The former royal capital of Poland, Krakow remains at the heart of the country's cultural heritage and tradition. The busy university and thriving tourist trade create a lively cosmopolitan scene, making Krakow a great destination for a cheap city-break.
Staying in Krakow
The high standard of Krakow hostels is excellent news for travelers looking to explore the city on a shoestring. With many clustered in the central Old Town and with some of the most affordable beds in Europe, good cheap stays are easy to find.
The best of the old school Krakow youth hostels is probably Flamingo Hostel, which caters to a young backpacking crowd eager to explore the city's renowned café and nightclub culture and offer organized activities to help kick start a few days of partying.
But for whatever reason, Krakow has a supply of some seriously swanky flashpacking hostels. Which means that budget travelers can stay at Greg & Tom Hostel, or the impeccable Miss Sophie's and make the most of their luxurious settings and top-class facilities.
Culture and history in Krakow
In the heart of the Old Town, the Rynek Glowny (marketplace) is a convenient center from which to explore the city's historical roots. In addition to standard exhibitions such as the Academy of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum, Krakow has plenty to offer visitors regarding its own past.
The History Museum of Krakow (Rynek Glowny 35) and Galeria Autorska Andrzeja Mlecki (Stolarska 8) provide a glimpse at the - sometimes dark - politics and history of the region.
Travelers preferring to save their budget for Krakow's restaurants and nightlife can reserve museum visits for Sunday, when many are free to enter.
South of the Old Town lies the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz which, although it is no longer home to many who practice the religion, retains the landmarks and heritage of this culture.
From the banks of the Wisla River, the regal architecture of the Wawel Castle overlooks the city. Inside the castle, the art and tapestry collections are lifted by the extraordinary grounds and picturesque views of the nearby gothic Cathedral. At the southwest corner of the castle walls, the dragon's den, and home of Krakow's legendary menace, slopes along the riverside.
The winding streets of the Old Town are lined with independent shops teeming with visitors, particularly around the main commercial strip of ul. Florkainska.
Alternatively, Kazimierz's renowned flea market between Al. Daszynskiego and Siedleckiego is a great place to pick up a bargain or to soak up the atmosphere of this ancient corner of the city.
Brand new malls have also sprung up and the 300 stores of Galeria Kazimierz (Podgorska 34) are sure to satisfy even the keenest shopper.
The surrounding area
And things to do in Krakow aren't just limited to the city itself. Not far away is Auschwitz - an inevitably melancholy, but ultimately worthwhile, trip. Frequent and inexpensive bus and train services run from the city center, although the size of the camp and its museum can require a whole day to explore. There is also the larger camp at Birkenau a few kilometers away.
Another less somber remnant of the region's past can be seen at the ancient salt mines of Wielicka which is now a fascinating museum. Nearby Bochina is another complex of historic mines (with a slightly cheaper entrance fee).
Ultimately, it's this concentration of things to see and do in and around Krakow that makes a trip to the city so special. Wherever you go, there's history, culture and stunning attractions at every turn.
Before settling down and becoming a copywriter for HostelBookers. Paul Scottyn did a backpacking tour of Poland , he checked out a variety of the country's budget accommodation, including a number of most Krakow hostels .