As a part time traveler, I take my trips on weekends and holidays. Weekend trips tend to last from one to three days, holiday trips about a week in Europe and two or three weeks on other continents. When you are short of time, it's important to spend it wisely and get the most out of it. Here’s the story of my latest one day trip to Krakow.

Why go to Krakow?

For me, seeing Krakow was important to understand the history of Poland as Krakow was the capital of the country from 1038 to 1596. It survived World War II quite well – historical buildings were not much damaged. As I like history and architecture, that played a huge part in my decision to come. In addition, I’ve heard good reviews from many people who have visited the city.

krakow st marys church

I say Krakow and you say Cracow but they say Kraków

The Krakow vs. Cracow debate has been going on for hundreds of years. The Polish name of the city is Kraków but the correct English spelling used to be Cracow with a C at least for several centuries, as the city found its way into English books while part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. However, within the second half of the 20th century, the spelling more similar to the Polish word began to take precedence. Even Encyclopaedia Britannica, Webster's and other dictionaries changed their entries to "Krakow". Google search brings up about 82 million hits for "Krakow" and somewhat 6 million hits for "Cracow". At the end of the day, either variant is technically correct, but when searching for the city's airport or train station, for example, make sure you use the "Krakow" spelling, as that’s the official name for both.

How to get to Krakow?

I did what I always do: took a plane to the closest destination possible and then used public transport to travel locally. I arrived at Warsaw Chopin Airport and bought a bus ticket to the railway station at the public transport information window. The bus number 175 stop was located just across the street. There was a list of the stops in the bus window and on an electronic display. All the 17 stops to the Central (Glawny) railway station were announced too, the railway station stop both in Polish and English. The ride took 20 minutes give or take.
The Glawny railway station is located next to one of the symbols of Warsaw, the Palace of Culture and Science, the tallest building in the capital. It’s 234.5 meters tall! I easily found the platform for my direct Intercity train to Krakow. It covers a distance of 293 kilometers in 2 hours and 20 minutes. I bought a ticket on the Internet two weeks in advance for a pocket-friendly price of 49 PLN (=11 euros). The train was comfortable, with free coffee, tea and water offered.

Where to stay?

One of the things I like about travel planning is researching and choosing good quality accommodation for the best possible price. In this case, the task seemed tricky because I could not understand the accommodation “system” of Krakow very well. The difference between this city and many others I have visited before was a big share of apartments in the accommodation market with no understandable quality indications. As for the hotels in the old town, I thought them a bit overpriced. That’s why after some research and consideration I chose the tried-and-tested value of a Holiday Inn hotel located close to the old town, a mere 10-minute walk away from the railway station. I was not disappointed.

 

 

cracow holiday inn hotel

The morning

I got up early enough to have time before a free old city walking tour by freewalkingtour.com. I had spotted a cafe for breakfast during my short walk the night before, so I went there to get a coffee, some salad, and a few slices of cheese and ham for 15 PLN, or 3.5 euros. Not bad, seeing that the breakfast price at my hotel was 68 PLN, or 16 euros. As I am not a big eater in the morning, that would have been money down the drain. I also wanted to take more pictures of white horse carriages I had noticed the previous evening. Alas, they were nowhere to be seen, and later I found out the service only starts at 10 a.m., at the time when I already had to turn up at the designated starting point of my walking tour – in front of St. Mary's Church.krakow white horse carriage

To my surprise, I saw not one but many tourist groups gathering there! It took me a few minutes to understand I had to look for a British flag and the freewalkingtour.com logo. My group was quite large, more than 20 people all in all – not what you’d expect in the beginning of March.

krakow eros bound sculpture

Of course it was a Sunday, but I still have fresh memories of being the only one to take a Lisbon walking tour a week after Easter and joining a group of 8 for a Salzburg walking tour on a summer afternoon. I thought Krakow a very busy and touristy place, and felt happy to be traveling off-season.
Our guide seemed to be a professional young lady with a good command of English, so I could grasp some historical facts on Krakow. I especially liked the stories about a trumpeter in the Church tower and an Italian architect who had such a hard time getting inspired for designing the main market building, called the Cloth Hall, that he ended up decorating it with ugly faces of some drunk people he saw from his balcony late at night. Without the guide’s instruction, I wouldn’t even have noticed the carved masks on the attic of the building.
Another amusing story was the one about the visit of the first and only Polish pope to Krakow in the communist times. The event gathered millions of people determined to be there no matter what. Standing on a chair, the Pope addressed a student audience from the balcony of his residence in Krakow, and the only unhappy person was the man who had to hold the chair all the time!Krakow pope Jan Pavil residence

The tour ended on the Wawel Hill, an old witness to the history of the Polish state and kings. The Wawel Cathedral has been the main burial site for Polish monarchs since the 14th century, significantly extended and altered over time as individual rulers added multiple burial chapels. 16 Polish kings found their final resting place there.krakow wawel cathedrale


During the tour, our guide informed us that Leonardo da Vinci’s „Lady with an Ermine” was temporarily exhibited in the Palace. Much as I wanted to see it, the ticket office lady only pointed to the notice that said tickets for that day were not available anymore. Then I asked about tomorrow, and she said on Mondays the castle was closed. I was rather upset with the news, and I guess the lady saw that, as she asked how many people wanted to go in. Learning it was only me, she gave me a ticket free of charge, and it was one of the cases when I felt really happy to be traveling solo. The painting was extraordinary, and I had the pleasure of being one of the few people admiring it in the showroom.krakow dama z gornostajem

The afternoon

Having enjoyed a burger at the bottom of the Wawel Hill, I decided to have a look inside the Church of Saint Bernardino nearby. The poster claimed it had a most beautiful interior, after all.krakow Saint Bernardino church interior

Having verified the information (the verdict: it’s true), I headed on foot to the Kazimierz district of Krakow, known for conveying a sense of pre-war Jewish culture.krakow kazimierz district street

In the communist era, it became one of Kraków’s dodgiest districts. Rediscovered worldwide in the 1990s after Steven Spielberg’s „Schindler's List”, Kazimierz has since been on the rebound and today is a bustling, bohemian neighborhood packed with historical sites, atmospheric cafes and art galleries, numerous synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. I had a walk around the district and visited the Izaak Synagogue.krakow Izaak Synagogue interior

Its restored interiors now house a permanent exhibition titled „In Memory of Polish Jews”. Kazimierz is not exclusively Jewish, however, with several Catholic churches in the district. I visited the Corpus Christi Church of the 14th century. It takes up two entire blocks in Kazimierz, making it one of the city's largest holy sites.krakow Corpus Christi Church interior

After the walk, I returned to the hotel.

The evening

A hotel receptionist booked me a table at the Marmolada restaurant. The information about it caught my eye on the train when I was reading the „Krakow in Your Pocket” city guide, downloaded to my tablet for the occasion. When I set out, it was already dark, still I easily found my way to the restaurant as it was a five minute walk from the hotel. It was really a good choice with its old style atmosphere, a mouthwatering menu, and great service. I also enjoyed the live violin music.

cracow marmolada restaurant
I’ve never been to Poland before, so I wanted to try at least one local specialty but ended up with my entire meal being somehow Polish cuisine related. I had a beef tartar as a starter, then tomato soup, then pear pancakes for dessert. When the waitress brought the tartar, I noticed that the serving looked a bit different from the tartar I had tried in other countries. She asked me if I had ever had a tartar in Poland. As it was my first visit to the country, the answer was obviously ‘no’. She then advised me to mix all the ingredients on the plate before eating. It tasted great!cracow marmolada restaurant tartar

I don’t believe the tomato soup was specifically Polish, but the pancakes probably were. In any case, they were not common pancakes as I know them, but more like pear turnovers. I was satisfied with both my meal and the service. Together with a shot of calvados and a fruit tea, my bill came up to 85 PLN, or about 20 euros.

Practical information

A free walking tour around Krakow lasts about 2 and a half hours. Tips are expected at the end. There is a 7 PLN (1.6 euros) fee for entering the Izaak Synagogue, other churches I visited free of charge. Public transport tickets were freely available from ticket machines on the stops or on the way. Ticket prices depend on the the duration of your ride: the cheapest cost 2.80 PLN (=0.65 euros) for 20 minutes , the next price level is 4.40 PLN (=1 euro) for 75 minutes on the road.

What would I do differently next time?

If I had two days, I would take another walking tour around the Kazimierz district on the second one, and spend more time there.

 

  • Published by Anita on March 13, 2016
  • Traveled March 2016
  •  

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    About the author
    Anita is a part time traveler, passionate photographer and a mature career woman
    from Latvia, 
    traveling mostly solo for more than 10 years. She is a skilled travel planner
    planning and executing her travels by herself. Follow Anita also on Instagram.

     

     
    As We Saw It travel and photo blog
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    Comments   

    Jesper
    #26 Jesper 2016-04-02 11:21
    Krakow really is a nice city to walk around in :)
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    Linda Bibb
    #25 Linda Bibb 2016-03-21 23:57
    Thanks for sharing this on #TheWeeklyPostcard, Anita. I really had no idea what Kraków was like before I read this. But I DID know that beef tartare is delicious. I had it for the first time in Paris and like you, someone had to explain how I should eat it. Can't help but wonder if the recipes are similar, though. Must be the foodie in me coming out again. :)

    What a funny story about those ugly faces! I wonder if the guide would be available for private tours; it sounds like she knew her stuff. Let me ask you: In your opinion, what's an appropriate tip for a "free tour" guide?
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    Elaine J Masters
    #24 Elaine J Masters 2016-03-20 14:19
    I love walking tours in new towns - anywhere. Sounds like in spite of the crowd, you found a good one. Great about getting into the exhibit gratis. It never hurts to ask and yes, sometimes traveling solo has great benefits. I long to follow in your footsteps.
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    Wanderlustingk
    #23 Wanderlustingk 2016-03-19 00:29
    I'll be bookmarking this as I'm planning a trip to Poland at the end of the year. It looks stunning and love the photos!
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    Christine K
    #22 Christine K 2016-03-18 22:11
    Great overview of the city! Your photos are amazing and the narrative easy to read. I must get there.
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    Tom and Sheila
    #21 Tom and Sheila 2016-03-18 20:16
    Krakow is the land of my ancestors. Must visit someday. Thanks for the reminder.
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    Christabel
    #20 Christabel 2016-03-18 20:14
    Wow, Krakow is incredibly beautiful. I've never had it on my travel list, but after reading your post, I'm definitely adding it.
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    Katelyn
    #19 Katelyn 2016-03-18 19:13
    Great post! I'm heading to Warsaw tomorrow and then down to Krakow. I've heard nothing but good things about Krakow so I'm quite excited for my upcoming visit. Your post definitely helped me plan my few days there. Thanks!
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    Michaela
    #18 Michaela 2016-03-18 19:00
    Loved Kraków! Interesting but about the name - I never knew! I went last November - enjoyed the food and the history!
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    marie
    #17 marie 2016-03-18 18:29
    I love your pics, good article - definitely one for the list!
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