Krakow beats Amsterdam in Brit tourism stakes

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This is, or isn’t, good news for Poland’s historical capital:

The Polish city of Krakow has been named as the favourite destination for a short-haul city break for Brits by new research.

The historic city, famous for its medieval buildings, has seen a 221 per cent increase in searches online year-on-year as holidaymakers look for an overseas autumn/winter getaway.

It beat Amsterdam into second place, which has previously been Brits’ number one choice.

Having visited both cities a year ago I can attest that tourism has had much more of a negative impact on Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s  ombudsman has recently complained that “The city centre becomes an urban jungle at night.” This is large due to the escapades of lad groups on short breaks, drinking, smoking and whoring their way through this beautiful city, instead of sight-seeing its canals, churches and museums. Tourism is a double edged sword, of course, as it brings crowding and disorder at the same time it brings money that significantly contributes to the local economy. My experiences in Amsterdam have always been pleasant, perhaps because I always stuck to the long daylight hours. Amsterdam is bursting with crowds but that’s the price you pay for progress; a quiet city is a dead city.

Krakow was similarly busy, infinitely busier than the city remember from my childhood over 30 years ago, as becomes an urban centre of almost 1 million people, which has successfully transitioned to democracy, free market, and mass tourism. I stayed for a few nights right in the heart of the city, at the old market square (the largest medieval market square in Europe) but never experienced any tourist-generated chaos and disorder. The fact that Krakow attracts British stag parties is not new – the booze is cheap and women are beautiful (certainly not the other way around), which combined with the discount airlines’ bargain fares has made for at least two decades’ worth of complaints about drunken horny Englishmen. But there is much more to tourism in Krakow than “eat, drink, pray you don’t bring back any STDs” weekends away for the lads. Most of it seems to be organised tour groups and families. And while still cheaper than many other destinations, my main impression of my former hometown was not just how much it feels like the rest of Europe now (as opposed to the West’s poor cousin it has been throughout modern history) but how much it now costs too.

Still, despite my anecdotal impressions, actual research points to Krakow’s continuing affordability.  From the same article:

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Some of it is pretty obvious, including the fact that Scandinavia is pretty bloody expensive. Some of it is surprising – I would have expected Spain to be cheaper, for all sorts of reasons. The great thing about Europe is that you can have wonderful time in any of these 20 cities (and all the others), choosing your destinations based on your budget. And whatever you like, you can always find both the upmarket and the budget versions. Like Scandinavia but don’t like the prices? Try the Baltics. Sunny Spain too expensive? Try southern Italy and Greece. And yes, definitely visit Krakow!

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