Poland

Krakow, Poland

A- Overview:
Ask a Pole which city a visitor should choose first, and the answer will no doubt be Krakow. At the pinnacle of Polish culture and heritage, Krakow enchants visitors from the moment they arrive.
Krakow was the Capital of Poland until the end of the 16th century. During its 500-year reign, Krakow accumulated some of the most eclectic, romantic, and strikingly beautiful architecture in Europe. It is still, unquestionably, the Polish capital of culture, as confirmed by its recent designation as a European City of Culture.

Look carefully at those buildings in the square. Thanks to a surprise appearance by the Red Army at the end of World War II, Krakow escaped the Reich’s planned destruction. An examination of the doorways and arches will reveal their 800 year-old history.

There always seems to be something else to explore. There are over 40 churches in the city center alone, ancient fortifications, and the Wawel Castle, often described as the personification of Poland.

Krakow possesses a laid-back old-world mentality. Most people begin their visit in the “rynek”. As the largest city square in Europe, the rynek is always filled with activity. Poles and visitors alike wander the shady cafes, visit the 13th century market place, buy flowers, watch the street performers, and simply stroll around.

Dozens of Museums await discovery in one of the largest University cities in Europe.

Hundreds of cafes and restaurants open early and serve late, so no one needs to worry about feeling hungry. Krakow bustles with commerce. Every shop overflows with products and offers a shopper’s paradise. During summer months the rynek becomes an open market place for antiques and collectibles.

While Krakow alone could consume an entire vacation, it also serves as a perfect base for many day trips and excursions. North of Krakow is Skala National Park, a terrific place to take in the natural beauty of the area. To the south, is the mountain city of Zakopane, a prime destination for skiing in the winter, and a busy place for hiking in the summer. An hour away lies the city of Czestohowa, the location of the Black Madonna and destination of countless pilgrimages from around the world.

Many visitors, however, become enamored of Krakow’s romantic streets and atmosphere and prefer to extend their stay right there. Slow and easy: that’s the Cracovian way.

B- City Information:

Country: Republic of Poland

Capital: Warsaw

Time: Poland uses Central European Time (CET). Hence, clocks are one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Currency: Poland joined the European Union in May of 2004. However, while negotiations continue to finalize the agreements, the currency remains based on the zloty and not the euro. . 1 zloty = 100 groszy

Weather:
The Arctic wind and Southern Sahara wind converge over Poland, allowing sudden shifts in weather from day to day. Spring and autumn illustrate this phenomenon best. Often a rainy day is followed by sun, and later even by snow. Never fear, though. Temperatures rarely dip into the 40s during these seasons. Blue skies and warm nights characterize summer, and besides the occasional afternoon shower, are very consistent. Expect high 70s to high 80s. Winter usually brings snow in late November, with thicker drifts to the South. Temperatures hang around 15 degrees, but can be much colder in the mountains. Contrary to popular belief, Poland rarely has “Russian” winters.

Custom Regulations:
Everyone entering Poland must have a valid passport. US citizens do not need visas for stays up to three months.

Banking Hours:
Banks are generally open between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Some are open to 6 p.m.

Electricity:
Poland uses 220 volts AC and the continental-style plug. If your appliance has a 120/240-volt switch, all you will need is a plug adapter. Otherwise a current converter is required.

Tipping:
Tipping is a new and undefined custom in Poland. Unless you agreed with the driver on a price earlier, taxi fairs should be rounded up. Bartenders and waiters in cafes and don’t expect a tip, but some people choose to leave the change. Not all Poles do it, but waiters in restaurants would appreciate 10-15%.

Getting Around:
Poles drive on the right. American licenses are valid for one year.

All cities have well-planned public transit systems, and Krakow takes the lead. Get a city map for current routes. Poland works on a punch-ticket system. Get tickets at kiosks or from the bus/tram driver for a small fee. Punch the ticket immediately upon boarding in one of the several machines near the doors. A ticket must be punched for each item of luggage, even large backpacks.

Taxi ranks are packed, and Krakow has some of the cheapest rates in all of Poland.

Trains While the main train station in Kraków (Kraków Glówny) is one of the most elegant and clean stations in Poland, it has an unusual layout. In order to reach the tracks from the ticket windows it is necessary to exit the building and walk north. Remember that the access through to the tracks is via an underground tunnel.

Buses generally run between the same places as trains, but are slower. Exception: while the train requires 4 hours between Kraków and Zakopane, the bus ride lasts only two. It may be necessary to take a bus in order to visit some towns in the East.

C- Attractions/Things To Do:

Wawal Castle
It will seem like no time once you wander the half-mile to Wawel hill and the royal castle sitting on top. Everyone goes to the castle during his or her visit in Krakow. And why shouldn’t you? First traces of inhabitance on the hill date back to 50,000BC. In the 10th century Krakow already stood as an important base of power. It became the capital shortly thereafter. Admission is free to the castle and cathedral. However, it is necessary to purchase a ticket for the museum, tombs, and the Lost Wawel exhibit. Everything is free on Sunday. Get there early.
Wawel Cathedral
Also known as St. Stanislas Cathedral, this eclectically styled building may not resemble a house of God from the outside, but its Baroque, Renaissance, and Gothic interior are striking. The Cathedral houses many tombs of Polish kings, queens, and heroes. Also inside are accesses to the royal tombs and Sigismund’s Bell. Visitors who want more detailed information can purchase the guidebook for a few cents. Pope John Paul II was ordained into the priesthood here in 1946.

The Cathedral Museum (Muzeum Katedralne)
2 Wzgórze Wawelskie
0-12-422-26-43.
More artifacts from the Cathedral, including some of Pope John Paul II’s personal objects. Open 9AM-3PM. Noon-3PM Sundays.

Sigismund’s Bell
The wooden staircase may seem a little antiquated, but that is because it has been in place for many years and will remain so for many more generations. The bell is too large to ring on a regular basis. The last time it rang was during the Pope’s visit. The tower offers wonderful views of the old city and an interesting perspective of the suburb Nowa Huta. Touch the hammer of the bell for good luck. Open 9AM-3PM. Noon-3PM Sundays.

Royal Tombs
These are not to be confused with the coffins in the Cathedral. You know you’ve reached the tombs by the cold subterranean air. Inside are several well known personages: St, Stanislas (the Patron Saint of Poland), Queen Hedwig (Jadwiga), and several historically important figures, including Pilsudski. Open 9AM-3PM. Noon-3PM Sundays.

Royal Museum
Wander through the living quarters of the various kings and queens. The throne room is the grandest of these rooms. Be sure to look at the ceiling, which is covered with carved faces of members of the general public. Other rooms display furniture, paintings, and huge tapestries in various states of restoration. Often there are medieval-style bands playing thoughout the exhibit.

Treasury and Armory
The museum houses over 1000 artifacts that no self-respecting Renaissance man would want to be without. The exhibits include weapons, armor, and the spoils of various “explorations.” Open Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday 9.30 – 3PM, Friday 9:30 – 4PM, Sun 10:00 – 3PM. Like many museums in Eastern Europe, the treasury and armory is closed Monday.

Lost Wawel
An exhibit exploring the unearthed ruins of the original structures on the hill. Begin with the models illustrating the development of Krakow, and end up taking the elevated walkway around the first church in Krakow, the 10th century Rotunda of the Virgin Mary. Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday 9:30 – 3PM, Fri 9:30 – 4PM, Sunday 10:00 – 3PM. Closed on Tuesdays.

The National Museum (Muzeum Narodowe):
Budynek Glówny (Main building)
1, 3-Maja Ave.
(0-12)634-33-77
This large, building houses the much more interesting Gallery of Decorative Art, The Gallery of 20th-Century Polish Art, and displays arms and uniforms of Poland.

Gallery of Painting at the Cloth Hall (Galeria Sukiennice)
1/3 Rynek Gówny
(0-12)422-11-66
Just to the side of the East entrance of the Cloth Hall is a heavy iron-studded door. Pass through and climb up the winding marble staircase to view some of the best 18th and 19th century large-scale paintings. Admission is free on Sunday.

The House of Jan Matejko (Dom Jana Matejki)
ul. Florianska 47
(0-12)422-59-26
Few people outside Poland are familiar with this artist and writer, but this biographical museum allows for another opportunity to view classic Polish art and architecture.

The Historical Museum of the City of Krakow (Muzeum Historyczne m. Krakowa)
35 Rynek Gówny Sq.
(0-12)422-99-22
Head down the long hallway and take the stairway on your left. This museum offers the best opportunity to understand the complex but fascinating history of the development of Krakow. A combination of original paintings, weapons, furniture, and detailed models make it so easy to understand that you won’t even need the English translations.

The Museum of Polish Aviation (Muzeum Lotnictwa Polskiego)
al. Jana Pawa II 17
(0-12)412-78-55
You won’t find this museum in any guidebook. In fact, few of the natives even know of its existence. It is only a 15 minute tram ride from the center, but the complicated path to the entrance can be confusing, so be sure to check your map. The Museum houses hundreds of original aircraft, from pre-war (WWI!) observers to a field full of MIGs to a one-of-a-kind jet-powered cropduster.

Czartoryski Museum
ul. Úw. Jana 19
(0-12) 422-55-66
Poland was a powerful and wealthy kingdom that held its own for centuries against the Prussians, Swedes, and Turks. The proof lies in this museum, with displays of ornate personal items, weapons, a huge room with Egyptian and Roman artifacts, Rembrandt’s “Good Samaritan” and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine.” Open 10 – 3:30. Friday until 6. Closed on Monday. Admission is free on Sunday.

Archidiocesian Museum (Muzeum Archidiecezjalne)
ul. Kanonicza 19
(0-12)421-89-63
Have you already seen all the churches in Krakow? Well, take a break and visit where the Pope lived, twice. Before he became John Paul II, Karol Wojtyua lived here first as a young priest, and later in a much grander room after he became bishop. This is not to be missed during your pilgrimage. Open 10 – 3PM. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Jewish Museum – Old Synagogue (Muzeum Judaistyczne – Stara Synagoga)
ul. Szeroka 24
(0-12)422-09-62
Located in Kazimierz, this 500 year-old synagogue includes both displays of ceremonial objects, personal effects, and the period of Nazi oppression. Miraculously, the synagogue survived the occupation.

Jagiellonian University Museum
ul. Jagielloñska 15
(0-12)422-05-49
This is one of the original buildings of the University founded by King Kazimierz in 1364. Nicolas Copernicus enrolled here in 1492 and, ironically, began his own studies of the Earth’s rotation. The museum houses many of his astronomical devices and the World’s oldest globe to depict the American continents. Open 11 to 5PM. Closed Sunday.

Wieliczka Salt Mine (Kopalnia Wieliczka)
ul. Danilowicza 10
(0-12)278-73-02 (0-12)278-73-66
Approximately 12 miles from the center of Krakow, this mine has been in continuous use for over 800 years. Tours through this UNESCO world heritage monument last 3 hours, allowing visitors to see the salt sculptures that miners have carved over the years. The tour also includes a visit to the underground lake, the room used by the Germans during WWII to build aircraft, and the 600 seat capacity ballroom.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum (Panstwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oswiecimiu)
ul. Wiezniów Oswiecimia 20
32-620 Oswiecim
(0-33)843-20-22
This museum is one hour from Krakow, with frequent tour groups and trains leaving everyday. This is no doubt a once in a lifetime experience that changes many people’s lives. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979, and the final scene in “Shindler’s List,” it was the site of 3 million murders between 1941 and 1945. Admission is always free, but you may pay for a tour guide if you prefer. A bus takes you between the original Auschwitz prison and the huge Birkenau concentration camp. Until a few years ago, no one under 13 was allowed admittance. Parents, however, are still cautioned. The museum is open everyday from 8AM, but closing times vary from 3PM in the winter to 7PM in June, July, and August.

D- Family Fun Attractions:

Wawal Castle
It will seem like no time once you wander the half-mile to Wawel hill and the royal castle sitting on top. Everyone goes to the castle during his or her visit in Krakow. And why shouldn’t you? First traces of inhabitance on the hill date back to 50,000BC. In the 10th century Krakow already stood as an important base of power and became the capital shortly there after. Admission is free to the castle and cathedral. However, it is necessary to purchase a ticket for the museum, tombs, and the Lost Wawel exhibit. Everything is free on Sunday. Get there early.
Wawel Cathedral
Also known as St. Stanislas Cathedral, this eclectically styled building may not resemble a house of God from the outside, but its Baroque, Renaissance, and Gothic interior suddenly strike visitors. The Cathedral houses many tombs of various Polish kings, queens, and heroes. Also inside are accesses to the royal tombs and Sigismund’s Bell. Visitors who want more detailed information can purchase the guidebook (50¢). Pope John Paul II was ordained into the priesthood here in 1946.

Sigismund’s Bell
Don’t be afraid of the rickety wooden staircase. It’s been there longer than you, and will remain for many generations. The bell is too large to ring on a regular basis. The last time was during the Pope’s visit. The tower offers wonderful views of the old city and an interesting perspective of the suburb Nowa Huta. Touch the hammer of the bell for good luck. Open 9AM-3PM. Noon-3PM Sundays.

Royal Museum
Wander through the living quarters of the various kings and queens. The throne room is the grandest of these rooms. Be sure to look at the ceiling, which is covered with carved faces of the general public. Other rooms display furniture, paintings, and huge tapestries in various states of restoration. Keep your ears open, as often there are medieval-style bands playing though out the exhibit.

Treasury and Armory
The museum houses over 1000 artifacts that no self-respecting Renaissance man would leave at home. The exhibits include weapons, armor, and the spoils of various “explorations.” Open Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday 9.30 – 3PM, Friday 9:30 – 4PM, Sun 10:00 – 3PM. Like many museums in Eastern Europe, the treasury and armory is closed Monday.

Lost Wawel
An exhibit exploring the unearthed ruins of the original structures on the hill. Begin with the models illustrating the development of Krakow, and end up taking the elevated walkway around the first church in Krakow, the 10th century Rotunda of the Virgin Mary. Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday 9:30 – 3PM, Fri 9:30 – 4PM, Sunday 10:00 – 3PM. Closed on Tuesdays.

The National Museum (Muzeum Narodowe )
Budynek Glówny (Main building)
1, 3-Maja Ave.
(0-12)634-33-77
This large, uninspiring building houses the much more interesting Gallery of Decorative Art, The Gallery of 20th-Century Polish Art, and displays arms and uniforms in Poland.

The Historical Museum of the City of Cracow (Muzeum Historyczne m. Krakowa )
35 Rynek Gówny Sq.
(0-12)422-99-22
Don’t be fooled by the heavy remodeling in the entrance. Head down the long hallway and take the stairway on your left. This museum offers the best opportunity to understand the complex but fascinating history of the development of Krakow. A combination of original paintings, weapons, furniture, and detailed models make it so easy to understand that you won’t even need the English translations.

The Museum of Polish Aviation (Muzeum Lotnictwa Polskiego)
al. Jana Pawa II 17
(0-12)412-78-55
You won’t find this museum in any guidebook. In fact, few of the natives even know of its existence. It’s only a 15 minute tram ride from the center, but the complicated path to the entrance doesn’t help, so be sure to check your map. The Museum houses hundreds of original aircraft, from pre-war (WWI!) observers to a field full of MIGs to a one-of-a-kind jet-powered cropduster. The museum is going under intense English translation, but if your really lucky, you’ll get a personal tour by the museum director.

Jagiellonian University Museum
ul. Jagielloñska 15
(0-12)422-05-49
This is one of the original buildings of the University founded by King Kazimierz in 1364. Nicolas Copernicus enrolled here in 1492 and, ironically, began his own studies of the Earth’s rotation. The museum houses many of his astronomical devices and the World’s oldest globe to depict the American continents. Open 11 to 5PM. Closed Sunday.

Wieliczka Salt Mine
ul. Danilowicza 10
(0-12)278-73-02 (0-12)278-73-66
Approximately 12 miles from the center of Krakow, this mine has been in continuous use for over 800 years. Tours through this UNESCO world heritage monument last 3 hours, allowing visitors to see the salt sculptures that miners have carved over the various years. The tour also includes a visit to the underground lake, the room used by the Germans during WWII to build aircraft, and the 600 seat capacity ballroom. Don’t believe that EVERYTHING is made out of salt? Go ahead and lick.

Las Wolski (Zoo)
A short ride into the National forest instantly erases any evidence that you are in a major industrial area. The Zoo is a Krakow favorite on the weekend, but never too crowded. Admission is roughly one dollar. Expect to find the doors closed at sundown. Old Communist style bars and cages allow visitors to get REALLY close to the animals.

E- Events & Entainment:

April:
The Lajkonik Festivity
Every first Thursday following Corpus Christi a man dons a hobbyhorse costume and leads a parade through the streets of Kraków. Legend has it, that a soldier defeated a Turk several hundred years ago, and in celebration, he put on his opponent’s outfit and pranced through the streets. The current tradition dates back to 1904, and continues strongly today.
June 23 & 24:
Floating of the Wreaths
Every year during the name days of John and Wanda, Cracovians gather along the banks of the river near the castle. In a carnival atmosphere, people release wreaths into the water during a fireworks display.

December:
The Crib Exhibition
On December 1st, Krakow begins preparation for Christmas by erecting small huts throughout the square. Various shopkeepers, who sell beautiful ornaments and other small gifts, rent these little shacks. However, the real treat is the competition between crib designers. Most are traditionally modeled after the historic buildings of Kraków, and the best are bought by the city.