A tale of 2 Cities in 3 Days
Touch down in Warsaw, Poland and you can quickly catch on to imagining what it was like in the communist era, from the architecture of the buildings to the colour scheme of the country i.e., browns, beige, creams etc. However, this does not make the city dull or unattractive. You can see the direction in which the country is heading; away from the suppression of communism and diving into building a modern, more inviting city that the new and future generations will happily live and thrive in.
For part of this trip we stayed at the Marriott Bonvoy Warsaw, which was a lovely, modern and bright hotel that has 20 floors and gives a wide spread view of the city; we were on the 8th floor. It has a small gym with all sorts of equipment that I personally did not know how to use, as well as a sauna and spa facilities. The people at the concierge were very friendly and polite and always willing to help. I noticed that on their name tags they had what activity they were passionate about which made me feel more comfortable and made them more approachable. In addition, the hotel was a great location to walk into the city centre and to main train stations.
On our first day in Warsaw we explored the modern part of the city where we went up the Science and Cultural Palace, which seemed to be very popular with schools as well as tourists, as the queue was never ending no matter what time you went. With only one lift working the wait was long going up and down. We spent 15 mins surveying the view from all 4 sides. You need good weather and no queue to make this worthwhile.
As it started to rain we made our way to a popular chocolate cafe called Wedel, located all across Poland. They had a variety of things on the menu from savoury to sweet as well as Wedel Polish chocolate products you could buy. We bought a hot chocolate tin and a bar of milk/dark chocolate which was very nice.
For our first evening we decided to have dinner in the hotel which was a good choice because the food was SO good. I had a club sandwich which was a task in itself trying to work out how to eat because it was so big but it was worth it, for sure.
Warsaw’s new city may not sound so interesting but wait till you see the Old Town, which you cannot miss! It was colourful and the buildings were beautiful with intricate designs on them. Every corner and every street you went down was so photogenic. It was very enjoyable to walk around and this is what I was waiting to explore and discover about Poland.
If you like the sound of Warsaw’s Old Town then you must hop on a train to Krakow which is in the south of the country. We stayed at the Puro boutique hotel, located opposite the train station and less than a 10 minute walk from the city centre. The hotel room was chic and really promoted being eco-friendly but in a subtle way. In my opinion, I liked Puro over the Marriott Bonvoy because it had more charm but still had everything a quality hotel should have.
In terms of Krakow as a town, the best way I could describe it was that at times you felt like you were in Italy, which is alway a good sign (if you love Italy). It had the main square with lots of shops and restaurants around the border with little streets leading off in different directions. They had unique traditional shops that were great to buy souvenirs in.
You could find little stands dotted around the square that would sell ring bread bagels that were specific to and could only be found in Krakow and they were delicious. We also spotted a place that sold filled sweet donuts and they were really good too, they were fluffy, fresh and cheap. Furthermore, you could opt to see the town in a traditional horse drawn carriage ride if you didn’t feel like walking.
Even in a small town like Krakow the night life was lively and busy with people. In the evening we sat down to have dinner in the square (it was hard to choose where to eat) and enjoyed embracing the atmosphere with good food before we headed back to the hotel, to a comfy bed!
Seeing Krakow and the Old Town of Warsaw was the highlight of the trip because there was more to see. I wouldn’t say you need a lot of time in Poland, maybe 3-4 days, but it is worth visiting. If you might have crossed Poland off your travel bucket list then I would say to put it back on and plan a short getaway; if not to Warsaw then definitely to Krakow.
Poland was not at the top of my list of places to go. But it should have been!
The country is lush and green, has the largest square in Europe, mixes modern and old architecture in comfortable harmony and the people are friendly and welcoming.
We began in the capital Warsaw and then ventured a little further to the city of Krakow.
Staying in a central location at the Marriot Westin Bonvoy, the old city and sites were within walking distance.
Our first stop was the stunning Science & Cultural Palace, a gift from the Soviet people to the Poles. This huge soviet building sits surrounded by tall skyscrapers, yet its immense presence is in stark contrast as it soars into the sky. It is one of the only remaining symbols of Poland’s past.
Arriving on the 30th floor viewing platform, the 360 ° views across Warsaw were well worth it. The red rooftops of the old town jostle for position with slim elegant skyscrapers; huge advertising boards cover the sides of buildings and the varied rooftops of domed churches rise above facades of neo-classical buildings.
With rain and a sharp breeze, the only place to go was a coffee shop… but not just any coffee shop; you have to experience ‘E. Wendl Chocolate Lounges’. We headed to the lounge on Ul. Szpitalna 8. With opulent décor of a gone by era, the coffee was smooth and the chocolate divine! There was much more to Warsaw to discover, which we will come back to later!
The following morning, we took an early train from Warsaw Central Station to Krakow. This was not the intercity train, but more reminiscent of a 1940’s era train with compartments seating 8 and a long corridor allowing easy movement along the carriages. Our journey took us through green fields and small chalet style villages and in just over 3 hours we arrived in Krakow.
Our stay was at the modern boutique PURO Hotel right opposite the train station. A champion of eco-friendly hotel operations, our room was elegant, simple, yet cosy and all room requirements were operated via an in-room tablet. Located just 7minutes from the old city it was a perfect location. With a fresh and delicious varied buffet breakfast spread, it was all you needed to set you up for the day.
Krakow was Poland’s 1st capital and rightly so! Its old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We entered via the Barbican, a striking circular building with slim turrets built between 1498-1499. It is one of only 3 such fortified outposts to be found in Europe.
The old city starts from the arch of St. Florian’s Gate, the only remaining gate of the 8 that once surrounded the city. Built in the early 14th century, it is part of the Royal Route through the city and has many arts and crafts on display for sale along its walls.
Already Krakow was stunningly beautiful and as we walked along the bustling pedestrian Florianska Street, we enter the largest medieval city square in Europe, Rynek Główny.
It really took your breath away; the scale was amazing. In the middle sits the magnificent Cloth Hall, the original market, which today is a colourful haven of stalls selling souvenirs, jewellery and handicrafts, compared to the past offerings of textiles and spices from faraway lands.
There are several sights to see within the square itself including the Town Hall Tower, the oldest church in Poland, St. Adalbert’s Church and the stunning modern sculpture called ‘Eros Bound’ which depicts the head of the Greek God of love and desire, lying horizontally on the ground. Bandages cover his face, symbolising the god's imprisoned desires. It is a striking site set against the variety of architecture within the square itself.
The square boundaries are packed with coffee shops and restaurants with outside seating, while horse drawn white carriages take tourists on rides of the city. Flowers were blooming from every lamp post and you really had to ask yourself ‘Am I in Poland?’. The mix of gothic and renaissance architecture, along with a feel of chic Paris and Southern Spain entice you to explore and discover more.
Also within the square is the imposing and impressive 13th century St. Mary’s Basilica which is set at an angle, as it was there long before the square layout of today.
With many roads leading off each corner of the square, you are spoilt for choice. He headed to Maly Rynek (meaning Small Market Square), which is tucked away behind St. Mary’s Basilica, cosy and colourful and not to be missed.
Strolling down the cobbled streets we past the Church of St. Peter and Paul, with its highly decorated façade typical of the Baroque style and the first of its kind in Poland. The striking fence is what draws you, with 12 huge statues of the 12 apostles on high plinths.
Continuing along the Royal Route, we reached Wawel Hill and Wawel Royal Castle. Alongside is the Wawel Cathedral, where Polish kings were crowned and buried and was the most important temple in Poland for over 1,000 years. The coloured stone, different architecture all just fitted together while creating an impressive site.
Surrounding the old city is a ring of green trees and plants, creating a rural feel to the city and offering much needed shade from the hot afternoon sun.
We reached the Pope John Paul II bridge that straddles the Wisla River, before heading back into the town via the Kazimierz area, which was reminiscent of rich Paris suburbs, although the many Synagogues gave away that it was the old Jewish Quarter.
At night the Rynek Główny comes to life in a different way; live music plays from the doorways of restaurants and as the sun sets, the rich terracotta coloured buildings glow. The choice of cuisine is plentiful and the atmosphere has a real buzz to it.
One thing to be sure to try in Krakow, as they are only available in the city, nowhere else in Poland, are the ‘Krakow bagels’, delicious circles of bagel/pretzel style bread with a variety of toppings. These are sold from small street kiosks.
Krakow also has a different variety of filled doughnuts, from the traditional ones found in Warsaw. The ‘Dobra Paczkarnia’ shops sell just these and believe me it is hard to choose which filling to try first!
The following morning and in just under 2hr45mins we arrived back in Warsaw Central Station having taken the fast intercity train. Like most European rail services, they were easy to use and on time as well as being value for money.
We headed back into Warsaw Old Town which we had yet to explore following the bad weather on our first day. The sun was shining and the city was celebrating a national holiday of Corpus Christi.
The old town is small and delightful, full of narrow cobbled streets and pretty painted medieval houses. It is hard to believe that this whole area has been completely rebuilt, in its original form, after being totally destroyed during WWII. It is a huge testament to Poland’s strength and pride and it is no wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our summer stroll took us past the Royal Castle on Plac Zamkowy. Its tall spire making it hard to miss and in the square centre sits the tall column with King Sigismund III Vasa ontop; who moved the capital of Poland from Krakow to Warsaw in the 16th century.
St. John’s Archcathedral façade is easily seen above the city roofs, and is just as impressive as you walk by the narrow street it sits on.
At its heart is one of the prettiest square I have seen, with all 4 sides decorated with colourful tall townhouses, reminiscent of Belgium or the Netherlands.
At its heart is the city’s guardian, the Warsaw Mermaid ‘Syrena’.
The Presidential Palace is located along the Royal Route, a wide paved avenue with beautiful churches and elegant townhouses all along it, together with cafes and restaurants.
There was indeed so much more we would have loved to see but our plane awaited. The good news is that we must return to Poland to continue to discover, explore and enjoy even more of both these amazing cities. And we advise you to do the same too…
‘Two Cities in Three Days’ is possible and even at a relaxed pace - you will not be disappointed!