A couple of friends and I have a festive tradition – we go on a Christmassy holiday once a year, usually in early December. We recently realised that we’ve now done this on six consecutive years. Mainly this is down to Dan, who does the booking. Dan really organises the whole trip. We are lucky to have Dan.

This year Dan threw a number of location suggestions at me, which I ungratefully rejected, including cheap flights to Frankfurt, where I go once a year for the book fair. Instead, we chose Kraków, Poland. Here’s how we had a pretty great, reasonably cheap, and totally last minute Christmas getaway. 

The author smiles in front of an illumianted Wawel Cathedral at night
The atmosphere was perfect for a winter mini-break © Katharine Nelson / Lonely Planet

Pre-trip spending

Flights: Wizz Air, £179pp return, London Luton to Krakow (no luggage apart from small backpack included). Cheaper flights to other destinations were available but we were all excited about Poland. I had never been before but knew that, once we were there, food (and, crucially, drink) was probably going to be cheap.

Accommodation: A lovely and spacious two-bedroom Airbnb apartment just a few minutes’ walk from the Old Town was £154 for three people for two nights (£51.30 each).

Friday 7am: We all make our way to Luton airport. I get the train to Luton Airport Parkway. With a railcard this costs £16.90 for an Anytime Return from central London, plus £3.80 for the airport shuttle (also a return).

Total: £251

On the ground


Total: 136.70zł / £27.40

Midday: Our flight lands and we share a taxi to our Airbnb (33.3zł / £6.67 each). We choose to have lunch right by our apartment as by this point we're all starving. Luckily, it’s a great little cafe and we have potato pancakes and ghoulash. One of us is vegetarian and had been a bit worried about this in Poland, but she orders a plate of pierogi ruskie – dumplings filled with cheese and potatoes – and they are delicious. We pay 50.7zł / £10.16 each for the meal, including a round of teas and coffees and some soft drinks.

(NB we tipped 10% for our meals, in cash. All prices for food given here are inclusive of a 10% tip).

On the left are fried potato pancakes and a red goulash with sour cream on top. On the right, an open bread bowl of soup
Hearty winter fare was on the menu Friday; goulash and potato pancakes (left) and sup in a bread bowl (right) © Katharine Nelson / Lonely Planet

3pm: We walk into the Old Town, and wander round the Christmas market. It’s beautifully deserted by Christmas market standards and we eye up various hot drinks and snacks which we’re too full to order right now. Before we can quite believe it there’s a beautiful sunset and we start getting hungry again.

8pm: We opt for dinner at Marmolada, which is conveniently just off the Main Market Square in the Old Town. I order some soup in a bread bowl, and have a couple of beers with the meal, and we share some sides too. The kind waiter puts up with us attempting to say "thank you" in Polish and tries fruitlessly to improve our pronunciation. We pay 52.7zł / £10.57 each.

10.30pm: After dinner, as we’re all apparently old before our time, we walk back to our Airbnb for a relatively early night.


Total: 267.50zł / £53.62

Midday: We tell ourselves that we all work hard and have busy lives so we allow ourselves a little lie-in, and somehow it’s after 11am by the time we get out and about. We manage to get our brunch order in just before midday at Bunkier Cafe on the edge of the Old Town, and have a great breakfast of eggs Benedict and teas and coffees for 29.7zł / £5.95 each.

On the left a chandelier covered in salt. On the right a carved stone figure of a king
Down in Wieliczka Salt Mine © Katharine Nelson / Lonely Planet

1pm: We decide to head to the Wieliczka Salt Mine as so many people have recommended it to us. We splash out on an Uber there rather than the bus: between three of us works out at 16zł / £3.21 each. We have to queue for a while for our tickets, for which we pay 89zł / £17.84 each, but then have a really interesting and enjoyable two-hour guided tour of the mines.

Incredibly, walking 3km of the mines on the tour only shows you 1% of the huge network of tunnels. There are massive chandeliers made of salt, and mass is still performed in an underground church for Catholic Poles who live nearby in Kraków. Due to the acoustics, they also sometimes hold musical concerts down there – around 130m below ground.

4pm: After resurfacing, we head back into town in another Uber (another 16zł / £3.21 each). We opt to buy some drinks and head back to our apartment for a bit, mainly to warm up. We buy mulled wine and some snacks at a corner shop for 14.3zł / £2.87 each.

6pm: After we can all feel our toes again, we brave a night out. We go for drinks at a bar we find in a cool little square called Międzymiastowa, where three cocktails and a shot (it was my misfortune to have recently celebrated a birthday) came to 28zł / £5.61 each.

Several plates in a dimly lit room, included bread bowls and pancakes
Dinner in candlelight on Saturday night © Katharine Nelson / Lonely Planet

8pm: We had booked a table at U Babcy Maliny on a friend’s recommendation. We sit downstairs where a tiny man is playing a massive piano, and proceed to consume a very traditional Polish feast. This comes to 60zł / £12.03 each, including an apple juice and vodka – known as Tatanka or Szarlotka – and some beers.

10.30pm: We head to Alchemia for some more drinks. It’s a busy, candlelit bar and we stay for a couple of rounds of beers, spending 14.5zł / £2.90 each


Total: 278.30zł / £55.78 (including gifts)

11am: We go for a hearty Turkish breakfast, which includes Turkish tea, extra coffees and loads of dishes to try, coming to 36.6zł / £7.33 each.

1pm: We spend a couple of hours wandering around the city, heading to the castle and back to the market, which is much busier today. Two of us get a delicious hot chocolate from Pijalnie Czekolday on the Main Market Square. On the sign it says E Wedel – apparently this is an old family brand, a bit like a Polish equivalent of Cadbury, but fancier. This is a recommendation from a Polish friend of mine and it's incredible – rich and thick, the kind you can almost stand a spoon in. This sets us back 21.50zł​​​​​​​ / £4.31 each.

The author in the tower with the square behind her (left) and a breakfast of olives, hummus, beetroot and cheese on the right
Katharine's sightseeing was fuelled by a filling Turkish breakfast © Katharine Nelson / Lonely Planet

I also buy a couple of small gifts – spending 35zł​​​​​​​ / £7.02 on a beautifully hand-painted ceramic Christmas bauble. This is a mark of how Christmassy I now feel.

4pm: Finally we achieve peak festivity, catching a concert of traditional Polish music in the Main Market Square, and then pay 10zł​​​​​​​ / £2 each to go up the tower for sunset. The sky is a stunning pink and the music in the cold air around us adds a Polish je ne sais quoi.

4.30pm: Suddenly it’s time to catch a taxi back to airport. This time this journey only costs us 26.7zł​​​​​​​ / £5.35 each. I suddenly add a huge expense to the trip by buying two bottles of Polish Bison Grass Vodka at the airport, for 148.50zł / £29.77. Extravagant, but I regret nothing.

We are already planning our return to Poland - I hear Gdańsk and Wrocław are both wonderful places to visit...

On the left, a luminous pink sky behind a tower. On the right, a horse-drawn carriage.
Krakow's main square contributes to the festive atmosphere © Katharine Nelson / Lonely Planet

This was definitely a trip we could have done more cheaply! We really enjoyed our meals, especially at U Babcy Maliny, but could definitely have eaten at more local, less expensive places. We also had some cocktails where we could have stuck to much cheaper beers. And getting a bus to the salt mines would be better if you were by yourself – as there were three of us, sharing a cab seemed worth it for the time saved. The vodka was clearly an extra expense – but very good value!

The final tally

Overall spend: 682.5zł​​​​​​​ /£136.80 + accommodation and all transport (£251) = £387.80

More spending diaries:

6 days in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley
What a long weekend in Brooklyn, New York cost me
What I spent on a weekend trip to Cologne

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