How to get the most out of a week in Poland on a budget? Travel by train from Krakow to Gdansk via Wroclaw and Poznan. There are much more to Poland than Krakow, Gdansk and Warsaw, and Polish trains are comfortable, easy to book online and on time. Join me on my one week of train travel in Poland.
FOUR CITIES IN POLAND BY TRAIN
What to do when your travel budget is limited and only one week to spare, but have an urge to explore something new and exciting? Book a cheap flight to Krakow in Poland, travel by train to Gdansk and return home by another cheap flight.
I had heard great things about Krakow. And off course, as a bit of a history nerd and World Heritage Site collector, a visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau had been on my bucket list for a while. Gdansk was also supposed to be a beautiful city worth visiting. Travelling directly between them by train was no problem – but it would take me a full day. Could there be any other interesting sites in between to split the journey into shorter distances? Yes.
As always, Google and Pinterest were my best travel advisors. A good 3 hours north of Krakow was Wroclaw. European Capital of Culture in 2016 and small dwarfs scattered around town. Looked like an OK place to spend a night. To and a half hour further north is Poznan. The historical capital of Poland with a beautiful old town. Yep, another nice place for a night en route Gdansk.
My itinerary was ready:
- Krakow: 3 nights
- Wroclaw: 1 night
- Poznan: 1 night
- Gdansk: 3 nights
KRAKOW – SIGHTSEEING AND BRUTAL HISTORY
Arriving Krakow in the evening, leaving in the morning meant I had two full days to explore this rather large and interesting city. The first day I woke up early, headed out of my hotel in the old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, and walked towards the Jewish ghetto from WW2. I stood silent for a while at Plac Bohaterów Getta (Ghetto Heroes Square), taking in all the 70 iron and bronze chairs symbolizing the horror of holocaust.
When I came to Wawel Castle by the riverbank of Wisla, my first coffee of the day was way overdue, and I sat down at a café on the castle square taking in the massive medieval construction. a and near the old town. The rest of my first day in Krakow was spent roaming around the old town and getting lost trying to find my way back to Kazimierz.
I booked a half day excursion to Auschwitz-Birkenau for my second day. Met up early at the assigned bus stop next to the castle and shared the experience of learning about the horrors that happened in the largest concentration camp with two lovely couples from England and Ireland. Back in Krakow I spent the rest of the day sightsee Kazimierz and have a sun-downer on the main square. I managed to get a glimpse of most of the things Krakow has on offer, but only a glimpse.
WROCLAW – A MISJUDGEMENT
Leaving Krakow, I felt a bit down. I had had a few very hectic days and the last days of sun this July holiday according to the forecast. Entering the train on 2nd class in the humid weather I wished I had booked 1st class on this leg too – without knowing what any of the classes meant. By any means, 2nd class was not at all that bad, it was just that it was hot and humid outside, and the compartment was full and lacked ventilation. The scenery was not something to write home about, endless grain fields and a village here and there. Pluss, it started to rain.
Still a bit out of it, I entered Wroclaw Glowny (station) and walked straight towards the first tourist information I could see. 10 minutes later I came out with a plan and a smile in my face. There was a Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali exhibition in town and my hotel was located right across the street from the station. After walking into town, understanding why Wroclaw was named European Capital of Culture 2016, visiting the art exhibition and having a delicious lasagne for lunch on the main square, I headed straight back to my hotel and checked if I could stay another night. I had misjudged Wroclaw to be a one-day-destination. This was a place I wanted to spend more time in. I was too late for cancelling the train next day and my room in Poznan without cost, but luckily train and hotel fares are very reasonably priced.
Its beautiful architecture on the squares, the chill atmosphere, few tourists, street art on basically every second street and hospitable people where exactly what I needed after a busy year in a new job. I kept my room for two days, strolled around, read my book, ate and drank beer. And what about the rain? Only showers now and then!
POZNAN – BEAUTIFUL MARKET SQUARE
From Wroclaw to Poznan I had booked 1st class tickets. Not only the second time I booked tickets for this part of the journey, also the first time. It was a completely different train experience from the one two days before. I got an airconditioned compartment with 6 seats all to myself. The only minus was seats that could not lean back. Two and a half hours later the train rolled into Poznan Glowny.
Feeling way more uplifted than upon arrival to Wroclaw, my feelings turned soon enough. Poznan station was located a bit away from the old town where my hotels was, but not further away than I could have walked. It did, however, take me ages to get out of the station and the shopping centre it was located in. Once outside, my google gps did not want to play and I kept walking in circles on a busy junction. A while (and some shopping) later I managed to find a taxi who took me into the main square, I was able to check in early and as I had lunch at the hotel’s street restaurant the sun came out.
The rest of the day was spent walking around the old market square, admiring the beautiful decorated buildings, the town hall and the bright coloured market houses. I went over to the oldest parts of the city where the Poland was founded, and into the modern part of town. The main square in Poland was maybe the most interesting of the squares on this trip, and well worth a visit. Compared to Wroclaw, where I easily could have spent a few more days, one night is enough here.
GDANSK – GREAT WEALTH AND TOURISM
Gdansk Glowny was more of a typical historic railway station than Krakow and Poznan, but more run down than the one in Wroclaw. After going in circle for about 5 minutes, the gps and I finally agreed on the route to the hostel where I had booked a single room for two nights.
That first afternoon in Gdansk I just walked around in the rain and understood immediately why accommodation was pricier here than the other cities – I were queuing behind tourists everywhere. Scandinavian tourists. After almost a week without hearing a Scandinavian language, it was weird being able to follow all the conversations around me. Combined with the rain and wind it almost felt like I was back home already. I did not mind at all that I gave up one of my nights here to Wroclaw.
The next day the weather was slightly better, and I met up with a “free walking tour” of the historic Gdansk. Learning about the wealth of the city, the different beautifully decorated buildings and how it destructed during and reconstructed after WW2 was worth every euro I paid in tips to the guide. I tried to follow a tour about the Lech Walesa and the end of communism, but the guide did not manage to keep my attention. The sun was finally out and I found a great place for lunch, tasting the best pierogi filled with duck meat.
MY POLISH ADVENTURE
My spontaneous Polish adventure had come to an end. The last morning a pre-ordered taxi picked me up at 05:00 to drive me to the airport. I had just been there a week, but Poland had crept underneath my skin – I wanted to come back and tell everyone else to go. No matter what you read or what anyone tell you, do not hesitate on going on a train travel around Poland. Most railway station are at least as up to date as the Norwegian stations and the trains are pretty much the same – the only big difference is the price. Travelling by train in Poland is definitely value for money – Wroclaw to Poznan in a 1st class, 6 seat, compartment cost approx. 8 euros. And do not forget the people. Poles are very kind and hospitable, reason enough to go back.