WHAT TO DO IN KRAKOW AND TIPS FOR GETTING AROUND!
I recently had my first taste of Poland, spending 3 nights in Krakow. I thought it'd be useful to share what I did in Krakow and some tips for you too.
There’s a good system of trains and trams in Krakow, and it won’t cost you too much either. For example, you’re probably better off getting the train (around 9PLN per person / £1.82) into the city centre rather than a taxi from the airport. Once inside the city centre, you can then hop onto the trams to get around.
Trains - you can buy tickets at the station, or on the train from the conductor. You just need to say how many passengers and to which stop, and you’ll be charged accordingly.
Trams - you can buy tickets from the machines at the tram stop which accept credit cards or cash. The trams also have ticket machines on board, but they only take coins. All the machines have an English option and you can choose which type of ticket you want. As I wasn’t travelling very far on the trams, I opted for the single ticket that allowed me to travel to anywhere within 20 minutes.
Depending on where you need to go, getting the taxi can also be a good option and the fares are quite reasonable. Most taxi drivers also have a basic understanding of English.
Things To Do
There’s quite a lot to offer in Krakow and you’ll probably be able to squeeze quite a bit in, even if you’re only there for a few days. So to give you a bit of an idea, here are my top things to do in Krakow.
1. Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Salt Mine was probably my highlight of the whole trip to Krakow.
Take the train from Krakow Główny station to Wieliczka Rynek Kopalnia station. You can buy tickets on the train and will cost you about 3.30 PLN per person (£0.67). Don’t worry if you don’t know how to pronounce the name of the stop, if you say “salt mine” to the lovely conductors they’ll understand! It’s only a few stops on the train, so you’ll get there in no time. Be careful to not get off at the stop before though as the names are very similar, lucky I was able to jump back onto the train before the doors closed!
Once you get off the platform, walk through the car park and onto the main road. You’ll then see a big sign for the Salt Mine and you can decide whether to take the Tourist’s or the Miner’s route. Most likely you’ll be taking the Tourist’s route like me, so just walk up the slightly steep road for about 3 minutes and you’ll see the entrance to the grounds of the Salt Mine. You’ll walk past a few green huts that are selling what seem to be salt mine products – I’m not sure if these were genuine, so I’d suggest saving your money to spend inside instead.
Tickets cost around 84PLN (£17.00) each, and then if you want to take pictures you’ll have to pay an extra 10PLN (£2.03). Everybody who visits the Salt Mine is taken through by a guide, and there are a variety of languages to choose from. Each tour lasts for around 3 hours, so be sure to check what time to arrive for. I joined the English tour starting at 10:30am, and there was about 20 – 30 people in the group. At the start, everyone is handed a head set – so even if you’re not near the front, you can still hear the tour guide.
As the Salt Mine is deep underground, it’s going to be of no surprise that you’ll need to walk down a LONG flight of stairs to get down there. By the time I got to the bottom, I was starting to feel a little dizzy. But it was all worth it though as the various sculptures, chambers and chapels are all so impressive! Also, due to the natural conditions of the salt mines, it’s a constant 14°C and the air is said to contain minerals that are good for your respiratory system.
There are a variety of souvenirs you can buy from the Salt Mine too, including salt of all varieties for cooking and beauty, lamps, candle holders etc. I ended up buying a little sack of coarse salt, which cost me 10.50PLN (£2.13). I doubt it tastes any different to salt from other countries, but I thought it’d be a nice addition to my collection of salts from around the world!
So all in all, I had a really enjoyable time at the Salt Mine and was totally blown away by all the creations made by the miners. It was also really interesting to learn about the history behind the mine and how it became what it is today.
2. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
This isn’t going to be an easy day. But I think to truly understand Krakow, it’s important to make a visit to the Auzwitz Museum.
There are two ways to get there, depending on your preference.
You can take the train from Krakow Central station, which costs around 9PLN per person. You'll need to buy your train ticket before you board though. Check ahead before you set off, as there are fast and slow trains, and they aren’t that frequent either. I took an early morning train and it took me just over 2 hours to get to Oświęcim station from Krakow Główny station. You’ll then need to take one of the local buses to the museum. The most direct buses are numbers 24 to 29. I was lucky and a fellow passenger told me where to get off because she heard me talking about the museum to my friends. But whichever bus you do take, it’s only a few stops and doesn’t cost very much.
Alternatively, you can take the coach from Krakow Central station which costs slightly more at 16PLN (£3.24) but only takes 1.5 hours. BUT (and that’s a big but), the queuing system for this coach ride is pretty non-existent. So if you’re one of the last few onto the coach, you could end up having to stand for the whole 1.5 hour journey. Although I managed to get a seat, I really didn’t like the pushing and shoving to get onto the coach and would rather take the leisurely ride on the train.
Entry to the museum is free, but you do need a ticket. Depending on what time of year you visit, you can either get one from the ticket office on the day, or you’ll have to book ahead online. Large bags (over 30cm) are also not allowed inside, so either travel light on the day or you’ll have to leave your bag in the locker room for 4PLN (£0.81). You can join a tour round the museum, or you can buy a guide at the bookshop and take your time visiting each exhibition.
The museum is split into two sites - the German concentration camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. There is a free shuttle bus that takes visitors between the two sites, and there is a timetable at each stop so you can time your visit. At Auschwitz I, there are a few snack bars, vending machines and a small café with a small selection of hot drinks and foods. But eating and drinking on the sites is to be avoided. So I’d suggest bringing a small packed lunch for the train/bus journey instead.
I’d also suggest comfortable footwear, and warm clothing if you’re visiting during the cold months. There’s lots of walking in the outdoors around the sites, including rocky and muddy paths.
Personally, it was a big eye opener to see everything I’d seen in books at school in person, and to walk the same paths that the prisoners did during World War II.
3. Free walking tours
The best way to find out more about a city is through guide of a true local. Free Walking Tours have been in Krakow for 10 years now and are voted No.1 on TripAdvisor. There a number of tours for you to choose from, but I joined the Old Town and the Jewish Quarters tours. Both were 2.5 hours long and went to all the main spots that you’d want to see as a tourist.