Quick guide to Krakow, Poland Currency: Euro
Kraków is one of the oldest cities in Poland and the second largest in the country. It was founded on the Vistula River in the 7th Century and has been an important historical and cultural centre ever since. It was the seat of the Polish monarchy for five centuries until 1569. Legend has it that the ruler Krakus founded Krakow on the Wawel Hill after slaying the ‘Wawel Dragon’ who occupied a cave underneath it, which tourists can still visit today. Kraków was the Nazi headquarters in Poland and as a result it survived WWII despite widespread destruction across the rest of the country.
Krakow is located far inland and as such temperatures can vary dramatically from season to season. Summers are warm, averaging 18 to 20 °C (64 to 68 °F). The hottest months are July and August, when temperatures average the mid-20s °C (high-70s °F) but often reach the 30s °C (mid-80’s °F). Winters are very cold, averaging around freezing during the day and dropping to −5 °C (23 °F) at night, if not lower. The Halny wind (a dry, warm wind) occasionally blows over Krakow from the nearby Tatra Mountains, causing temperatures to rise above average in winter.
Krakow is well connected by rail and there are trains to a rage of international destinations, as well as an hourly train to Warsaw. The airport is located 7 miles (11 km) outside the city and the journey in takes 18 minutes by direct train at a cost of 10 PLN (Polish Zloty, equivalent to £1.66). Much of the historic centre of Krakow has been pedestrianised, making walking the best way to see this part of town. There is an extensive bus and tram network which operates across the rest of the city. A single ticket valid for 40 minutes costs 3.80 PLN (67p).
There are a wide range of cuisines on offer in Krakow from Asian-fusion to Italian. Meat, sausage and potatoes feature heavily in the traditional Polish diet. Try the ‘pierogi’, dumplings filled with savoury ingredients like sauerkraut, potato or cheese, and ‘bigos’ (hunter’s stew). Cafe Oranzeria, situated on the rooftop of the Hotel Kossak, offers spectacular views of Wawel Castle and the Old Town. The menu is varied and offers both light snacks and three course meals. The outdoor terrace is open to diners from spring through to autumn.
Krakow is a university town home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world. There are plenty of bars and clubs to cater to the student population. Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa is 24-hour bar with a lively atmosphere. It is always busy and offers a wide range of vodka, including plum, quince and even Chupa Chups flavours. One shot will cost you a meagre 4 PLN (70p). Harris Piano Jazz bar is the place to enjoy the thriving Jazz scene in Krakow and puts on live music most nights from 9.30 pm.
Wawel Hill is home to the Royal Castle and the fourteenth-century Gothic Wawel Cathedral, both must-sees. The Royal Castle contains an impressive collection of Renaissance paintings within old state rooms, including da Vinci’s ‘Lady with an Ermine’. Don’t miss the carved wooden altarpiece in St Mary’s Basilica or Rynek Glowny, one of the largest medieval market squares in Europe. Visit the Kazimierz district, the Jewish quarter dating back five hundred years, to see the Old Synagogue and Oskar Schindler’s Factory, now home to a museum about its incredible history.
Situated around 25 miles (40 km) or one hour’s drive from the city, a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is an uncomfortable but important experience for many visitors to Kraków. Around half of the original brick buildings still stand and contain exhibitions while the remnants of the two concentration camps where 1.5 million people were murdered, Auschwitz I and Birkenau, are open to visitors. Tickets should be reserved online for guided tours. Alternatively, there are tour operators who will organise tours and transportation from Krakow for you.
Hotels in Krakow
Although accommodation prices have risen in the last few years as Krakow has become a more popular tourist destination, they remain lower than in much of Western Europe. There are plenty of apartment rentals, hostels and hotels to choose from, including many luxury options. The Hotel Copernicus, in the Old Town district, is a five star hotel with a gothic façade. The clientele includes film stars and politicians who flock here for its excellent service and prime location. Topolowa Residence is a charming boutique hotel ten minutes away from the main square.