We flew with EasyJet, Bristol to Krakow in July 2010, booking through Lastminute.com, getting 5 nights in a 5 star hotel just outside the city centre. Using Googlemaps (badly), we thought that it would be a 20 minute walk.
When we arrived at Krakow, Jean Paul II terminal, there were plenty of taxis. Fortunately, the taxi driver spoke some English. Unfortunately, the 20 minute ride to the hotel cost 80 zl (it was Sunday, which meant it was worse). At the time, we worried that this would be indicate of average prices.
During our time in Krakow, we stayed at the Crown Piast Hotel. According to the brochure, it was a five star hotel. On arrival, it certainly seemed that way, for the lobby was lovely and the porter was attentive, calling the lift for us and walking us to and from our taxi. Desk staff spoke good English .Our room, however, was dated; the TV was old and analogue. The bed was not a proper double. The décor was a strange mixture of green and brown, and there was a tear in the lampshade. A terrible thunderstorm on arrival made getting down town interesting, especially as we thought our combined 1020 zl wouldn’t go very far on taxis—who knows what everything else might cost!
To get to the town, we were advised to walk ten minutes, then get the tram. With the thunder and rain outside, and not knowing where we were really going, we thought instead that we would chance it with a taxi. This was fine, and took us into the main square. The weather cleared up, and we had the choice of many pubs for a good drink. Beer was typically 10 zl per pint, not much cheaper than England. The beer was good, although if you like bitter, most pubs serve lager (Tyskie, Pilsner, Okocim). Architecture in the main square is lovely, and we had a look around the old market. Beware of some of the stall holders. At one stall, with imitation swords and other weapons, we took a photo of one of us holding a sword. Immediately some heavily bearded man pointed to a hand-written sign indicating we should hand over 10 zl for the photo. Choosing not to, he physically tried to prevent us leaving his stall; this was most unpleasant and risked spoiling the whole day.
Undeterred, we found a lovely restaurant – Carlito’s—on the ul Florianska. We dined there two nights. It is an Italian restaurant on two levels. The upper level allows you to sit outside and dine, overlooking the road. The food was excellent and the service was good; the waiter spoke English, and was pleasant. Good value, too: two main courses, two drinks for around 70 zl. Both this restaurant, and another we went to the following evening called Metropolitan proved to have adequate vegetarian options.
To get back on this first day, we braved the tram system. The trams themselves are cheap, quick and regular. However, once we got off at the end of the line, we had to walk ten minutes to the hotel. This would not be an issue, except for the extensive road-works being completed at the time. There simply was not a path for us to walk on, and so there was much mud, portacabins, caravans, and traffic to negotiate. One of us got a nail stuck in our sandal when we tried the following morning to get into town this way, which was about the time we vowed to use taxis instead.
On our second day, we went to Auschwitz. The tours are generally between 80-110 zl per person for a 6 hour tour, including transport. This is fine, but we thought it would be cheaper to make our own way there. After 3pm it is free to get in, and transport would only be around 20zl each, there and back. What we didn’t bargain on, though, is the state of transport. Getting back was fine—a nice coach was provided, with plenty of room. However, on the way there, about 40 of us were packed into a minibus; some people were sat at the driver’s feet! Apart from the few people who were sitting, the rest of us were clinging on for dear life, crouching in contorted positions to see out of the window, hoping it would take us to the camp (and not knowing how to signal to the driver that we wished to get off). Luckily, a lot of people were going to the camp, so we got there eventually. Auschwitz itself is a must-visit place. It has museum elements, tour guides, and some of the buildings are in their original state. If you are going for a couple of days, you may want to visit Auschwitz one day, Birkenau the next (if you’re doing it on the cheap, like we were), for going after 3pm doesn’t leave you much scope for getting back (the last bus was something like 7pm).
The next day we did tours of Krakow. We thoroughly recommend the little buggies which can take you around, for a price. It’s a little costly (around 100 zl per tour), but you see much more that way, it saves your feet, and you get narration to explain the significance of the places you are seeing. On ours, we went to Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter. Other tours go elsewhere. Pick them up from the edge of the main square. Alternatively, there are a number of small museums scattered around the city including a museum detailing the history of Poland and another on Art. These seem to cost about 5 or 10 zl to enter.
On our final full day we went to Wawel to see the castle. This is a mediaeval castle and there are other sites in the area of note including a famous statue of a dragon, and the river. We walked unguided around the courtyard inside the castle. However, it is possible to pay an entry fee to see various exhibits inside the castle itself. The courtyard was impressive enough for us. After visiting the castle and taking a drink and snacks in a café area with outdoor seating we headed down to the town on foot. Wawel is the South of Krakow and by following one main road we managed to make our way back to the old town and cloth market area again (about 10 minutes’ walk). There are many kitsch little souvenir shops and some trendy clothes shops if you want to stop along the way. This day felt like the hottest day of our stay and it was very hot – you should remember sunscreen and fluids because it was so hot we felt a bit unwell on one our days stay.
Another place you may wish to visit is the Galleria. This is a large shopping mall next to the bus and train stations. This is a useful place to buy drinks and snacks more cheaply than in the tourist-savvy centre (this is not as cheap to go to as the guide-books suggest, probably because they were published a few years ago).
Overall, worth a holiday, especially if you are into history and good food.