Wawel Castle, Krakow, from the banks of the Wista River
Krakow certainly offers plenty of attractions to enjoy on a walk, whether a short stroll around the Old Town, a relaxing walk around the Planty parkland which surrounds it, or walking briskly beside the broad Wista River nearby.
A walk around an attractive old city can be just as enjoyable as a countryside walk or mountain hike, but it's a different kind of experience. There are historic buildings to admire, restaurants to stop at for lunch, shops to browse around and entertainment in the evenings, but usually rather less in the way of scenery and tranquility.
"Heritage" is an over-used word, but it certainly applies to what Krakow has to offer. The concentration of medieval architecture in the old town is recognised by UNESCO as one of the finest in the world, whilst the religious history captured in buildings and artwork is on a par with anything in Europe. Considerable investment has been made over the past two decades in saving and restoring many old buildings so that today the city looks as though it is permanently on show to visitors.
The horse-drawn carriages which rattle around the Old Town between the city square and Wawel Castle all day and long into the evening confirm the appeal of the city, which benefits enormously from the tight restrictions on private cars.
Krakow was Poland's capital for around 500 years and its kings were crowned and buried at the cathedral on Wawel Hill. Invaders have come and gone, and the city's fortunes have fluctuated over the centuries, but today it is thriving and prosperous once again. Tourism plays a large part in this, with over 6 million visitors a year making it Poland's most popular tourism destination.
The main square (Rynek Glowny) is reputedly the largest in Europe, originally laid out in 1257 and now the location of numerous cafes and restaurants alongside the medieval churches and the shops in the old Cloth Hall.
Once you've absorbed the sights and the atmosphere of the Old Town, you might want to wander around Park Jordana which is half a mile (1 km) to the west, or go a little further for a walk in Las Wolski woodland park, 6 km away. Krakow Zoo is situated within the park. Auschwitz is also visited by many tourists coming to Krakow, lying about 60 km to the west.
As it's such a magnet for visitors, English is widely spoken at hotels and restaurants, but less so among the general population. Learning a few words of Polish would be helpful but not essential.
Getting around is relatively easy. We were staying in Krakow at the end of a holiday in southern Poland and Slovakia. Although we had flown into Krakow direct from Edinburgh, we had driven in a hire car straight down to Zakopane in the High Tatras for 3 nights, followed by 6 nights on the other side of the Tatras in Slovakia. With Zakopane around 110 km (69 miles) from Krakow, it seemed an ideal way to combine city and mountains in one holiday, with a strong emphasis on walking! Our journey south was made longer by the series of road works on the main E77 road, but once this is completed the link will be much easier. The regular train service between the two would also suit those who prefer to combine city and mountains without using a car, avoiding the increasing traffic congestion.
The main train station is just north of the Old Town, whilst the airport is 12 km to the west, with good bus connections to the city. There's a network of tram and bus services outside the Old Town with quite a few complaints in the Stay Poland website from people disturbed in their hotels by the noise of trams outside.
Hotel prices seem still to be quite reasonable compared to those in the UK - in our case 88 Euros a night for two sharing a twin or double room, B & B, in a clean and comfortable 3 star hotel near the city centre (it was virtually the same price a week later in a small guest house in the Highlands of Scotland). Meals and drinks were also a bit less than you might expect to pay in a city centre in the UK.
The Polish currency is the zloty - on our visit there were roughly 4 zloty to the pound and 3 to the Euro.
Contributed by Andrew Llanwarne
(To order the stories by name, date, country or type click on the appropriate heading)
|Krakow Zoo and Las Wolski Park||Poland||Countryside and easy hill walks||11/09/2008|
|The Planty, Krakow, Poland||Poland||Town and City walks||10/09/2008|
|Krakow Old Town||Poland||Town and City walks||29/08/2008|