Difference between revisions of "Kraków"
Revision as of 16:05, 8 July 2018
Although Kraków is officially divided into eighteen dzielnica or boroughs, each with a considerable degree of autonomy within the municipal government, this division is relatively recent and prior to March 1991, the city had been divided into just the four quarters of Podgórze, Nowa Huta, Krowodrza and the ancient town centre of Kraków itself.
(The historic Old City is now officially 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.
Our guide divides Kraków into these distinct areas:
Kraków is the capital city of Lesser Poland Voivodeship (Polish: Małopolskie) in the southern region of Poland and had a population of 756,000 in 2007 (1.4 million after including surrounding communities).
Kraków is also known as Cracow, or Krakow (without the diacritic) and dates back to at least the 7th century. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1569 and then of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1596 (1609 by some accounts) and this long history has made it one of the leading hubs of Polish academic, cultural, and economic life.
Kraków is one of the oldest cities in Poland, with evidence showing settlements there since 20,000BC. 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 a lot 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 and growing, with many off-shore divisions of banks, financial and technology companies like Google, IBM, Motorola, State Street, Shell, UBS, HSBC 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°C to -20°C). Recently, Krakow is suffering from extremely high levels of air pollution, that affect especially children and people with respiratory problems.
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) is the main airport, located in Balice, about 12km to the west of the centre. It is the second biggest airport in Poland.
See Exchange rate scam below, this is also operating at the airport. Two ATMs can be found on the ground floor of Terminal 1, one next to the information desk, the other right across the hall between a car rental agency and a bakery. The smallest bills are usually PLN50.
The following airlines operate service to/from Krakow:
The airport in Krakow is known for its foggy days, which can cause flight diversions (to Katowice, Warsaw, Rzeszow or even Brno!) or cancellations. The most foggy months are November, December, February and March, and during those times some of the early morning and evening flights are diverted somewhere else, heavily delayed or even cancelled!!
To travel between the airport and the city:
Cheaper option would be walking left or right and stop/ask at one of the taxis from other corporations. You can agree the price before entering the vehicle. You should easily find offers around 40-50PLN (we paid 40pln, October 2014; meter from Airport to the Main Train Station showed 36pln!). For different prices or car types you can also use one of the e-hailing apps like Talixo.
If you take a taxi to the airport, the journey should cost under PLN70 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.
Katowice Airport (IATA: KTW) Alternatively, you can fly to Katowice - Pyrzowice(KTW), which is located about 100km from the city of Krakow and 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 Kiev or Georgia which makes it a good airport for passengers who cannot buy direct flights to Krakow or are afraid of fogs and cancellations at KRK.
Connection with Pyrzowice/Katowice Airport: Matuszek Airport Transfer, costs PLN44-88 round trip, Pyrzowice Ekspres costs from PLN45 one way. Both of these companies are synchronised with airport air traffic, and once you take your luggage at the terminal and leave the airport, the bus will be waiting for you right in front of the building.
Dworzec Główny PKP is the Central Train Station in Krakow, and is located just outside of the Old Town. It's well connected to other cities in Poland.
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.
Between 06:00 and 20:00 there is a train between Kraków and Warsaw every hour or so. Some of them are Express InterCity (EIC) or Express InterCity Premium (EIP) with a journey time of c. 2h20. It is by far the most convenient way of travelling between Kraków and Warsaw. The ticket usually costs PLN120 per adult or 49PLN when bought well in advance, or - if you're lucky - during off-peak hours. First class tickets are about 25% more expensive, and offer greater leg room. Other trains throughout a day are classified as Express (PLN116) TLK (PLN55) or Interregio (PLN47). They vary in comfort but travel durations are similar, perhaps Interregios take slightly longer. Some of them have discounts for younger people <26 years old, ask at the counter. Some TLKs or Interregios take a different route and then the travel time takes 5h.
Currently (2015), there is no daytime international direct train to Krakow.
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    (2h journey) instead of train (3.5 hour journey). Buses are leaving every 30 minutes from the Regional Bus Station.
The A4 motorway has been completed  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 PLN18 toll each way between Kraków and Katowice. Beginning in Jun 2012 a PLN16 toll is also levied on the A4 between Wroclaw and Katowice. Driving to or from Warsaw (300km) 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 (it is being upgraded to expressway with speed limit of 120km/h, yet whole process is estimated to finish around 2020).
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 bank next to the castle 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.
Krakow is covered by an extensive network of public transportation consisting of tram and bus lines, managed mainly by MPK (Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Komunikacyjne) . You can check timetables on the their official site . However, most locals use jakdojade  (this is MPK's official partner) to find connections as the site also displays routes and stop locations on a map. Jakdojade is also available as a phone app with GPS routing. Rush hours are mostly 07:00-09:00 and 15:00-17:00 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). Some trams and buses are equipped with ticket machines as well, they 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 PLN5 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 (PLN150) 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: 20-minutes PLN2.80, single-fare/40-minute PLN3.80, one-hour PLN5.00, 90-minute PLN6.00, 24-hour PLN15, 48-hour PLN24, 72-hour 36 zł, 7-day 48 zł, family ticket (Sat-Sun only, unlimited daytime travelling) 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 travelling outside city border (for example to the airport or Wieliczka) 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 tram and bus lines start with 6 (or 9 when zone) at the beginning of their line number. Night lines have a "hub" at the stops close to the main railway station, where they meet and allow for changes at every full hour from 00:00 (every half hour on weekend nights). Night time tickets costs the same. 24 / 48 / 72-hour tickets are valid on night buses also.
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 PLN20. 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 PLN5-7, plus PLN2-3 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 8km ride will run you about PLN22.
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.
In 2008, Kraków introduced a reasonably priced system of public municipal bikes. There are 15 stations (mostly around Kraków's centre) but the network is designed to grow. Nice thing about the system is that you don't need to return the bike to the same station you took 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. Before using the bikes you need to register in the system and pay some small initial fee, for more information see  (unfortunately, only in Polish).
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. Some bike rentals also provide city and country tours.
For those who are prepared to spend more, you can do a downtown Krakow tour using a rented Segway.
Most of the popular tourist attractions are located in the Old Town. See the separate article for complete listings.
Kraków's historic centre, which includes the Old Town, Kazimierz and the Wawel Castle, was included as the first of its kind on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978.
The district of Kazimierz whith its Jewish heritage is very interesting. The synagogue of Remuh, for example, was built in 1557. Although it's not so well-conserved and the entrance costs PLN5, it has a great atmosphere with its old walls and its ancient vestments. Adjacent is its cemetery created in 1511 and recently restored. The atmosphere is very melancholic there and 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) 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. Main station is Plac Centralny which can be reached by trams 4, 10, 16, 21, 22 and 64.
Travellers who come to Krakow often visit Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Not many know that in Krakow there was also a Nazi concentration camp located in Podgórze district. You can visit Schindler's Factory 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:
Delicious Poland www.deliciouspoland.com/ A great selection of food tours and cooking classes by local young women and her boyfriend. Highly reccomended.
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.
You can also play on one of the golf courses located near the city:
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).
In Poland one typically eats pretty large breakfast, large dinner (at around 3-4 pm) and a light supper (at around 7-8 pm). Many people do eat "lunches" etc but these are not native.
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 in many stall 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 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. Quality of service is very basic, though sufficient. The low price is the goal, so the interior may be old, and very busy with all sorts of people including university and high-school students, unemployed, homeless.
Slightly more expensive are restauratns such as "U babci maliny", there for PLN12-20 one can try various options for a big lunches.
For people with fat wallets there is a restaurant "Wierzynek" on the Main Square. They also serve Polish dishes.
There are many restaurants which serve French meals - mainly in large hotels such as Restaurant Percheron or Restaurant Anromeda. They are freely accessible also to non-guests (of course only the access is free, the dinner is not). Dinner in this option costs as much as in Wierzynek Restaurant.
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) [Possibly closed Sundays? Oct. 4' 2015]
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 is a fair number 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 Orientalny Bars have often awful food.
If you are not into Polish food, Krakow has a number of really good Italian restaurants, with pizzas, pastas, and the usual Italian cuisine. There are many other restaurants which serve Indian, French, Greek, Argentinian, Mexican, even Georgian cuisine, so you definitely won't be stuck for something to eat while sightseeing.
If everything else fails, McDonalds and KFC are aplenty.
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.
Do not be tempted to drink in public places such as parks or you could be fined 100z
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.
As most bars are hidden underground visitors often opt to join a pub crawl, travelling in groups between a number of bars with a guide ensuring they don't fall victim to a scam bar. The longest running and most highly acclaimed pub crawl is Krawl Through Krakow , which has been leaving from Adam Mickiewicz Monument every night at 9 pm for over 5 years. They offer a no limits open bar at the beginning of the tour for one hour, with free shisha. Then included in the price is admission to three other of the busiest pubs and clubs available that night skipping queues along the way and entry shots on the way into each place. They charge 55zl for ladies and 60zl for guys and have discounts for returning customers.
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.
It's also good to know that the parking places are VERY difficult to be found in the center of Krakow (because of the old high-density housing) even some of the luxury hotels don't provide parking places for the clients. Therefore it may be a good idea to look for a hotel outside of the Center if you arrive to Krakow by car (public transportation is very good in Krakow)
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.
PolishWiFi rents pocket WiFi routers which allow travellers to stay connected in Poland. Clients can book online and their hotspot can be delivered everywhere in Poland in 24 hours. Standard delivery in Poland to a post box is 3 €, to a private address, hotel or B&B is 4 €.
The 3G and 4G hotspots can be shared by up to 10 devices and battery lasts for 6 hours. The rental rates:
Like the rest of Poland, Krakow is generally a very safe city with a strong police presence.
Violent behavior is very rare and if it occurs it is most likely alcohol-related. While pubs and clubs are 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 Guards (Straz Miejska). They are generally helpful, polite and in most cases speak at least basic English.
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:
A recent scam is for two or three women (can be Polish or 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, eg 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-looking men rough you up. The city has not done anything about this and Hard Candy has been in operation for 10 years.
In general, bear in mind that, just like anywhere else in Europe, it is unusual for girls or women to approach strange man/men and even less so to invite him/them for drinks. If the situation looks too good and fortunate to be true, then probably it is.
Also stay clear of Cocomo network of strip-clubs (Main Square and Florianska Street). They are famous for ripping customers (including Polish people) for great amounts of money. Under any circumstances do not open a tab in any of those places. If that's your kind of fun just make sure you pay for everything with cash as you go.
A few 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.
Public transportation scam
Bus controllers are checking for tourists that do not know how to validate ticket or follow them and wait that their tickets is expired (20 or 40 min tickets). Even if they see they are from abroad they will expressly not tell them that it need to be validated or they will control just at the end of the validation period. It is a form of tourist harrasment since most of the time they will not bother control the local people and they take advantage of the fact that tourists have not the right information.
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/km. With regular taxis prices are limited by law, and the pricelist is easily visible. It should be around PLN2.30/km, with an initial fee of PLN7 (first kilometre included in price). Reliable licensed taxi companies include: Taxi Barbakan, Taxi Dwójki, Megataxi, iCar, Lajkonik, EkoTaxi and Teletaxi. You can also use UBER in Kraków. While it is legal for "transport 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.
Another popular fraud is that driver will agree for a fixed price beforehand, but will start to demand another price once you are at the destination. Such taxi can be found near the airport/railway station. Always write from and to address and the price on a piece of paper and confirm with driver beforehand. This technique will prevent them taking undue advantages. If harassed, insist to call police.
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 instead of PLN3.45 the actual rate is 3.045. Many times also the SELL rate is displayed more intensively so the Victim might think that the rate is good. 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). But this might be also tricky since many time the rogue currency exchange offices lower they SELL rate in order to make a spread looking more realistic. Watch out for the banks also, since their rates might not be fair either. Ask at your hotel. The 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.
Actually the best rates (with less that 1% margin) can usually be found in several exchange offices that are located outside of tourist areas, even close to the Main Market but out of main tourist drags.
The best rule of thumb - use exchange offices that provide clear digital displays of going rates showing both BUY and SELL rates. In good places when asking how much zlotys will you get for a given sum of foreign currency you should get a printout instead of verbal quote.
At all costs, avoid the currency exchange bureaus that have a bright yellow, blue, or orange color scheme, and have no name other than 'Kantor'. These are branches of Interchange, which will cost you a full third of your money's value. Locations include Plac Mariacki 1 (Florianska), Grodzka 9, Rynek 39, Piparska 23, the airport, and more. A quick internet search of 'Interchange' will reveal many disgruntled victims.
Tours to Auschwitz-Birkenau scam
Given that these tours are heavily advertised all over the city by every tour agency around, they might be somewhat of a scam. The fee paid goes entirely to the cost of transport as the price of the actual museum is practically free. When you get to the camp, the driver waits for you outside and you join whatever group in the language you want. These guides are provided by the museum. See the section below for information on how to get to the camp on your own and save yourself the 80-130PLN that Tour agencies will charge.
Credit card exchange rate scam
When paying with a credit card, you may be prompted to pay in Zloty or your local currency. Always pay in Zloty and let your credit card do the exchange in Krakow. When asking the merchant behind the counter how to use the credit card reader to pay in Zlotys some will not understand or feign ignorance and press the green accept button on the card reader to make the payment at their conversion rate. On the card readers when asked to pay in your home currency press the red button to decline the conversion and pay in Zlotys. The local business sets the exchange rate as this has been as high as 25% to exchange your money at point of sale. Note: Some places, such as the above mentioned Kantor shops, won't prompt you for currency and auto convert. If your bill shows your home currency, you have probably been stung.
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 for the embassy in Warsaw, as honorary consulates do not provide many services for travellers.
Zalipie village: (http://unusualplaces.org/zalipie-the-most-beautiful-village-in-poland/) 100 km from Krakow, Zalipie is a peaceful agricultural village, but it's very unique because of colorful flower paintings all over the walls of wooden houses, fences, wells... make you feel like in a fairy tale. There is no public bus or tour from Krakow to Zalipie because it is not realy a tourist site, but rather, a normal working village with large fields and seems no one speaks english. The best way to come here is renting a car from local tour agencies with english speaking driver who know the village well to take you to tourist attrations (church, community house, museum and painted houses. Poland-active agency offers an 8 seat bus with english speaking driver to visit Zalipie in half day (6 hours) for approximately 100 euros.(www.poland-active.com phone 0048668644310. address.ul.Mikolajska 5, Krakow 31-027)