Historic Poland & Ukraine: A 1-Week Itinerary
As part of the territory separating Europe from Asia, Poland and Ukraine have seen a hotbed of geopolitical activity over the centuries.
Conquests, invasions and migrations have each shaped its peoples and culture, leaving indelible marks of historic significance throughout.
Here’s a short itinerary to take in both countries’ complex and poignant past:
Day 1: Krakow, Poland
There are lots of places to see in Krakow, this is a city steeped in history, dating back to the 7th Century.
Join the Old City walking tour in the morning to understand the city’s evolution from a trading centre to a former capital of Poland, to a European capital of culture today. In the Main Market Square you will stop in the shadows of the towering gothic St. Mary’s Basilica and Old Cloth Hall, before hiking up to Wawel Cathedral, perched on a hilltop.
Join the Jewish Quarter tour in the afternoon, where you will see how the city became a key settlement for the Jewish faith from the 12th Century. The tour will take you through the former Jewish ghetto, etched out during Nazi occupation, and you will hear stories about the city’s famous Jewish residents—including the Krakovians who protected them during WWII. (Be sure to visit Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory, now a museum)
Between your historic excursions wander down the famous Florianska street, the city’s main pedestrian area. Sample some nationally famous Pierogi dumplings at the 24/7 Przypiecek, and dine at Morskie Oko, a rustic Polish eatery.
Day 2: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland
(Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, Photo Credit: Tej Parikh)
Auschwitz-Birkenau, a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps built by the Nazi’s during WWII, is a mark of humanity’s evil.
(Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, Photo Credit: Tej Parikh)
The daytrip including transport to/from Krakow, and guide - which is highly recommended, to get the most out of your visit - should only cost around $40. It’s a powerful tour, which will put you in the shoes of its prisoners, and deepen your understanding of what took place during the Holocaust.
If you did want to see more of the country you should search Poland tours but if you are short on time, I'm going to now cross into Ukraine.
Day 3, 4: Lviv, Ukraine
(Market Square, Lviv, Ukraine, Photo Credit: Tej Parikh)
It’s quite easy to get a coach (~5 hours) or train ( >5 hours) to Lviv, as sits close to the Polish border, not far from Krakow. If you’re in a rush, there's even a few cheap flights (~1hr).
Lviv is one of the hiddem gems of Europe, a unique Ukrainian city, blending both Polish and Austro-Hungarian architectural styles.
Start in Rynok/Market square, the city’s central fountained area. Wander through its grid-like cobbled streets, dodging the iconic trams, taking in its charming buildings from the Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and Dominican Church, to the colourful murals of the Armenian Cathedral.
Join the Walkative walking tour to get a better grasp of the city’s history, you’ll pass through the Armenian and Jewish quarters and learn how the city developed as an underground hub for Ukrainian nationalism during Soviet and Nazi occupation.
Dine at Gwara, a new restaurant on the Lviv scene, serving up national dishes—and be sure to visit Kryivka, a secret nationalist-themed restaurant/bar just on the central square.
Pass down the alley, greet the guard with "Slava Ukraina" and you’ll then be guided down to a cellar, where you’ll be served traditional food alongside waiting staff in military uniform. You may even hear gunfire.
On your next day try the High Castle Hill walking tour. It will take you to the highest point in Lviv, where you can get a stunning panoramic view.
(Yard of Lost Toys, Lviv, Ukraine, Photo Credit: Tej Parikh)
On the way back down tell the tour guide to take you to the alternative sites city sites: the Yard of Lost Toys, an eerie collection of left-behind toys sitting outside an old apartment block, and the Yard Museum of the USSR—a residential courtyard turned into a makeshift exhibition of Soviet memorabilia.
Day 5,6: Kiev, Ukraine
(St. Andrew’s Descent , Kiev, Ukraine, Photo Credit: Tej Parikh)
There are a number of quick and cheap flights between Lviv and Kiev (>1 hour), a train journey would take at least 6 hours.
With its busy roads the grand Ukrainian capital, its best taken in by foot. Spend the first day on your own church crawl. Start at Landscape Alley, a hip art park, and walk toward the stunning green ‘onion-domed’ St. Andrew’s Church, where you can get great views across the Dnieper river.
Wander down the steep St. Andrew’s descent, passing cute stalls, cafes, and graffiti murals down to the large Kontraktova square. Wander through Podil district, the city’s old heart, before winding back up the hill toward the stunning 11th Century St. Sophia’s Cathedral and the distinctive St.Michael’s Gold-Domed Monastery.
(St. Sophia’s Cathedral , Kiev, Ukraine, Photo Credit: Tej Parikh)
Continue into the city, passing the Golden Gate and National Opera house, before turning onto Tarasa Shevchenko Boulevard where you’ll pass the yellow St. Volodymyr Cathedral, on your way to Chachapuri, for a hearty Georgian dinner.
On your next day, head for Old Kiev, and Independence Square—the site of Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan revolution. Then, head up to Khreschatyk Park and lazily follow the river down, passing through various arches, bridges, and monuments, and rest in the shade of the towering Motherland Statue.
Later, make a beeline for the city centre for Yaroslaviv Val Street where you’ll be spoilt for choice with several enticing Ukrainian and international restaurants.
Plan Your Trip
Krakow, Lviv and Kiev are facsinating places to see and among the cheapest cities to go backpacking in Europe. Please note since this article was written Russia invaded Ukraine and it isn't currently safe to visit. Please check online for latest safety advice before departing.
By Tej Parikh