassical facade.

 

The Tower of St Anne’s Church (Taras Widokowy na Stare Miasto) offers a great platform to  enjoy Warsaw’s beauty from above. You get a great view of the colourful Old Town, the residential area, as well as the new skyscrapers.

 

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Another hot spot for an amazing view over the city is the Palace of Culture and Science. This 42-storey building is the highest skyscraper in Poland. An elevator takes you to the 30th floor for a 360° panoramic view of Warsaw for the price of 20 zloty (~4,70 euros). At the top there is also a cafe where you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee. Beware: the rules are first come, first serve, so bear in mind you might have to wait a bit if there is a line for the elevators.

 

 

Head over to the Royal Łazienki Park for a chill afternoon walk. The beautiful gardens and the palace itself offer some breathtaking views and great photo opportunities. The park is very well maintained and extremely peaceful – perfect for a family picnic, a morning run or just a walk to clear your mind.

 

 

Opened in 1727, the Saxon Garden was one of the first publicly accessible parks in the world. It is located right in the middle of the city, offering a great escape from the urban hustle and bustle. It was initially constructed in Baroque style, inspired by the Versailles, but in the 19th century it was turned into a Romantic English-style landscape park. It has been reconstructed a few times, lastly after World War II.

 

The Wilanów Palace, or in other words – the Polish Versailles, is one of the most important monuments of Polish culture. Despite the tough history of Poland during the wars, this building remained almost unchanged from the seventeenth century till present day. The palace showcases the beautiful Polish Baroque from centuries ago and it is one of the most gorgeous sights of the city.

 

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Pace. 🇵🇱 #poland #warsaw

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Where to eat/drink in Warsaw

Indulging in some Polish food is one of the best things you can do while being there. The Polish cuisine offers a wide variety of dishes to try, such as pierogi, gulasz, zapjekanka, to name a few. Here are my top tips for things you shouldn’t miss out when visiting Warsaw.

 

When it comes to food, my biggest recommendation is to eat at a Milk Bar (Bar Mleczni) at least once! These milk bars served as a means of providing cheap but nourishing meals to the population  mostly during the times after World War I and World War II. They still exist to this day and their atmosphere hasn’t changed much. The prices are also extremely budget-friendly – a typical three course lunch can cost as little as 2-3 euro. There is one catch though – usually the people who work there hardly speak any English, and the menus are mostly only in Polish as well. But this only adds up to the authenticity, doesn’t it!? 😉

 

Milk Bars

Pod Barbakanem – Opening hours: Mon – Sun 9am – 5pm

Familijny – Opening hours: Mon – Fri 7am – 8mp, Sat & Sun 9am – 5pm

Bambino – Opening hours: Mon – Fri 8am – 8pm, Sat & Sun 9am – 5pm

Rusalka – Opening hours: Mon – Sun 9am – 5:45pm

Zabkowski – Opening hours: Mon – Fri 7am – 7pm, Sat & Sun 9am – 5pm

Zlota Kurka – Opening hours: Mon – Fri 7am – 7pm, Sat & Sun 9am – 5pm

 

When it comes to restaurants, a great place that we visited was Gosciniec Polskie Pierogi. It’s a very cosy restaurant in the centre of Warsaw which offers traditional cuisine for reasonable prices. I had potato pancakes with pork goulash sauce and oh my goodness… it was so delicious.
Address: Podwale Street 19

 

Further restaurant recommendations:

 

  • Warzsawa Bar & Restauracija – Address: Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street 79
  • Zapiexy Luksusowe (the best ‘zapiekanki’ in town!) – Address: Widok Street 19
  • Pod Zagarem Address: Piekarska Street 20
  • Ceprownia – Address: Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street 7
  • Pod Kogutem (the only place where you can try a traditional sour soup served in a loaf of bread) – Address: Feta Street 48

Coffee shops & Desserts

Established in 1851, E. Wedel is Poland’s oldest regional brand of chocolate. The company produces a variety of high-quality chocolate products and it is well-recognised and respected in the country. We visited their shop and decided to treat ourselves with a cup of hot chocolate. Without any exaggeration, this was the best hot chocolate I have tasted in my entire life. We ended up buying many gifts for our friends and family from their little shop. A place worth stopping by!
Address: Freta Street 13/15

 

Cafe Kafka impresses with its exceptionally cosy atmosphere and beautiful garden. The place is decorated with shelves full of books and board games, which contributes to its unique vibes. They offer a rich and delicious menu, which makes the cafe perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Address: Obozna Street 3

 

 

Pubs & Clubs:

The Alchemist Gastropub was such a great and unique experience for us. This place was the first ever to offer a “Pour-Your-Own Craft Beer Wall” in Central Europe. All you need to do is get a card from the waiters, with which you can get as much beer as you wish from their wide variety of interesting Polish craft beers. My friend and I literally wanted to try every single beer on their wall – that’s how interesting they all seemed. The prices are slightly high for the local standards, but definitely not over the top. We had huge meals, which were also extremely delicious and filling. The place is usually overbooked, so making a reservation beforehand is strongly recommended.

Addresse: Pilsudskiego Square 1-3

 

 

Located on the riverside, La Playa Music Bar is perfect for a summer night out. Lovely music, delicious food, chill atmosphere – what more could you wish for? You might also get the chance to dance some salsa or play beach volleyball.

Address: Wybrzeże Helskie 1/5

 

Level 27 Bar & Club offers some of the hottest parties in town. The bar is located on the 27th floor and provides an amazing panoramic view of the city. Party under the stars and experience an unforgettable night in Warsaw.

Address: Millenium Plaza, Jerozolimskie 123 A Street

 

 

Hints & Tips:

  • Take a free walking tour. After the tour get yourself one of their free maps, which is jam packed with useful information. By showing this map in many restaurants/bars/cafes you can get a free gift or some discount!
  • In many restaurants tips are not included. It is usually expected to leave at least 10% of the bill as a tip for the service.
  • There are strict law regulations. Do not cross the street at a red light (fine :100 PLN). Also do not drink alcohol in public (fine: 100 PLN).

 

Source: Free Walking Tour Warsaw Map

 

Krakow

 

After spending two amazing days in Warsaw, my friend and I headed to Krakow by train. The ride between the two cities takes around 2,5 hours and the tickets can vary from 50 PLN to over 100 PLN. We made a huge mistake by not buying a return ticket in advance, so two days before having to leave, there was not a single spot left on their trains back to Warsaw for the whole day. If you are planning on taking a train anywhere in Poland – book at least a week in advance!

 

Where to stay in Krakow:

We were lucky enough to have had a friend of mine accommodate us during our stay in Krakow for free. Polish people are incredibly friendly and helpful, so if you know someone from there, don’t hesitate to ask them for help! However, if you are not as lucky as we were, here are your options:

Booking.com – check the best travel deals on hotels.

 

Air Bnb offers a great variety of apartments or rooms to rent. Usually you get to have a kitchen as well, which is a bonus.

 

For all of you budget travellers – hostel is a great way to save money After checking the reviews, pricing and location of numerous hostels in Krakow, here are our top recommendations:

 

What to see in Krakow

Just like in Warsaw, the Old Town in Krakow is one of the must-see places for everyone visiting. The Market Square is the main square in the Old Town, also called Rynek Glowny in Polish. It is a huge beautiful square, surrounded by colourful buildings, important monuments and lovely restaurants and cafes.

 

 

St Mary’s Basilica is located at the Market Square and it is the most remarkable building around. The church dates back from the 14th century and it’s a great example of Polish Gothic architecture. The two towers are also open to visitors, but only for a certain period of time. The Mariacki Tower is opened from April until the end of December (tickets 10-15 PLN), and the Bell Tower (the shorter one) is open by prior arrangement from April to October only (tickets 15 PLN)

 

After taking a stroll around the Old Town, head to the Wewel Castle, which is quite close to the Main Square. The castle is full of history as it was once home of the Polish kings and queens, and it is impressive both from the outside and the inside. You can also spot a statue of a dragon (the Dragon of Wewel Hill), which is related to a local legend. Make sure to ask your tour guide or someone local about this legend. 😉

 

 

The Barbican is one of the few remaining relics of the fortifications and defensive barriers that once protected the city of Krakow. It is currently a historic getaway, leading into the Old Town. There are only three such fortifications to be seen in Europe nowadays, and this is considered to be the most preserved one of them all.

 

The Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) has been and remains a very special part of Krakow. There is no other place in Europe that conveys a sense of pre-war Jewish culture on the continent better than Kazimierz. One of the historically important parts of this district is the Ghetto Heroes Square. This place was a scene of great horrors and humiliation – it was the site of families being torn apart, mass deportations, beating, executions… Today the square is used to honor the memory of these people – 33 monumental chairs and 37 regular chairs are lined up in rows as a symbol of the empty seats that the residents of the ghetto left behind.

 

 

Source: discovercracow.com

 

Auschwitz

From Krakow you can get a bus to Auschwitz, which takes about an hour to get there. We went to  Krakow M.D.A. Gorna Plyta Station and waited for the next bus to Oswiecim Museum (the stop is at the upper level). No booking in advance is required, but you can still do so if you want to. We payed 14 PLN per person for one direction.

 

Once I set foot in Auschwitz-Birkenau, everything I had learned about WW2 and these concentration camps became much more than just a chapter in history. It became real. Nothing can prepare you for the feelings and the emotions that are going to run through you as you walk from one cabin to another, seeing all the remains, looking at all the pictures of people, who found their death here, and reading about all the atrocities that took place. It was an emotional and very tough experience, but totally worth it.

 

Something I do not fully support is the extremely high-priced entry and tours around the concentration camp. It may cost you anywhere from 20-40 euros and these tours are usually rushed, you don’t get to enter everywhere you want, and you cannot have any time to yourself to just reflect on everything you’ve seen. However, thanks to a Polish friend of mine, we got to visit Auschwitz for free. On http://www.auschwitz.org/ you can make a reservation for a certain day, which allows you to visit the concentration camp at no cost. There is a trick though – the website is only in Polish (probably because they want to make money from of all the tourists). I had someone make the reservation for me, so sadly I cannot guide you through it, but make use of google translate! Indeed we did not have a tour guide, but we did manage to overhear something from the other groups, as well as read most of the signs and visit all the cabins at our own pace.

 

Katowice

 

After visiting Auschwitz, it was time for us to head back home. Remember how I said there were no train tickets available for the day we needed them? Well… we ended up not being able to catch our flight from Warsaw, so we had to quickly come up with a new plan. We decided to book a bus from Krakow to Vienna, which was going to take around 7 hours, and had one stop on the way – Katowice. This was a perfect opportunity to explore one more city in this beautiful country, so we welcomed it with open arms. We only had 1 hour in Katowice, but the place is not big anyways, so we managed to look around.

What to see in Katowice

St. Mary’s Street is one of the main streets in Katowice. It is considered to be the party centre of the city because of all the bars, pubs and clubs around. At the end of it you will find St. Mary’s Church, which is one of the oldest churches in Katowice, and was built in neo-gothic style.

 

 

The Cathedral of Christ the King is largest cathedral in Poland. It cannot be missed, as its dome stands out from the rest of the buildings.

 

If you are a fan of museums, then the Silesian Museum is perfect for you. It covers the history of the region of Silesia in a fun and interactive way. Entrance is free on Tuesdays.

 

Take a walk around Silesia Park and enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of nature. The park is huge and offers numerous attractions, such as the amusement park, zoo, planetarium etc.

 

 

Time to go home…

We spent 4 incredible days in Poland, which were filled with adventures, beautiful sights, tasty food, history, emotions and learning experiences. We managed to make the most of our visit and see as many things as possible during our limited time there, and I hope this guide helped you organise your trip the best way possible.

 

 

 

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