How to visit Poland with a toddler
We’ve just got back from an extraordinary week of travelling around Poland. We were invited to a family wedding over there and I decided that, as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, we should make the most of it. I knew very little before we left, and with hindsight I could have been better prepared (especially as we had a two year old with us), however we still had the most amazing experience. I thought I’d write about our trip and include some tips and resources to help you visit Poland and have as good a time as we did.
Day One-Arrival in Zakopane
We flew from Luton to Katowice in the south west of Poland, and considering it was Finn’s first flight, it went remarkably smoothly (not for the first time, Cbeebies came to our rescue). Our first stop was Zakopane, and although Krakow is nearer, there were no direct flights there from Luton. Generally speaking I went for budget options throughout the trip, however I did splash out on a taxi from the airport to our accommodation. This was a journey of just under 200km and so I thought that it was worth the £110 fare. We could have taken a bus, which although much cheaper, would have taken several hours. The taxi also had the advantage of dropping us off at the door of our hotel. I still think it was the best option for us, although Finn was sick in the car and so we got stung with an additional charge. I was more than happy to give the driver a bit extra (he really wasn’t that sick, it went mostly over himself) but I felt that the £60 fee we were hit with was a little steep. We used Taxi-Transfer, but other companies are available so worth a google.
Anyway, apart from that, the journey was fine and we were dropped right on the doorstep of our accommodation. As we pulled up I was so anxious. I had booked a two bedroom apartment at Apartamenty Jan through Expedia and as it had only cost in the region of £50 a night, I was concerned that it would be a little basic. I really needn’t have worried.
We had an enormous apartment, consisting of a bedroom with tv and en suite toilet, bathroom and then a massive open plan space with bed, tv, dining room and kitchenette. There was also a big balcony outside.
We were within easy walking distance of the town centre, so we headed off for supplies and to get our bearings. Throughout our stay we tended to pick up food from supermarkets and cook for ourselves, although breakfast was available for an additional fee. There are also lots of restaurants on the main street, Krupowki, which is the real focal point of Zakopane.
Day Two-Strazyska Valley
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day and so decided to go for an easy walk. I had been given a map of Zakopane with walking routes before we left so I picked out a valley path as I thought that would be nice and flat for our first outing. With the help of my map (not quite up to Ordnance Survey standards but good enough) and google maps on Luke’s phone we headed to the town centre, and then took Strazyska.
We made it to the entrance of the Tatra National Park, where there are different route options, all signposted. You have to pay an entrance fee to enter the park (5 zlotys or just over £1 each, Finn was free) which I actually thought was a good idea, especially seeing how many tourists visit the area.
It seems that walking is a popular tourist activity in Zakopane and the trails are mostly paved and well sign posted. We followed the path up to the waterfall, and then came back the same way. If you want to carry on, there are several options for routes up into the mountains. There are at least two tourist information bureaus in the town centre where you can also get maps and directions.
When we got to the waterfall, we were a little disappointed. We’ve seen better in the UK, although it did make us laugh that there was a queue of people waiting to take selfies in front of it.
It had been a great first full day and we headed back to our luxury apartment after covering about 10 miles in total (we may have had a beer on the way home) already loving Poland.
Day Three-Kasprowy Wierch
Zakopane is best known as a ski resort, and its’ most popular tourist attraction is the cable car up to the top of Kasprowy Wierch. This 1987m high mountain sits impressively overlooking the town and I knew that we just had to get to the top. I had heard horror stories of people queuing for hours to get on the cable car, however we risked it and just turned up on the day. Just after lunch we took a taxi from the centre, which cost about £5, and probably only queued for about 45 minutes which was entirely manageable. It is possible to buy tickets in advance online if you don’t want to queue at all.
The ride up takes about 15 minutes and you get great views along the way. We arrived at the top and to begin with I was a bit disappointed by how busy it was. There’s a restaurant and shop, plus ticket office and there was so many people coming and going. It also felt really weird getting to the summit with so little effort, I felt like we hadn’t really earned it! With a return ticket you get 1 hour 40 minutes at the top, which was plenty to have a walk around and admire the spectacular views.
It was good to see so many families at the top. We certainly wouldn’t have got Finn up there without the cable car. If we were on our own, we would have explored a bit further, maybe walked down or even hiked to another summit. As it was, I enjoyed sharing the experience with our toddler. He may not remember, but hopefully he’ll look back on photos when he’s older and be able to see where his love of the outdoors started!
Day Four-Polski Bus Adventure!
On day four we got up early and sorted our room out. I had loved staying in Zakopane, but it was time to head north to Krakow. I handed our keys in and asked reception to call us a taxi, once again I was treated to spectacularly disinterested levels of service (my only complaint with our accommodation) but a taxi did arrive quickly. I had bought bus tickets online via Polski Bus , which was remarkably easy to do and incredibly cheap. The two hour journey to Krakow cost about £16 for the three of us (and I paid extra to sit around a table). Bus travel in Poland was a revelation: clean, modern buses with wifi and a toilet. In fact, I would recommend Polski Bus wherever possible. Once again, thanks to the wifi, we could entertain Finn with CBeebies and I caught up with some blogging.
Once we arrived in Krakow, we took a taxi straight to our hotel. I have to say we don’t usually take taxis everywhere, they were just so cheap! I had planned for this to be a bit more of a luxury stay after our budget accommodation in Zakopane, so paid the princely sum of £99 to stay at the Radisson Blu. I wasn’t expecting to be able to check in as it was early afternoon, however after only a short wait we were allowed into our room. Our stay was fantastic from start to finish and I loved the fact that we were only a few hundred metres from the main square. The day we arrived it was hot, about 30 degrees, and after the bus ride and our active couple of days in the mountains, we just wanted to relax. Also, as everything had been so cheap, we hadn’t spent as much money as we anticipated. So we decided to take it easy (I know, not like us!). We sat in the main square drinking beer and watching the world go by. It almost felt like a holiday!
We had a quick look around St Mary’s Basilica, but we mainly just sat and ate.
We ate a slap up meal, of steak and wine on the square and felt thoroughly spoilt. We returned to our room for an early night to mentally prepare ourselves for the next stage of our adventure.
Day Five-Seven hours on a train (with a toddler!)
We got up early and went down to the restaurant for breakfast. I have to say that I’m not the biggest fan of Polish food (after a week I was craving something fresh), but it was mostly ok. Our breakfast in Krakow, however, was a confusing affair! There was everything, from fish and cheese to smoothies and eggs, to muffins and cereal. Plus a few mystery items that we never did find out what they were! Anyway, we managed to find enough to satisfy us and prepare us for the seven hour train journey ahead. I admit, I didn’t actually realise how big Poland was. I was quite blase when I was planning this trip, only for the reality to hit me hard! We had to make our way north to the exotically named Wronki for the wedding. I booked our train tickets online, you need to set up an account, but after that it’s quite straightforward and there is an English version. As with the bus tickets, they were good value, costing about £30 for the three of us. I was dreading it, but the train was straightforward once we’d found the right platform and Finn was an absolute star. A couple of hours of CBeebies and a few walks up and down the train kept him happy, as did continuous snacks. There was a screen in the carriage that told you how far to the next station, so I knew where we were. We just had normal seats, but there were also compartments with six seats in each, which are handy if you’re travelling with a group. There was also a buffet car available and a lady went up and down with a trolley a few times. As we travelled north the weather got worse and worse, with pretty much wall to wall rain. After the glorious sunshine we’d had, it was a bit depressing.
After seven hours we arrived in Wronki, and it really did feel like we’d been dropped in the middle of nowhere as we had to walk across the tracks to the to the tiny station. Fortunately, transport was arranged for us, so we headed off to Chojno, our final destination.
The wedding was to be held in the small village of Chojno. We, and several members of my family, stayed in a hostel nearby. Gosciniec Europa is a new business, offering basic accommodation to people coming to the area for walking, fishing and other outdoor pursuits. It wasn’t luxurious (our sofa bed was rock solid) and most rooms had bunk beds with a small shower room. It was, however, clean and the owner was a great guy. There was a communal bar that was a brilliant place to meet and chill over a beer or two, we also ate breakfast and lunch here. There was a small play area and trampoline for children. On the morning of the wedding, the owner (whose name I never got) took us out for a walk to look for mushrooms. I have to admit that I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful.
As we headed out of the woods, we came to a lake. A little along from this view, there is a little man made beach with play area and also a bit of the lake that is sectioned off for swimming.
We then headed back for a hearty lunch (there’s no other kind of food in Poland!) and to get ready for the wedding. In order to preserve the modesty of certain family members, I can’t say too much about the wedding. Let’s just say, that the sheer amount of vodka had quite an effect! If I can, I will try and find the video clip of the DJ playing Despacito on an accordion. It was a sight to behold.
Day Seven-The return
After a night of merriment, we all had a lie in and a rather relaxed breakfast. We then headed back to the reception venue for another crack at all the food that was left over. I’m sure they’re still eating it now! All too soon it was time to head back. Our flight was at 8pm from Poznan to Luton, a really stupid time to even consider flying with a toddler. However, like all week, Finn was a trooper, and despite a bit of whinging he was brilliant. I have to say that our Freeloader child carrier was a lifesaver. We took it on the plane and it was perfect for transporting Finn when he was so so tired and threatening to tantrum. In fact, all week long that carrier was amazing. As you can see in our photos we took it everywhere,we both agreed that we would never be able to do this sort of trip without it.
All in all it was a fantastic and memorable trip. I loved Poland and we both agree that we would love to go back. Zakopane is a great base for any outdoor lover, it’s touristy but there are not many english speakers there so it still feels remote. If you don’t like crowds you’ll have to work a bit harder and head off the beaten track. Krakow was also impressive and I would love to spend more time there.
Have you ever visited Poland? What did you think?