Krakow, A City That Never Sleeps

Godfrey Hall is an award-winning UK based travel journalist and member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. He has been in search of elves in Iceland, traveled to the depths of central Australia and been off the beaten track in Bulgaria.

With a wealth of things to see and do, Krakow is an ideal short break destination or a great add on to any European trip. Located in the southern part of Poland, it has extremely good transport links with a new airport and a train service that whisks you into the city in minutes. The city has a very interesting history and there are plenty of shopping malls to explore. You will not only have the opportunity to drink a coffee in a café frequented by Lenin but also visit one of the world’s largest salt mines and take excursions to the Auschwitz concentration camp, Schindler’s factory in the Jewish quarter or go out to the ski resort of Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains just a two hour ride by coach. Usually cold in the winter and hot in the summer, Krakow is a safe, well organised and clean city with a nightlife you just can’t miss!

Places to See

Rynek Glowny, Krakow’s main square, view from the Hotel Wentzl (Godfrey Hall)

Rynek Glowny, Krakow’s main square, view from the Hotel Wentzl (Godfrey Hall)

One of the best places to start your exploration of the city is in the main square Rynek Glowny. This is home to the magnificent Cloth Hall where you will find some superb necklaces, bracelets and brooches made of amber. The building also houses the Noworolski café, a popular haunt for Lenin, his wife and his mistress. Stop here for a coffee and drink in the luxurious surroundings. On the other side of the square is St. Mary’s Basilica. Every hour, on the hour, a live trumpeter appears from an open window at the top of the tower to remember when a watchman warned the city of an imminent attack. Unfortunately he was then felled by a single arrow.

A short walk from the square is the magnificent Wawel Castle and cathedral. Set by the river, there is a lot to see inside, however if time is limited just walk around the outside and soak up the atmosphere. There are some very good views of the city and the river from the battlements.

Horse Drawn Carriages on Zakopane’s Main Street (Godfrey Hall)

Horse Drawn Carriages on Zakopane’s Main Street (Godfrey Hall)

One of the nearest shopping malls can be found at the railway station which is a short walk of about 10 minutes from the old town. You will find plenty of signs in English and most young people will be able to help with directions. The railway station can be found on the other side of the shopping mall together with the coach station. From here you can take an express coach to the delightful ski resort of Zakopane, a journey of 70 miles. The ticket is currently just 15 zloty one-way (Approximately USD$4). Zakopane has lots to offer, with plenty of shops, stalls, cafes and restaurants. Look out for the charming, strange, wooden buildings which are a feature of the region.

Another attraction, which is just 20 minutes away by train from the centre of Krakow is the Wieliczka Salt Mine. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is one of the largest salt mines in the world and is considered by many as one of Poland’s major tourist attractions. There are over 800 steps on the tourist route but you will be relieved to know that your return journey will be by lift! Make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes as tours can last up to three hours. Also ask the guide to take you into the museum at the end of the tour as this is included in the price. There are some amazing sights including two chapels cut out of the salt. The mine has nine levels and over 300 kilometres of tunnels. Salt was mined here until 1996. You can buy plenty of souvenirs in the underground shops and at the same time enjoy some typical Polish food in the cafe.

Inside the Salt Mine (Godfrey Hall)

Inside the Salt Mine (Godfrey Hall)

Back in the city you can find out more about Schindler and his factory by visiting the Jewish quarter which has several synagogues.

Finally there is the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, 37 miles west of the city. Around half a million people visit every year, but be warned this can be a harrowing experience as it tells the terrible story of what went on. Consider before you go whether or not you are willing to face the shocking truths as for many people it can be very upsetting.


Dining Room at Hotel Wentzl

Dining Room at Hotel Wentzl (Godfrey Hall)

There are plenty of hotels available in Krakow currently at very competitive prices. One of the best and most central is the Hotel Wentzl. Located on the main square, many of the rooms face the Cloth Hall and so provide an insight into daily life. The breakfasts are quite sumptuous and the staff extremely friendly. Don’t worry about the trumpeter as the hotel has excellent double glazing!

There are also plenty of other hotels in the old town. A valuable asset when you are in the city is Krakow‘s “In your Pocket” guide which is free and should be widely available in most hotels. The information contained in the guide is very practical and down to earth. It is a good idea to try and find somewhere central. Krakow is not a hilly place but there are some hotels further out which may require a walk of 20 to 30 minutes to get to the centre. I would also recommend that when you book you add in the cost of a breakfast rather than going out and finding somewhere. Polish people tend to eat on the move and in the early morning you will find stalls selling rolls, pretzels and coffee to the commuters as they make their way to work.

Other central hotels include the Hotel Wawel and the Hotel Pollera which are well worth considering. Rooms in most reasonable establishments will include satellite televisions, WiFi and a fair sized bathroom. A good hotel breakfast should include cold meats, salads, Polish cheeses and a range of hot dishes such as omelettes.

Food and Drink

Lunch of Pierogi, Salad & Polish Sausage (Godfrey Hall)

Lunch of Pierogi, Salad & Polish Sausage (Godfrey Hall)

For me one of Poland’s greatest draws must be its food and drink. The range is enormous and substantial. Vodka is often individually crafted and the local beers are very tasty.

There are several national dishes which should not be missed. For me pierogi is a must. Made from small pieces of dough stuffed with different meats, cabbage, potatoes or even sweet berries, they are extremely tasty and filling. Another favourite is bigos, a simple dish made from meat and sauerkraut. It is cooked very slowly for a long time. Soups such as zurek are also delicious and usually contain plenty of spicy Polish sausage.

There are lots of reasonably priced places to eat in the centre of the city. Several stand out, and this includes Bianca which is close to St. Mary’s Basilica. Here they have cleverly brought together Italian cuisine and Polish flavours. Very popular with local young people, it has a vibrant atmosphere. If you are looking for

Polish Apple Pie (Godfrey Hall)

Polish Apple Pie (Godfrey Hall)

something a bit more traditional then you should go to Wesele Restaurant on the main square. You must try their delicious goose breast or the flavoursome hare’s leg. For dessert sample a piece of Polish apple pie which is very different from the apple pie you will have tasted before. Another popular sweet is sernik which is a Polish cheesecake. Local people often have this with their coffee in the afternoon.

A short walk from the main square, past the castle, will take you to the Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, which was once a town on its own. This up and coming area is home to many restaurants including Starka Restaurant where you can try home-made vodkas such as apple and cinnamon or pear. There is a great atmosphere and the staff are very friendly and helpful. The pork is excellent and the portions quite large. Make sure you book before hand as it can get busy. They also have live music several nights during the week.

Remember dinner is usually eaten between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Coffee is drunk throughout the day and there are lots of coffee shops. Try Choco Cafe just off the main square. If you are a tea

Oscypki (Godfrey Hall)

Oscypki (Godfrey Hall)

drinker then herbal and fruit teas are currently in vogue. Coffee and tea are often taken with cake.

Vodka is the main alcoholic drink and can be found in many different flavours. One of the most famous contains bison grass.

One tip worth knowing in restaurants is not to say “thank you” when you pay the bill until you have been given back your change, as it is a custom in Poland for the staff to keep the change if the words thank you are mentioned. It is far better to

hand the money over, receive your change, give them a tip and then say thank you.

If you are having wine with your meal be prepared to drink French, Italian, Hungarian or Bulgarian wine as Polish wine is rare.

Street stalls can be found all over the city and you will probably see oscypek on sale. This is smoked cheese made from sheep’s milk and it comes in various sizes. In Zakopane you will find lots of stalls selling tiny versions of this covered in red fruit jam which is typical of the area.


Local Beer (Godfrey Hall)

Local Beer (Godfrey Hall)

If you are looking for clubs or bars, then Krakow has them all. From heavy metal to those providing a more Europop feel, you will not be short of somewhere to go. Many are hidden away behind the main streets and so you might be approached by people trying to lure you in. Some of the best places can be found in the Jewish quarter and late at night you will find them full of local youngsters as well as tourists. There are literally hundreds of bars around the centre of the city in courtyards and underground. Cheap drinks can be found at Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa, whilst local beers can be found at the Multi Qlti Tap Bar, and Baroque is a bar with style. For somewhere very different try Antycafe.

You may also come across snack and shot bars. These have been described as an alternative to the cocktail bar. They are however an acquired taste. If you want to experience one then try Ambasada Sledzia which specialises in fish. Good luck!

Culturally, Krakow has some excellent venues with plenty happening at the Congress Centre and at the Opera. They have lots of festivals during the year and often feature visiting companies such as the Moscow City Ballet. If you are looking for something a bit different then try the Groteska Puppet Theatre in Skarbowa.


The Writer in Zakopane

The Writer in Zakopane

There is an excellent tram, bus and train service in and around Krakow together with some well run long distance coaches. If you are travelling by train then you may find the automatic machines a bit complex so buy your ticket on the train. The service from the airport goes into the main station and then onto the salt mine, whilst buses and trams cover most of the city.

If you are looking to go further afield the coach station is next to the railway station. It is best to buy your ticket before you travel. Prices are low, services are very good and usually keep to time. Cheap filled rolls can be bought at the coach station and do remember to use the facilities before you leave.

Krakow airport is served by a number of different airlines and there are connections to Warsaw, London, Berlin and Paris. If you are combining this as part of a European tour and have to make arrangements for airport lounge passes or car parking in the UK then contact Holiday Extras.

Often people combine a trip to Krakow with one to Warsaw going by train or coach. There are also plenty of cable cars and funicular railways to try if you are staying in Zakopane for any length of time.

Wawel Castle and Cathedral (Godfrey Hall)

Wawel Castle and Cathedral (Godfrey Hall) Expert Tips

How To Get There: As noted by the author, Krakow Airport offers flights to/from Europe, with connections beyond. The airport is served by over 20 airlines including Air France, British Airways and SWISS.

The easiest way to get to/from the airport is by using the train which connects to the city centre in under 20 minutes and costs 8 zloty, approximately USD$2. To get from the airport to the Salt Mines is 11 zloty or $3. More information about area transportation is available at here.

Best Time To Visit: As with most of Europe, summer is an incredibly popular time to visit Krakow where the cafes are crowded and the summer festivals are in full swing. The weather doesn’t get too hot, where the average highs from June to August is in the mid-70s, but summer tends to be rainier than the other seasons. If you want to avoid crowds and score cheaper flights and hotels, spring and fall are ideal, but it comes with the cost of cooler weather.

Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to Krakow from:

* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on Updates

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