Krakow / Cracow City Guide: Welcome to Krakow Poland
part of Travel Guides

Krakow (pronounced KRA-KOOF) (Cracow) is one of the jewels of Poland. As a world-renowned college town, it has a lot of life and flavor. As the former capital of Poland it has a lot of old world charm and deep history. Krakow has survived World War I and World War II fairly undamaged. Krakow's close proximity to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, makes it one of Poland's new tourist attractions. Krakow's medieval castles, legendary Vistula River, old churches, historic squares, shops, pubs, and more, Krakow has all the you would expect from a European town.

Situated in the heartland of Europe, Poland has been both a bridge and a front line between eastern and western Europe. Today, free from outside interference, Poland is the place to go if you're interested in seeing how a nation picks itself up off the floor and tries to reinvent itself. It's a multifaceted country where the capital and medieval old towns are coddled by contemporary city slickers and where horse-drawn carts negotiate country lanes in areas where the 20th century appears to have got lost somewhere down the road.

To find the soul of Poland, you must seek it in Krakow - wrote the author and critic Wilhelm Feldman at the beginning of this century. Poland's soul is chiseled into almost every stone of its old capital. This atmosphere can be felt in each of the city's most visited sites.

Krakow is a colossus of art and architecture, and its Old Town has been placed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's - UNESCO - list of protected World Historic Sites. But Krakow is also a modern city - the third largest in Poland.

Set on a rocky point overlooking the Vistula River, Krakow has been attracting increasing numbers of tourists, lured by its colorful past, which is associated with Poland's national heroes.


The country's patron saint, Stanislaus, charged with high treason and murdered by king Boleslav the Bold in the 11th century, rests in a silver tomb in the center of the Wawel cathedral.

Legendary Krakow is filled with vivid reminders of the days when Polish kings were crowned and buried at the 11th-century Wawel Castle. A fabulous collection of Arras tapestries, portraits and other precious objects await visitors.

The third largest city in Poland, Cracow (Krakow) is the new capital of the Malopolska (Little Poland) region in the southeast - between the Jura uplands and the Tatra Mountains. This magical city on the banks of the Wisla (Vistula) River, has one of the best-preserved medieval city centers in Europe, with dozens of churches covering almost every architectural period and surrounded by monasteries and abbeys. Laid out in 1257, the Rynek Glowny (Main Market Square) is one of the largest medieval market squares in Europe - and a remarkable set piece fronted by elegant façades. It is dominated by the 16th-century Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), which continues to perform its role as a trading center with lively market stalls and pavement cafés in and around the building. The surrounding lanes of the Stare Miasto (Old Town) are ringed by the Planty - a leafy, linear park that follows the line of the Old Town walls. Wawel Hill, to the south, is home to Wawel Castle, the seat of Polish kings from the 11th to the early 17th century. It was at this location, in 1000 AD, that the bishopric of Cracow was established and the Cathedral remains the spiritual home of Poland. 

The city has largely been left intact since the Tartar raids of the 13th century, and this accounts for the largely unspoiled Old Town - now a World Heritage Site. One area that has seen traumatic changes is the Kazimierz district. For centuries it was a center of Jewish culture, until the Nazis killed many of its residents and deported most of those remaining to the wartime ghetto and from there to Auschwitz-Birkenau. An astonishing one third of tourists come to Cracow to see the concentration camps an hour's drive away. Although the former ghetto had largely fallen into decline since World War II, the area is rapidly changing in response to the renewed interest brought about by the film, Schindler's List (1993). The Jewish culture, if not the Jewish community, is being revived with lively Klezmer concerts in the city's theatres. 


Cracow's millennium coincided with the Krakow 2000 festival - a celebration of the city's many musical, literary and artistic achievements - and the choice of Cracow as one of the nine European Cities of Culture for 2000. The recognition of Cracow as a cultural capital is justly deserved - almost a quarter of Poland's museum holdings can be found here and the city's cultural scene is without equal in Poland. While Warsaw may be Poland's administrative capital, Cracow is frequently referred to as Poland's cultural capital. This is a city steeped in myth and legend and many of its medieval traditions have carried forward to the present day. The city's cultural heritage is mirrored in its intellectual achievements - the Jagiellonian University is the oldest in Poland. The student population numbers almost 100,000 and this can be felt in the lively atmosphere throughout the city - Cracow is Poland's second biggest center for science and education. Added to this are the increasing numbers of tourists who have discovered Cracow. In response, even more bars, cafés and restaurants have been opening up, making the city center all the more attractive a place to enjoy. In fact, Cracow has more cafés and bars per square meters than anywhere else in Poland. Summers tend to be busy, as the weather is at its most pleasant. The seasons are sharply differentiated, with cold, snowy winters and 'fresh' springs and autumns (visitors should beware of the locals' use of the word 'fresh' - an optimistic reference to blatantly cold weather). The labyrinthine cellars of the Old Town are an ideal place to huddle in escape of the winter weather.

The Sukiennice, or Cloth Hall, dominates the square. It is here where merchants of old sold their wares. Today, visitors can stock up on local art and souvenirs or simply sip a cup of coffee or espresso.

It's an easy traverse across Europe's largest medieval marketplace to feast at the Wierzynek Restaurant as the royalty once did! This Polish institution is the oldest, continuously operating restaurant in Europe. It dates back to 1364 when Mikolaj Wierzynek prepared a famous wedding banquet for the granddaughter of King Casimir the Great. Sit back and take in the rooms furnished with antique chandeliers, old battle armor and ancient clocks.

Other attractions in the area include the original city walls, the Barbican fortress and the Florian Gate. Once the main entry point to the city, the gate is now the site of a flourishing open art show. In addition, the Kazimierz district, one of the principal centers of Jewish religion, culture and learning since the 15th century, now boasts a large complex of partly restored historical architecture.

The royal capital for half a millennium, Krakow has witnessed and absorbed more history than any other Polish city. Moreover, it came through the last war unscathed, so it has retained a wealth of old architecture from different periods. The tallest structures on Krakow's skyline are not skyscrapers but the spires of old churches, the 20th century's impact having been confined to acid rain. Yet Krakow is not a silent memorial to bygone events: it's a city alive with character and soul.

Ringed by parkland, the Old Town is compact and utterly charming. The Main Market Square is flanked by historic buildings, museums and churches. St Adalbert's Church is one of the oldest, dating back to the 10th century. If you catch an enthusiastic priest at his most generous he might open the coffins in the Church of the Reformed Franciscans enabling you to reconfigure your lunch with a gawk at some mummified bodies. One of the best museums is the Czartoryski Museum, with an impressive collection of European art, as well as Asian handcrafts and armor. Krakow was Otto Schindler's stamping ground and there are tours tracing the steps of his story and some of Spielberg's film locations.

Krakow / Cracow City Guide: Fast Facts

Cracow is one of the largest and oldest cities in Poland, with a population of 756,336 in 2007 (1,403,247 in the Kraków-Tarnów sub-region).

Situated on the Vistula river (Polish: Wisła) in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Kraków from 1846 to 1918, and the capital of Kraków Voivodeship from the 14th century to 1999. It is now the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship.

People: 98% Polish, plus Ukrainian and Belorussian minorities
Language: Polish
Religion: 95% Roman Catholic
Government: Parliamentary democracy
Visas: Most EC countries and the USA can enter Poland without a visa and stay for 90 days. Australians need visas. Border laws are being liberalized so check with a Polish Embassy before you leave.
Health risks: Substandard hospital care, especially in rural areas
Time: GMT/UTC plus one hour
Electricity: 220 volts, 50 Hz AC
Weights & measures: Metric
Tourism: 8 million visitors per year

Currency: Polish zloty

Relative costs:

  • Budget meal: US$3-5
  • Moderate restaurant meal: US$6-20
  • Top-end restaurant meal: $20 and up
  • Budget room: US$10-30
  • Moderate hotel:US$20-50
  • Top-end hotel: US$100-500

Though not the bargain it used to be, Poland is still a cheap country for travelers. If you are accustomed to rental cars and plush hotels, you can spend almost as much as you would in western Europe. However, if you can get by with cheap hotels, medium-priced restaurants, bus or train travel, a few beers, the odd museum and occasional taxis, you should be able to get by on around $50-90 a day.

However you carry it, your money will generally be safe while you're traveling in Poland. Checks are reasonably easy to exchange wherever you go, but you'll get a slightly better rate with cash. Credit cards are becoming more useful - you can use them to pay for up-market hotels and restaurants, car rentals and long-distance transport. You can also get cash advances with the major cards.

There are a number of banks as well as automatic teller machines located around the Main Square, which accept most major credit and charge cards. Moreover, most shops in the city centre allow payment by card. Money exchange is possible in exchange bureaus and banks. As banks usually take a small commission for such services this method is less attractive and beneficial for customers. When exchanging money at an exchange bureau, it is worth paying close attention to the exchange rates of the currencies on offer - taking the time to compare them with those on offer in other local exchange bureaus is also highly recommended and could make a considerable difference to the amount you get.

Europe-Flight/Hotel Combo

Krakow / Cracow City Guide: How to Get There?

Getting to Krakow by Air

There are several non-stop and connecting/direct flights to John Paul II International Airport Kraków-Balice (airport code KRK) from major European, North American, and other destinations. LOT Polish Airlines offers the only non-stop service from Chicago O'Hare ORD, New York City JFK and Newark Liberty EWR airports to Krakow Balice Airport KRK via non-stop or direct flights.  

Krakow-Balice Airport is served by the following airlines:

  • Aer Lingus (Dublin)
  • Austrian Airlines
    operated by Tyrolean Airways (Vienna)
  • bmibaby (Birmingham)
  • British Airways (London-Gatwick)
  • Brussels Airlines (Brussels)
  • Czech Airlines (Prague)
  • easyJet (Belfast-International, Bristol, Dortmund, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London-Gatwick, London-Luton, Newcastle, Paris-Charles de Gaulle)
  • Finnair (Helsinki) [seasonal]
  • Iberia Airlines
    operated by Air Nostrum (Madrid)
  • LOT Polish Airlines (Chicago-O'Hare, Frankfurt, New York-JFK [seasonal], Newark [seasonal], Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Tel Aviv, Warsaw, Poznan, Bydgoszcz)
  • operated by EuroLOT (Vienna)
  • Lufthansa (Munich)
    Lufthansa Regional operated by Augsburg Airways (Munich)
    Lufthansa Regional operated by Lufthansa CityLine (Frankfurt, Munich)
  • Norwegian Air Shuttle (Bergen, Copenhagen [begins 2 April], Oslo-Gardermoen, Stavanger, Stockholm-Arlanda)
  • Ryanair (Birmingham, Dublin, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow-Prestwick, Liverpool, London-Stansted, Milan-Bergamo, Shannon, Stockholm-Skavsta)
  • (Paris-Orly)
  • Windjet (Forli) [begins 31 March]

Transportation to/from Krakow-Balice Airport to/from Krakow city center:

The "Balice Ekspres" operates between Kraków Główny (Main railway station) and the Kraków-Balice Airport railway-stop everyday from 4:00 am to midnight, with trains every 30 minutes between 7:00 and 21:00).

Trains from Kraków Główny to Kraków Balice Airport depart from platform 1, track 9. Trip time: 16 mins. One-way fare: 6.00 zł (ca. Ł1.50 or 1.87 €). No charge for luggage.

A free shuttle bus operates between the airport train stop and the terminals: international (T1) and domestic (T2). (1)

In addition, you can take a city bus: Bus #208 (from Nowy Kleparz), #192 (from Plac Bohaterów Getta, Rondo Mogilskie, main railway station). Travelling time is approximately 35 min. Please purchase regular public transportation tickets.(2)

Facilities at the Airport:

Foreign currency exchange bureaus, ATMs, BPH-PBK S.A. bank branches, restaurant and coffee shop at the passengers terminal, viewing terrace coffee shop, duty free shop in the main flight departure hall, 24/7 parking lot, car rentals agency. (2)

(1) Compiled from Thank you Wikipedia and its authors. (2) Compiled from Tourisim Krakow.

Getting to Krakow by Rail / Cracow by Rail

The city is easily and comfortably accessible by train from all larger cities in Poland, for example, the journey by InterCity train from Warsaw to Krakow takes only 2.5 hours. Apart from local transport systems, Krakow also has direct railway links with Berlin, Budapest, Bucharest (from June to August trains also run to Varna), Hamburg, Kiev (from June to August trains also run to Odessa), Lviv, Prague, Vienna, Żilin. All trains stop at the Main Railway Station.

Travel Seasons

The tourist season runs roughly from May to September, peaking in July and August. At this time the Baltic beaches are taken over by swarms of humanity, resorts and spas are invaded by tourists, Masurian lakes are crowded with thousands of sailboats, and mountains can hardly be seen for walkers. Perhaps the best time to visit is either late spring (mid-May to June) or the turn of summer and autumn (September to mid-October). These are pleasantly warm periods and there are plenty of cultural activities going on. During winter it's cold, but its still a good time for visiting Poland's cities.