Two days ago, I got back from a whirlwind of a trip through Europe during my mileage run vacation to London, Krakow, and Warsaw. I spent two nights and three days in Krakow which I had never been to before. Here are 10 Things I Learned From My Recent Trip to Krakow Poland:
1. There is no train from Krakow Airport to the city – I usually check up on airport to city transportation on toandfromtheairport.com and when I looked up Krakow International Airport, I saw that there was an option to get into the city-center of Krakow by train. However, when I landed, I was confronted by the taxi cab mafia in the Terminal 2 domestic arrivals hall. I found out there was no train service from either Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 because the railway tracks were under construction. Thankfully, there was a bus option that took me into Old Town Krakow.
2. Krakow International Airport is a complete dump – I flew from Warsaw to Krakow on LOT Polish Airlines and arrived in Terminal 2 of KRK International Airport. It was probably the smallest European domestic arrivals hall I’ve ever seen. There was only one currency exchange place, one ATM machine, and one shop for sundries in all of Terminal 2. I took a bus from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 and that took forever because of the ongoing construction.
3. Taking the train from Krakow to Warsaw was inexpensive – I flew LOT Airlines from Warsaw to Krakow (WAW-KRK) and I needed an option to get back to Warsaw. Flying one-way from Krakow International Airport (KRK) to Warsaw International Airport (WAW) was $120 for a one-way flight on a Friday. The same option by train at Krakow Glowny Railway Station was $15 USD which took 3 and a half hours.
4. Kebabs are a staple food – You can’t go anywhere in Krakow without seeing a restaurant selling kebabs in every corner. They cost 10 zloty ~ $2.94 USD and are filling for lunch, dinner, or a late night/early morning snack. Kebab places close really late too and that’s great for drunken club goers.
5. Bus tickets need to be validated – When I took the bus from Krakow Airport to the city, I bought a paper ticket from the kiosk at the bus stop. There’s an option for 50% off bus tickets (reduced fare), but it’s only for students. Once you buy the bus ticket and get onto the bus, you have to ‘validate’ it using a machine onboard the bus. The machine basically timestamps the ticket and you are required to produce a valid ticket if there’s an inspector on the bus. If you forget to ‘validate’ your ticket, you will face a hefty fine and as a tourist, you’re required to pay the fine on the spot.
6. It’s impossible to do both Auschwitz and the Salt Mines in the same day via public transport – I was doing a lot of research online to see if I could visit Auschwitz I, II, and make it in time for the Salt Mines in the afternoon solely using public transportation. I took the first train out at 6:39am from Krakow Glowny Train Station and arrived at Oswiecim Train Station at 8:39am, two hours later. It took another 20 minutes of walking from Oswiecim station to get to Auschwitz I which is the Museum and Memorial portion. I went by myself and did a self-guided tour which took about two hours. By 11am, I took a taxi from Auschwitz I to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp site because the free bus was not running at the time. I spent two hours at the Auschwitz 2-Birkenau site which I only saw 1/3 of because it was so huge. I wanted to see if I could check out the Salt Mines as well, but I was so exhausted and the next train was at 1:50pm. The train from Oswiecim to Krakow’s Glowny Railway Station took another two hours and I arrived in Krakow at 3:50pm. By this time, I was extremely exhausted from all the walking and there was no way I could make it in time for the Salt Mines.
7. It is possible to do both Auschwitz and the Salt Mines in the same day with a tour group service – There are many tour package operators that offer both Auschwitz and the Salt Mines which are really expensive. However, they do pick you up at the hotel or meeting point and take a private car/van transportation which takes an hour to Auschwitz. I’ve read many reports that they rush you in Auschwitz 1 and some don’t even take you to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site which is a must see. In addition, lunch is not even provided and you have to bring your own sack lunch. You also have a limited time to eat and rest because the tour operator is on a timed schedule.
8. Krakow is an amazing walking city – The best way to see the city is by foot even though there are trains, buses, trams, and taxis in Krakow. All of the popular tourist sites such as the Wawel Royal Castle, Stare Miasto (Old Town), Schindler’s Factory, and the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) can all be done by walking.
9. Off-peak season is the best time to visit – According to the Daily Mail, “Krakow was recently voted number one destination for European city breaks by tourists.” Off peak season (Fall/Winter/Early Spring) is the best time to visit Krakow because there aren’t many tourists around and lodging is a complete bargain.
10. Everything is really cheap in Krakow – The official exchange rate for $1 USD is 3.39 zloty which is an absolute bargain for Americans. It’s even a better bargain with Western European currency such as the British pound and Euro. Food, housing, and transportation are really inexpensive in Krakow and Poland in general. I changed $100 USD worth of zloty and I had enough money to change back at $33 USD at the end of my 4 night/5 day trip in Poland. I didn’t even use a credit card and this included the train ticket from Krakow Glowny to Warszawa Centralna railway train station.