Updated: Feb 4, 2022
Schonbrunn Palace Gardens, Vienna, Austria ©MDHarding
At the start of each year, we like to sit down to do a rough plan of where and when we would like to travel too. Taking into account the best time of year to visit, what's the weather going to be like? Is it a local holiday or perhaps there is a festival taking place. We like to avoid the crowds and see beyond the tourist hotspots, all those hidden gems that only locals know about.
Like most years this year was no exception, we had a few places that were on the travel list! There are always more places than perhaps you might have the time off work to visit or budget.
Lucky we were able to group some countries together although the cities weren't as close together as I would have liked, to have been able to take advantage of surface transportation.
Drum roll....these were Krakow (Poland), Kyiv (Ukraine), Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna (Austria) and then finally to the Hungarian capital city of Budapest.
We Travelled to five countries in two weeks. Here's how you can do it too!
Five Countries In Two Weeks
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Main Square, Krakow, Poland ©MDHarding
As you can imagine this trip took a lot of planning, with lots of components, some compromises and care. You don't want to be booking accommodation for the wrong city on the wrong dates or even worse a flight on the wrong date.
It's a good idea to get everything down on a piece of paper first. Listing the destinations, what you would like to see and do and perhaps accommodation you have been recommended. Now comes the tricky part, bringing everything together with the dates and flights. We could only fly into and out of two airports from Edinburgh, these are Krakow and Budapest. Then we had to find the best ways to travel to the other cities and join everything up. Accommodation came next and finally, the best part looking into the variety of must-see and do's. I always like to take it a stage further and check where the accommodation is in relation to the airport and what the best way to get there is.
"Failing to Plan is planning to fail" - Unknown
"A goal without a plan is just a wish" - Unknown
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your own wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver
We opted to take backpacks on this trip as we were travelling on local transport, walking short distances and some accommodation only had stair access. Also in autumn, the climate is fairly mild so we didn't have to pack heavy winter jumpers and also we're not travelling through different climates.
Top Tip: I always find you can get in and out of airports much faster with a backpack.
Ticket From Krakow Airport To City Centre ©MDHarding
Based in Edinburgh, Scotland the first leg almost always consists of a flight, and in this case, it was no different. Edinburgh to Krakow, Poland is a short 2 hours 40-minute flight. The flights tend to be almost always the most expensive part of any trip. We booked those a few months ahead of time. Flying Easyjet into John Paul II International Airport only 11km from the city centre. The transfer by train is 30 minutes.
Discovering a traditional small hotel in the heart of the city, which was only a 10-minute walk from the train and bus station. Perfect for exploring and reaching from the airport. B & B La Fontaine here we come.
For more accommodation options for all budgets and dates, I can highly recommend Booking.com I love the flexibility that Booking.Com offers with cancellable, pay on arrival or pay now options.
Krakow is famous for its Pierogi dumplings, beer and historic old town. Outside there is the large Wieliczka Salt Mine with its underground chapels, chambers and lakes, many like to visit Auschwitz and there is also the possibility to take a day trip to the highlands to see the Tatra Mountains and enjoy a spa at Zakopane.
Top Tip: We stayed for three nights and almost four full days to explore. Accommodation providers are generally good and will store your luggage for free until you can check into the room and also kindly store on the last day, so you don't need to lug it around while sightseeing.
After all, that planning, packing and post-flight, it's nice to relax!
Exploring the old town with its fire breathing dragon at Wawel Castle, walk along the walkway of fame, shop inside Cloth Hall, and eat at a recommended restaurant.
The hotel suggested restaurant Ariel located in the Jewish quarter - Kazimierz.
The ancient district of Kazimierz was officially founded as an island by King Kazimierz the Great in 1335. In 1495 Jews were expelled from Krakow and made their home over the river in Kazimierz. Today it is very trendy with indie galleries, vintage clothing shops and hip cocktail bars. The main square has a number of outdoor seating restaurants including Ariel, named after one of the four archangels from the Old Testament, which offers a traditional Polish/Jewish menu including a vegetarian dish of delicious potato pancakes with vegetable sauce. Worth a visit!
Set off early to Wieliczka Salt Mine. We took the local minibus from the bus station and got our visitor ticket on arrival. It's a must-see! The incredible works of art that are carved out of salt and the underground clear blue lake. Returning later by train. We enjoy exploring and having an adventure, as well as our own time frame but if you prefer you can book to go on an organised tour which includes entry fees.
Get Your Guide has some amazing organised tours while visiting Krakow including these ones to Wieliczka Salt Mine.
After a day trip, it's always great to not have to walk too far and get something fresh, delicious to eat with super service. We decided to do just that and dine at one of the amazing restaurants in the Main Square. It's a bit more expensive but the food was amazing and sitting outside on the square with Cloth Hall illuminated was beautiful.
Traditional Wooden Houses in Zakopane, Poland ©MDHarding
A bus ride away from Krakow is the highlands, with the beautiful Tatra Mountains. Known in the winter for skiing, in the autumn it is idyllic with its autumnal fall colours. We booked our bus tickets in advance via the Flixbus website. It was an early start, as we wanted to make the most of our day visit. The Bus takes 2 hours 30 minutes from the bus station and drops you in the centre of Zakopane. We planned to take the cable car to the highest viewing point - Gubałówka Hill, but it was still going through its annual maintenance service. Inside there were taxi vans! Everyone was rounded up and taken on the steep winding road up to the top. The view breathtaking, air so crisp and clean. At the top, we stopped to take it all in while having a warming hot wine. Soon it was time to make our descent. The weather so glorious and scenery to be enjoyed, we opted to hike back down.
At the foot of Gubalowka Hill is the market with many traditional crafts, from slippers to hats and much more! A little further on is the start of Krupówki Promenade, it's like the main street with many shops, cafes and restaurants.
We didn't venture to the thermal baths, an excuse to re-visit (wink).
It is possible to book day trips in advance that include options for the cable car, a visit to one of the thermal spas, such as Chocholowska and guided tour.
Travelling On To 2nd Country - Ukraine
Subway Art ©MDHarding
We set off late afternoon returning to John Paul II International Airport by train to catch our UIE flight to Kyiv Zhuliany International Airport (IEV). The flight was landing early evening and already it was dark outside. The flight had been delayed, so we decided to take a taxi to the Amarant Hotel.
The hotel was quiet, modern and pink! After check-in and freshen up, it was time to find a quick bite to eat. The hotel had complimentary wifi and with the help of google maps discovered a pizza place only 10 minutes walk away. When you're tired, it's dark and your in a strange city with a language that's totally alien to you, it's the simple things in life that are a welcome relief.
There are other accommodation options available in different locations.