The secret is out! I am spilling the beans right now. Krakow is not just for youngsters and party lovers! It is a vibrant and colorful city that dates back to the 7th century and offers something for everyone. It’s the second largest city in Poland. Its reputation as a party city is partially due to the numerous colleges and universities with enrolled students numbering over 170,000. You can therefore see what the mixture of young kids away from home combined with cheap alcohol results in. Non-stop party. I was a bit wary about visiting, but with a bit of planning, we had an amazing time and can’t wait to go back. Here is a cool useful Krakow guide for slightly more mature adults like us :-).
Cool Krakow Guide: What to see and do.
Krakow: A little history
Krakow is a highly regarded city for Polish academic, cultural and artistic lifestyle. It started out as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was a busy European trading center. At the beginning of World War II, Poland was invaded by Germany and it became the capital of German’s general government. The city’s Jewish population were forced to move into what was known as the Krakow Ghetto, a small walled section in Kazimierz on the order of Gauleiter Hans Frank who wanted Krakow to become the “racially cleanest” city in the General Government. 15,000 people were forced to live in a space originally occupied by 3,000. In addition to the wall, all windows and doors that opened up to the outside wall where the Nazis lived were bricked up. Eventually, most of the population were sent off to death concentration camps like Auschwitz and Belzic.
Krakow was the capital of Poland from 1038-1596.
King Casimir III founded the University of Krakow, the second oldest university in 1364 bringing prominence to the city.
Krakow Old Town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the very first list.
Oskar Schindler selected people from the ghetto to work in his enamelware plant, in the process saving over 1100 lives.
Roman Polanski, the director is a survivor of the Krakow Ghetto. I still don’t like him!
Krakow had very little damage during the war, unlike Warsaw.
Karol Wojtyla, then cardinal archbishop of Krakow was elevated to papacy as Pope John Paul II in 1978, the first non-Italian pope in over 450 years.
Useful Guide For Getting to Krakow:
Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Poland is a huge country and its neighboring countries are Germany, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic. There are therefore many opportunities to travel any which way that suits you. Major international airlines flying in to Krakow include KLM, Norwegian, Iberia and Swiss Air. There are also plenty of low-cost airlines flying there. We took a direct flight on Ryanair from Valencia. Due to the close proximity with other European countries, you can travel via train from places like Germany. You can search for flights to Krakow using our affiliate link.
Information and ticket purchases for train trips can be found on the Polish Rail Service website here. It’s in English. I would recommend purchasing it before arrival if possible. The reason l say this is because we decided to purchase our tickets after we arrived in Krakow for our trip to Warsaw. The website was pretty useless as it would not let us actually purchase the tickets. I think the reason was because we needed a Polish credit card or similar. You kept getting an error notice. We ended up actually going to the train station and purchasing it at the window.
Here are several ways to get to Krakow Center from the airport:
A taxi will run you roughly $22 to the center. Just by the taxi stand, there is a sign listing prices for the different zones. This is great. You know how much right off the bat without worrying about the taxi drivers who literally take you for a ride :-) by telling you their meter is broken and will guestimate then stick it to you!. Note to always ask if the meter is working or absolutely negotiate a price if you have an idea of the cost before getting in.
You’ll be happy to know that Uber works just fine in Krakow. It doesn’t seem to be as prevalent, so we had waits from 10-20 minutes and a couple of cancellations. I would advise you to give yourself some cushion time, especially going back to the airport or catching a train on time. The advantage of Uber of course, is that the price is fixed, even in heavy traffic. We were sweating bullets one time when we took a metered cab and got caught in the heaviest traffic ever. It sucked :-(. The Polish Uber does not take PayPal or cash surprisingly. They will only take credit/debit cards so you need to add this to your account if you plan on using Uber. The cost to get to the center is about 35%+ cheaper with Uber.
This is the cheapest way to get to the center. It is also surprisingly easy. We had originally intended to use Uber but because it was a high demand time, the cost was high. We decided to use the metro. From the arrival terminal exit, take the big escalator to your right (as opposed to going out to the street and taxi area). Go up, and follow the signs to the metro station. The ticket machine is right in the middle, between the tracks. Change the language to English and get your ticket which costs 9 zloty ($2.40). Get on any train that’s there and go 5 stops tot he center. Station name is “Krakow Glowny Central Station. This is also the stop for the Bus station. It is huge, humongous even with a mall and really central. From here, you can find your way to your hotel or lodging by walking or maybe a taxi depending on where you’re staying.
Where to stay in Krakow: Cool Useful Krakow Guide to accommodations:
We stayed at an AirBnB flat close to the Kazimierz district for the first half of our trip. We really liked the place. It was clean and close to the tram stops and on the first floor. A lot of the places we looked at were on 4th or 5th floors with no elevators which did not sound good to me at all. It was also about a 40 minute walk to the Old Town and was a definitely non-touristy area so you were among the locals and it was nice to get a glimpse of everyday life. We enjoyed taking the tram to the center and then walking back. We would have liked to stay there upon our return from Warsaw, but it was booked. If you would like to try AirBnB, you can use my referral code to get started and you earn some credit as well. Win..win. If a hotel is more your style, we’ve got you covered with our affiliate link on hotels combined for hotels in Krakow which is awesome as it scours the web for the best possible prices at no extra cost to you.
We ended up staying in Old Town and l would definitely not recommend that at all. It was nice to be in the middle of everything, but l could not get any freaking sleep! Despite the double pane windows, and being on the third floor even, you could hear the revelers taking, drinking, singing quite loudly every single night till 5 or 6AM when the street cleaners came by!. Every night!!!! I imagine they went home in the morning, slept all day and repeated the drinking and partying the next night. Yeah! Like you couldn’t do that at home! :-).
Hotels are also plentiful in Krakow. With the conversion rate of $1 to 3.73 zloty at the time of our travel, you can see why splurging shouldn’t make you feel guilty. I would suggest staying close to the Central Station or Old Town. That way, everything is close by. You can find well known hotels from Novotel to Radisson Blu to Holiday Inn. Search for your hotels across all sites for the best prices in Krakow via Hotelscombined here:
Cool Useful Krakow Guide. What to see:
Krakow is such a pretty city. There are lots of things to see and do apart from drinking till you pass out:-). These are just a few of the things we enjoyed doing while in Krakow.
I don’t think a visit to Krakow is complete without visiting this pleasing to the eye Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque architectural delight. It was built by King Casimir the Great. For centuries, this was the royal residence of Polish kings. Built on Wawel Hill which was a huge trading center from thousands of years back. It is also a UNESCO site as part of the center of Krakow designation. The main courtyard is Italian in design. It sustained major damage in a fire in 1595 and ultimately fell to neglect despite the efforts of King Vasa who rebuilt the burnt area. In 1795, the castle was destroyed (The Prussian army occupied Wawel Hill since the previous year and used the castle as a defensive point). Defensive walls were built by the Austrians and the interior modernized. It became a national museum after WWII. There are several chambers to Wawel Castle and tickets are sold to each separately for touring. We did 2 of the 5.
There was no photography allowed on this tour. Upon buying your tickets, you were given a map of the castle grounds and told what time to show up for your tour. I was not impressed by the rooms at all. They felt stark and cold if that makes sense. Unlike the Drottningholm Palace in Stockholm, which despite its opulence, managed to convey a homey feeling where you could picture the inhabitants from centuries ago living there. These rooms on the other hand, looked like they hired an interior decorator two weeks ago to re-imagine what the place might have been like in the olden days, and they failed miserably in my opinion. Maybe because we knew a lot of the interior designs were attempts at duplication (since everything was rebuilt) made it seem blah. I wouldn’t do this one again. I would probably do the Royal Apartments or Oriental Arts tour. Check their English language website for prices. I can’t remember how much we paid, but l think it was about $15 per person without the guide for the 2 tours we did.
I actually enjoyed this one. Federico didn’t. Smocza Jama in Polish, the dragon’s den is a cave with a vertical range of 15 meters. There are several stories about the cave. One saying it was a den meant for sacrifices of cattle offered to the fiery dragon in exchange for him leaving people alone. It is also said it used to be a house of ill-repute. You enter from the top which has the most magnificent views of the river and went down some really, really tight circular stairway in the dark which made you feel dizzy. The lady behind me said she was going to throw up which made me move faster :-). Once at the bottom, there are little sections that we did not explore. It was wet and slippery. Like l said, l liked it, but can understand that it’s not for everyone. The claustrophobic feeling is intense, so beware. There is a statue of the dragon outside at the bottom which was erected in 1972.
Main Square Krakow:
This square dates back to the 13th century and is one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe. It was meant as commercial space for traders. It is dominated by the Cloth Hall which was originally the place for international trade. Merchants met there to trade and barter imports like Silk and Leather and Spices while Polish merchants exported Salt from the mines, Lead and Textiles. Nowadays, this is the place to find your Krakow souvenirs and amber jewelry. The Sukiennice museum is located on the upper floor with an extensive collection of Polish art and sculptures. We really enjoyed people watching. Since prices are so reasonable and exchange rates favorable, eating at this very touristy area didn’t break the bank, and the food was often good to boot. We had great pizza, traditional Polish food and Kebab.
St. Mary’s Basilica:
Polish Gothic architecture at its best. The Church Of Our Lady Assumed Into Heaven is a brick church that was built in the 14th century. At the top of the hour, a trumpet is played from one of the 2 towers. It stops halfway to honor a trumpeter that was shot in the throat while sounding an alarm during a Mongol invasion. The church was rebuilt during the reign of Casimir III after the destruction by the Mongols. It took 10 years. The Basilica is also located in the main square and is worth seeing, even if you are tired of seeing churches :-). It looks incredible inside. You need to pay an extra $1.30 on top of the $3 entry fee to take pictures with a professional camera. We saw lots and lots of churches in Krakow and were told that over 65% of the population are practicing Catholics! Good to know that those churches get used.
This is the Jewish quarter that is now a hip section of town since Steven Spielberg filmed the movie “Schindler’s List” here. Granted the freedom to worship, trade and travel by Boleslaw the Pious, the Jewish population had co-existed alongside their Polish neighbors since 1264 under the protection of King Kazimierz III. I’ve already written about the fate of the Jewish people, so l won’t repeat myself. There are now trendy coffee houses next to synagogues. You can take a tour of Kazimierz on one of the carriage rides or take a free walking tour or ride one of those golf cart like looking things for cheap. You can also visit Schindler’s museum if you book ahead. We tried, but tickets were sold out as they are limited. You can book your Schindler’s museum tickets here.
Wieliczka Salt Mines:
We didn’t get here even though l would have liked to see it. I am putting it on this guide because l understand people might want to visit. The reason why we didn’t visit? My research led me to discover that there were 380 steps to walk down to reach the mine, plus an additional 500 along the 2.5 kilometer tour. If l were younger and had better knees, I would say why not? I think l would feel too closed in though to really enjoy it. I watched youtube videos and l already didn’t want to be there. They whisk you up in an elevator at the end of the tour and l tried to inquire if they could whisk you down as well. The answer is no!. So..no thanks. I’ll stick to licking salt around a margarita filled glass :-). It was interesting to find out that a lot of the miners preferred to stay down there during the winters than come up because it was much warmer :-). Now you know how all those gorgeous works of at from salt came to be. Here is the website to find out prices etc.
Parks and open spaces:
I was surprised at how green the city of Krakow is. There is such incredible scenery everywhere you look. There seemed to be a park around every corner. It was cool to see trams going right through them. We spent a bit of time sitting on benches eating ice cream and just chilling. Highly recommended. A good trip is not always about rushing about for us. We enjoy taking time out to smell the roses. Once again, I forgot to bring my inhaler! Yikes. Lesson learnedI. have now bought a spare one and left it permanently in my carry-on luggage.
Where to eat in Krakow? Cool Useful Krakow Guide to the rescue:
Pierogi (Varenyky) is the national food of Poland. It is filled dumplings made with unleavened dough, originating from Eastern and Central Europe. We tried it at several places in our quest to find the best tasting one. They are cheap and a plate usually has 8 dumplings. The best and freshest one we found at a small family run restaurant not too far from the first AirBnB and was recommended by the hostess. What an incredible find. The little restaurant has been in operation since 1934. It survived the war. We had a whole meal for two for less than $11. I highly recommend it. It was a great find. The grandmother left them a black cabinet (on display, but my picture came out fuzz) full of recipes. Not a big menu and they are only open from 10AM-6PM.
Krakow is the first place l can truly say that prices are pretty reasonable everywhere. I remember being told that Lisbon was cheap. We didn’t find it so. Our most expensive meal turned out to be $46 for a full dinner with appetizers an drinks (including a horrible margarita priced at $7 and was the only sucky part of the dinner. Stick to beer!). Some of the food we had included:
Other lovely food we had:
One thing that puzzled me about Krakow? We saw maybe 6 people of Indian descent in the city, yet there were like a thousand Indian restaurants. We went to one that was incredibly good, absolutely fabulous and would have loved to see the cooks. I wonder if they are Indian or Polish? and if Indian, where do they all live? I hope someone has an insight on this and can share. I am really curious.
Would we go back to Krakow?
Most definitely. We found the city to be amazing and worthy of the praises heaped upon it. If it were possible to live there for 6 months out of the year, I would like it. The sights are beautiful, the history is quite fascinating and the people really warm and friendly. We had a glimpse of it on the train and told you about it on the postcard. I am writing Warsaw as a separate post so you can see my views on that place. We would love to go back to not just Krakow, but Gdansk and Wroclaw , both of which sounds beautiful to us. If you’re older and past the partying all night and throwing up age, you will still find plenty of things to do here. It is most definitely worthy of a visit. Getting a bang for your buck? That’s just icing on a yummy, mouth-watering cake!
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What do you think of what l consider a cool useful Krakow guide? Have l convinced you to visit Krakow? Is it a place that has come up on your radar at all? If not, would you consider adding it?