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Day trip from Krakow
November 1, 2009 12:46 PM   Subscribe

Day/overnight trips from Krakow?

I will be going to Krakow in a few weeks for a six day visit. I am planning on spending a day each on the Salt Mines, Auschwitz and Krakow itself and am hoping to do a day trip if possible to another major city. Warsaw is an option but I'm also wondering how easy/difficult it might be to instead go to Budapest, Kiev or any other Eastern Europe cities? I am willing to take an overnight train, spend a day in the city and catch another overnight train back to Krakow. I've done a lot of searching on the internet and am having a difficult time finding enough information to make a decision.

Basically, I have come to the conclusion that as far as cities within an overnight train ride distance, the options I have are as follows:

Warsaw, Hamburg, Berlin, Leipzig, Prague, Budapest, Bucharest, Bratislava, Kosice, Lviv, Kiev and Odessa

I've been to Prague and Berlin so those are out for me. Is there anyone who is more familiar with the region who could give me an idea on the travel time (via train) for the other cities? Which ones are more do-able than others? Which ones would be the most interesting to see? Are there any that involve hassles that are best avoided? For example, I've read that Ukrainian customs can hold you up for hours. I am a US passport holder if that matters.

Any advice would be appreciated. I'd like to take advantage of my trip to see another major Eastern European city if possible. Thanks.
posted by triggerfinger to Travel & Transportation around Krakow, Poland (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I did a central/eastern European trip a few years ago - my route went: Prague --> Wroclaw (Poland) --> Krakow ---> Budapest --> Bratislava --> Vienna --> Prague

I took the night train from Krakow to Budapest - this was the only overnight train I took. Budapest is spectacular, but for only a day, not sure how much you would gain from the trip. From what I recall, it was something like 9 hours - we left around midnight, and arrived the next morning. There were two passport checks as we were crossing the borders, with agents coming and knocking at our door in the middle of the night. I remember them being quick and efficient - just make sure you have easy access to them while you sleep.

I liked Bratislava - that you can do in a day. If you do go, make sure to check this out.

I loved Wroclaw - it's somewhat of a sleepy (though 4th largest town in Poland), non-touristy, beautiful town. I'd recommend visiting on a Sunday, checking out some of the old cathedrals on 'Cathedral Island', sitting in on services, having coffee and people watching in the market square, and strolling through some of the many beautiful parks.

In any case, whatever you decide, have a good trip! :-)
posted by raztaj at 1:15 PM on November 1, 2009


Also, if you want to spend a few hours checking a conceived Utopian communist city, take a short bus ride to Nowa Huta and just walk around... The design of the neighborhood still remains pretty much the same as it did sixty or so years ago, and is a pretty interesting contrast to the more intellectual central Krakow.
posted by raztaj at 1:26 PM on November 1, 2009


Day trips to places like Prague and Budapest are a little more feasible if you take the bus rather than the train. The bus is faster, fewer stops, and so on.

My recommended day trips: Gdansk, Zakopane, Wroclaw (can't agree more with raztaj), and Ojcowski Park Narodowy. Warsaw is pretty missable, in my opinion. If you decide to go to Ukraine (I think L'viv would be your best bet), keep in mind that you'll need a visa, a pretty time-consuming process.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:05 PM on November 1, 2009


Also, whilst in Krakow, take the tram out to Salwator. I think the 4 and 14 trams go out that way. It's lovely, bucolic countryside, well worth an afternoon stroll.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:08 PM on November 1, 2009


Forget going abroad to anywhere other than Lviv, on the night train which doesn't stop on the border for hours to change bogies (ex-Soviet republics have different rail gauges from the rest of Europe). US citizens DON'T need a visa - you just get a stamp in your passport when you cross the border.

More details here: "The overnight PKP Intercity train Wroclaw-Krakow-Lviv will take you from Krakow to Lviv in only six hours. It departs from Krakow at 10.39 pm and arrives at Lviv at 6.03 am. The train goes back to Krakow at 23:59 so one can spend 18 hours visiting Lviv and save on accommodation. The cost of a return ticket is 87.80 euro per person in a two-person compartment." Local travel agencies can get tickets for you and mail them to you, or just deal with them over e-mail and pay when you arrive. It sounds more complex than it is, though around Christmas things will be booked up and busier.

However, there's so much to see and do in Poland that it's perhaps worth heading to Wrocław or Warsaw instead, just to keep language and visa hassles to minimum...Warsaw is only three hours away on the fastest train in the country. Zakopane is another option - you could perhaps catch the first whispers of the ski season!
posted by mdonley at 3:54 PM on November 1, 2009


I just got back from Krakow. I second the recommendation of Wroclaw as a pleasant, interesting town to spend some time in. There's a beautiful preserved old cathedral quarter, a lively and large university providing current culture, and in general it's just a nice town. Not spectacular like Prague or Budapest though. Another option you didn't mention is Dresden, that's also quite beautiful and interesting.

Of the places you mention, my #1 suggestion is Budapest. No idea how the trains work, but it's a great city.

One other suggestion; be really sure you want to visit the Salt Mine before committing to it. It takes a long time to get out there, tour, and get back and honestly, I found it pretty underwhelming. A lot of people love it though.
posted by Nelson at 6:26 PM on November 1, 2009


I lived not too far from Kraków for six years and explored Poland and its neighbours regularly during that time.

Your overnight train idea is a good one, assuming that you are set on visiting a different country. Of course, it'll mean another day in a city, rather than a smaller town or the countryside (e.g. Zakopane), but assuming that's what you want, it's an efficient way to go about it. As I often say, the advantage of a sleeper is that it can cut your effective travel time to zero.

However, an overnight trip within Poland would avoid the passport and customs checks in the wee small hours that will disturb your sleep on the way to a foreign capital, so how about Gdańsk? It's about 12 hours on the overnight service, but 2200-1000 isn't too bad and it's a fantastic city, easily one of Poland's finest. If you can cope with a shorter night's sleep, there's a 1am train from Kraków to Warsaw that gets in just after 0600. Warsaw isn't as immediately gorgeous as Kraków, but it has a number of attractions worth seeing.

More civilised sleeping times are available by going to Szczecin (2150-0843) or Świnoujście (2012-0802), which are nice enough places and certainly would get you away from the well-worn tourist rut, but aren't generally considered to be highlights of Poland and you sound like you're mostly interested in the well-known parts.

Is there anyone who is more familiar with the region who could give me an idea on the travel time (via train) for the other cities?

I've mentioned a few outward times, but I'll leave it to you to check out the returns. The PKP timetable can be found here for checking specific destinations (e.g. Budapest), but you might also want to browse through the station departure list from by going here, typing 'Kraków Główny' and entering a time later in the evening (or in the morning if you're flexible about the sleeper idea). Not all trains go every day, so click through if you spot one you're interested in to make sure it's not a weekend-only service or something.

I loved Wroclaw - it's somewhat of a sleepy (though 4th largest town in Poland), non-touristy, beautiful town.

Yes, Wrocław is wonderful, but it's also only 4-5 hours away on a direct train and there are no sleeper services. 4-5 hours is too long for a day trip, IMO.

Day trips to places like Prague and Budapest are a little more feasible if you take the bus rather than the train. The bus is faster, fewer stops, and so on.

The train has beds, which is kind of important for the sort of overnight trip the OP is planning to take!

One other suggestion; be really sure you want to visit the Salt Mine before committing to it. It takes a long time to get out there, tour, and get back and honestly, I found it pretty underwhelming. A lot of people love it though.

I agree that with six days, you might want to reconsider the Wieliczka Salt Mine. If you were in Kraków for 2-3 weeks, it would be an obvious part of the itinery, but less so for such a short trip.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 12:47 AM on November 2, 2009


Thanks for all the great answers. You've all convinced me that Budapest is probably worth its own trip at a different time. Luckily, it's still fairly cheap to go there on a weekend break from the UK.

mdonley - the information you provided on Lviv is intriguing and having always wanted to visit Ukraine, I'm looking into it a bit more. But I am now leaning towards staying in the country for the sake of a more relaxing, less stressful trip. Wroclaw and Gdansk for some strange reason I didn't really consider and both sound great, so I'll be looking at those as well.

On a side note, I'm very interested what some of you have said about the Salt Mines. Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I just kind of assumed it was a must-see, but I've read mixed reviews in one or two other places as well. I'll have to think about that. If I don't go, it would free up a bit of time for me to see Salwator and Nowa Huta, both of which sound interesting.

Thanks again for the great advice and I'm willing to take any other suggestions! I will report back once I have made a decision.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:06 AM on November 2, 2009


Staying in Poland is also cool. :) Gdansk is the best doably-far-away-and-on-a-cool-night-train option. You'd also need to be comfortable with Cyrillic text if you headed to Ukraine, which might just get annoying if you weren't digging the challenge.
posted by mdonley at 11:47 AM on November 2, 2009


I'd agree with your conclusions. If you're UK-based, definitely consider heading out to Budapest another time. Also leave the Ukraine for a trip where a delay won't cause you too much stress.

Since you're staying in Poland, I'll repeat my suggestion of Gdansk as the obvious city option, but do consider non-city possibilities too. Quiet Polish towns are some of the best places in the country, although best appreciated as overnighters rather than day trips. Zakopane has great scenery, but also is a fabulous place on its own merits, with a lot of history and pleasant buildings. It's only a couple of hours away and the buses are frequent.

Krakow in Your Pocket used to be (I haven't used it recently) an excellent, locally-produced guide to the city and nearby attractions. More up-to-date than Lonely Planet plus the places it recommends aren't promptly filled with backpackers.

Oh, and it may sound obvious, but a lot of people seem to fail to anticipate that Auschwitz-Birkenau is a place of the utmost horror which may make you literally despair for humanity. So if you deal with strong emotions by talking about them, have someone with you or a way to call someone arranged. Plan your next day's activities accordingly etc.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:09 PM on November 2, 2009


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