I’ve been on my fair share of European pub crawls. From the cobbled streets of Old Town Prague to the sun-kissed sands of Sunny Beach, I’ve checked off countless power hours and nailed more ad hoc Jager bombs than you can shake a Ryanair ticket at! To be honest, the whole rigmarole of partying until sunup and mingling with new folk was getting just a tad old…seriously, it was.
At least, that is, until I discovered the Krawl Through Krakow. I’d heard the legend in whispers as I hopped between the mainstay cities of Central Europe. “It’s simply awesome,” I heard an Aussie gap yearer say over a Wombats breakfasts in Vienna. “No one parties harder,” came the ringing endorsement of seasonaire in the Italian Alps.
It was something I simply had to do in the so-called city of Polish kings. I didn’t leave disappointed!
Joining up with Krakow’s legendary bar crawl
Whatever you might think, I do have the occasional off day. The sort of morning and afternoons where a frothy beer or shot of vodka are the last things on your mind. And that was precisely what was happening on my first day in Krakow; a snowy Saturday when all I wanted to do was wander the pine-peppered parks and sip coffees in the warm cafes on the Market Square.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be.
Just as I was weaving between the pierogi stalls and amber shops in the Krakow Christmas faire, I was approached by a smiling fellow with a medley of tats and piercings over his face. My first instinct was to turn and high-tail it, but the jolly demeanor and enthusiastic invite to join the pub crawl was enough to stem my departure. It wasn’t anything to do with the promise of unlimited shots and whiskey for a whole hour — promise!
Soon I was chin wagging in the snow, listening to my tattooed friend spin tales of his rambunctious nights flitting between the 4/8 bars (uber-cheap drinking holes filled with vodka, apparently) and subterranean clubs of the city. I was sold. I grabbed a leaflet, penciled in the meeting place (9pm at the massive statue in the main square, you can’t miss it), and homed into my hostel dorm to arrange my face.
Tentative vodkas and new mates
For a city that touts itself as the cultural capital of Poland, complete with soaring Gothic churches from the Middle Ages and one pretty breathtaking castle laden with legends of marauding dragons, Krakow has one seriously wild and raucous nightlife.
It all started at the appointed time and place: 9pm, under the ever-watchful gaze of Adam Mickiewicz, the Polish bard whose grand and gaudy effigy looms large over the city’s main square. There, huddled between the sausage stalls and plumes of falling snow, I discovered the gathering folk of the Krakow pub crawl.
Soon, we were descending a winding staircase into a smoky underground hall. The vaulted ceilings echoed with Bowie and The Beach Boys and the occasional bout of Euro pop; beer (free, for a whole hour) flowed from the taps; vodkas were guzzled; gins knocked back; sours conquered by the dozen.
It wasn’t long before I found myself perched on a beer-soaked table playing round after round of matches (a particularly dangerous drinking game), downing penalty pints, and chatting about everything from Polish history to pajama parties and the pope. As I flitted between the bar areas and the dance floor, I couldn’t help thinking how glad I was that I’d come — everyone was mingling; everyone was getting loose; everyone was having a blast. This was how pub crawls should be, I thought!
KTK’s legendary ‘Power Hour’
The heady, shot-soaked start to the night that I’ve described above is pretty much all about the so-called ‘power hour’. This is a feature of most all of the pub crawls you’ll find in Europe, whether it’s an 18–30s organized night in Ibiza or a trundle through the beer bars of downtown Prague. But let’s get one thing straight right now: a simple power hour does not a pub crawl make.
Thankfully, the Krawl Through Krakow offered much, much more than just a simple power hour. I’ve already mentioned how there was everything from gin to vodka to rum to beer. I wasn’t being needlessly hyperbolic. Unlike many a starting session I’ve attended on other crawls, this one lived up to its promise to provide every type of alcohol you could imagine. Yep, all I had to do was trundle up to the bar, flash my neon-coloured band, shout my order and bingo: the fizzing little concoction would appear right in front of me. No arguments. No questions. Just booze!
But that’s not all. It’s also worth noting how much the KTK staff really cared about meeting the people they’d picked up to come on their crawl. These guys did their best to get to know their customers. So much so, in fact, that I hardly felt like a customer at all! And by the time they’d finished working their magic on the group, there were smiles and jokes, jovial discussions about favourite destinations, sincere chats and philosophical discussions — not just raucous stag dos chanting football tunes and regional slurs. I’ll say it again: This was how pub crawls should be!
Take a look here:
The nightlife in Krakow will blow your bloody mind!
Next up, we trundled across the main square and into a tight-knit little bar on the edge of the Old Town area. A free shot on entry perked up the party glands, and the mind-bogglingly cheap beers were enough to keep me going for the next hour. Here, I poured libations to the drinking gods in the company of the pub crawl staff themselves. I was eager to hear their stories and catch up with my tattooed bud who’d reeled me in earlier in the day.
I found them peppered around the place. Some were playing drinking games with Korean folk in the corner, others were yapping at the bar, recommending their favorite vodka to that token middle-aged person on the crawl (there’s always one, and they are usually the most fun!).
I found a friendly fellow with a stack of wristbands and thought he must be one of them. I was right, and a couple of Jager bombs later I was being roped into a bout of Celine Dion on the karaoke.
Where to next on this wild Krakow night?
Needless to say, the bars kept coming. We stalked through the snowy cobbles like drunken ghosts, all huddled under the neon-pink sign proclaiming ‘Pub Crawl’ for all to see. We delved down hidden alleys and skipped (wonky like) over historic squares. We did this all to find the best places to party the night away, which had been kindly researched and checked-out beforehand by our tour leaders.
Of course, there were gratis shots waiting at the entrance way to every place we went to. We whacked these down without question as we came in from the Krakow blizzards. There were vanilla-infused shots, sweet cherry shots (apparently, those are particularly liked in Poland), cinnamon-topped vodka shots, multi-coloured rainbow shots — the list goes on. Oh, and get this: when there were a couple of shots too many, I was even invited to whack down a few more with my new friends on the pub crawl. Talk about getting my money’s worth!
Krakow’s music policy: dub, techno, house, folk, electro, classics, karaoke — where do I stop?
Before I go on to tell you about how I finished the evening embarrassingly dancing and jigging to Polish tunes and cacophonous Karaoke hits (I can’t remember exactly where, so don’t even bother asking!), it’s worth making a note about just how eclectic the Krakow music scene is.
I’ve already told you about how Ziggy Stardust and California Dreaming set the tone for the night in the place where we started. Well, the classics didn’t last long. Soon, I was twerking (yea, I can twerk too) to chart tunes and the latest house in a basement with strobes and smoke machines. And in the next place we went to, the sounds were distinctly Polish, I think. At least I know the fiddle echoed and groups of locals sung their hearts out when the chorus came around. Still, the point is that Krakow’s music policy was perhaps one of the most eclectic I’ve encountered on the continent.
And that’s precisely why I couldn’t resist a bop or two on the floors. Or a karaoke session — bearing in mind that I only started with Celine, and moved on to bigger and better things in the ilk of Meatloaf and Elvis (you know, the usual). Every time I got up to sing I was never alone. One time, I was joined with my new mates on the crawl. Another time I sung Bat Outta’ Hell with a group of Spanish students. Oh, and there was that one track I shared with everyone blaring their voices out — seriously, there was no need for a microphone at all.
Can Krakow party? Krakow can party all night long…
After several hops between the bars of Krakow’s famous Old Town area, too many vodkas than I care to count, and more new contacts in the phone than it’s humanly possible to remember the morning after, you could be forgiven for thinking that the night was coming to an end. Yep, you could be forgiven — but you’d be wrong!
Instead, it seemed as though the Krawl Through Krakow was just gearing up. Yes we’d finished all there was on the leaflet. Yes, a lot of the original group had retired (or been retired, compassionately, of course, by the tour guides). But there was still fight in this dog. I signalled my willingness to party on (Garth, sorry couldn’t resist) and was soon riding in a taxi to a whole other area of town. There, I guzzled more drinks with the crawl workers, danced and weaved between bohemian beer halls that I would never have discovered on my own!
I joined a table with another crawl worker and discovered that the KTK (as it’s known to locals) has slowly become one of the most popular things to do in Krakow according to TripAdvisor. Most reviews drop it a well-earned five stars. Only the occasional grump leaves a single star, presumably citing the cold weather and their own misery-guts personality.
Needless to say, I was a firm five-starer. I resolved to recount tales of my enjoyment later on (hence this article), and then delved into the hedonism of the night. We moved from bar to bar. We nailed shots in ice-caked entrance ways. We sung karaoke in the company of Polish undergrads. We danced 50s garage with Spanish students. We downed vodka beneath the medieval main square, and didn’t return until the glow of the sun was peaking on the horizon. Woop!
You can find Krawl Through Krakow here: