Krakow probably is the most popular destination for a city trip in Poland. The city has a long and interesting history. Nowadays it is still considered Poland’s cultural and intellectual capital. You will find direct trains to Krakow from many cities in Poland. If you are travelling from abroad, there are direct night trains from Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Lviv. I’ve visited Krakow in January and summed up tips about where to stay and what to do in Krakow as well as how to get there with Interrail, Eurail or regular train tickets.
Travel to KRakow by train
Krakow is located in the south-east of Poland. You will find frequent day and night express trains to Krakow from all parts of the country. The national operator of long distance trains is PKP Intercity and you can buy tickets online here. However, PKP Intercity does not sell international tickets online. If you are travelling to Poland from abroad you can buy tickets from Germany here, from Czech Republic here and from Austria here.
If you are travelling to Krakow from abroad, you will find night trains from Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Lviv. During the summer months, a direct day express train runs from Prague during the day. From Vienna and Budapest you have to change trains in Katowice when travelling during the day. From Germany, you can take the direct IC Bus from Berlin. Other connections are available by changing trains in Poznan or Warsaw. From Lviv, an express train runs to Przemysl, where you can change to another train to Krakow.
Where to stay in Krakow
Krakow has many nice hostels for backpackers and Interrailers. Most of them are located around the central Rynek (main market square) or in the trendy Kazimierz district. Personally I can recommend the cosy Blueberry Hostel in a quiet street just off Szeroka Street and only a short walk away from Wawel and the old town. If you are looking for a modern hotel close to the railway station you should check out the IBIS Stare Miasto. Located just a few metres away from Krakow Glowny (central train station) it is just a short walk from the city centre.
On another trip in August 2016 we used couchsurfing and found a very active and caring community. Even though it was peak summer season and we only started looking for a host when we arrived with the night train from Swinoujscie we quickly found a really nice host. During our two days in Krakow we got to know the city from the perspective of a local, which was really great.
What to do in Krakow
Getting around in Krakow is really easy. The historic centre is just a few metres away from the central train station and is best explored on foot. If you have to go to areas outside the centre, take a tram. The public transport system is really good and you can reach all parts of the town quickly. More information about public transport in Krakow here.
Explore the old town around the large Rynek Główny, the main market square. It is the largest medieval market square in Europe. The square is dominated by the renaissance Cloth Hall in its centre and the beautiful gothic St. Mary’s Basilica on the northeastern end. On and around the busy square you will find many shops, restaurants and bars.
If you follow the Royal Road from Rynek to the south you will reach the Wawel, Krakow’s castle. Situated above the Vistula river the Wawel is of great importance for both the citizens of Krakow and the whole country of Poland. The cathedral inside the large complex is the national sanctuary and has seen the coronation of many Polish kings. Find out more here.
Kazimierz district is located between the old town, the Wawel and the Vistula river. Up until the 19th century it was an independent city, separated from Krakow by a now covered branch of the river. You will find many trendy bars, restaurants and clubs here. Plac Nowy is the central square of this quarter. It is the best place to try Zapiekanki, the preferred street food of Cracovian revellers. A beautiful brick kiosk in the middle of the square is home to at least ten different shops all serving different variations of Zapiekanki until very late. You will also find the famous Alchemia bar here with the stylish restaurant Od Kuchni around the corner.
Integral part of Kazimierz is the old jewish quarter. Located around Szeroka Street, just a few metres away from Plac Nowy, you will find some remnants of the rich Jewish heritage of Krakow. Visit the old cemetery and enjoy specialties from Israel and Palestine at Hamsa.
You also have to try Pierogi, small filled dumplings that are a staple of Polish cuisine. We found are really nice restaurant just around the corner of Plac Nowy. Pierozki u Vincenta in Bozego Ciala is small and cosy with just a few tables but a large menu of different Pierogi. We haven’t tried them all but those we did try were delicious!
A must visit is Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory in the district of Zablocie on the other bank of the Vistula river. A branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków, the museum has a permanent exhibition about the life in the city during the Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945. Take your time to walk through the moving exhibition that will give you a good impression about this time in history. More info here.
Auschwitz-Birkenau and Wieliczka Salt Mine
Not far from Krakow, close to the city of Oswiecim was the location of the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today a memorial and museum commemorates the countless victims that have been murdered there. There are many organized trips available from Krakow. Simply ask at your accomodation to get more information. If you wantto visit on your own, you can travel to Oswiecim by train. More info at Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In Wieliczka, a suburb in the south-east of Krakow, you will find the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It is one of the oldest existing salt mines in the world. Nowadays still used as a sanatorium and museum it gives a good insight into the world of the White Gold. You can reach Wieliczka by train from Krakow’s central station.
Update: February 2017