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Insider’s Tips

Poland is in the EU, but still has its own currency, the Polish Zloty. The exchange rate is currently around 3.99 Zloty to €1.

Prices in Krakow are still very reasonable, meaning your money will stretch just that bit further than at home.

Smoking is still allowed in bars and cafés, and there are no plans at present to introduce a ban.

The Krakow Card (www.krakowcard.com) provides free entrance to 30 museums, as well as free travel on the city’s trams and buses, though the city centre is small enough for walking. Two-day card 50PLN, three-day card 65PLN

If you say thank you, nod your head or smile when the waiter collects your money, they will probably take this to mean that you don’t want any change.

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Welcome to Krakow!

Krakow is a city wrapped in legend, where time flows differently, and where every moment becomes a moment of history. For centuries Krakow was the capital of Poland, the seat of kings, drawing great scholars and artists from the whole world.

The renaissance Royal Castle at Wawel, the gothic St Mary’s Basilica, the historical trade pavilions of the Cloth Hall, the former separate Jewish city of Kazimierz, and even the Nowa Huta district, absorbed by Krakow together with its socialist-realist, industrial architecture, are all places which make a visit to Krakow extremely worthwhile. Wawel, St Mary’s Basilica and the Cloth Hall in particular are places which should not be missed.

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Wieliczka Saltmines

The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 meters and is over 300 km long. It features a 3.5-km touring route for visitors (less than 1% of the length of the mine’s passages) that includes historic statues and mythical figures. The oldest sculptures were carved out of rock salt by miners; more recent figures have been fashioned by contemporary artists. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. The rock salt is naturally grey in various shades, so that the carvings resemble unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors expect.

The chapel of Saint Kinga in Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the wonders of Poland. Hand-carved one hundred years ago by a group of highly gifted miners, it is an awe-inspiring thing to behold. It would be a great shame to miss it during your trip to Krakow and besides, there are many other attractions to be explored here too, including underwater lakes, as well as ancient, smaller chapels – the mines here date all the way back to the thirteenth century.

Citiescapes tip: You can prebook this tour with Citiescapes before travelling at a cost of €45 or alternatively you can book whilst in Krakow for approx 140PLN

Auschwitz

Auschwitz-Birkenau (1941 – 1945) was the largest of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. The complex consisted of three main camps: Auschwitz I – the administrative centre, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) – an extermination camp, and Auschwitz III (Monowitz) – a work camp. In 1990, the figure of the people killed in the camp was placed at 1.1 – 1.6 million. About 90 percent of them were Jews from almost every European country.

During your tour you will spend 2 hours with your guide entering different barracks, and learning about the workings of this camp. You will enter a gas chamber and see an abundance of personal belongings. You will then be transferred 3kms to Birkenau, where for an hour you will see how the SS made great efforts to destroy what remained of the camp, burn the archives, and murder all the people they referred to as the “Bearers of Secrets”. However, they did not manage to destroy everything; evidence, witnessess, and memory still exist.

Citiescapes tip: A sobering experience that will remain with you and humble you but one that should be done. You can prebook this tour with Citiescapes (if not already included in your tour) for €45 or alternatively you can book whilst in Krakow for approx 140PLN

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Schindler’s Factory

Just beyond the Jewish Quarter on the far side of the river from the Main Market Square is Oskar Schindlers Factory located at 4 Lipowa. The museum is housed in what used to be the administrative building of the former Oskar Schindler factory, Emalia. The wartime history of the factory, its owner Oskar Schindler, and the Jewish prisoners of the Płaszów camp became known primarily thanks to Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. It is the intention of the museum to show the history of the factory in ul. Lipowa in a broader historical context, and provide visitors with an opportunity to learn more about the history of Kraków under the occupation.

Opening Hours:

  • Tuesday – Sunday – 10.00am – 6.00pm
  • Monday – 10.00am – 2.00pm – Closed the 1st Monday of every month. Free admission on Mondays.
  • Entrance Fee : 15pln

Citiescapes tip: It is walkable from the main square to the factory (about 25 mins) going through the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) so its good to combine the two areas together. As it’s a museum its unguided but you will spend a good hour or two having a look around as its quite big. Taxis are waiting outside so no need to worry about the walk back. The taxi driver will quote you before you leave and it should be about 25PLN

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Jewish Quarter

Originally Krakow’s Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz was for centuries where Catholics and Jews existed peacefully side-by-side, having a noticeably different architectural character than the main city. Following the disappearance of virtually all the Jewish population in the Second World War and its aftermath, Kazimierz fell into something of a decline, and it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that the area started to be revitalized. Less overtly touristic than the Old Town, Kazimierz is considered by many residents to be the prime area for nightlife.

Kazimierz has two main focal points: ul. Szeroka, a long and wide cobbled street featuring the Old Synagogue at one end and numerous restaurants along it; and Plac Nowy, a small square with a flea market and numerous bars and cafes and a bustling nightlife. Connecting these two hubs are networks of small streets containing a huge variety of places to eat, drink and talk. But Kazimierz is not just nightlife – Jewish culture is enjoying a resurgence and there is an annual Jewish Culture Festival at the end of June. The festival lasts nine days and features all kinds of concerts, lectures, tours and workshops. Traditional Jewish klezmer music is a particular attraction, as are the area’s seven synagogues.

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John Paul II Route

The late Pope John Paul II is a giant figure in Krakow’s recent history, and his association with the city attracts pilgrims from around the world. In 1958 at the age of 38 he became bishop of Krakow, becoming archbishop in 1963. In 1978, the now Cardinal Wojtyla attended the Vatican conclave to elect Pope John Paul I, who then died unexpectedly just 33 days later. The subsequent conclave was almost equally divided between two opposing candidates, until Wojtyla was suggested as a compromise. The Polish Cardinal won the ballot with 99 out of 111 votes and took the name John Paul II in memory of his predecessor. At 58 he was the youngest Pope since 1854, and the first non-Italian Pope since the 1520s. Visitors to Krakow can undertake a “John Paul II” excursion, whereby one visits various significant sites in his life. You should also consider visiting the town of Wadowice some 50 kilometers southwest of Krakow, where the late Pope was born and grew up; a sixteen-stage tour of the town highlights key points in the young Karol Wojtyla’s life. Tuesdays & Saturdays only. Bookable with Citiescapes €40

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Free Walking Tours

Royal Krakow Free Walking Tour

Every day at 11.00am from St Marys Basilica in the Main Square.

Sights taken in:

  • Main market square
  • Medieval age city walls
  • John Paul II site
  • Wawel cathedral
  • Wawel castle
  • Dangerous wawel dragon breathing fire

Tour takes about 2.5 hours.

A tip to the guide is all that is requested at the end of the tour as a gratuity.

Jewish Krakow Free Walking Tour

Up till 30th Nov every day at 3.00pm from St. Marys Basilica in the Main Square, during the Winter by booking only.

Sights taken in:

  • Old synagogue – city museum
  • Remuh synagogue – the only active one
  • Izaak Synagogue – the largest in Kraków
  • Schindler’s list site
  • Jewish ghetto heroes square
  • Jewish ghetto wall
  • Schindler’s factory

Tour takes about 3 h

A tip to the guide is all that is requested at the end of the tour as a gratuity.

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Chopin Concerts

Concerts of classical music for tourists take place every day in Kosciol Sw. Wojciecha church on the Rynek Glowny central square and Kosciol Sw. Sw. Piotra i Pawla church, 52 Grodzka street, at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. respectively.

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St. Marys Altar

St Mary’s church on the Main Square has many things to recommend it: its painstakingly restored interior is almost overwhelming in its opulence. But surely the highlight must be the 13 meter (42 foot) high 15th century altarpiece by Veit Stoss (Polish: Wit Stwosz), the largest Gothic sculpture in the world. Arranged as a triptych, it shows various scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, with the centrepiece depicting the death of the Madonna surrounded by the twelve apostles. Carved from wood and lavishly gilded the figures are exceptionally realistic. A good time is to visit around noon, when light floods through the magnificent stained glass windows and is reflected back by the glittering gold of the altarpiece.

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St. Marys Tower

Also known as the Watch Tower, Wake, Alarm or Bugle Tower, St Mary’s Tower reaches up through 239 steps, to a floor 54m above ground level. It is the only tower in the world at which a bugle has been played every hour for six hundred years for the entire world to hear. Located in the main square it’s part of St Marys Basilica, one of the many churches that are a must to see in Krakow.

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The Centre/Main Market Square

Much of the city’s life is concentrated in the centre making a visit becomes that much easier to plan. The Royal Route leads from the Barbican and St Florian’s Gate, situated in the only major well-preserved section of the powerful city defence walls which also house the Arsenal: a section of the Czartoryski Princes Museum, down ul.

Visitors will also find several museums, which include the House of Jan Matejko, and the Museum of Archaeology, as well as a number of galleries, one of which is tiny, yet significant in the world of art, the Jan Fejkiel Gallery, specialising in prints. The churches en route definitely deserve special attention: in Wszystkich Swietych Square there is the Franciscan Church featuring famous stained-glass windows by Stanislaw Wyspianski, the Dominican Church and, further down ul. Grodzka: SS. Peter and Paul’s Church and St Andrew’s Church, both believed to be pearls of their respective architectural styles.

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Underground Museum in the Market Square

Opened in September 2010, and four meters below the Sukiennice in the Main Square, the new underground museum offers visitors to Krakow a fascinating opportunity to see how a major medieval market city looked. Krakow has changed greatly over the centuries: indeed, until the late 13th century what we now consider the centre wasn’t in the city at all – instead it was a vast burial ground. After the existing wooden huts were razed to the ground by the Tatars, a plan was laid for what is now Europe’s largest market square, although the wide open expanse we see today dates from the 19th century, when many of the market buildings that jostled for space there were pulled down. Evidence for all of these periods can be seen in the museum, which uses state-of-the-art technology and interactive displays, as well as plentiful archaeological artefacts, to guide the curious visitor through Krakow’s rich history.

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Wawel

Wawel is on Kanonicza ,a street whose look has hardly changed over the centuries; authentic and very much alive. There are exhibitions in the castle’s many chambers that simply cannot be missed; royal chambers and stately rooms, military trophies, collections of Flemish tapestries of amazing beauty, collections of Oriental art, as well as archaeological specimens.

Aside from the exhibitions, simply spend a while in the ring of the castle walls late in the afternoon. The gates are open after the exhibitions have closed, giving you a chance to see the arcaded courtyard, the cathedral, and to look across to the other side of the Vistula River.

Citiescapes Tip: If visiting the Castle at the weekend get their early to avoid the crowds. If you don’t want to see the whole castle the one thing to see is the Catherdal where the coronations were held and the tombs of the Royal family are on display. Its an exceptional Cathedral with dozens of alters and statues that date centuries back with a huge amount of history and is well worth the visit.

  • Entrance fee : 15pln
  • Opening Times : 1st Nov – 31st March
  • Monday – Closed
  • Tuesday – Saturday 9.30am – 4.00pm
  • Sunday 10.00am – 4.00pm – FREE ADMISSION

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