Last summer I thought about making a roadtrip to Italy. We ended up in Poland. Why? Because, Poland is less travelled, less hot ánd our beloved Berlin is on the way. So I saved some Pinterest pictures of places that seemed nice, and a fabulous plan appeared…
Germany roadtrip hits
Living next to Germany, it’s a country I’ve passed many times. Hardly considering it as a destination. But if you start looking up highlights, you find out there’s more to Germany than Oktoberfest en der Schwarze Wald! Especially the Bavaria region… this is beau-ti-ful. Unfortunately not really on the way to Poland, so skipped it this time. But keep it in mind for any upcoming trips to whatever south-east European country.
Our first stop: Kiesgrube in Neuss (Dusseldorf). Our German friends know how to put up a party, not only in Berlin, but a bit closer to the Dutch border as well. Kiesgrube is legendary. A little lake, a piece of sand and the most creative stage with the best artists for only €15 . Each Sunday during summer season this mini-festival is hosted. If there’s any possibility to visit, we will. So when crossing Germany to go to Poland, I made sure to pass Kiesgrube at the right time. Kiesgrube only happens with good weather. Parking is €5, there’s no ATM, and a Mc Donalds is closeby. 2,5 hours from Amsterdam by car.
After Kiesgrube one has to sleep somewhere, this turned out to be a little touristy village Soest. Perfect for a layover before heading all the way to East Germany. Especially because of the City Motel Soest (1 night, €40). Very nice and new place. There’s a good Italian restaurant just across the street, so save yourself from checking each menu on the expensive and touristy main square as I did.
Saxony – Konigstein
Oh my.. In my search for road trip inspiration, I encountered the most stunning pictures of an arched rock bridge… Looking mysteriously beautiful and unreal. Later I found out this is the ‘Bastei’ or ‘Bastion’ , part of a former defence wall carved out of rocks in the area Saxony. So, this should be another stop on our trip! And I’m so glad I went here, this whole Saxony piece of land is stunning! I stayed on the camping in the fairytale village Koningstein.
There are plenty of tracks to make hikes in Saxony.. so where tostart? We walked from the camping in Konigstein to the Bastei in Rathen in about 1,5 hour (after ferry crossing). Without a map it was a bit challenging, but what an experience! Corn fields, table mountains, the Elbe river, juicy forests with little streams… how come I didn’t know about this before? And of course there’s the rewarding Bastei-bridge on the end! On the base of the bridge, you find some souvenirs shops and restaurants. There’s also a lake where you can rent rowing boats.. to make it all even more dreamy. Take the ferry again to Rathen and go back by train. Fun! We spend two nights on camping Koningstein (€17, small tent no reservation needed).
And than, you get to Poland for the first time in your live to find out it’s actually pretty similar to the Netherlands (home country). The flat landscape, blue traffic signing and spotted cows … it doesn’t look that different from home! Of course romantic villages like Krakau and Gdanks are typical for Poland, we don’t have those. Same with the gigantic concrete buildings- a communist leftover. Still, I figure Poland is on the same path as other West-European countries, it’s just a bit behind.
This makes for a enjoyable experience. I recognize things from my youth, still normal in Poland (like parking problems at the zoo :p). Also, everywhere I went, there are many local tourists. Foreign tourist are rare, which is actually my favourite situation while travelling! It means there will be touristy facilities everywhere, like trails and accomodations, but you are still drowned into the local culture. I only found this in Malaysia as well.
In the far south of Poland, you find the highly valued Tatra mountains, with the village of Zakopane. I expected a back to basic, quite area… You know, which you find at most European national parks. I was more than surprised to bump into massive crowds here! Apparently the Tatra’s are the main holiday destination for the Polish. We Dutchies take the family to a lodge next to the sea, the Polish take the whole family hiking in the mountains. And not just a stroll around the park, no, hikes of 4 or 5 hours straight uphill!!! It was so funny to be part of. Still smiling over the memories. Of course, the nature was beautiful as well. But the whole happening made more impact to me.
So where to stay and where to hike in Zakopane?
There are copious amounts of hotels and rooms in and around Zakopane (needed with all those crowds :p), there’s actually only one hostel, which is the Good bye Lenin Hostel I stayed. One of those places which adds to your whole travel experience. In this log hut, there’s a homely living room and kitchen and the staff gives you the best information. In Tatra, everyone tends to go to the Morskie Oko lake, which was high on my list! But after hearing about the crowds (imagine festival shapes) and the ‘hike’ along a straight concrete road, we opted for a different route. Find the route on the right: along the roads it says the time. Beware: most roads are made out of big stones, very exhausting to walk! Zakopane is 30 mins drive from Krakau, roads can be busy! Spend here two nights.
Everyone knows you can have fun in Krakau. The village is very picturesque and there are countless yummie restaurants to choose from. There’s the Jewish neighbourhood Kazimierz to find some more resto’s. Everything is really cheap and looks super nice! Actually the value of this city lies in wandering around and enjoying the food. Krakau is a very small town and after a couple of hours I was finished with exploring. Also the party-scene is very limited. I made a great effort of finding a good club, but it doesn’t exist, because most is touristy. The nicest spot to hang out is Forum Przestrzenie. We wanted to stay at Camping Smok, but opted for Freedom Hostel due to forecasted rain. Stayed three nights (€85 incl bf).
What to do around Krakau?
Luckily there’s a lot to do around Krakau to keep you busy! There are the main high/lowlights, Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt mines. The first one sadly enough a gigantic tourist attraction. Of course the location can’t fail to impress, but other tourists not paying attention to the guide and making selfies stand in the way of the integer experience. The Wieliczka salt mines are pretty but get spoiled as well by her popularity. Enormous cues to get in, waiting for other groups in the underground corridors, puppet, light and sound shows to make it more of an attraction… too bad! So what do I recommend?
- rent a bike and cycle to the Skaly Twardowski Park to watch the incredible turquoise colour of the lake! You can hike around it, find a chill spot or just exercise while riding your bike (unfortunately no swim in the lake)
- take public transportation to the Zoo! students pay only €2 and what a fun experience it is! Animals are cute everywhere, but again, this is a popular attraction for local people and it’s so much fun to join them 🙂
- the Ojcow Park was the biggest surprise of my trip. A small, fairytale like national park formed of rocks, a stream, castles an many caves. The park is very quite, pretty and you can spot beavers! Find here a useful map. There are some hotels and cafeterias in the cute little Ojcow village. Find out how to get here. There are hikes of 1 hour or more.
After our visit to Ojcow park, we drove to Torun for a stopover on the way to Gdansk and Sopot. A nice village with cobble stone streets, not very special. A bit like Soest 😉 After the restaurants of Krakau you get spoiled, in Torun the places were less cosy and more expensive. But still, had a nice time. One night in Historic Torun Central Rooms (€19). Park outside the centre.
Both villages are all the way in the North of Poland along the Eastsea. Gdansk attracts many tourists for her looks, Sopot for her beachy vibe. I didn’t spend that much time in either of the villages, and the more at the beach! After 2-3 hours in Gdanks, you’re done. It’s difficult to find a nice place to eat here as well, very different from Krakau!
I stayed in a Airbnb flat (3 nights), which appeared to be one of those giant concrete buildings, repainted with funny figures in an attempt to make it less sober. An interesting experience to stay in such a neighbourhood! From the flat it took 30 mins walk to the yummie beach. Closer to Sopot, there are more beach restaurants and lounge clubs. That said, Sopot is famous for the parties, but after spending a lot of time finding thé place to go, I gave up. Poland doesn’t stand out for her partyscene. But that doens’t matter a bit if you are on the way to the party capital of the world…..
What’s more to Poland?
On the map you find some more highlights which we didn’t went to. The national parks in the east are stunning, but take a long time to get to! We also didn’t go to Warschau this time.
Hello again my BFF! 😀 The seventh visit to Berlin and had a fantastic time as always! I went to some clubs I haven’t been before like Birgit und Bier, Ipse, Ritter Butzke and Prince Charles (because of Detroit Swindle who didn’t show up in the end). And how I looooooved them! Especially Birgit und Bier is like a crazy little wunderland. This is actually a bier garden, but there were also about 4 rooms where DJ’s were playing. Great Atmosphere! At Ipse there’s one stage, but also it’s great!
Because of very nice weather we went swimming in the Weissensee, which is a natural lake very close to the centre. It was pretty busy here. Close by, there’s the abandoned children hospital… of course we went there as well. Find some pictures below. You can just climb over the fence and wander around the various buildings. Read my blog post on Berlin for the best advise you can get on abandoned buildings and clubs. Stayed in Airbnb in Neukoln for three nights, free parking here! Make sure to go in the weekend to Berlin for the parties.
Berlin was a perfect finish of the roadtrip!