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World > Poland > Krakow
City Guide Krakow
General Information
Krakow is one of the main cities of Poland, with a population of almost one million. Located in the south of Poland on the Vistula river, it is a bustling metropolis surrounded by natural beauty, nestled in a valley at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. Krakow is a very old city, founded in 1000, and its rich history and cultural traditions give it a unique character. It is considered by many to be the cultural capital of Poland, and the city’s medieval heritage is still apparent in many ways, especially in the old centre where buildings are wonderfully well preserved. Krakow was the official capital of Poland from the 11th to the 17th century, and the city has long been a centre for learning, science, and art, and a place where cultures come together. Modern Krakow offers a stimulating array of musuems, cultural venues, churches, parks and universities, ensuring that there is something here for everyone.
Warsaw has a temperate and humid climate, with cold winters and fairly hot summers. The coldest weather generally comes in February, and temperatures in the winter can be as low as -20° C, though they average closer to -2° C. The wettest months are usually June and July, and the warmest weather comes in July and August. It is not uncommon to have 30° C temperatures in these months. Spring and fall are usually beautiful seasons, the former crisp and sunny and full of blooms and the latter alternately sunny and misty, and cool but not cold.
Krakow’s weather goes through the full range of the European temperate climate, with hot summers, beautiful sunny springs, crisp, cool and often rainy autumns, and cold, snowy winters. August is generally considered to have the best weather, usually not as hot as July, but sunny and pleasant. And springs here tend to be gorgeous, with flowers and blossoming trees everywhere in April and May. In fall and winter the city is often covered in mist, and there is usually snow on the ground from mid-December, sometimes lasting until March. The most rainfall occurs in early fall.
The language spoken in Krakow is Polish. Many people, even in the big cities, are only fluent in Polish, though they may have studied some English, French or German. Most of the younger generation does speak good English, however.
The religious population of Poland is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, with between 90-96% of Poles baptised Catholic. Of these, about 80% practice the religion, but only 55% of adults declare themselves fully identified with the Catholic faith. The main religious minorities in Poland are Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, and Jehovah’s Witness. At least 6% of Poles do not believe in any religion.
The currency used in Poland is the zloty. One zloty is divided into 100 groszy. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 grosz and 1, 2 and 5 zlotys. Notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 zlotys. 1 euro is equivalent to approximately 3.4 zlotys.
There aren’t so many hard and fast rules about tipping in Krakow. In general, people here expect fewer tips than most other European countries, but it is the norm to give them in several circumstances when you are satisfied with the service. Service charges are not included in any restaurant bills in Krakow, so it is good to leave some change or round up the bill. Tips are also much appreciated by hairdressers and hotel staffs, but are not considered strictly necessary. Even taxis do not necessarily expect tips, unless they go out of their way to help you in some way. Basically, you can get by with minimal tipping in Krakow, but it is always nice to reward people for good service.
The value added tax, or VAT, in Poland ranges from 3-22% depending on what you are buying, and is included in the prices of almost all goods and services. It is 3% for unprocessed foods, 7% for other foods and necessary items (health and child care goods, transportation, etc), and 22% for everything else. Tourists from outside of the EU can get the money they spend on tax reimbursed upon leaving the country. There are some conditions, such as you have to take the goods out of the country within three months. Ask if you can get a tax free shopping form whenever you spend a significant amount in one shop. Then present these forms to a customs official in the airport when you are leaving, and you will receive your refund there.
Public telephones in Krakow are called TP phones, and they accept prepaid cards which you can buy at “telepoints,” news kiosks and post offices. There are three kinds of phones, and two kinds of cards, which don’t work on all phones. The blue telephones only accept the cards with a magnetic strip, the silver rectangular phones accept both magnetic cards and cards with a chip, and the yellow phones only accept chip cards. At the yellow TP phones you can also send emails and SMS messages.
Krakow has many internet cafés and locations where wifi is available, such as the Main Square and the Kazimierz district. If you don’t have a laptop, it is easy to recognize the internet cafés, plentiful in the centre of the city.
Emergency Numbers
All Emergencies: 112 Ambulance: 999 Fire Brigade: 998 Police: 997
Opening times
The opening times for small shops and other businesses vary, but the norm is weekdays from 9 am - 6 pm and Saturday from 10 am - 5 pm. Large department stores are generally open from 10 am - 10 pm, and supermarkets even longer, from 8.30 am - 11 pm. Banks are open weekdays from 10 am - 6 pm, and some also open on Saturday from 10 am - 1 pm. Post offices are open weekdays from 7 am - 8 pm, and Saturday from 7 am - 2 pm. If you need to buy something in the wee hours, your best bet is to go to a petrol station shop. These are open 24 hours every day, even on holidays, and sell basic necessities such as sandwiches and other basic food items, drinks, and hygienic products.
Public Holidays
January 1, New Year’s Day Easter Sunday and Monday (dates vary) May 1, State Holiday May 3, Constitution Day Pentecost (7th Sunday after Easter) Corpus Christi (9th Thursday after Easter) August 15, Assumption Day November 1, All Saints’ Day November 11, Independence Day December 25 and 26, Christmas
Public Holidays
January 1, New Year’s Day Easter Sunday and Monday (dates vary) May 1, State Holiday May 3, Constitution Day Pentecost (7th Sunday after Easter) Corpus Christi (9th Thursday after Easter) August 15, Assumption Day November 1, All Saints’ Day November 11, Independence Day December 25 and 26, Christmas
Poland is one of the safest of all the European countries, and Krakow is probably the safest major city in Poland. So you certainly don’t need to worry about crime here any more than you do at home. But nowhere is crime free, and Krakow has its share of pickpockets and car thieves, and muggings do occur occasionally. If you take common sense safety precautions, however, chances are you will not fall victim to anything. Always carry your belongings in a very secure place, and never care more valuables with you than you need. Even more important is simply to be aware of your surroundings, trust your instincts, and avoid dodgy neighbourhoods and walking alone at night.
Krakow is a picturesque city with a little bit of everything. There is a scenic, historic centre full of character, a hill with an old castle, stunning natural beauty, plenty of modern museums, and a wide variety of historic churches. The Main Square, dating from the 13th century, is located at the heart of the city and is a good place to start exploring. It is one of the largest market squares in Europe, and is surrounded by many old buildings and churches and some cozy cafés. Also make sure to visit the Kanonicza district, located around the foot of Wawel Hill. It combines narrow, cobblestone streets with ancient buildings, and is another place to really get a feel of the city’s history. One of the nice things about Krakow is that it is possible to explore all of the city centre comfortably on foot. There are some beautiful established walking routes, such as through Planty Park, and the “Royal Way” which winds through the garden surrounding the city.
Main Square (Rynek Glówny)
This square has been the heart of Krakow since the mid 13th century, and has been used as a meeting place, a reference point, and a venue for outdoor events for hundreds of years. The square is surrounded by many old buildings and a landmark church, St. Mary’s or “the basilica.” The historical musuem is also located on the Main Square, as well as many historic restaurants, pubs and shops. This is the most popular place to begin any exploration of Krakow, and is also a bustling centre for nightlife.
Cloth Hall
This famous hall is a historic landmark located right on Krakow’s Main Square, and was built in the 14th century under Kind Casimir the Great. It became the centre for trade in the city, full of cloth makers, bakers, fishmongers and many other merchants. The hall continued to develop and was further expanded and decorated in the 16th century, which was when the gargoyles were added. The Cloth Hall is today still home to craftsmen and merchants selling traditional items and souvenirs, and also houses the Museum of 19th Century Art. This is closed until 2009, however.
Town Hall Tower
This tower, located right next to the Cloth Hall, is all that remains from Krakow’s old town hall, built in the 14th century. The rest of the building was destroyed during fires and the subsequent renovations. You can climb all the way up to the top of the tower, and you first pass through Gothic vaulted rooms where there are models of what the original town hall looked like and old photographs of Krakow. The tower is 70 metres tall and offers a good view over the square and the surrounding area. The last admissions are thirty minutes before closing. Opening times: Daily 10.30 am - 6 pm Entrance price: 6 zlotys
Castle on Wawel Hill
Wawel Hill is a very important historical site in Krakow, and has been a centre of political power since the 10th century. A fortified castle was built on the hill sometime in the early 10th century, and it later became one of the official residences of Poland’s first rular, Miesco I. A cathedral was built on the hill in 1000, and is where Poland’s first king, Wladyslaw the Short, was crowned in 1329. Poland’s rulars lived in the castle on Wawel Hill until the 17th century, and all added something of their own to the building. It is now a rather strange mixture of the Medieval, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles. The castle is a fascinating place to visit, packed with art and artifacts from its long history. It also has a beautiful inner courtyard. You must enter at least one hour before closing time. Opening times: Tues - Fri 9.30 am - 5 pm, Sat 11 am - 6 pm, Sun 11 am - 6 pm, Mon 9.30 am - 1 pm
Dragon''s Den
Wawel Hill was formed out of limestone approximately 25 million years ago, and during its formation many caves within the rock were created. These caves have been the stuff of legend throughout Krakow’s history, and one eerie cave came to be known as the “dragon’s den,” believed to be the home of a dragon that ate sheep and seduced the local girls. The legend says that the dragon was destroyed by Krak, the founder of Krakow, who fed him a sheep full of tar and sulphur and made him explode. In medieval times, the cave became a brothel and tavern, and is now a popular tourist attraction. You buy your ticket from the machine at the entrance, so make sure you have some change handy. Opening times: Daily 10 am - 5 pm Entrance price: 3 zlotys
Krakow Zoo
The Krakow zoo has been around since 1929, and has been improved and expanded many times in its long history. It now covers an area of 17 hectacres, and is home to 278 different species of animals from all over the world. Some of the featured animals include a herd of pygmy hippopotamus, which is very special because they are a seriously endanged species, a herd of Przewalski horses, a South American tapir, white camels, South American sea lios, and some rare species of wild cats and antelope. There is also a fascinating reptile house and an aviary. Last admissions are one hour before closing time. Opening times: Daily 9 am - 7 pm in summer, 9 am - 5 pm in spring and fall, and 9 am - 3 pm in winter
Bat Cave in Bêdkowska Valley
This cave is one of more than 400 caves located in the Ojców National Park, a 35-40 minute ride from Krakow. A journey to the park and to its fascinating caves is worth the extra trek, however, and makes for a perfect day trip. This cave is so-named because it is full of bats--fifteen different species of bats to be exact! There is a lighting system set up in the cave so you can see all the creatures, as well all the craggy nooks and crannies and interesting rock formations in the cave. As well as a place to watch bats, the caves are fascinating from an archaeological standpoint, and traces of human life from as early as 40,000 years ago have been found here. Opening times: Daily 9 am - 6 pm (4 pm in fall and winter)
Pauline Church
This church was built in the late 11th century and has an interesting and bloody history. In 1079 the king of Poland, Boleslaw the Bold, accused the bishop of Krakow of treason and had him beheaded and chopped into pieces. According to legend, the royal family then fell under a curse and felt that they had to atone for this crime in order to break it. So they had the Pauline Church built and made regular pilgimages there. The church is full of beautiful wood and stone work and lavish decorations. The sword believed to be the one that beheaded the bishop hangs next to the altar. Opening times: Daily 9 am - 7 pm, but no admission during mass times
Reformed Franciscans’ Church
This church was built between 1666 and 1672 for Franciscan monks, and its modest, functional architecture and interior reflects the strict ideals of the order. One of the most interesting features of the church is the mummified bodies in the crypt, very well preserved due to a controlled microclimate in the vaults. It is possible to see these mummified bodies, but you must ask for permission. The church is only open to the public during mass.
St. Adalbert’s
This is the oldest church in Krakow, located next to the Cloth Hall on the main square. The church was built in the 11th century, and some parts of the building survive from this time. The rest, however, has through the ages become a mix of pre-Roman, Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, all jumbled together. The interior is very interesting and has some beautiful ornate décor. Also intriguing is the fact that the floor of the church is about two metres below the level of the main square. No visits are allowed during mass. Opening times: Mon - Fri 9 am - 6 pm, Sun 1.30 pm - 5 pm
St. Andrew''s
Unlike many of the old churches in Krakow, this one has not become a Frankenstein of architectural styles, and in fact remains a beautiful example of Romanesque architecture. It was built between 1079-1098 and has had an interesting history. The church was used as a fortress and sanctuary during some of the early wars, but has still remained a continuous place of worship since it was founded. The interior of the church is mainly Baroque, and one of the highlights is the pulpit shaped like a boat. Opening times: Daily 7 am - 5 pm
St. Mary''s Basilica
This church is one of the grandest in Krakow and its interior is truly breathtaking with its stained glass windows, starry blue ceiling, and impressive stonework. St. Mary’s was built in the 12th century, but everything except for its foundation was destroyed during Tartar invasions in the mid 13th century. The church was gradually rebuilt over the next hundred years, and the magnficent altar that still stands was completed over twelve years by German artist Veit Stoss. Opening times: Mon - Sat 11.30 am - 6 pm, Sun 2 pm - 6 pm Entrance price: 6 zlotys
This is a park that runs around the city of Krakow like a belt, and is often referred to as “the lungs of the city.” It a beautiful and restful bit of greenery, and a very popular place for walking. The area now covered by this park was once the location of the city’s defensive walls and moats, which were filled in during the 19th century. Some parts of the wall remain, such as Floriañska Gate and the Barbakan.
New Cemetary
This is a Jewish cemetary that was founded in 1800 and is the resting place of many distinguished Jews who died in the 19th and early 20th century. During the second world war, the cemetary filled up with the many Krakow Jews killed during the tragedy of the Holocaust. Many of the headstones represent entire families who died during the war. The cemetary is a peaceful place to visit and walk and ponder mortality. Many visitors place freshly-lit candles on the graves which make the cemetary particularly beautiful at dusk. Opening times: Sun - Fri 9 am - 6 pm