If there is one place in Poland everyone has heard of, it is Krakow. And yes, Krakow is one very beautiful town. Luckily, the city remained physically unscathed during the Second World War and the communists left much of the historic city alone. However, like much of Poland, Krakow also bears the same marks as the rest of the country. Astonishing amounts of brutality mixed with a shocking amount of history. Surrounding Krakow are some wonderful sights including the Wieliczka Salt Mines (unique), Watowice (home of the Late John Paul II) both of which I visited. Nearby is also Auschwitch, a symbol of the brutality of the 20th Century. I did not have time to get here, but you can see that just from this small list there is a lot to see and do around Krakow.
But back to Krakow. Today I will briefly flirt with the historic town itself. You could spend ages here, just wandering through the cities ancient streets, mostly pedestrianised. But avoid in the evenings in summer. Oh yes, the British have found another cheap new EU city to get pissed in. And do not think that any of these holidays are tasteful. However in Winter, the number of Brits in the city are few and far between, plus Krakow is big enough to avoid the mass of larger louts from ruining the city.
Enough about the British! I am here about Poland! And more importantly Krakow. Here’s another pic, this one of the main cathedral:
Yeah, churches. Like temples are to India, churches are to Poland. There are a lot of them, part of the fabric of society, and inevitably, your visit will be to one, if not many of these places of worship. I have never been such a good Catholic as my time in Poland. I think I went to a church or a Cathedral on all but two of the days I was in the country. Yes, I really was, a good, Catholic.
My advice to you is this. If you find yourself in Krakow, then take your time. The city is not big, but the amount to see and do means that you need at least a week to see everything, and even then it will not be a relaxing trip. A perfect city break, there is a lot more to the city then my own descriptions, and it has been done so many times before on the internet. My advice to you is this Take some time out, wander round, and enter every building that is possible. When eating out however, stay away from the old town and head to Kazimirez, but more on that fun place tomorrow!
Getting there and away and other practicalities:
Krakow has its own airport, served by the usual budget and not-so-budget airlines from across Europe.
Terminal 1 is used for all flights not originating in Poland.
You can go by train from the airport to the main station in the city (runs irregularly, check timetable, cost PLN10 – just over GBP2).
Local buses also run to the main rail station in the town centre and more importantly, run (again, at irregular intervals) throughout the night.
The airport train station is a three minute walk from Terminal 1, or you can get a free shuttle bus. Note that there are no ticket machines for the train on the platform. Either buy one in the airport building or on the train itself.
Krakow is compact enough to walk round, but you can hop on one of the city’s many trams or buses if your feet get tired. However, unlike other cities in Poland you cannot get a paper travelcard that is valid for 24, 48, 72 hours. Instead you have to buy a smartcard or rely on lots of single tickets. If using either, do not forget to validate when boarding the tram or bus.
Trams do not run all night. The city has a limited night bus service, but be aware of this when heading out.
There are also plenty of buses (both city/state run and privately operated) running to the outlying areas of Krakow including the Salt Mines, Watowice and Auschwitz. The limited commuter train network also serves these areas and if you manage to time it right, is far more comfortable to use. Plenty of tourist information booths are located in the city and they are used to idiotic foreigners turning up confused.
This is one place to change money. Rates are best in the city centre, but do shop around if you are not in a hurry to get any cash as rates do differ. Like the rest of Europe, cards are readily accepted at many of the outlets.
Krakow is not the friendliest of cities however, so keep your wits about you. Generally the area around the train station sees enough street brawls so be aware when wandering past late at night. This was Polish vs Polish, but it can involve anyone.