Krakow Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle, Krakow (Photo credit: Dzidek Lasek)

Krakow Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • The second largest city in Poland, with a population of 760,000.
  • While it ceased to be capital of the country in 1596, Krakow remains Poland’s cultural, economic, and academic centre.
  • Known as a university city, as it is typically home to over 200,000 students.
  • Draped over the banks of the Wisla River, the city is one of the oldest in Poland and retains much of its golden age monuments and architecture.
  • Nicknames: The Slavic Rome, Florence of Poland, Little Vienna, Polish Athens

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Polish złoty (PLN).
  • Spoken Languages: primarily Polish and German, with some English spoken in the hospitality and tourism sectors.
  • Best time to visit: from May to August for splendid weather, when average temperatures average 22°C (73°F). This is also when the many important festivals take place.
  • Arriving via airport: John Paul II International Airport Kraków–Balice (KRK) operates a free airport shuttle between terminals and to the railway station and bus lines 280 and 192 connect to the city centre with tickets priced between zł2.40 and zł2.60. Taxis charge fixed rates based on a zonal tariff system, with zł29.00 charged for Zone 3 for the city centre.
  • Arriving via Katowice Airport (for low-cost airlines): take a shuttle bus to Katowice train station (30 minutes), and then a train to Krakow train station (2 hours).

WHERE TO STAY

Stare Miasto (Old Town) lies at the centre of the city and is the prime destination for visitors. With a variety of accommodation and dining options close to the heart of the action, it can’t be beaten for convenience. To avoid the crowds, the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz offers a selection of contrasts between the crumbling façades of buildings belonging to World War II and the modern face of cafés and restaurants that have sprouted up in recent years. For the most affordable backpacker accommodations, try the district of Kleparz or Stare Miasto (where you can find a dorm bed for under US $14/night).

GETTING AROUND

  • The Krakow Tourist Card entitles bearer to unlimited travel on public transportation and discounted entry to 30 museums and attractions including local trips and excursions. The 2-day card costs zł60 and the 3-day card costs zł80, also available online.
  • MPK operates the public transportation infrastructure, from buses to trams. Tickets for Stare Miasto Zone I are valid across the network and come in single-journey for zł3.80, two-journey for zł7.20, time-limit starting at zł2.80 for 20 minutes, weekend for Saturday and Sunday at zł16 or group at zł36. A weekly pass priced at zł48 allows unlimited travel.
  • Taxis run on meter with base fares at zł7 and zł2.80 charged for each subsequent kilometre within the main urban zone. While the city council imposes caps on meter charges, actual fares vary from taxis to taxis. Dial 602 889 888 or 601 400 380 to pre-book.
  • For detailed information, visit the Tourist Information Center at the kiosk in the Planty Garden, next to Slowackiego theater (5 minutes away of the train station).

KRAKOW NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 18, and last call is 4 AM (bars start closing around 3 AM).
  • Old Town features the best hotspots in a wide range, from casual bars to stylish cocktail lounges and modern nightclubs.
  • Ulica Szewska and its top-notch bars is where the trendy crowd converges for all-night dancing to house and techno sets. 
  • Ulica Szeroka is favoured for its quiet, laid-back charm, beer gardens and pubs.
  • Hip/local scene: Around Ulica Floranska. Many bars/pubs are tucked away in the cellars under the shops, so it is a bit of a game to find them.
  • Local scene: check out Kazimierz District for pubs and restaurants frequented by the locals.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Wawel Cathedral on Wawel Hill is one of the most recognizable landmarks of the city, a fortified complex that served as the burial site for Polish monarchs since the 14th century.
  • The city’s historic center, which includes the Old Town, Kazimierz and the Wawel Castle, has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1978.
  • The Wieliczka Salt Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its St. Kinga Chapel and painstakingly carved statues.
  • St. Mary’s Basilica adjacent to the Main Square in Old Town is a Gothic masterpiece best known for its biblical depictions of the Ascension of Christ near the entrance.
  • Lying 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of the city, the concentration camps of Auschwitz are a harrowing reminder of the suffering that took place in World War II.
  • Other interesting landmarks include: Oskar Schlinder’s Factory Museum, Jagiellonian University – Collegium Maius, Galicia Jewish Museum, Reynek underground Museum, and Kosciuszko’s Mound.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Explore Rynek Glówny the largest medieval square in Europe and partake in the lively scene and atmosphere that makes it a prime Cracovian and tourist destination.
  • After you have visited the Old Center,  walk along Ulica Kanonicza, which leads to the Wavel.
  • Stroll under the canopies at Planty, the largest park in the city. Featuring a chain of smaller gardens designed in various styles, the park is a perfect picnic spot.
  • Tour the flea market of Plac Nowy on the weekend when the square is transformed into an animated venue ideal for trinket shopping.
  • The Royal Route starts at the northern end of Old Town and takes it visitors along historic monuments and cultural sights before ending at Wawel Hill.
  • Go for a walk on the banks of the Vistula river.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • The best place to get antiques and memorabilia from the war is Plac Targowy Unitarg on a Sunday morning while the market is in full swing.
  • Ever tried a hot beer? Try one out at one of the many bars in Ulica Floranska. Poland is also crazy about wodka (vodka).
  • Obwarzanek Krakowski is the city’s traditional delicacy, a bagel-type dough ring sprinkled with seasonings. It is as much a part of the city’s culture as its oldest monuments.
  • The city served as backdrop to the award-winning film Schindler’s List, directed by Steven Spielberg. The Schindler Factory is now a world-class educational museum.
  • Where to find good cheap eats: Kazimierz for simple but effective food stalls selling everything from baguette sandwiches to hot soup. Don’t leave without at least trying the local pirogies (dumplings) and zapikankie (bread with toppings). For cheap local food, search for a Bar Mleczny (“milkbar”).
  • Dangerous areas: the city is considered very safe for travellers. In any case, exercise caution when walking alone at night in poorly-lit areas.

RECOMMENDED KRAKOW GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days


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Krakow Travel Guide was last modified: September 28th, 2016 by Nick
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