I’m going to go ahead and say that Poland is probably not at the top of most people’s holiday destination lists, but it really should be at some point. It’s a fabulously diverse and interesting country with a very rich history and culture.
Maybe, like me, you have a preconceived idea of Poland being a cold and grey place, with miserable weather. This may be true at some times of the year, just as with most countries but the truth is that it is generally quite a pleasant place to be in terms of weather. Yes, it does get very cold in the winter, sometimes reaching -25C or lower but in the summer it can reach above 40C, with many days in the mid-30s. Another thing that I have certainly noticed since living here is that the seasons are more distinct than they were in the UK. In Poland you will experience a proper winter, with snow! There is also a definite feeling of Spring having come after the long, cold winter and then you reach the warm and often humid days of summer which are perfect for relaxing with a cold beer on the main square of Krakow. If you venture outside the city to somewhere like Niepołomice forest or Dolina Kobylanska in Autumn, you will be greeted by a vast array of colours in the foliage.
You can also expect to be served some great food in most of the restaurants in Krakow, and all at great prices. On average I probably spend around 100zl (20GBP) for a 3 course meal for 2 in a decent restaurant, including a couple of drinks. There are a lot of restaurants to choose from in Krakow as well so there should be something for everyone. The Poles are food lovers it seems and the options available are ever expanding, there are a lot of sushi restaurants, numerous Italian brasseries, fashionable burger joints, gourmet food trucks & many, many more options. Of course, if you want to immerse yourself in the culture you have to try traditional Polish food, such as Zurek soup, kielbasa sausages and pierogi dumplings. They are also fans of game meat, so expect a lot of duck & wild boar and even goose. If meat is not your thing, there are more and more vegetarian and vegan options becoming popular. To emphasize the great selection, you should have a look at the Michelin Guide for European Restaurants, which lists 21 of Krakow’s restaurants in 2015.
There are also plenty of good quality hotels to stay in, both in Krakow and further afield around Poland. Although maybe not quite on par with the 5* standards you might expect in the UK or USA, they are very close and actually some are better than the so-called 5* hotels I’ve visited in the UK & USA! If you are staying in Krakow, there is something for every budget from hostels, to suites in 5* hotels or luxury apartments. Some good places to stay are;
Hotel Stary 5* - This is where the England football team stayed during the Euro 2012, so you might end up in the same bed as John Terry or Wayne Rooney (if that’s your thing of course)
Sheraton Grand Krakow 5* - Right on the bank of the Wisla river and next to historic Wawel castle, this is a very nice hotel with great food and service. It also has a great vodka bar!
andel's by Vienna House Cracow 4* - Very well located, right next to the main shopping mall and the main train & bus station. It’s a 5 minute walk to the main square.
Novotel Krakow Centrum 4* - Just across from the Sheraton, so close to the Wisla and Wawel castle and an easy 10 minute walk to the main square. My relatives stayed here when they came for my wedding and all enjoyed it.
Hotel Pod Wawelem 3* - Located right next to Wawel Castle, and a 5 minute walk to the main square. There is also a very popular restaurant here with great food.
Angel Plaza Apartments – My first apartment when arriving in Krakow. Situated behind the Sheraton, so close to the river and Wawel Castle with a short walk to the main square. Includes a gym, sauna and jacuzzi in the complex.
Turnau- Angel City Aparthotel – Self catering apartments which are located close to the main train & bus station (not close enough for the noise) and the main shopping mall. Probably a 15 minute walk to the main square. This was the second complex I lived in.
There are literally hundreds of hotels, hostels & apartments in Krakow so you will be spoilt for choice, no matter your budget or preferences!
If you want to visit the Polish seaside or go further afield, there are also some very nice hotels with interesting histories and excellent locations, some that I can personally recommend are;
Sofitel Grand Sopot 5* - A beautiful old hotel with a rich history, right on the beach and with excellent service.
Sofitel Wroclaw Old Town 5* - A more modern building, but located only 50 metres from the main market square. Comfortable rooms and very good service.
Mercure Kasprowy Zakopane 3* - Located at the base of a mountain in Zakopane, this is a large hotel with easy access to the mountains and town centre.
Hilton Gdansk 5* - Located on the Motława River waterfront in Gdańsk’s Old Town. The rooftop bar has awesome views over the waterfront and the rooms are very comfortable.
I realise that I’ve included a lot of 5* hotels in that list, but if you have a look, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the prices! You’ll be looking at roughly 50% or less of the price of a 5* hotel in London for example. So why not treat yourself?
I may be a little biased but I really think that Krakow and Poland in general are quite often overlooked, but they do have a lot to offer and if you are coming from the UK, Eurozone or USA then the currency exchange rate will probably work in your favour as well.