Difference between revisions of "Kraków"
Revision as of 09:20, 25 February 2009
The city of Kraków is the capital city of the Malopolskie (Lesser Poland or Little Poland) province in the southern region of Poland. It covers both banks of the Wisla river (or Vistula) river. Uplands region at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. It is Poland's third largest city, with a population of 756,000 in 2007 (1.4 million after including surrounding communities).
These are the most popular tourist destinations, and if your time is limited, you would be best sticking to these:
Other major districts within the city are
Some of the communities around the edge of Kraków can show you real Polish life away from the tourist-focused economy of the centre. These are mostly day trips, though, as they require transport to get there.
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 Krakow 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 Krakow's golden age. Under the influence of the joint Polish-Lithuanian Jagiellonian dynasty, Krakow 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 Krakow 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 Pilsudski 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 Krakow in September 1939. Many academics were killed and historic relics and monuments were destroyed or looted. Concentration camps were established near Krakow, 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 intellegentsia and religious communities in Krakow. In 1978, UNESCO placed Krakow on the World Heritage Sites list. In the same year, the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, was made Pope John Paul II.
The Communist Government collapsed in 1989 and Krakow is now undergoing another period of regeneration, with historic buildings being restored.
Krakow 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 most deprived district of Krakow.
There are four definite seasons to Krakow — Summer being hot and humid (around 30-35 degrees Celsius). Winter always sees Krakow under a blanket of snow with bitingly cold days (-5 to -20 degrees C). September can be very wet.
Balice Airport (KRK) is the main airport, about 12km to the west of the centre. It is the second biggest airport in Poland, with frequent domestic and international charter and scheduled flights. There are several direct arrivals every day from all over Europe, including London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Belfast, Milan, Cologne, Berlin, Dublin, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Rome, Vienna, and Zürich. Services also fly from Chicago and New York in the USA and there are summer flights to more destinations, including Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey. The main flight companies operating in the airport include Aer Lingus, British Airways, LOT (the Polish national airline), Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, and Lufthansa. There are also lots of budget airlines operating here, including Central Wings, easyJet, German Wings, Jet 2, Ryanair, Sterling, and SkyEurope. Alternatively, you can fly to Warsaw for a connecting flight.
Trains run from the airport to 'Dworzec Glowny PKP' (the central station) approximately every 30 minutes, starting from 4:24AM, until 12:15AM (for more details see the airport's webpage . Ticket costs 6PLN (ISIC Holders 3.8PLN) and the journey takes about 20 minutes. You can walk to the station, as it is only 250m, or take a free shuttle-bus service runs from the front of the airport. Given the price and speed of the train, this is the best choice.
If you do not want to worry about a thing please contact a company  and a book a transfer with them. There is also a number 192 bus that runs from the airport to the city centre about once an hour (timetable here ) and a 208 bus that goes to the suburbs (Bronowice Male) from which you can take ANY tram to get to the centre (buy another ticket). Single-ride tickets cost 2.60PLN (or 1.45 for ISIC/EURO 26 Holder). It's a so-called agglomeration ticket and ride takes approximately 40 minutes. Buy the ticket inside the airport from one of the newsagents or from a ticket machine at the bus stop (3.10PLN when bought on board).
During the night, you can catch night line 902 which goes from the airport to the city centre at 11:40PM, 12:30AM, and 1:30AM. Tickets cost 6PLN.
You can get a taxi at any time from the front of the airport. Radio Taxi 9191 accepts credit cards. The journey to the centre should cost no more than 70PLN during the day. Check that the meter is on with the appropriate tariff. Note that the airport is outside the city, so you will be subject to the 'outside' tariff until you pass a certain point, at which it changes.
You can try hitchhiking, but it is difficult from the airport. If you want to give it a go, walk to the main road, and remember to hold out your whole hand.
Dworzec Glowny PKP (see schedules in English) is the central station in Krakow, and is located just outside of the Old Town. It is connected to other cities in Poland and the rest of Europe. Every hour between 6 AM and 8 PM there is either Express (EX) or Intercity (IC) train between Krakow and Warsaw that do not stop on the way and journey takes less than 3 hours. It is by far the most convenient way of traveling between Warsaw and Krakow. Prices as following:
IC trains cost 89-95 PLN per adult, 65-72 for person under 26 years (age is enough to get a discount). First class tickets are about 25% extra to this, and offer greater leg room.
EX trains cost 77 PLN per adult, with a 25 PLN compulsory reservation, i.e. 102 PLN in total (as of September 2008).
If you are desperate budget traveller you can also take a regular 'pospieszny' train that goes over 5 hours and costs 44PLN.
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.
Be warned, 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 awful long time queueing only to be told to join another large queue. If you get confused try asking someone young to help you as most young Polish people speak communicative English and are very helpful. Stuff of the international ticket counter speaks English.
For more advice about travelling by train in Poland, see the main article on Poland.
Getting to Krakow is fairly easy, mainly from the East on the A4; driving from Warsaw (300 km) is more difficult as there is no highway connection between these cities yet. For more tips about driving in Poland, see the main article on Poland. If you need any transfers in Poland or Krakow to Warsaw transfer go to 
There are Europe-wide coach services operating into Krakow. However, it is cheaper and much quicker to fly, providing you book at least six weeks in advance. 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 enviornmentally conscious.
Within Poland, coach travel is not that much cheaper than going by train. However, it is much more awkward, and not recommended for traveling between cities. During the Summer, there are often services without air conditioning. Take plenty of water.
Rail connections from the Baltic countries into Poland are non-existent, making bus travel a more serious alternative for travelers arriving from the north.
The first thing to do is get a map showing the roads and bus/tram routes. The staff at your accommodation may give you maps for free and mark on any places of interest you might want to get to. Alternatively, buy one from any bookshops, kiosks, or newsagents, which will cost 6-10PLN.
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, especially through the Planty. For walking, try the Royal Way or the garden that surrounds the city all the way to Florian's Gate. It is very relaxing. There is also a well cared for garden around the castle just to stroll around.
Walking Tours  in many languages (English, Polish, Italian, German, etc.) Probably the best walking guides in Krakow.
During the day, there is an excellent system of public transport in Krakow, covered by trams and buses (but remember, you can spend a lot of time in traffic jams!). The rush hours are mostly between 7AM-9AM and 3PM-5PM.
Buy tickets before you get on board. Ticket inspectors are fairly common and though the fines are not steep, they are not worth the hassle. Single, one-hour, daily, weekly, and monthly tickets are available and can be bought from news agents and kiosks. For single tickets, as soon as you get on, punch the ticket in the machine. A ticket must be punched or it is not valid. Daily tickets and one-hour tickets need to be punched the first time you get on, but do not do it again after that. Do not punch weekly and monthly tickets.
Ticket prices: single 2.50PLN, one-hour 3.10PLN, 24-hour 10.40PLN, 48-hour 18.80PLN, 72-hour 25PLN, 7-day 39PLN, family ticket (Sat-Sun only, unlimited daytime travelling) 10.40PLN, monthly pass 94PLN.
ISIC and Euro26 student holders that study outside Poland can use discount tickets, but not the full, 50% discount student tickets. They can use "gminny" fare, which means: single 1.35PLN, one-hour 1.65PLN, 24-hour 5.70PLN, 48-hour 11.50PLN, 72-hour 15.60PLN, 7-day 23.60PLN, monthly pass 41.70PLN.
When travelling to neighboring villages and to the airport you need an agglomeration ticket, that is just 0.10PLN more expensive. Keep in mind you need it even if you have any sort of valid time pass mentioned above (as they cover just the city area).
Single ticket prices are doubled during the night. Tram and bus stops show routes and most kiosks will be able to advise you on route numbers.
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 confuse even long time residents. The taxis are cheap and it makes more sense to use them.
Taxis are always plentiful and a journey in the middle of the night from one end of the city to the other should cost no more than 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 kilometre. Price list should be shown on the passenger side door.
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.
Another option is to hire a bicycle. It is easy to get around the centre on two wheels, as there are special bike lanes everywhere, including through the 'Planty' that surrounds the Old Town. One cheap place to rent from is in Kazimierz by the Old Synagogue. It costs around 20PLN per day, with a small deposit — much cheaper than those in the centre. For those who are prepared to spend more, you can do a downtown Krakow tour using a rented Segway.
In 2008, Kraków introduced BikeOne - a reasonably priced system of public municipal bikes. You need to register and pay at  and you will be supplied with a personal PIN code that allows to grab a bike from self-service rental stations. Currently, there is about 15 such stations (mostly around Kraków's center) but the network will grow. The nice thing about this system is that you don't need to return the bike to the same station you rented from - just grab a bike for a few minutes to transfer from one point to another and drop the bike at any station you want. Bikes are not available during winter.
Museums and Galleries
Many of Krakow's state museums have free admission on Sunday and are closed on Monday.
All over Old Town you can find campus parts of the third oldest university in the world: Jagiellonian University. You are free to enter (and leave) all buildings at your leisure (mind the students milling around every day of the week).
Krakow, the old royal capital, is acclaimed for its many precious architectural monuments and a unique friendly atmosphere. There are many things to do:
Older Polish people are strongly religious while younger thirty-somethings tend to be medium religious (attending church on major catholic holidays) or not at all religious. The so-called 'Generation JP2' (JP2 is short for John Paul II), people between the age of 16 and roughly 25, tend to establish a neo-conservative look on religion in Poland, just like Americans did in the '80. Some of the youngest are extremely religious, if not fundamentalists. Others try to split from the Vatican in some intellectual reformatory way like the neo-catholics or neo-christians, but they still are very religious. The vast majority of youngsters remain officially catholic and occasionally go to church, but in fact do not give much attention to religion. During Easter, the churches have a lot of ceremonies and are very well visited by the locals. Saturday evening is for candlelight ceremonies outside the churches. On Rynek Glowny, there is outdoor theater and music in the evening. Regular stores are closed during main religious holidays (25th & 26th of December, Easter Sunday, and Monday), other holidays may mean shorter working hours.
If you have time to visit a cemetery on Sunday you will see a fantastic scene of candles and flowers on the graves. (Cm. Na. Salwatorze in the Zwierzyniec hill. The trams 1, 2 and 6 have Salwator as end station!)
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 Glowny ("Rynek" also means "market"), where you will find some of the city's top stores.
In the middle of the Rynek Glowny stands the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), a center of trade in Krakow 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 Krakow back home.
If you're addicted to shopping, be sure to check out the Royal Way (Florianska - Rynek Glowny - Grodzka) and the streets surrounding Plac Nowy in the Kazimierz district.
Until recently, Krakow had avoided the invasion of shopping centers/malls. That time has passed and most national supermarkets and chain stores have opened up shop in Krakow. There are a few malls on Wadowicka and Zakopiańska, anchored by large supermarkets.
Summer 2006 saw the opening of a gigantic new 270-store shopping mall, Galeria Krakowska , immediately next to the main train station, and a 5-minute walk from the main town square. This makes available even more international products not previously available in Krakow. There is a reasonable-sized branch of the supermarket chain Carrefour in the mall.
The next largest shopping mall in Krakow is probably Galeria Kazimierz  (Podgorska 34). Located at the southern tip of Kazimierz, on the Vistula River, it offers 36,000m2 of stores, boutiques, and eateries, as well as a movie theater. Galeria Kazimierz also offers an Alma supermarket.
Other large malls include M1 (Al.Pokoju 67), anchored by electronics superstore Media Markt, and Krakow Plaza  (Al.Pokoju 44), which includes a vast array of clothes shopping.
Local brands of note:
For some genuine Polish food that might be served by your Babcia (grandmother in Polish) which is cheap and delicious, go to Babci Maliny and enjoy the atmosphere, where you sit at benches with complete strangers and wait for your number to be called to enjoy some delicious food. Consider bringing a Polish speaker with you on your first visit as the menu is in Polish. Alternatively, take a dictionary.
If you want to try Polish cuisine for outstandingly good-value prices (a big lunch for one person for about 8PLN) then find a 'Bar Mleczny' (a milk bar - a kind of cafeteria very prevalent in Communist times so called because it serves no alcohol). They are fast disappearing from the city, but you can find one on the right side of Ul. Grodzka (if you are going from Rynek Glowny). They offer classic Polish food such as 'kroketka'. An English-Polish dictionary is recommended when ordering.
Zurek 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. Pierogi are dumplings that are most often filled with "ruskie" ("ruskie" meaning "Russian" - with curd cheese and potato), meat, cabbage, mushroom, bilberries, apples, and strawberries. The fruit Pierogis 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 Krakow is a visit to the kielbasa van. Basically, it's these two gruff Polish men who, every night from 9PM-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 a few zloty, get your sausage and a squirt of mustard and stand at the perch nearby and chow down with the locals in-the-know. It is delicious, especially after a night of exploring Krakows bars. A fun experience free of the usual tourist crush and off the main path (ul. Grzegorzecka, opposite ul. Blich)
There's a place in Kazimierz called "Pierozki U Vincenta" that supposedly specializes in pierogies. Some reports have said it isn't very good.
A genuine vegetarian restaurant is the 'Vega' Vegetarian Bar at 7 Sw. Gertrudy Str, near Hotel Monopol. Good food, reasonable prices, no beer. Another location of 'Vega' is on the other side of the Old Town (Stare Miasto) on ul. Krupnicza. Inside the Old Town is the vegetarian restaurant Greenway on ul. Mikołajska, just east of the little market square (Mały Rynek) just east of the northeast corner of the main market square (Rynek Główny).
In Krakow, like other Polish cities, there are a fair amount of "Chinese-Vietnamese" restaurants. Many have Polish employees who have never heard of Pho, none SERVE Pho, and ALMOST none serve even remotely decent Chinese and/or Vietnamese food. I know it's tempting, but you'd do far better to look for decent Polish food.
Thanks to their proximity to each other, Krakow'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. Most bars fall in the Old Town and Kazimierz districts.
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.
Many tourists, both from Poland and abroad, never leave the Old Town Square at night. If you want to party with tourists, that's a great spot. Meanwhile, many of the locals have moved the party to Kazimierz and new bars are popping up there every month. Walk down Szeroka or head over to Plac Nowy, it's wall-to-wall bars.
A few recommendations in Kazimierz:
A couple of recommendations near the Old Town:
Krakow 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.
If you're looking for a more American coffee experience, check out Coffeeheaven (Karmelicka 5 and Galeria Kazimierz) or Tribeca Coffee (Rynek Glowny 27).
Don't try too hard to save money on accommodation when you're in Krakow. If you don't want Kraków to become your worst experience, 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 plenty of decent clean backpacker hostels within a stone's throw of the old city. Expect to pay 40-60PLN for a dorm bed, including breakfast (bread, jam, and cheese), laundry, sheets, lockers, and internet.
A good way to stay in Krakow is to rent private accommodation. There are several websites that assist in this. You can usually get a centrally located one bedroom apartment for about 60-90 Euro a night, so it may not be worth hassling with a hotel. It's usually the same price as an overcrowded hostel, but nicer. 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. Saves you the commission, but may be a bit unsafe.
You can check on-line, for free The City of Krakow's Official Accommodation Booking System  too. It is a joint project of The Municipal Office of Krakow  and the Reception.pl company. The system includes only these Krakow accommodation facilities that are managed legally. The accommodation prices offered within the System are not higher than the rates paid directly to the accommodation facilities and often are even lower than the prices provided in the reception. The multilingual customer service team and call centre provide dedicated assistance to all customers.
Krakow provides a wide range of accommodation. However, it is highly recommended to stay in self-catering tourist apartments run by hospitable owners.
Krakow offers a large number of two and three star hotels, priced at €25-40 per night. Be sure to look out for hotels that are located in centrum (city center) or przy centrum (near the city center). The most expensive of these hotels are actually in the Old Town proper.
Another great solution is to rent an apartment. Many companies offer high quality apartments in various locations around Kraków. These are great for families, as a four person apartment will run you 150-250PLN (€35-55) — it may be cheaper than a hostel and is a lot cozier. Be sure to check the map when reserving an apartment, some of them are not in the city center.
Getting around Krakow is much easier if you have a map. Maps can be purchased at most bookstores and gas stations. Smaller, free maps of the Old Town and Kazimierz can be found in any tourist information point and at some hotels.