The city of Kraków is in the Lesser Poland region in the southern region of Poland. It is the capital city of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship. It covers both banks of the Wisła (or Vistula) river. Uplands region at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. It is Poland's second largest city, with a population of 756,000 in 2007 (1.4 million if including surrounding communities).
Kraków is one of the oldest cities in Poland, with evidence showing settlements there since 20,000 BC. Legend has it that it was built on the cave of a dragon whom the mythical King Krak had slain. However, the first official mention of the name was in 966 by a Jewish merchant from Spain, who described it as an important centre of trade in Slavonic Europe.
Through trade with the various rulers of Europe, it grew from a small settlement in 1000AD to a large wealthy city, belonging to the Vistulans. However, through the 9th and 10th centuries, it fell under the influence of the Great Moravians, then the Bohemians, before being captured by the Piast Dynasty of Poland. In 1038, Kazimierz the Restorer made Kraków the capital of Poland.
In 1241, the city was almost entirely destroyed by Tatars. It was rebuilt to a design that remains largely unchanged to the present day. However, after more successful attacks by the Mongols in the late 13th century, Kazimierz the Great set about defending the city. Walls, fortifications, and the original Wawel Castle were added. The University was also established. King Kazimierz established the district of Kazimierz for Jews to live in free from persecution. This area remained mainly Jewish for centuries until the Nazi occupation.
The 16th century was Kraków's golden age. Under the influence of the joint Polish-Lithuanian Jagiellonian dynasty, Kraków became a centre of science and the arts. In 1569, Poland was officially united with Lithuania and as a result government activity started to move to Warsaw. King Zygmunt III officially moved the capital in 1609.
However, the 17th century was a return to troubled times for Kraków and Poland. After being invaded by Russians, Prussians, Austrians, Transylvanians, Swedes, and the French, it went through a phase of various forms of political control. These included being part of the Duchy of Warsaw, established by Napoleon, and becoming an "independent city". However, it mostly fell under the sphere of influence of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, in the province of Galicia.
In the First World War, Józef Piłsudski set out to liberate Poland and the Treaty of Versailles (1919) established an independent sovereign Polish state for the first time in more than 100 years. This lasted until the Second World War, when Germany and the USSR partitioned the country, with German forces entering Kraków in September 1939. Many academics were killed and historic relics and monuments were destroyed or looted. Concentration camps were established near Kraków, including Plaszow and Auschwitz. After German withdrawal, the city escaped complete destruction and many buildings were saved.
In the Communist period, a large steel works was established in the suburb of Nowa Huta. This was seen as an attempt to lessen the influence of the anti-communist intelligentsia and religious communities in Kraków. In 1978, UNESCO placed Kraków on the World Heritage Sites list. In the same year, the Archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła, was made Pope John Paul II.
The communist government collapsed in 1989 and Kraków has undergone another period of regeneration, with historic buildings being restored.
Kraków is the most popular tourist destination in Poland and this supports much of the local economy. However, the University and numerous local colleges mean education is an important employer as well.
The service and technology industry is strong, with many banks and Internet companies, such as Google, being located here. There is a large manufacturing sector as well, especially in steel (owned by Mittal), pharmaceuticals and tobacco, mainly as a legacy of the communist era.
Unemployment is lower than average (5%) for the rest of the country (9%) and it is considered an attractive investment opportunity, especially for those buying real estate. A new financial and business district is planned along with a new sporting complex in the Nowa Huta borough on the Vistula river. This is for the regeneration of the Nowa Huta area, the poorest district of Kraków.
There are four definite seasons to Kraków - summer being hot and humid (around 30-35°C), winter always sees Kraków under a blanket of snow with bitingly cold days (-5u to -20 degrees C). Due to little wind Kraków is suffering from high levels of air pollution from cars and coal stoves, which affects especially children and people with respiratory problems.
There is an English language monthly paper called Kraków Post available for free in clubs and culture venues throughout the city, where you can check the news, events taking place and new bars that opened in Kraków any given month.
Kraków consists of 18 districts. The historic Old City is situated in District I Stare Miasto. Even though the words Stare Miasto mean 'old town', it should not be confused with the historic old town of Kraków itself, as the medieval old town is only a small central part of District I Stare Miasto. Some of the communities around the edge of Kraków can show you real Polish life away from the tourist-focused economy of the centre.
The article for Kraków is divided into districts as follows:
| Old Town |
consists of the historic Kraków Old Town, as well as the Wawel castle hill, Nowe Miasto ("New Town"), Nowy Świat ("New World"), Kleparz, Okół, which previously was situated between the Wawel Hill and the Old Town but soon became part of the latter, Piasek, Stradom and Warszawskie (partly in Prądnik Czerwony). Kraków's historic centre, covering the Old Town and Wawel was included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. These are the most popular tourist destinations, and if your time is limited, you would be best sticking to these.
| Kazimierz |
area located really close to the Old Town, independent city in medieval times with a Christian quarter in the West and a former largely Jewish quarter in the East.
| West Kraków |
includes Zwierzyniec (the greenest area in Kraków with Błonia, Las Wolski forest and the Kościuszko Mound), Krowodrza, Grzegórzki and several other districts.
| South Kraków |
interesting areas include Podgórze, on the southern bank of Vistula river, where a Jewish ghetto was located during the Nazi occupation; and Dębniki, a green area to the South West of the Old Town, which includes the Tyniec Monastery.
| East Kraków |
with Nowa Huta, "The New Steel Mill" area built in the communist era.
Kraków Airport (IATA: KRK), also known as John Paul II International Airport Kraków - Balice, is the main airport, located in Balice, about 12 km to the west of the centre. It is the second biggest airport in Poland.
The following airlines operate service to/from Kraków:
- Aeroflot (Moscow)
- Air Berlin (Berlin)
- Austrian Airlines (Vienna)
- EasyJet (Belfast-International, Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London-Gatwick, Paris Charles de Gaulle)
- Eurolot (Amsterdam, Zürich)
- Finnair (Helsinki)
- Germanwings (Stuttgart)
- Jet2.com (Newcastle upon Tyne)
- Lufthansa (Frankfurt, Munich)
- Norwegian (Bergen, Copenhagen, Oslo-Gardermoen, Stavanger, Stockholm-Arlanda)
- Ryanair (constantly changing list of west European destinations)
The airport in Kraków is known for its foggy days, which make the flights diverted (to Katowice, Warsaw, Rzeszów or even Brno!) or canceled. The most foggy months are November, December, February and March, and during those times many of the early morning and evening flights are rescheduled somewhere else.
To travel between the airport and the city:
- A train, operated by Koleje Małopolskie, runs between the airport (stop: Kraków Lotnisko) and the main railway station in the city center (stop: Kraków Główny). It takes about 20min and a single ticket costs 8zł (return 14zł). It runs every day, generally every 30min. The first train from the airport leaves at 05:17, the last one at 00:17. The first train from the city centre leaves at 04:04, the last one at 23:42. There are power outlets, Wi-Fi and ticket machines on the trains.
- Bus #292 and Bus #208 run from the airport to the city centre every twenty minutes and about once per hour respectively. If you need to get to the Central Train Station, get off at the stop Dworzec Główny Wschód. This bus stop is located next to shopping centre Galeria Krakowska, approximately 100 meters from the entrance of the central train station (Dworzec Główny PKP). The ride takes around 40 minutes.
- Single-ride tickets from Balice Airport to the city centre cost 4.00 zł (or 2.00 zł for ISIC/EURO 26 holders). Make sure you buy the "agglomeration ticket", this type of ticket is valid in two zones, so also in the area where the airport is located. Tickets can be bought from one of the newsagents or from a ticket machine at the bus stop or at the bus. Make sure you validate your ticket immediately after boarding the vehicle. For additional types of tickets, see the ticket information of the operator MPK.
- At night, you can catch Night Bus #902 which leaves from the airport to the city centre late in the evening. For a journey from the city to the airport, the bus departs from the Central Train Station. There is no difference between night and day tickets.
- Kraków Airport Taxi is the official taxi corporation under the supervision of Kraków Airport. Those taxis are available in front of the international terminal (T1). The price of your journey depend on the distance. You can estimate the price by yourself by checking distance on Google Maps or any other service. The journey to city centre should not cost more than 70 zł.
- Transportation companies: There are many transportation companies in Kraków which offer private, door-to-door airport transfers. Big advantage of this service is that the price of transfer is settled on the booking. Also its quality is very often better than the average taxi service.
Katowice Airport (IATA: KTW) is an alternative airport located about 100km from Kraków that has direct connections with over 30 destinations across Europe and Asia. The airport is a base of Wizzair and has strong network of Wizzair flights. It's also the only one in southern Poland having a direct connection with Barcelona, Kiev, Georgia , Glasgow or Israel which makes it a good airport for passengers who cannot buy direct flights to Kraków.
Kraków Główny (Dworzec Główny PKP) is the Central Train Station in Kraków, and is located just outside of the Old Town. It is connected to other cities in Poland and the rest of Europe.
The station has a left-luggage service, waiting room, small cafes and shops. However, the food is not the best, and you would be better advised going out of the station to buy from the shops nearby. There's a shopping centre (Galeria Krakowska) located next to the station with some fast-food restaurants. The station staff are not always the most helpful to foreigners who don't speak Polish as they often speak no English and you can spend an awfully long time waiting in line only to be told to join another long line. If you get confused, try asking someone young to help you as most young Polish people speak communicative English and are very helpful. Staff at the international ticket counter speak English.
Every hour between 6 AM and 8 PM there is a train between Kraków and Warsaw every hour or so. Some of them are Express InterCity (EIC) with journey time of ~2h40. It is by far the most convenient way of traveling between Kraków and Warsaw. The ticket costs 120 PLN per adult. First class tickets are about 25% more expensive, and offer greater leg room. Other trains throughout a day are classified as Express (116 PLN) TLK (55 PLN) or Interregio (47 PLN). They vary in comfort mostly, time of travel is similar, maybe Interregios take slightly longer. Some of them have discounts for people <26 years old, ask at the counter.
There are Europe-wide coach services operating into Kraków, like Eurolines (from France, Italy, United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Central Europe), Ecolines (from Russia, Baltic states, Central Europe and Balkans). The journey time by coach from London, for example, is around 24 hours. It's pretty uncomfortable, and not recommended for anybody other than the desperate or environmentally conscious.
Bus connections to other cities in Poland can be found on the website of the Regional Bus Station in Kraków. Additionally:
From Warsaw and several other Polish cities you can get to Kraków with Polski Bus and Link Bus. Polski Bus accepts on-line reservation only and their prices can be much lower if booked a few days in advance.
From Wrocław you can get to Kraków with:
- Lajkonik - another company that rides to Wrocław and back (with a stop in Katowice). Three runs everyday each direction. One way ticket is 43 PLN (and there are some small discounts for students).
When traveling between Kraków and Zakopane it's recommended to take a bus Transfrej, Szwagropol, Polski Bus (2 hour journey) instead of train (3,5 hour journey). Buses are leaving every 30 minutes from the Regional Bus Station.
The Polish government has completed the A4 motorway from the German border (where it meets the Autobahn A4) to Kraków. This makes travel from the west fairly easy. The speed limit is generally 140 km/h, and there is a 18 PLN toll each way between Kraków and Katowice. Beginning on the 1st June 2012 a 16 PLN toll is also levied on the A4 between Wrocław and Katowice. Driving to or from Warsaw (300 km) is more difficult as the A1 has not yet been completed. The easiest route is the Route 7/E77 road, which should take less than five hours.
Depending on your level of fitness, you can see the whole of the city centre without needing any transport. There are some beautiful walking routes, try the Royal Way or the Planty park that surrounds the old city all the way from Florian's Gate to Wawel castle. It is very relaxing. There is also a well cared for river banks next to the castle just to stroll around.
However, be aware that in winter snow is sometimes not removed from the sidewalks, resulting in a mixture of snow and mud. Be sure to bring waterproof shoes if you plan to travel by foot in the winter.
By bus and tram
During the day, there is an excellent system of public transportation consisting of trams and buses managed by MPK (Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Komunikacyjne). On their website you can check routes or stops and find best connections between them. Rush hours are mostly between 7AM-9AM and 3PM-5PM and you can spend a lot of time in traffic jams.
It's best to buy tickets before you get on board in a kiosk or ticket machine on the tram/bus stop (these are present mostly in the city centre and provide help in few languages). Those trams and buses that are equipped with ticket machines are marked with large "A" sign above the entrance. As the last option, if there is no ticket machine on board you can buy the 5 zł ticket from the driver but you have to pay him with exact change (driver will not accept a higher amount than the ticket price). If buying a ticket after mounting the vehicle try to be fast. Ticket controllers are fairly common and fines are quite high (250 zł) and a hassle.
As soon as you get on, punch the ticket in the validation machine. Tickets need to be punched only the first time you get on, don't do it again after changing a tram/bus. You can use a single ticket for multiple rides as long as its time period hasn't expired.
Ticket prices: single-fare/40-minute 3.80 zł, 20-minute 2.80 zł, one-hour 5.00 zł, 90-minute 6.00 zł, 24-hour 15 zł, 48-hour 24 zł, 72-hour 36 zł, 7-day 48 zł, family ticket (Sat-Sun only, unlimited daytime traveling) 16.00 zł.
ISIC and Euro26 student holders that study outside Poland can use 50% discount tickets which means: 20-minute 1.40 zł, single-fare/40-minute 1.90 zł, one-hour 2.50 zł, 90-minute 3.00 zł, 24-hour 7.50 zł, 48-hour 12 zł, 72-hour 18 zł, 7-day 24 zł.
When traveling to neighbouring villages or to the airport you need an agglomeration (zone) ticket. All buses that go outside the city limits have 2 at the beginning of their line number. Keep in mind you need zone ticket even if you have any sort of valid time pass mentioned above (as they cover just the city area). Zone tickets are slightly more expensive than city ones and follow similar time system.
Night bus and tram lines start with 6 (or 9 when zone) at the beginning of their line number. Ticket prices during the night are the same. 24 / 48 / 72-hour tickets are valid on night buses.
Tram and bus stops show routes and most kiosks will be able to advise you on route numbers. Modern trams and some of the modern buses also display the route inside on the screens and announce each stop.
Don't bother driving in the city centre. There's often a lot of traffic, parking spaces are scarce and can be expensive, and Polish driving takes a lot of getting used to. There are also rules around local 'driving zones', that ban non-resident's vehicles from entering them. The taxis are cheap and it makes more sense to use them.
Taxis, reliable and fair play taxi drivers from the airport or for a longer transfer should be booked in advance by the Internet. For instance Kraków airport transfer to Kraków costs around 70PLN. During the day, most fares will be around 20PLN. All taxis should have a 'Taxi' sign on the roof and a sticker on the rear passenger window with prices. There is an initial charge of about 5-7PLN, plus 2-3PLN per kilometer. Price list should be shown on the passenger side door.
Car services such as iCar or Car-o or MaxiDriver are almost always less expensive than taxis, and will quote you the prices in advance (based on the real distance between you and your destination). An 8 km ride will run you about 22 PLN.
There are instances where drivers will overcharge tourists, especially those who don't speak Polish. Check on a map in advance how much it should be and if it goes much above that, debate the price.
It is easy to get around the centre on two wheels, as there are some bike lanes, including through the 'Planty' that surround the Old Town. Some bike rentals also provide city and country tours.
- Bike Rental, ul. św. Anny 4, ☎ +48 501 745 986, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. In summer from 9:00AM till dusk. They have a tandem. 7 zł for 1h, 40 zł for 24h.
- Cruising Kraków, ul. Basztowa 17, ☎ +48 12 312 60 20, e-mail: email@example.com. 9:00AM-8:00PM. 20 zł for the first 3h, 40 zł for 24h.
- Happy Bike, ul. Mogilska 51, ☎ +48 504 982 043, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 40zł/24h.
- Amsterdamer, ul. Koletek 9, ☎ +48 518 150 155. Amsterdam style bikes. 7zł/h, 50zł/24h.
- Two Wheels, ul. Józefa 5 (Kazimierz), ☎ +48 12 421 57 85. 10:00AM - 6:00PM. 50 zł for 24h.
Most of the popular tourist attractions including Wawel Hill with Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral and Main Square with St. Mary's Basilica and Sukiennice are in the Old Town.
District of Kazimierz is very interesting for those who want to see Jewish heritage of Central Europe. The synagogue of Remuh, for example, was built in 1557 and, also if it's not so well-conserved and the entrance costs 5zł, it has a great atmosphere with its old walls and its ancient vestments. Beside it, there is its cemetery. It was created in 1511 and has been restored recently. The atmosphere is very melancholic there, and it deserves a visit.
The district of Nowa Huta was built during the Communist Era, and was made for the people working in the huge steelworks (5 times larger than the Old Town of Kraków) that are located there. The architecture of the district is typical socialist; huge buildings surround green parks. The district now is poor, and you can touch the real uneasiness of those times there.
Kraków, the old royal capital, is acclaimed for its many precious architectural monuments and a unique friendly atmosphere. There are many things to do:
- Walk the entire Royal Way, from St. Florian's Gate, down Floriańska, across the Main Market Square, down Grodzka to the Wawel Castle.
- Listen to the Hejnał Mariacki (Trumpet Signal) while sipping a coffee in the Rynek Główny. The signal is played live every full hour from the tower of St Mary Church and is cut suddenly in memory of a trumpeter shot and killed by a Tatar arrow in 1241.
- Walk around the Planty, a large park that surrounds the entire Old Town.
- Lounge and take in the sun on the banks of the Vistula river. See the Dragon's Lair and see the dragon breathe fire.
- Take a cruise down the river, it's perfect way to admire the Tyniec Abbey and Bielany Priory. In summer there are several ships harbored next to Wawel Castle and there's also city owned water tram but it's harder to find.
- Early on Sunday, go shopping at the open air flea markets at Plac Nowy and Hala Targowa. 7:00-13:00
- Participate in a Mass in St.Mary's Church. The church is impressive and the devotion of the believers will bring you inside of the real religious spirit.
- Take a ride around in dorożka horse carriage. There are always several parking on Rynek Główny.
- Visit Nowa Huta and lose yourself between the apartment blocks, doing your shopping in the very poor markets of the district.
- Visit the district of Kazimierz, losing yourself in the tight streets and searching the tracks of the Jewish past of Kraków.
- Take part in a city game which combines sightseeing of the city with adventure, integration and fun. You'll find them advertised in hostels.
- Foreign visitors can find locals eager to practice speaking English and other languages at the English Language Club on the second floor at ul. Sienna 5 (i.e. two floors above the ground floor at ul. Sienna 5, 100 metres from the Main Market Square) on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 pm.
- Jewish Culture Festival (Festiwal Kultury Żydowskiej). A classic, one the biggest Jewish culture festivals in the world. A week of tours, concerts, workshops on cuisine, dance, music and calligraphy topped with a huge final show on Saturday evening. June/July
- Bajit Chadasz (New Home in Hebrew) Another Jewish culture festival, organised by Jewish Cultural Centre in Kazimierz with concerts, exhibitions and lectures. November
- Krakow Film Festival. One of the oldest film events dedicated to documentary, animated and short fiction films in Europe. In a week over 200 films are shown in around six cinemas (10 screens) around the city and in an open air one next to Wawel castle. May
- Off Camera. International Festival of Independent Cinema. April
- Etiuda&Anima. International film festival built around animations and short films. November
- ArtBoom Festival. Street art. In 2012 participants include Ai Weiwei and Russian collective Voina. June
- Photomonth. One month long festival with around forty different photography exhibitions around the city. May
- Live Music Festival. Typical summer opeair music fest. Stars that appeared past years include: Kanye West, Muse, The Chemical Brothers, 50 Cent. second half of August
- Unsound. World renowned experimental music and art event. October
- Sacrum Profanum. Music fest with concerts of such stars as Steve Reich, Aphex Twin or Kraftwerk taking place in unusual places like churches, museums and factories. September
- Wianki. St. John's Night (Midsummer) celebration. An evening of concerts finished with a fireworks show taking place on Vistula river banks next to Wawel castle. A booze-up. June
- Christmas Market Oldest Christmas market in Poland. Held every year from the end of November to the end of December on Main Market Square. December
- Krakowskie Noce (Krakow Nights). Five nights (one in each month from May to September): Night of Museums (free museums), Night of Theatres (free theatres), Night of Jazz (free jazz concerts), Cracovia Sacra Night (free concerts of church music) and Night of Poetry (free poetic evenings).
See a football game. There are two first league teams in Kraków (and obviously their fans hate each other) - Cracovia Kraków and Wisła Kraków, both have recently finished new stadiums located on two sides of Błonia park. To buy a ticket you need to present a document with a photo (passport, driving license etc.) There are discounts for women, school kids and students aged under 26. Do not display any team colors, jerseys, or the like. Rival gangs associate themselves with the Wisła and Cracovia teams. Of course, this is a minority of football fans, but it's best to be safe, especially as an out-of-towner.
You can also play on one of the golf courses located near the city:
- Krakow Valley Golf & Country Club. Paczółtowice 328, Krzeszowice. Also a hotel, shooting range and horse rides.
- Royal Kraków Golf & Country Club. Ochmanów 124, Podłęże. Between Wieliczka and Niepołomice. Also a hotel.
One that is more prestigious is the School of Polish Language and Culture of the Jagiellonian University because, well, it's Jagiellonian University, the oldest Polish university, founded in 1364.
The Old Town district offers excellent shopping, especially for clothes, jewelry, and art. You can wander all around the Old Town and Kazimierz, where antique stores abound. The center of this all is the Rynek Główny ("Rynek" also means "market"), where you will find some of the city's top stores.
In the middle of the Rynek Główny stands Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), a center of trade in Kraków for hundreds of years. The entire ground floor is a market, where local artists sell their wares. Look for amber jewelry and sheep skin rugs. A great place to check out if you want to bring an authentic piece of Kraków back home.
If you're addicted to shopping, be sure to check out the Royal Way (Floriańska - Rynek Główny - Grodzka) and the streets surrounding Plac Nowy in the Kazimierz district.
Luckily you can still get basic food supplies in the centre in independent and chain grocery stores but they start to give way to luxury hotels and bank agencies. Alcohol can be easily found in groceries and common 24/7 shops.
There are two shopping malls in the central area, which include vast array of clothes shopping and eateries:
- Galeria Krakowska (ul. Pawia 5). Immediately next to the Main Train Station and a 5-minute walk from the Main Square.
- Galeria Kazimierz (ul. Podgórska 34). Located at the southern tip of Kazimierz, on the Vistula River bank offers 36,000m2 of stores and an Alma gourmet supermarket.
Plenty of other international chains (Carrefour, Real, Tesco, Lidl) are located in the outskirts/suburbs Kraków, i.e.: Bonarka (ul. Kamieńskiego 11) the biggest but quite far from centre.
Kraków's cuisine has been influenced by the cultures that have inhabited central Europe, as well as the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The most important dish from Kraków is obwarzanek (bagel). You can buy it at many stalls on the streets. Another local specialité is oscypek - cheese from Tatra Mountains.
If you want to try Polish cuisine for outstandingly good-value prices (a big lunch for one person for about 8 zł) then find a 'Bar Mleczny' (a milk bar - a kind of cafeteria very prevalent in Communist times so called because it serves no alcohol). You can find one on the right side of ul. Grodzka (if you are going from Rynek Główny). They're not very posh and decorations are rather humble, but they offer classic Polish home food such as 'krokiety' at it's best. An English-Polish dictionary is recommended when ordering.
- Żurek is a soup based on fermented rye - it's sour and creamy and often has slices of kielbasa sausage or a hard-boiled egg added.
- Barszcz is a soup made with beetroot—very savory.
- Chłodnik is another beetroot soup, served cold as a refreshing summer dish. It makes use of the beetroot greens as well as the roots, and is flavoured with gherkins, dill and sour cream.
- Pierogi are dumplings that are most often filled with "ruskie" ("ruskie" meaning "Ruthenian" - with curd cheese and potato), meat, cabbage, mushroom, bilberries, apples, and strawberries. The fruit Pierogi are usually served with cream and sugar.
You won't see this in most guides, but one of the true joys of a trip to Kraków is a visit to the kiełbasa van. Basically, it's these two gruff Polish men who, every night from 8PM-3AM, set up a fire grill outside of their van (parked in front of the market east of the Old Town near the train bridge) and grill kielbasa. For 8 zł, you get your sausage, roll and a squirt of mustard, stand at the perch nearby and chow down with the locals in-the-know. It is delicious, especially after a night of exploring Kraków's bars. A fun experience free of the usual tourist crush and off the main path (ul. Grzegórzecka, opposite ul. Blich)
By far one of the most popular street foods in Kraków is the zapiekanka which is a large open-faced baguette with baked toppings (traditionally cheese, mushrooms, and a lot of condiments like ketchup or garlic sauce). The best, and most popular, location for zapiekanki is on the Plac Nowy market in Kazimierz. It is busiest at night on the weekends where you can purchase them until the early hours of the morning.
In Kraków you can also buy one of the best Polish sausages - Lisiecka.
Bars, pubs, and cafes in Kraków are one of its biggest attractions. Not just their number or quality, but close proximity. It has been said that there are more than 300 eating and drinking establishments in the Old Town alone.
- A tatanka is a unique (and delicious) Polish beverage made with apple juice and a special kind of vodka called żubrówka, which is flavored with bison grass. It is also often referred to as a szarlotka, or apple cake. Tatanka is a Native American term for bison.
- Wódka miodowa is a honey vodka, often served chilled in shots. Some of the better Polish-themed restaurants will have house brands.
- Śliwowica, a plum brandy, is worth watching out for. There are two main variants: an 80-proof (40%) yellow tinged one and a 140-proof (70%) clear variety. While the 80-proof variety is often smooth and flavorful, some have compared the 140-proof to drinking gasoline. A good way to drink it is to deal with it like with an absynth. Take a small spoon with sugar, put some Sliwowica on it and fire it. Let the sugar melt down for a while (10–30 seconds). Then, mix the flaming sugar with the rest of the drink. Let it burn for 5–10 seconds, then blow it and drink it. Watch out and don't burn your lips! You can also let it burn longer, but then use a straw to drink it to avoid burning your fingers or lips.
- Grzaniec, a sort of heated wine with cloves and other spices, very popular around Christmas when sold on Market Square.
- Wściekły pies, a shot of plain vodka with tabasco and rasbery sauces in the bottom. Must be drank in one gulp. The name can be translated as mad dog. Definitely worth trying.
- Kamikaze, a set of several shots of vodka-based alcohol sold usually in clubs. It usually contains equal parts of vodka, blue curacao and lime juice. Should be drank in one gulp, one shot after another.
Warning: If you party with Poles you should be aware of the fact that some of them can consume without bigger harm to their health a dosage of alcohol considered to be lethal. Don't try to keep up with your Polish friends and make sure you have plenty of breaks when drinking.
Thanks to their proximity to each other, Kraków's watering holes are ideal for bar hopping. Many locals and tourists have spent nights partying from the Old Town all the way to Vistula River at the end of Kazimierz. Walk down ul. Szeroka or head over to plac Nowy for streets full of bars.
In the warmer months, Kraków's nightlife moves outdoors into hundreds of sidewalk cafes and beer gardens. When winter comes around, it moves underground into cellars all around the city.
Kraków is not only full of cozy cafes, but is also said to be the place of the first cafe founded in Europe. Most cafes offer good espresso and something to nibble at a very reasonable price. As a rule, international-looking places are much more expensive.
As the number of tourists to Kraków increases rapidly, accommodation prices are rising. Try to avoid hotels and hostels located in the Nowa Huta district; most of them are former shelters for part-time industry workers and the district is quite distant from the city center.
There are few campsites in Kraków, most of them closed in colder months. All provide place for tents and caravans as well.
There are plenty of decent clean backpacker hostels in the Old Town and Kazimierz. Expect to pay 40-60 zł for a dorm bed, including breakfast (bread, jam, and cheese), laundry, sheets, lockers, and internet.
Kraków has lots of hotels located all over the city. Big corporate ones (Sheraton, Qubus etc.) are near centre, most often on Vistula banks. In the Old Town there are some reasonably priced and some pretty luxurious and expensive.
A good way to stay in Kraków is to rent private accommodation. You can usually get a one bedroom for €60-€90 a night, located in the Old Town. There are two agencies opposite the main railway station offering rooms. If you hang around the street outside the agencies for a while, some landlords will approach you and make an offer. This saves you the commission, but may be a bit unsafe.
Like the rest of Poland, Kraków is generally a very safe city with strong police presence. Violent behavior is rare and if it occurs it is most likely alcohol-related. While pubs and clubs are generally very safe, the nearby streets may be scenes of brawls, especially late at night. Try to avoid confrontations. Women and girls are generally less likely to be confronted or harassed since the Polish code of conduct strictly prohibits any type of violence (physical or verbal) against women.
Follow standard city travel rules: don't leave valuables in the car in plain sight; don't display money or expensive things needlessly; know where you're going; be suspicious of strangers asking for money or trying to sell you something. Pickpockets operate, pay attention to your belongings in crowds, at stations, in crowded trains/buses (especially to/from the airport), and clubs. In any case, do not be afraid to seek help or advice from the Police (Policja) or the Municipal Guard (Straż Miejska). They are generally helpful, polite and in most cases speak at least basic English.
As a result of German and Soviet terror, modern Poland is a very homogeneous society. Even though quite a few Asian and African migrants have settled in the larger cities (including Kraków) in the last couple of years, it is still quite rare to see non-Caucasians on the Polish streets. If you are a non-white traveller do not be surprised (or alarmed) if some people (especially young children) stare at you with curiosity. The overwhelming majority of Poles is composed of warm, hospitable people who are often curious to learn more about other cultures. Racist incidents are extremely rare, but, just like anywhere else in Europe, have taken place. If you are unfortunate enough to experience racism or too much curiosity, it is important not to get yourself involved in a confrontation. Walk away instead.
As in any major tourist city there are people trying to take advantage of travellers. Generally, use common sense and follow simple precautions. Below is a list of the most common scams:
In line with its reputation as an inexpensive all-male trip destination, Kraków is unfortunately notorious for the bar scams typical of many popular tourist destinations. The scam, in short, involves being chatted up by attractive women and invited to join them in a club for drinks. The bill for the drinks then turns out to run up multifold of what one might have expected to pay. Two establishments notorious for pepetrating this are Saxon Club and Hard Candy, but you may be asked to follow your newly acquired company to nondescript premises not appearing to be a publicly open club as well.
A few Kraków visitors have been victim to the hotel scam. After a long day of travel, the victim is awakened when their hotel room phone rings. It's the receptionist apologizing for the late hour but asking to verify credit-card details. The victim reads them out and drifts back to sleep. As Kraków guides know, there is a growing black market for stolen credit card numbers, and the chances are that even before the victim remembers this late night conversation there will be high charges to contest, possibly even ending their vacation early.
When using a taxi always ask for a price for your journey before you leave. Scam taxis have been found to operate near to the main railway station. They are legally registered as "transportation services" and charge €20/1 km. With regular taxis prices are limited by law, and the pricelist is easily visible. It should be around 2,30 zł per kilometer, with an initial fee of 7 zł (first kilometre included in price). Reliable licensed taxi companies include: Taxi Barbakan, Taxi Dwójki, Lajkonik Taxi and Taxi 19191. While it is legal for "transportation services" to charge people as much as they like, their prices must be clearly displayed and must be clearly stated when you ask the driver. If you do not agree with the price, do not use the service. The best way to get a reliable taxi is to call them by phone (you can do it by yourself or ask hotel staff to do it for you).
Currency exchange scam
Look very closely what the buy rate is when you exchange your currency into PLN, and ask for the exact rate in writing. Do not let the clerk point on the chart with rates; insist on their quoting the rate for you beforehand on a piece of paper. Very often the rate is displayed not on an electronic board, but with digits on small tiles; it may happen that a small tile with a zero is partially slid right under the comma in the "buy" rate, so e.g. instead of 3,45 PLN the actual rate is 3,045. This is difficult to notice and the clerks do not accept any complaints after you receive your money. Victims may lose up to 20% of the exchanged amount. This practice is definitely unfair and on the verge of legality. It has been described and condemned in local press. However, if the tile with 0 is visible at least in half, the booth owner may escape responsibility, as your acceptance of the rates is assumed. Remember the rule of thumb - spread between the "buy" and "sell"rates should not exceed 2-3% of the "buy" rate on the main currencies (EUR, USD, GBP) and 5% on secondary currencies (CHF, JPY, SEK, NOK). Stick to banks (even if the rate is slightly worse, it is still perfectly acceptable) or large currency exchange points.
The currency exchange point at the railway station usually operates at rip-off spreads. Avoid at all costs, unless you are in a big hurry or selling PLN. Also avoid the exchange points at the airport, or exchange only the amount for the ticket to the city center.
Best rates are available on Sławkowska street, extending from the northwest corner of the Main Market Square.
Some of these are only honorary consulates. If you come from a country which has only an honorary consulate in Kraków, note down a telephone number to the embassy in Warsaw, as honorary consulates do not provide any services for travellers.
- Brazil, ul. Wrocławska 53, (12) 633 40 88. (honorary consulate)
- Chile, ul. Floriańska 3, (12) 428 92 50. (honorary consulate)
- Croatia, ul. ks. Jerzego Popiełuszki 36, (12) 290 65 10. (honorary consulate)
- Denmark, ul. św. Anny 5, (12) 421 71 20. (honorary consulate)
- Estonia, ul. Floriańska 15/4, 0501 014 230. (honorary consulate)
- France, ul. Stolarska 15, (12) 424 53 00. (full consulate)
- Germany, ul. Stolarska 7, (12) 424 30 00. (full consulate)
- Hungary, ul. Lubicz 18. (full consulate)
- Italy, ul. Wenecja 3, (12) 429 29 21. (honorary consulate)
- Japan, ul. Grabowskiego 5/3, (12) 633 43 59. (honorary consulate)
- Lithuania, ul. Chłopickiego 10, (12) 413 65 18. (honorary consulate)
- Latvia, ul. Malborska 130, (12) 350 55 50. (honorary consulate)
- Mexico, ul. Wiedeńska 72, (12) 636 52 59. (honorary consulate)
- Norway, ul. Mazowiecka 25, (12) 633 03 76. (honorary consulate)
- Peru, ul. Straszewskiego 28, (12) 422 80 18 ext. 28. (honorary consulate)
- Russia, ul. Biskupia 7, (12) 422 26 47. (full consulate)
- Slovakia, ul. św. Tomasza 34, (12) 425 49 70. (full consulate)
- Sweden, ul. św. Anny 5, (12) 421 73 80. (full consulate)
- Turkey, ul. Jaracza 10, (12) 416 30 05. (honorary consulate)
- UK, ul. św. Anny 9, (12) 421 70 30. (honorary consulate)
- Ukraine, ul. Beliny-Prażmowskiego 4, (12) 429 60 66. (full consulate)
- United States, ul. Stolarska 9, (12) 424 51 00. (full consulate)
- Auschwitz-Birkenau Former German Nazi camp 2 km outside city of Oświęcim, 65 km from Kraków.
- Getting there: Leave a whole day for this if you want to go. The Auschwitz camp and the much bigger Birkenau camp are a few kilometres apart. Frequent and inexpensive buses leave from the main bus station in Kraków, and trains leave approximately every two hours from the adjacent railway station. Most will let you out at the main Oświęcim station, a short walk from the camp (follow the signs to "Muzeum"). Alternately, a frequent PKS bus drops off and picks up directly in front of the visitor center—just check for destination "Oświęcim Muzeum." (You can buy a ticket from the bus driver.) You can find bus schedules here: and trains here: . From Auschwitz, there is a free shuttle to Birkenau.
- Tours and guides: There is no need to pay for overpriced organised tours from Kraków, which are heavily advertised. Travel to Auschwitz using local trains or buses is easy and inexpensive, and entrance is free of charge. The only thing you need to pay for when you get there is a guide (which is optional - **Update** From 1 April - 31 October 2012 access is only allowed to Auschwitz I with a guided tour during the peak hours from 10AM - 3PM, but you can visit without a guide outside of these hours. English language tours cost 40 PLN and run every hour between 10:30AM and 3:30PM Tours may be joined at the site without prior reservation. Auschwitz II-Birkenau is open to unguided visitors all day) -- they have official tours available in many languages for a modest fee. Check the schedule here: . If you do want an organized tour from Kraków (which generally includes a bus there and a guide once there), they cost ~130 PLN per person. Many hotels and travel agents in Kraków, as well as the Galicja Museum in Kazimierz can direct you to reputable companies.
- Wieliczka, 17 km from Kraków, is the location of ancient salt mines, one of the original 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a definite must-see. Entrance to the mines (64 zł) is rather expensive compared to other tourist attractions in Poland. Bus 304 (4 zł, recognizable yellow buses, first stop is in front of Galeria Krakowska) makes frequent trips to and from the mines. There are 4 Wieliczka stops; get off at Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli (look for a giant "SALT MINES" sign). The ride takes 40 minutes. There is also a train to Wieliczka that lets off a short (and well-marked) walk from the mine.
- Bochnia — Historic salt mine, older than Wieliczka. 40 km from Kraków. Must see. SK-BUS minibuses from Kraków Main Railway Station (Dworzec Główny), or train (direction: Tarnów, Rzeszów, Stróże, Nowy Sącz/Krynica).
- Bielsko-Biała — 80 km southwest city with cosy old town and many beautiful buildings from Austro-Hunagrian times. Many buses from Kraków Bus Station (RDA).
- Tarnów — The second largest city in region with a beautiful main market.
- Nowy Sącz — 100 km southeast beautiful old city with a fine main market square.
- Zakopane — 100 km south in the Tatra Mountains is considered to be the Polish winter sport capital. Other winter sport centres near Kraków in the Beskids are Szczyrk, Żywiec, Zawoja, Korbielów, Bukowina Tatrzańska, Białka Tatrzańska, Rabka-Zdrój, Szczawnica, Wisła, Koniaków and Ustroń.
- Częstochowa - 120 km northwest is the most important pilgrim's place in Central Europe. In the Pauline Monastery on Jasna Góra (literally: bright hill) you can pray in front of one of the most known icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa.
- Wadowice - 40 km southwest is the birthplace of Karol Wojtyła, John Paul II.
- Beautiful Renaissance castles in Pieskowa Skała, Nowy Wiśnicz, Niepołomice, Sucha Beskidzka and Niedzica.
- The "Eagle Nest Castle Ruins" in the Jura in Ogrodzieniec, Olsztyn, Rudno, Mirów and Ojców.
- Monasteries near Kraków are in Tyniec and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska.
- Spas near Kraków are in Krynica, Muszyna, Busko-Zdrój, and Piwniczna.
- Zalipie, a small village, is unique because of its floral hand painted houses.