Difference between revisions of "Kraków"
Revision as of 08:27, 8 June 2012
The city of Kraków  is in Lesser Poland Lowland, 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 (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 after including surrounding communities).
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 Krakow 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 Krakow is divided into districts as follows:
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 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 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 intelligentsia 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 Wojtyła, was made Pope John Paul II.
The Communist Government collapsed in 1989 and Krakow has undergone 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 poorest district of Krakow.
There are four definite seasons to Krakow - summer being hot and humid (around 30-35°C), winter always sees Krakow under a blanket of snow with bitingly cold days (-5 to -20 degrees C). September can be very wet.
There is an English language monthly paper called Krakow 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 Krakow any given month.
Kraków Airport  (also known as John Paul II International Airport Kraków - Balice) (IATA: KRK, ICAO: EPKK) 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 Krakow:
To travel between the airport and the city:
Single-ride tickets from Balice Airport to the city center cost 3.40 zł (or 1.70 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.
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.
Connection with Pyrzowice/Katowice Airport: CarPolonia , cost from 40 zł (cheaper than Wizzair transfer).
Dworzec Główny PKP  is the Central Train 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.
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 Wrocław you can get to Kraków with:
When travelling between Kraków and Zakopane it's recommended to take a 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 140km/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 Wroclaw 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.
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 4 zł ticket from the driver but you have to pay him with exact change. If buying a ticket after mounting the vehicle try to be fast. Ticket controllers are fairly common and fines are quite high (150 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/30-minute 3.20 zł, 15-minute 2 zł, one-hour 4.00 zł, 90-minute 5.20 zł, 24-hour 12 zł, 48-hour 20 zł, 72-hour 30 zł, 7-day 40 zł, family ticket (Sat-Sun only, unlimited daytime travelling) 15.00 zł.
ISIC and Euro26 student holders that study outside Poland can use 50% discount tickets which means: 15-minute 1.00 zł, single-fare/30-minute 1.60 zł, one-hour 2.00 zł, 90-minute 2.60 zł, 24-hour 6 zł, 48-hour 10 zł, 72-hour 15 zł, 7-day 20 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 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 confuse even long time residents. 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 Krakow airport transfer to Krakow 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 kilometre. 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.
Another option is to hire a bicycle. 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. One place to rent from is in Kazimierz by the Old Synagogue. It costs around 20 PLN per day, with a small deposit — cheaper than those in the centre. In centre there is this  with bikes for 35 PLN and this  for 40 PLN. 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. There are 16 such stations (mostly around Kraków's centre) 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 it from - you just grab a bike for a few minutes to transfer from one point to another and drop it at any other station. Currently (summer 2012) the system is shut down with plans of expanding it. Unfortunately, the date of the new opening is unknown.
Most of the popular tourist attractions are located in the Old Town. See the separate article for complete listings.
Also the district of Kazimierz is very interesting. The synagogue of Remuh, for example, was built in 1557 and, also if it's not so well-conserved and the entrance costs 5 zloties (maybe too much), it has a great atmosphere with its old walls and its ancient vestments. Beside it, there is its cemetery. It was created in 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 Krakow) 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.
Krakow, the old royal capital, is acclaimed for its many precious architectural monuments and a unique friendly atmosphere. There are many things to do:
See a football game. There are two first league teams in Krakow (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.
One that is more prestigious is the School of Polish Language and Culture of the Jagiellonian University  because, well, it's Jagiellonian University.
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 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 (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, sprought up:
Galeria Krakowska , 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 Krakow, i.e: Bonarka  (ul. Kamienskiego 11) the biggest but quite far from centre.
Krakow Plaza  (al. Pokoju 44).
Kraków's cuisine has been influenced by the cultures that have inhabited central Europe, as well as the Austro-Hungarian empire.
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). 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.
You won't see this in most guides, but one of the true joys of a trip to Krakow 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 PLN, 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 Krakow'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 Krakow 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 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. It is true, these so-called "Chinski" or Orientalski Bars have awful food.
Bars, pubs, and cafes in Krakow 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.
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. 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.
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.
As the number of tourists to Krakow 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 PLN 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 Krakow 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.
As in any major city there are people trying to take advantage of travellers. Listed scams are scams where girls get one to a bar, where one is charged extreme prices (around 250 zł, or €70 a drink). There are also scams with taxi drivers overcharging.
A recent scam is for two or three women (can be Polish/Foreign, not always attractive) to walk up to men in Rynek Główny, Market Square or surrounding streets and ask for directions to a particular street or square. If you respond "I don't know" they will ask you if you have a map, introduce themselves and say "will you join us for a drink?". They might also ask you questions like 'are you here alone?', 'do you know anyone in Krakow?', 'do you speak Polish?', all to try and determine if you are a tourist and if you have any connections to Krakow. They will then lead you to a nearby nightclub where you will be presented with a huge bar bill for ordering just a handful of drinks. Several bars/clubs on ul. św. Tomasza, Sławkowska, Floriańska and św. Marka have been linked to this scam, i.e. Club Saxon and Hard Candy.
Similar scams occur regularly with various approaches, even through starting to talk at a table in McDonald's. The clubs you are taken to do not always look like a public building, looking very residential from the outside. Note that it is legal to charge outrageous amounts for drinks. The best thing to do is to always be on your guard when in such a situation, and to make sure you check the prices before you order anything (including the prices of the drinks the girls are having). If you are in the unfortunate instance you are presented with an extremely large bill, call the police by phoning 997 or 112, and make sure the bartender hears that you are doing that.
Hard Candy and Club Saxon both do these scams openly. If you try to leave they have large Russian mafia men rough you up. The city has not done anything about this and Hard Candy has been in operation for 10 years.
Many Krakow 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 Krakow 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 €20/1km. 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 kilometer included in price). Reliable licensed taxi companies include: Taxi Barbakan, Taxi Dwójki and Lajkonik.
Currency exchange scam
Another recent, but already quite common scam involves private currency exchange booths at and around the railway station, on the way from the railway station to the Old Town and on the Royal Way, which are the areas most commonly visited by tourists right after they arrive to Krakow. Look very closely what the BUY rate is when you exchange your currency into PLN, ask for the exact rate IN WRITING. Do not let the clerk point on the chart with rates, insist on 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. Victim may lose up to 20% of the exchanged amount. 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. Ask at your hotel. Thie 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. 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.
Some of these are only honorary consulates. If you come from a country which has only a honorary consulate in Kraków, note down a telephone number to the embassy in Warsaw, as honorary consulates do not provide any services for travellers.