The popularity of offbeat travel is on the rise. Whilst most people will share some of their must-visit countries with thousands of others, there will be plenty of places that offer an authentic experience that appeals to them, but not always the masses. That’s great news for you.

If you want to get off the beaten track and get involved with local life, you’ll be rewarded with an experience unlike a typical tourist. That’s how some of the best travel memories are made, when we throw ourselves into the unknown rather than sticking to the same places. To get such an opportunity, try visiting these four countries:

1.   Mongolia

  East Asia

If you like adventurous travel, then Mongolia is for you. It’s a huge country, full of pristine landscapes, and home to nomadic people whose lives have barely changed in the modern day. Their survival depends on the wide-open spaces, untouched wilderness and fresh water supplies – all of the things that make Mongolia such an amazing place.

Mongolia, one of the last remaining countries for a truly authentic offbeat experience
Nadaam in Mongolia   //   bernd_thaller

Head to Mongolia’s best-known national park, Terelj. Here, The Secret Traveller says, you’ll be able to spend a night in a traditional yurt, watch demonstrations of archery and horse riding, and hike through some of the most spectacular scenery the world has to offer. What better way to experience local life? It’s no beach holiday, but that’s exactly why it’s great. You can get actively involved.

2.   Poland

  Northern Europe

Europe has a lot to offer keen travellers, but we love Poland because of its friendly population of hospitable people that are welcoming and genuine. The country boasts UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the popular Krakow’s Old Town, amazing food, an abundance of castles, and a musical heritage they’re proud of to this day.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, a unique UNESCO World Heritage Site in Poland
Wieliczka Salt Mine, a truly unique UNESCO World Heritage Site

You can easily find concerts for jazz to medieval to opera music – particularly impressive in the warmer months when they’re held outdoors in parks and squares.

According to Go East Europe, one of the best things about Poland is how each city in Poland has a distinct feel and social culture. From Warsaw’s urban pulse to Krakow’s historic pride, to Wroclaw’s whimsy, to Gdansk’s stately maritime heritage, each city has its own appeal. You’ll probably want to head to more than one.

3.   Brazil

  South America

Unless you live under a rock, you’ll know Brazil throws the best party in the world – the Rio de Janeiro Carnival. Full of colour and energy, it’s best described as an explosion of culture – but you’ve got to experience it for yourself. Whether you’re looking for a party experience or some relaxation, Brazilis a great place to visit. In this list of 100 reasons to visit Brazil (yes – 100), they point out it’s in the culture to greet everyone as if they were great friends.

Mongolia, one of the last remaining countries for a truly authentic offbeat experience
Rio De Janeiro   //   photographingtravis

So find a spot on one of the over 2,000 beaches along Brazil’s shoreline, and relax with great company, as well as a cocktail and some amazing fresh seafood. You could even watch the sea turtle hatching season in the village of Praia do Forte between October and March each year – such an experience is a once-in-a-lifetime sight, so don’t miss out.

4.   The UK

  Northern Europe

The UK’s capital city, London, might be the most popular spot for tourists – but it’s not the best place to go for an authentic experience. We promise you not everyone in the UK is as grumpy as those in London, who are constantly in a rush to get somewhere else. Nor is everywhere in the UK full of the same tacky souvenirs you’ll find on Oxford Street.

Mongolia, one of the last remaining countries for a truly authentic offbeat experience
Brighton   //   ben124

Stay out of the busy commuters’ way by heading into the countryside. Here, the UK really excels and people tend to be much friendlier. Amongst the suggestions for an authentic English experience is a trip to the Pantomime at Christmas time, a hike along the South Downs way, a visit to Brighton for some fish and chips or just heading to a traditional pub for a pint.

  What countries have you recently visited?   Share your suggestions for an authentic, offbeat travel experience.

Published in Travel Tips

Krakow is an amazingly beautiful, poignant city and as Poland's second largest city most foreign visitors will pass through here. This is how to make the most of a brief trip! Presenting the HoliDaze top five most entertaining attractions in Krakow: (And be sure to check out my other Krakow "Top 5" Lists, restaurants and excursions)

1.   Rynek / Grodska Street / Sukiennice / Mariacki

I start with a bit of a cheat, covering 4 items in one, but that's because they're all in one spot. They are the main market square (Rynek) and surrounds - the very heart of Krakow. Catch the Rynek as often as you can as events are always taking place there. Stroll down Grodska Street and check out the objets d'art. Surprisingly tasteful trinkets are for sale inside the cloth hall (Sukiennice), but also along its sides. Visit Mariacki at a time when they display the stunning carved wooden altar, and for sport, try to take pictures of it without paying an earnest usher a few zloty for the privilege (having already paid to get in).

Grodzka Street, one of the oldest streets in Krakow, Poland

2.   Wawel

Visit the royal castle from the days when Krakow was Poland's capital. Tour the royal apartments, keeping an eye on the spectacular ceilings. Don't miss the Cathedral crypt where the Polish Kings are buried. Take the steps (and kids) down from the castle mount, through caves, to a metal dragon that breathes fire every few seconds.

Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland

3.   Kazimierz

Tour the atmospheric old Jewish Quarter, visiting some of the half dozen or so synagogues. Remuh is the most famous, with a large cemetery, and a wall made up of gravestones ransacked by the Nazis. Tempel synagogue was recently renovated and is very beautiful. Lunch on chicken soup and chopped liver in one of the many Jewish-themed restaurants, and dine whilst listening to Jewish Klezmer music, which can be at once lively and poignant.

Remuh synagogue and cemetary in Krakow, Poland

4.   Collegium Maius

Wander this stunning Krakow University college, taking in where Copernicus studied, and some of the earliest astronomical instruments. If you're lucky you'll catch the cute figurines in the quad that chime the hour.

The courtyard of Collegium Maius in Krakow, Poland

5.   Sukiennice Museum

It's been a while since I visited this museum, but I'll never forget the sweeping panoramas by Matejko, which help define Poland. In the end it's personal choice, but I'd recommend this museum, on the first floor of the cloth hall, in preference to the new attraction under it which uncovers the city's archaeology, but I thought left a little to the imagination.

Sukiennice Museum in Krakow, Poland

WILDCARD: Plaszow Concentration Camp   Wander out of Kazimierz to what remains of the concentration camp into which the Jews of Krakow were crammed during World War II. You can still see a small section of the ghetto wall, the house from where camp commander Amon Goethe shot at Jews, and one remaining gravestone of an immortalised Chaim Abrahamer.

Plaszow concentration camp in Kazimierz, Poland

  Top 5 Krakow Excursions     More Top 5 Lists

  Flickr   //   azwegers   tedandjen   larskjensen   jenniferboyer (1/2/3)

Published in Poland

Based on my experience visiting Krakow and its environs over nearly 20 years, here are my Top 5 Krakow-based exursions. Some you'd expect, some surprises. Am looking forward to numbers four and five myself -- next week, if the weather holds...

You can also check out my other Krakow "Top 5" Lists, restaurants and excursions)

Auschwitz in Poland

1.   Auschwitz (Oswiecim in Polish)

This has to come first, for obvious reasons. It's impossible to describe it in a couple of sentences. I devote a chapter to it and the so-called "Jewish Question" in my book. Three tips: be in the mood to visit or don't go at all. I'm one of those who thinks everyone should go there, but if you're on a short city break to Krakow to unwind, well, you may not get out of it what you should. Secondly, be sure to visit Birkenau, too. Thirdly, attend with a good guide.

Crazy Guides communism tours in Krakow, Poland

2.   Nowa Huta

This won't be everyone's cup of tea but it is a chance to get an idea of what life was like under Communism: endless monolithic concrete blocks laid out as plazas - soulless and depressing but impressive in their own way. Take a tour with Crazy Guides and travel around in the old cars from that era - I went in a yellow Trabant - and see the main sites such as the steelworks (outside only, I'm afraid) and a Soviet era tank.

The amazing Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow, Poland

3.   Wieliczka

Spectacular salt mine that extends to nine levels underground, inluding a cathedral and ballroom! Also a must-see. Tips here would be take a jumper, and be prepared to descend many steps at the start, and walk several kilometers. A scary but quick elevator ride back to the top!

  The Wieliczka Salt Mine is part of the HoliDaze epic 366-item Travel Blogger Bucket List (TBBL), a massive compilation of the most exciting, extreme, unique and offbeat global destinations and activities.   Check It Out!

Planty, a circular park is full of fountains, open spaces and monuments to famous Polish historical figures in Krakow, Poland

4.   Blonia bike ride

Hire a bike on or near Planty, the shock of green that surrounds Krakow's old town. Cycle through the Planty, an oasis of calm and cool, until you reach the Vistula river near Wawel castle. Head along the banks of the river behind the castle, turning in eventually to the large recreational area Blonia. Follow cycle tracks towards the end of Blonia, furthest from the town. Return to the old town via the student town, around Reymonta street. All this will give you a real feel for Krakow, and you'll be amazed how much green and tranquillity there is just outside the heart of Krakow.

5.   Dorozka ride

Hire a horse and carriage just outside Hawelka restaurant (see my previous article on the Top 5 Restaurants In Krakow) on the main market square. Not the cheapest, so take the half hour (as opposed to one hour) option, asking to go on the Grodska/Wawel castle route. Feel like royalty for half an hour and relax: it's really comfortable! Unique and enjoyable way to see the old town.

Peacock showing off at the Krakow Zoo

Wildcard: Krakow zoo. Some way out of Krakow. Unusual because set in thick forest, and therefore very pleasant to visit. Good display of animals. The huge bison most impressed me. Bison roam free in another part of Poland. Don't worry: not in Krakow town centre!

What are your favorite things to do in Krakow?

  flickr   //   yarwood   tuliobertorini   voxaeterno   jenniferboyer   generale   wyzik

  Top 5 Krakow Attractions     More Top 5 Lists

Published in Poland

Presenting the second of my three Krakow "Top 5" lists. Truthfully I'm looking forward to patronising these eateries again very soon myself, when I visit Krakow in August - a nice time of year, the "Polska Zlota Jesien" or "Polish Golden Autumn." So, here are my top 5 characterful and affordable Krakow restaurants, based on 20 years visiting the city (and most of these have been there during all this time):

You can also check out my other Krakow "Top 5" Lists, attractions and excursions)

1.   Hawelka

On the main market square and as of the last few years now includes an outside terrace. But it excels inside: a large square room, sweeping Matejko style pictures on the walls, elegant tables and chairs. Polish food, but with a variety of influences. Try Pierogi Ruskie (ravioli filled with white cheese), or Kotlet Hawelka (the House pork cutlet, huge but delicate), not forgetting the mushroom soup served in a breaded urn! Superb service whenever we've been.

Top 5 Krakow Restaurants: Hawelka

2.   Da Pietro

Again, wonderful terrace on main market square, but also atmospheric cellar downstairs (the building is 14th century). Very decent quality Italian. Try the carpaccio to start. Pizzas very light and crispy. Service can be patchy, but all in all a reliable Italian out of the overwhelming choice in Krakow, and an A1 position to watch life on the square as you munch.

3.   Taco Mexicano

We've been meeting our Polish friends here for years. Good value, tasty Mexican fare: fajitas, enchiladas, burritos and the like. They used to accompany these with salad in very garlicy sauce, which worked well, though last time I went this wasn't on offer. Functional but cool decor, dimly lit - Taco Mexicano ticks all the boxes for a cheap and cheerful Mexican. Poselska street. I believe there are sister restaurants dotted around the city.

4.   Pimiento

A recent discovery for me, this one. Not only succulent Argentinian steak, but an idyllic courtyard at the back second to none. Foliage, large canvas parasols, comfortable chairs, all tightly enclosed. At once atmospheric and relaxing. Stolarska street.

Top 5 Krakow Restaurants: Pimiento

5.   Ariel

The most well known restaurant in the Jewish quarter of the city, Kazimierz. Enjoy all the best Jewish dishes - chicken soup, chopped liver/herring, cholent - surrounded by Jewish paraphernalia. Listen to live Klezmer music. Watch life go by on Szeroka street, Kazimierz's equivalent to Krakow's main square.

Wildcard: the Rooster bar on Szczepanska street: burgers, burritos and the like, all served up by statuesque Polish girls in orange hotpants, whilst TVs show football on every wall. The top floor is an attractive terrace, perfect for summer. Confess this is a somewhat sentimental choice: I remember when this used to be the chicken bar, a rather shabby joint serving staple but succulent chicken with chips - perfect for penurious students.

  Top 5 Krakow Attractions     More Top 5 Lists

Published in Poland

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