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Kraków has its basis in legend; it was supposedly built on the cave of a dragon whom the mythical King Krak had slain. However, the first official mention of the name was in 966 and today Kraków is known as one of the oldest cities in Poland. The 15th and 16th centuries were known as Poland's Złoty Wiek (Golden Age) when Kraków was a centre for art and architecture. Kraków was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1569 until King Zygmunt III officially moved it to Warsaw. In 1241, the city was almost entirely destroyed by the Tatars. It was subsequently rebuilt to a design that remains largely unchanged to the present day. After the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II, Kraków became the capital of Germany's General Government, and German concentration camps, including Auschwitz, were established nearby.
Kraków's Historic Centre is included by UNESCO in its list of World Heritage Sites. It is considered one of Europe's most beautiful cities, with a cultural heritage spanning the eras of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Examples include the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula River, the St. Mary's Basilica and the largest Medieval market square in Europe, the Rynek Główny. Kraków has a reputation as a student city, this is unsurprising given that there are 13 universities based in the city, among them the Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in central Europe and traditionally Poland's most reputable institution of higher learning. More recently, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture in 2000 and will host the World Youth Day in 2016.
The busiest tourist season is usually in summer from July-August, so the recommended time to go would be before or after this period, although this is not imperative.
Kraków-Balice is an international airport located near Kraków (11 km from centre), in the village of Balice. The airport serves the population of nearly 8 million people that inhabit the region of south-eastern Poland within 100 km of the airport. The airport in Kraków is open 24 hours/day. It is currently the second busiest airport in Poland and is undergoing expansion, with the construction of a new terminal and the addition of a number of new routes.
Getting from John Paul II International Airport Kraków–Balice to the City Centre
Kraków–Balice Airport is served by two regular bus lines: 208 and 292 and one night line: 902. The ticket for a single trip costs 4 PLN (reduced price: 2 PLN) and the journey takes about 40 minutes. You can buy the ticket in several places: in the RELAY newsagent located in terminal T1 and T2 of airport, the ticket machine at the bus stop (payment in cash or with credit/debit card), the authorised ticket machines found on 292 line buses (payment in cash – coins only), as well as the bus driver (in case the ticket machines aren't working - for single tickets only, exact payment in cash). Remember to validate your ticket when getting on the bus.
When taking a taxi the charges within the zones are flat rates regardless of the chosen route/duration of the ride/time of the day/day of the week. The cost of a taxi to the city centre is approximately 45 PLN.
Kraków–Balice is a designated ‘No Stopping’ area unless otherwise signed. Parking is not permitted anywhere unless it is signposted as a parking area. Public parking is available at both terminal T1 and terminal T2 (from 5 PLN/hour).
Kraków Główny is the largest, most centrally located railway station in Kraków as well as the first underground railway station in the country. A new underground ticket hall opened in February 2014, with waiting rooms, travel centres and other amenities. Kraków is well connected via the railway network to all the major cities in Poland, as well as some cities in Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine and Romania.
Getting from Kraków Główny Osobowy / Kraków Główny to the City Centre
Kraków Główny is within easy walking distance of most of the Old Town. Buses going from Dworzec Główny: 105, 115, 129, 130, 179, 192 and trams: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 24, 50. During the night bus route 902 goes from Dworzec Głowny to the airport. The stops nearest to the station are Dworzec Główny Wschodni, Dworzec Główny Zachodni, Dworzec Główny Tunel and Uniwersytet Ekonomiczny.
There is a large taxi rank in front of the main station, although it is also possible to order them by phone. Beware of conning taxi drivers: it's always better to ask for the price before starting the journey. The price should not be higher than 2,3 PLN/km during the day and 3,5 PLN/km in the night.
Parking spaces are situated directly above railway tracks and are connected by lifts and steps with the platforms and underground ticket hall. The initial 60 minutes are free.
The main bus station in Kraków is located next to the Dworzec Głowny train station, at Bosacka street, in the heart of the city. PKS Kraków is the main provider from here.
Getting from Kraków Bus Station to the City Centre
See above section for Kraków Główny.
Main routes running from Kraków:
Be aware that the entirety of zone I in the city centre is pedestrianised.
The speed limits are: 50 km/h in city (60 km/h 23:00-05:00), 90 km/h outside the city, 100 km/h if lanes are separated, 100 km/h on single carriage way car-only roads (white car on the blue sign), 120 km/h on dual carriageway car-only roads, and 140 km/h on motorways / freeways (autostrada).
Driving with dipped lights is obligatory at all times, and wearing your seatbelt is mandatory. Some stretches of motorway are tolled - it is possible to pay in PLN, Euros and US Dollars. Driving with a Blood Alcohol Content as small as 0.2% – the outcome of drinking a small glass of beer – is considered over the limit in Poland and is a criminal offence. If you're travelling with a US license, be sure to take an international license with you. Poland is one of the few countries in Europe requiring US persons to travel with an international license in order to rent a car.
The public transport system in Kraków consists of tram and bus routes that are mostly operated by a municipal company. Nonetheless there are a number of privately-owned minibus fleets. There is no subway network in Kraków. Since the buses and trams go to every part of Kraków, the network is extremely popular. The Kraków Fast Tram system, KST (Polish Krakowski Szybki Tramwaj), is a tram system connecting the northern and southern parts of the city. The Transport Authority is divided into two ticket zones - I and II. The whole city centre and most of the tourist sights are in zone I while the airport is in zone II.
A one-way ticket for a municipal bus or a tram is 3,80 PLN. The price depends on the ticket type; there are many different possibilities. You can buy them at news stands, from ticket machines at downtown stops and in some buses and trams. Immediately after boarding you should put the ticket through the ticket puncher and keep it until you reach your destination.
Time limit tickets cost: 20 min - 2,80 PLN, 40 min - 3,80 PLN, 60 min - 5 PLN, 90 min - 9 PLN etc. A one-way ticket for zones I and II costs 4 PLN.
There are many bike lanes in Kraków, indeed riding a bicycle in Kraków frequently turns out to be the quickest way to get from point A to point B in the congested city centre at rush hour. Many one-way streets are also available for bikes to use in both directions - just look for the road signs. Before using a bike you need to register at KMK Bike, then pay 20 PLN and you can enjoy using a bike for 24 hours a day. Bicycles are distributed throughout the whole of Kraków, with 16 stands provided in the centre.
Cabs are plentiful and relatively inexpensive in Kraków. Taxis are now legally obliged to give you a printed receipt at the end of your journey. If you hail one from the street make sure you choose a clearly marked cab with a company name and phone number displayed, as well as a sticker indicating prices in the window.
Practically anywhere in the city may prove tricky to find a convenient parking place so public transport is usually the easiest option. Remember, the purchased parking ticket should be left on view behind the windshield of the car. You cannot drive a car in the city centre (Zone 1). The fee for first hour of parking is normally 3 PLN.
The city is fairly compact and pedestrian-friendly. In fact, the entire centre of Kraków is pedestrianised and you can easily get about to see the city's gardens, squares and Medieval streets on foot.
With a noble history dating back to the fourth century, Krakow has endured a long, and often difficult, history. But throughout the story of settlement and destruction, this enchanted city has evolved along the might Vistula River with the stunning magnificence of the Carpathian Mountains as its backdrop. If legend is to be believed, it was founded by the defeat of a dragon - many visitors today still feel something mythical in the air of its medieval streets and market squares. From medieval tradition and Gothic splendour, the magnificent architecture of Krakow alone makes for a rewarding visit.
Start your walking tour of Kraków in the city's historic Jewish quarter, Kazimierz. Simply wander the narrow, shady streets and visit one of its many synagogues, such as the Temple Synagogue with its over 40 stained glass windows. If you would like a break from walking, head over to Meiselsa Street and the Center for Jewish Culture, which has a rooftop cafe with a glorious view. After that, walk down the same street to the river and continue along towards the Wawel citadel, comprising of a castle and cathedral. The gardens overlook the Vistula river and provide a great spot for soaking up some sun. Next, you can take the Royal Way, via Grodzka Street to the main square Rynek Główny, where you can visit the city's ancient market halls. Locals and experts recommend a visit to the medieval cellars under the square, especially on hot summer days. If you are interested in art, the Princes Czartoryski Museum houses famous works like The Lady with an Ermine, by Leonardo da Vinci. You can find this museum in the northeast corner of the Old Town, on Świętego Jana Street.
The city of Krakow is known for its hearty cuisine that heavily features bread and sausages. Food is an important part of the identity of the people of Krakow and traditional recipes are handed down through generations in each family. The national dish of Poland is pierogi which consists of small dumplings that are filled with a variety of fillings, including sauerkraut, mushrooms or sweet jams. Pierogi can be found in most restaurants in Krakow, and they are also a popular street food at the city's markets. The obwarzanek has become a food symbol of Krakow and these chewy bagels can be found on every street corner. Try a salt sprinkled obwarzanek for the perfect snack, while exploring the city. An authentic Krakow food experience can be had at Stylowa, which is located in the eastern section of the Old Town. Here, diners can enjoy traditional dishes of the region such as veal escalops with buckwheat. Those looking for a more luxurious dining experience should try Restauracja Wentzl in the middle of the Old Town. The restaurant serves local Polish ingredients cooked using classic French techniques. Vegetarians will find that most restaurants serve dishes that will suit their dietary requirements.