Krakow is Poland’s second largest city with a population of more than 1.4 million people when you take the surrounding areas into account. It lies at the base of the Carpathian Mountains, across both sides of the Wisla/Vistula river.
The city is supposedly divided into eighteen separate boroughs, although this is fairly recent. Infact before 1991, Krakow was actually made up of only four quarters. These were Nowa Huta, Podgorze, Krowodrza and the historic main town center.
Krakow is often considered the most ‘Polish’ of all of Poland’s cities. It has plenty of ancient history and indeed, communities around the outskirts of the city provide a great way to see how Polish people really live away from the hustle bustle of the tourist attractions and city centers. Krakow is often described as picture perfect and it certainly is a very pretty city with many wonderful features such as Europe’s biggest market square and even a castle looking over a river that simply looks like something that’s come straight from a fairy tale. The city was even added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List back in 1978. It was one of the only Polish cities that was not reduced to rubble after the Second World War, helping it to keep its original charm intact. The fact that the city was not big enough to play host to many of the communist era concrete tower blocks also helped matters. The closest it has to this is the suburb of Nowa Huta, which is only a short tram ride from the main part of the city itself.
Aside from the views the city also boasts plenty of museum collections displaying priceless art and artifacts. Supposedly, Krakow also has the highest density of clubs and bars in the world, perfect to unwind after a day of sightseeing!
Places to Visit whilst in Krakow
Auschwitz – Check out our guide on the museum for the former Nazi concentration camp that is easily accessible from Krakow. You will need to set aside a day for this though as it is around 65 kilometers from Krakow itself.
Wieliczka Salt Mines – Only around 17 kilometers from Krakow, buses and trains make regular trips to Wieliczka and these gigantic and fascinating mines are an absolute must see whilst in the city.
Watch Out for Tourist Scams in Krakow
Sadly, as in quite a few large tourist cities these days, Krakow also has its fair share of scammers trying to extract money from travelers and tourists. Below are just a few of the most common ones. Read up and use your common sense:
The Bar Scam
Unfortunately one of the more common scams these days after moving into Krakow from the Baltic States. Typically you will be approached by a young attractive lady or ladies (not always attractive) who will seem to take a little more interest in you that you would normally expect from a stranger. Whilst we’re not trying to say that you aren’t as good looking as she suggests, we do suggest you use a little common sense and as with most things in life, if it seems too good to be true then it probably is.
The women suggest that you join them for a drink at a slightly random looking bar or club where they use thuggish Russian Mafia looking men to intimidate you into paying a hideously over inflated bar bill. It goes without saying, make sure you know the prices before you order drinks. Don’t expect to get too much sympathy from the authorities either if you get caught out. Scams like these have been running fairly openly for the last 10 years or so and the city seems to have done nothing about it.
The Taxi Scam
As is good price when visiting any city that you are not familiar with, always check the approximate price for your journey in a taxi before you get in. Scam taxis are known to operate around the railway station in Krakow and to avoid the laws that limit the amount that taxis can charge, they legally register themselves as “transportation services”, enabling them to charge what they like, sometimes as much as 20 Euros per kilometer. Prices must be clearly displayed and the driver must tell you when you ask so make sure you check this out before departing on your journey.
The Hotel Scam
While less common, the hotel scam is not something that you should be any less aware of. Late into the evening or night, after substantial travel time, the hotel receptionist will call up and ask to verify your credit card details. This is normally done when you are fairly sleepy to try and catch you off guard. Before you know what has hit you, your card will have been used to run up high charges illegally. The growing black market in Krakow for stolen credit card numbers makes this scam a real possibility to please be aware. If in any doubt then don’t give out your details!
The Currency Exchange Scam
This one is a little more recent but uses private currency exchange booths, located in and around the train station just as tourists arrive and leave Krakow. Currency exchange operators will try and deceive you into accepting a terrible rate by hiding the tiles on the rate board under another tile to falsify the rate. Typically, tourists can lose out by up to 20% of the exchanged amount. This can obviously be quite significant if you are exchanging a reasonable sum of money. The best advice is to ask to see the actual rate you will receive in writing before exchanging any money. They will try and point to the board but you must insist that you want to see it in writing before proceeding. Ask at your hotel for the best reputable places to exchange money and they should point you in the right direction.
Auschwitz Tour Scam
Visiting Auschwitz itself is generally free or almost free. Even though these tours are advertised all around the city, the money you pay (often far too much) goes entirely on the cost of the transport itself. The driver will wait for you whilst you join any tour you want and the tours are actually provided by the museum itself and not the tour agency. Save yourself the money and travel to Auschwitz yourself.