Kopiec Kościuszki a view from above of the Royal city of Krakow
Kopiec (mound) is a tribute built in commemoration of someone important. It is pretty much an artificial hill with symmetrical paths leading to the top. There are four of these in Kraków, the oldest ones are Princess Wanda Mound and King Krak Mound (the legendary founder of Kraków)and they were originally meant to be graves built by the thankful residents of the town.
Its amazing I have lived in Krakow for so many years and only hike a few of the mounds and I have certainly not done all of the touristy things. The hills in Cracow are worth seeing as they give you a good panorama of the cityscape of the Royal city which you can not get in any other way.
The Story of Kościuszko Mound
Kościuszko is a Polish, Lithuanian and Us military hero. He was a Polish general who led the Kościuszko Uprising against Russia and Prussia. He was also involved in American Revolutionary War as a colonel. In short words, he was and still is a quite special guy to the Polish Nation, so they decided that he deserved his very own mound. It was built three years after his death, on top of St Bronisława Hill (Polish name: Wzgórze Swiętej Bronisławy), also known as Wzgórze Sikornik.
It is visible from a lot of spots in Kraków, I can even see it right now when I look out of the window. You can see it when you walk along Piłsudskiego Street, which has very nice architecture by the way, so it is worth taking a walk there.
Tickets & opening hours
It costs 10 złoty to enter the mound area (but just going up is free of course only the tower top costs), there is also a chapel of Saint Bronislawa and some exhibitions every now and then. A couple of times a year it is free of charge. It is normally open from 9 till dusk and between may 1st and Sepptember 30th it is open until 11pm but only on the weekends and holidays. It is magical at night with the lights along the path great place for a date in Kraków.
How to get there
There are 2 bus lines that you can take, 100 and 101, but it is more more fun if you walk as you can see the landscape along the way. The easiest way to do it is take a tram or bus to the Salwator terminal (trams 1, 2, 6, buses 109, 209, 229, 239, 259, 269, 409) , then head up the hill along St Bronislawa Street (Ulica Swiętej Bronisławy) and then Washington Alley (Aleja Waszyngtona). You can also rent a bike and ride it all the way to Kopiec, there is a place to park it and they even provide free locks.
Make sure you take a camera with you, the view is amazing. I have not put too many photos here as I did not want to spoil the surprise, more something you have to experience.
John Paul II Airport (KRK) is a fairly small and convenient airport with very good access to the city centre, so you have no need to worry even if you tend to get nervous and / or lost at airports. There is not enough space to get lost, really, though the airport is still growing.
It only has two terminals: domestic (T2) and international (T1). There is a shuttle bus that will drive you from the train stop to your terminal, but if you are trying to get to the international terminal it is quite slow, as it goes to the domestic terminal first, then turns around and goes back to the international. I wouldn’t advise taking it if you are in a hurry, unless you have a lot of luggage of course, simply because it is much faster to walk. And it is not a long walk at all.
The transport from Balice Airport to Kraków center
There most convenient way to get from the airport to the city centre or vice versa is to take the train. The ride is only about 15 minutes and even if it takes an extra stop on the way it is never longer than 20 minutes. If you take it from the railroad station it usually leaves off platform 1 every 30 minutes, unless there is a renovation going on. It is just a short white and red train, it’s easy to find it.
If you take it from the airport: there is a shuttle bus right outside the door, it is free and will take you to the train station. You can also walk, I think it is about 100 meters. There is a bus stop on the right and a pavement along it that ends at the train stop.
You can buy the tickets at the station’s ticket window , at the machine inside of the train (coins only) or you can also buy it from the ticket controller after the train takes off. Do not worry about getting a fine if you do not have a ticket when the guy asks you to show it. It does not work the same way as Kraków public transport (MPK) , if you don’t have a ticket you can simply buy it with some extra charge. A regular ticket is 10 złoty.
If you want to make your trip to the airport or back really cheap, there are two regular agglomeration bus lines going to the airport: 208 and 292. There is also a night bus 903. They all leave from Dworzec Główny Wschód, the big bus and coach station by Galeria Krakowska and of course stop around the town. You need an agglomeration ticket (bilet normalny aglomeracyjny) for those, as they exceed city district. It costs 3.20zł and you can buy it at kiosks, ticket machines around the town or on the bus. The airport buses have big blue planes on their schedule so even if you forget the bus number, you will still know which one to take without reading every bus schedule at the bus stop.
There will be drivers outside the airport who will offer you a trip to the center in their mini bus for 60 złoty, but it is not a good deal at all, especially here in Kraków with such good transport options and the airport being relatively close to the city. Even a taxi would be cheaper, yet I see plenty of tourists going for it. The cheapest taxi company is called icar by the way, if you ever need to take one in Kraków. There are also other mini buses that I believe charge you 5 złoty for the ride to Galeria Krakowska but they are never right by the exit so you have to look for them. My advice is, if someone walks up and wants you to take their bus say no, because they will more than likely overcharge you. The same applies to mini buses parked right where you can see them after you walk out of the door. They are the most expensive ones and live off of people who have no idea how cheap it actually is to get to the center. Don’t be one of them.
What the name Sary Kleparz refers to now was originally the main square of the city of Kleparz back in the old days. Today if you ask anyone about it they will tell you it is a market. Probably the most popular one in Kraków, along with its younger brother, Nowy Kleparz ( New Kleparz).
Most shoppers visit Kleparz to buy fresh organic vegetables. I do and the meat is also mostly organic as are the dairy products. They are grow and farmed by local farms. You can see this by the fact the garlic is actually pink not the white chinese garlic you see in the rest of the world. But pink garlic full of flavonoids.
There is a huge variety of fruit and vegetables to choose from, homegrown organic things, imported exotic stuff and everything in between. The majority of the market are stands, but there are some mini shops also, mostly on the edges of the square, including bread shops (try the famous one that sells everything out in 2 hours, I can’t tell you the name, but you will probably recognize it by a long line of people), diary & meat shops, candy and even a flower-pot store.
You can buy almost anything there. Flower bouquets, antiques, little decorative pumpkins, seeds, homemade cheese, kitchen ware and even underwear, although this one will probably not be of the best quality, just like all Kleparz clothing . You can get some wicker items at a good price, too. If you get hungry while exploring it, there are some fast food places too, selling zapiekanki and so on.
I think the best time to shop there is winter. In December you can really feel a Christmas spirit, and I’m not talking about the kind of fever that you can experience at the mall. It’s much more calm and relaxing there, people just wander around and pick trees or lights and buy candy for the kids. And speaking of candy, definitely try ice chocolates. You might know them or have heard of them, depending on where you come from. These are only sold in the winter as they melt very easily, almost like ice cream.
Stary Kleparz is located right behind the tram stop called Basztowa Lot. You can get there using lines 0, 2, 3, 4, 7, 14, 15, 20, 24 (trams) or 124, 152 and 424 (buses), but it is quick and easy to reach it from the main square just walk along Sławkowska Street and when you pass the Planty Park go slightly to the right, next to Długa Street you will see something like a cavity since Kleparz is a square.
If you feel like visiting Nowy Kleparz as well, it is not very far from it at the end of Długa Street, which is a 15 minute walk. This is area is also where all the bridal shops are in Krakow.
If you are from the US, Ireland, UK or anywhere in Europe you might be wondering can I buy things cheaper in Poland. My answer is yes generally. I will back this up by data found on numbeo.com. However, it is not just about finding a cheap price, but quality and the things you will actually use or enjoy. This post is an insiders guide to shopping in Krakow, Poland.
Where to shop in Kraków
You would probably expect me to say the best shopping spots in Kraków are Floriańska Street and Galleria Krakowska, which are located in the center, but these are actually the worst spots, unless you don’t mind overcrowded places geared for tourists. I prefer peaceful shopping with better prices and try to avoid those places if I am not in a big hurry. Here is my list of places to shop in Krakow for various consumer and tourist items written by a Cracovian who shops.
Clothes – The most convenient place to shop for clothes in Kraków is Bonarka City Center. The location is about the only issue it has, it is definitely not as approachable as Galeria Krakowska, but a lot less crowded, too. Whatever it is that you are hunting for, in Bonarka you have more to choose from than anywhere else. It is a huge 2- story mall with all kinds of shops. I think it is the largest mall in Europe almost as big as Mall of America and the King of Prussia Mall in the USA. Watch out though, because of its size it is easy to get lost and the maps are not very helpful. So if you want a mix between Polish prices and Western brand names go to Bonarka. Take the bright yellow 304 bus there. In this mall my favorite shops are – Auchen for WalMart prices. It is the French WalMart. For women’s clothes Kappha (Swedish Store), Reserved (Polish store).
Food – If you are looking for a place to buy cheap food, again Bonarka is the best choice for you. This is where the cheapest supermarket in Kraków is. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, there are Stary Kleparz by Basztowa Street and Nowy Kleparz at the end of Długa Street. The sellers are often the ones who grew the crops. I cannot say it’s organic food, but it tastes real and nothing like supermarket stuff. Kleparz offers all kinds of goodies, from usual things such as bread or cabbage to hand carved wooden spoons, wildflower bouquets or funny cosmetics sold by a Russian girl. If you are in need of something sophisticated and rare you should probably look in one of Alma stores as they tend to carry a lot of foreign food that is generally hard to find in regular stores. I also like Alma, which is basically WholeFoods of Poland. There are many Alma’s in Krakow but I go to the one in Gallaria Kazimierz. They also have Kosher food in Krakow if that is important to you.
Antiques – There are several antique stores in Kraków and I think Kazimierz has the most of them. There is also a flea market every Sunday morning at Hala Grzegórzecka. The prices are very decent and you can really find some treasures or crazy things. I’ve even seen a big fossiled egg one time.
Souvenirs – I know this is quite obvious, but I have to say Sukiennice (Cloth Hall). Not only because everything in it is about souvenirs and you have a lot to choose from. They are real souvenirs from Kraków, designed and made in Poland, a lot of times by hand, not something that says Kraków but was made in China. The fact that it is a historical building and most likely the first mall in the world makes it more fun to shop there rather than in some regular souvenir shop. Other than that, I think Grodzka Street has a lot of gift and souvenir stores, there is also a good one in about the middle of Sławkowska Street, you can recognize it by different kinds of stuffed cats in the window. There is another good one on Gołębia Street and I believe that one only sells handcrafted items. If you happen to be in Kraków around the holidays- Christmas or Easter, you should definitely check out the holiday market that is set up twice a year before the holidays. This is where the most unique souvenirs are, especially pottery. If it’s there you will see it as it is right on the Main Square.
Art – You can buy paintings at the famous wall on Pijarska Street as well as in numerous galleries around the old town, such as one on Poselska Street, Dominikańska Street or Plac Szczepański. It is not hard to find one and you will most likely come across a few of them while taking a walk around the historical center.
Books– Go to Empik for Polish books and magazines in all languages and Massolit for used English books cheap. Massolit is more an expat hangout in Krakow.
What to buy in Kraków- the must have items
These are things to buy in Cracow. I think the these are all good, but if you want a nice gift or something of lasting value, buy Amber.
Obważanek, also referred to as precel, although it is not its proper name, is probably the most Kraków thing. There are stands selling obważanki all around the town. It tastes close to a roll, but has different crust and is sprinkled with poppy seed, sesame, or grained salt. It’s fun to get one and share it with the pigeons or swans by the river. Do not buy one with salt if you want to that though. This is literally a pretzel circle.
Dragon. It’s a symbol of Kraków. You will see dragons on every souvenir stand around the town. There are all kinds, little wooden ones, bigger stuffed plush ones and dragon t-shirts too, so make sure you do not leave Kraków without one. It might be a little tacky but it’s like going to Paris and not buying a miniature Eiffel Tower.
Bombki. Poland is famous for hand-made and painted glass Christmas ornaments. You can buy them at any time of the year, for example on Grodzka Street, although they might be slightly overpriced in the very center of Kraków.
A zapiekanka in Kazimierz. Another very Polish thing. It’s fast food, but probably a kind that you have never tried before if you are a foreigner. You can get them anywhere in Poland, but Kazimierz has the most sophisticated ones and you can pick each ingredient that you want as your zapiekanka topping. You can read more about zapiekanki in a separate post.
Amber. The Baltic Sea is the richest sea in the world when it comes to amber, so you will see plenty of amber jewellery in Kraków at good price. This is a good gift idea, too. Talented Krakow artists are everywhere, this city is a mecca for designers and the prices will be a fraction of NYC or London but better quality in terms of material and design, really.
Wawel chocolate. Especially the Kasztanki or Tiki Taki kind, simply because you will not find it anywhere else other than Poland.
The market square in Krakow is the largest market square in Europe. It might be the largest in the world, considering most places in the world do not have traditional market squares besides Europe. However, for Europe it is the largest open market square. Below I made a video of the center of Krakow. I posted it on my YouTube channel where I have a few other videos about Krakow and Poland.
Cracow Main Market Square
The size of the market square is 40,000 sq meters or 430,000 square feet. If you were to fly over the market you would see three evenly spaced roads each at right angles to the main market square.
Below the market square is even a larger network of tunnels and caverns and secret passages. But that is a for another topic and day.
The exception to this symetry is ul. Grodzka, which is the oldest street and on the southern side.
Krakow is a Medieval Gothic town. The market squares are lining museum pieces. It is also the geographical center of the city.
Cloth Hall Krakow
At the center of the market square in Krakow is the Cloth hall. The market square is called the Rynek Głowny or literally main market. Many towns have something called a Rynek. Rynek means market in Polish.
The large yellow building in front of us is called the Cloth hall or in Polish the Sukiennice. It was started in 1344. It now has more of a 16th century look with gables and gargoyles. There was also a 19th century reconstruction. This is and was a center for trade. You can buy things specifically Polish and made in Poland.
It is the world’s oldest continuously running shopping mall. Krakow has the oldest Shopping mall in Europe the Sukiennice and arguably the largest also Galleria Bonarka. I like to go to both. The prices in Cracow’s cloth hall are good. I actually still go shopping there for things from time to time. Where can you find a wooden chess set or mountain slippers for ten dollars but here? In a modern shoopping center you will pay many times more for the same or lesser quality.
In the Middle Ages, on Monday’s you could also buy fresh meat. The animals were butchered in another part of Krakow. At the end of the day of course prices went down.
Old City call tower
The town city call is called Wieża Ratuszowa or literally the town hall tower. While it was used by the city of Krakow government it contained a room for the town council, court and jail. It also had a room of torture (see the anthropology museum for this) and a storage area. Now it is a museum and you can go up in the tower. At the base is a cafe.
The statue of Adam Michiewicz
This monument was erected in 1898. He was Poland’s national poet born in Lithuania and died in Istanbul. However, we do not know if he ever came to Krakow, probably not. However, he is buried in the Wawel castle. When the statue was first put up, there was controversy whether it was too modern and not appropriate for the poetry of the Rynek. The statue was taken by the Germans during the war and sold for scrap but recovered in Hamburg Germany after the war.
Today, along with Empik bookstore people wait for dates or meet their friends. If you watch my movie below you will see a few girls in font of Empik waiting for someone. Watch for the girl who turns her head.
This is a short history as I want you to actually someday visit the center. In another post I might include more details. If you have any questions please let me know. I have lived in Krakow a good part of my life. There are also a number free English-speaking walking tours in the center if you take a trip there.
If you are in Krakow, Poland and are thirsty, please stop by the well of St. Stanislaus. This water in Krakow is said to have miraculous healing powers. I would like to look at this claim and tell you about the history of St. Stanislaus.
How to find the this well water in Krakow
The well is in the Paulist monetary in Kazimierz. You can walk along the Wistula river and see a big white church. It is known as Kościoł na Skałce or Church on the small little rock. It is exactly located around the streets Paulinska and Św. Stanislawa. This is down the street from Św. Katarzyny. I would recommend to take the 6 or the 8 tram to Plac Wolnica and walk towards the river and you can not miss the monastery.
The monetary itself is a very quite, peaceful place to relax with green grass and no noise of traffic. There is even a WC for tourists and a lot of information in English and always friendly Krakovians to ask questions to. So if you are walking by foot, there is no reason to miss this monetary.
It is near the church of St. Michała. St. Michael fights the devil who takes the form of a dragon. I remember I went here in 1999 on a tour and I do not even think the guide pointed out the well.
Originally the area was ancient pagan religious center and in the 11th century a Romaneque church was built on these cliffs and later replaced by a Gothic church funded by Kazimierz the Great.
Who was St. Stanislaus?
This church and more specially the well is the place of Martyrdom for St. Stanislaus of Szczepanowo. He is a patron saint of Poland. Stanislaus was the Bishop of Krakow. He stood in opposition to the brutal king Bolesław (who was eventually exiled). He opposed the kings immoral behavior and his ruthless treatment of women. St. Stanislaus was a man who had the courage of his convictions. He stood his ground to the king. The king ordered his men to execute Stanislaus. His men refused to harm such a good human, so the king did it himself. He chopped up St. Stanislaus, his finger first and throw the pieces of his hacked and dismembered body in this ancient well.
What happened next in this pool of water in Krakow? The body started to reassemble itself in front of people’s eyes. St. Stanislaus is buried in Wawel castle and the King fled the country.
Krakow water you can drink
In Krakow, people drink bottled water. I filter the water. The water is not bad from the tap, but it is like any other city water in the world, it is better filtered as you do not know what is in it. However, the water at St. Stanislaus’ well is rich in macro and mirco elements. It is safe for drinking and they even recommend you try it.
The water is actually holy water. It is blessed right from the well.
It has a very strong taste as it is so rich in minerals and elements that it is more like spa water. I love the taste. Some people say it tastes like sulphur and nitrogen. I love the exotic rich taste.
I think there are so many micro nutrients in the water which they have not identified. But a partial list can be found by the well, which has been tested and is pure.
You can fill up bottle if you like. Take this healing water.
I could write a book on this subject. I am religious but not a super naturalist. I guess I wrote this post to somewhat temper all the claims I see on the Internet of some “miracle water” being sold from somewhere. I do not like this type of hype.
I do not believe in super natural things. However, the reality our brains have limited awareness. The human brain is limited by its physical structure there is no way we will ever understand the mysteries of this universe.
For example, if the smartest dog in the world understands basic language and many things, but it can never understand advanced calculus or the quantum physics. In fact dogs can not see color as a dog’s brain is not wired for colors. A dog will ever see a rainbow. Its brain is limited by its evolutionary structure. Ours is also.
What are we humans not aware of or out of our senses? Even if we understand everything in our universe , explained by physics and math, it is not the end. We are as limited as the dog. There is one thing different perhaps, humans sense a deeper spiritual existence but do not have the capacity to fully quantify and measure this reality.
There is a complex stratification of reality.
Therefore, even though I am not a super naturalist at all. I believe in miracles. I believe God does great things for us.
Is the well of St. Stanislaus miracle water as some have said? I do not have any knowledge of this. I do not know anything about this or anyone healed by this water. I have not researched it.
I do know the water is free. Any miracle water, if it exists anywhere in the world is never sold, nor should it be if it exists. I would not trust anyone who sold water under the name of miracle water, like some people do in the USA. The reality is if miracles do exist, they come from God and God alone. Further, your body and mind is often transformed without you being aware of it. It happens as a seed and somewhere and sometime, when you are not aware, your life starts to transform. This could include physical healing. Humans often connect phsycial objects with healing. This is because we live on a physical plane and often need something concrete for us to latch onto to bridge the spiritual and physical.
From a physics perspective, the atoms we are composed of are mostly empty space moving and vibrating so it only appears we are solid. This is true of any physical object like wood or even water. Therefore, we as humans are nothing more than strands of evergy. Maybe some things in this universe have an energy that is unque. This is a simplistic understanding of it. I go back to the idea as a mysterian that our brains Are too small to understand these things.
This Krakow water is simply free. Go to the well and fill up as many bottles of water as you can and take it home with you. At the very least it is healthy spa water.
However, if you pray and purify your intentions and drink it. Perhaps your reality might change a bit. I think God is always showing us signs, most of us are not listening and looking.
If you have any questions about the healing Miracle water of St. Stanislaus well in Krakow please let me know. I would be curious about what you think. At the very least go to the well when you are in Krakow. I see thousands of people everyday visiting other spots in Krakow that have been hype and mean little spiritually.
However, few visitors go to this humble quite well in the middle of the city. Maybe its a good thing and I should not have written about this holy water. I feel mixed as on one hand I would like other people to know about it, but on the other hand I do not want it on my semi commercial blog and it to become a tourist spot in a negative sense. However, here is the information and do with it what you like.
I would love to write in more detail about this but I thought I would start off a post on Krakow Jewish life.
Do any Jews still live in Krakow Poland?
This is a good question. I live in the old Jewish ghetto of Krakow. My street was the border where the wall divided the Jewish ghetto with the other part. I have be casually reading about the history of Jewish Krakow for about seven years. I am not an expert but how can I not have an interest if I live here? I have many stories that really are other worldly I would like to write about, but this post is less ambitious. It is simply to explain that yes Yiddish and Hebrew is spoken on the street and among the tourists and there are Jews living in Krakow.
Often times the question comes up, do any Jewish people live in Krakow? And if so what is it like for them?
The answer is there are about 100 active Jews here, going to synagogue and observing the rites. However, I would say 1000s of inactive Jews in Krakow. Many people here are Jewish or were born of Jewish mothers and converted to Christianity for obvious reason. Remember about 25% of the city was Jewish, 60,000 people and back then that was a lot of people. Plus all over the coutryside there were people living and this number is often ignored and would bring the figure much higher if ou include the metropolitian area.
Many of my students in Krakow have told me they have a Jewish grandmother or something. I would say about 15% of my Polish students have some Jewish blood. The owners of my building are Jewish. The owners of my friends building are Jewish and come to Krakow sometimes for a long-term stay. I know Jews from England and other places that have set up businesses etc in Kazimierz. There are also over a million Jewish tourists to Kraków every year.
So even though there are a few thousand inactive Jews in Krakow and about 100 active Jews here do not believe the numbers. There are thousands of Jews from all over the world everyday visiting as this is an important city of culture. Their ancestors lived here as long as the Poles did in peace. This is why in my opinion is an important Jewish city today.
What is life like for a Jewish person in Krakow? I think it is like anywhere, the focus is on observing the law of God, living peacefully and in community.
I think Krakow is like 19th century Jewish city. If you live here and are not a just coming through you will see how magical it really is. It is like a time machine. In fact, irony is people have written articles telling people not to come to here as they do not want to spoil this too hidden gem of a city. Maybe, I am a bit guilting of telling people not to come here as I do not want to spoil it myself as it is not too commerical, at least yet.
Do Jewish people experience problems in Krakow?
Did you know if you make a remark to someone based on religion or country of origin etc in Poland it is 2 years in prison? Article 67 of the Polish law protects rights and if you look into Polish law you will find if someone even makes a comment or remark about you in a bad way based on who you are you will get two years. The Police are very strict about this because of the history and the connection with Israel.
Maybe someone has experienced problems but I have never heard of it personally. For sure there are some guys who live in the blocks in the bad section of town, that hold less than enlightened ideas in their small brains, but this is everywhere in the world not just Poland.
Photos of Jewish Kraków
The following are some more photos of Kazimierz
I was out the other day with my camera. There are not professional photos but just some I took while I was in Kazimierz waiting to get a haircut. You can decide for yourself if in Kazimierz or any other part of Krakow, if there are any traces of Jewish culture.
An active Jewish Synagogue in Krakow
Jagiellonian University is where people study Hebrew and about Jewish culture.
I can not even begin to go into the history as it is beyond the scope of this post.
Do you like sitting at a cafe and reading? This is a Krakovian tradition. And you are in luck because…
Orthodox or conservative rituals of cleasing are important. In fact, I heard this one of the first thing that was built in the community here. It makes sense as you should be pure in body and mind to ask for God’s wisdom to build a new community.
I think most people cook at home, but it always helps if you have somewhere to go when you want to go out.
Even the big commercial shops have Kosher food, just like in the USA.
Kazimesh has it all when it comes to culture. But after about a couple of weeks you might see all the tourist things and then take a few years to settle in and enjoy the atmosphere.
I would be more than happy to answer any questions if you are coming to Krakow. I am not Jewish. I am an American Catholic and Polish also. However, if you have any questions about Jewish Krakow or Poland in general I will do my best to answer them.
When I grew up I loved the countryside. I grew up in New England in the countryside I wanted to stay. In fact, when I moved to NYC out of college I thought why? Everything I wanted was in small town New England. I had lakes and fields to play in, I have a beautiful old library, fitness center and shopping at some local stores.
When I became a city person
I became a city guy when I was a consultant. I traveled to most of the major US cities and live the consultant lifestyle in hotels and corporate apartments. By the time I took a job in Boston, I only wanted to live in Beacon Hill, Boston. I loved Beacon Hill for its old town center city lifestyle. I found I could live and work in the city and on the weekends enjoy the countryside in New Hampshire. So I thought what was the point of living in the country as opposed to the city.
My next big city move was Krakow, Poland where I have lived for about six years. I have become quite attached to city life. I have though of building a house in the countryside of Poland, a nice wooden log home. However, the though of being in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but watch the grass grow, bores me.
City or country living?
I guess I make a huge switch from country to city. I love living in a Polish city like Krakow. I am curious if you prefer the city or the country and what your experiences with the two lifestyles have been?
The following is a list of ways to go from Krakow, Poland to Lviv Ukraine. I live in Krakow and go to Lviv a lot for various reasons. Many people touring Eastern Europe are fine with going to Poland and EU country but are afraid to cross out of the Schengen zone. If you are in Poland for more than a couple of days you might want to consider a trip to Lviv.
The Polish city of Lvov was once the cultural capital of Poland. Krakow was considered a smaller town in comparison. Many people speak Polish in Lviv and the city is multi national and tourist friendly.
How to go from Cracow to Lvov
The return trip is easy as once you get there you can just do the reverse.
You can get a bus from Krakow to Lviv for 70 pln or about 22 dollars. This is the simple way, it leaves every night from the main bus station in Krakow at 8 pm. The bus often does not have a bathroom so do not drink water or ask the driver to stop the bus. I have in emergencies. When nature call you can not hang up the phone. I drank 1.5 liters of water and boarder the bus. I did this as I thought the bus came in 1 1/2 hours, but just as I finished the bus pulled up for its 12 hour trip.
Another more complicated way which I do personally as I like day travel and trains over buses. I go from Krakow to Przemyśl, a Polish town on the Polish-Ukrainian border. You can get there in 3 1/2 hours. It costs about 15 dollars or 40 Polish złoty. At Przemysl take a Marshrootka or van to the for 2 PLN there are white vans or small buses that are everywhere, just ask someone in English. Do the same to get to Lviv once you cross the Polish boarder, they come ever 20 minutes. I have been stuck there in the middle of the night because I think they stop at about midnight and had to wait until 5 am. I slept on the grass.
Any travel in Ukraine is much cheaper than travel in Poland, about 1/3 or less the price. For example I went 26 hours on a Ukrainian sleeper train to Crimea for about 20 dollars once. This same Polish train would cost about 200 dollars.
You can buy a ticket to Lviv for about 50 dollars in a sleeper car. This is the most comfortable way to get to Ukraine from Poland. But it is also the most expensive (I am not talking about flying or with a private car).
If you have tons of cash many Jewish Rabbis have a private car to Lviv and this can be arranged also at the Edan hotel in Krakow.
I have flown once but for a strange reason, no worth it generally.
My friend who is a girl hitchhikes, I have tried begging a ride also. My recommendation is if you do this hold up a sign that says your destination like “I am going to Lviv”. Best in the Polish language of course.
Travel issues going to Lviv from Poland
Ukrainian currency – I change currency in Poland. I look for the best rate. The worst place to change money is in the Lviv train station. Just be aware. In Lviv itself there are many places, just check the rates.
Visa requirements for Ukraine – there are none if you are European or American.
Ukrainian boarder crossing – The guards are looking for illegal trade, this does not affect you, tell them you are a tourist and you can cross the boarder in 20 minutes instead of 3 hours. Really, I flash my American or Polish passport and speak English and I am hustled to the front of the line. The line is really only for people making money going from Poland to Ukraine for economic reasons.
Where to eat in Lviv – Any student cafeteria like Rodzinka or Puzata hut (hata). Three dollars a meal.
Where to say in Lviv – Hotel Lviv, cheap (12 to 18 dollars) and unfriendly but my favorite place. I also stay in the
Kosmonaut Hostel (10 dollars), very cheap but nice.
If you have any questions on how to get from Krakow to Lviv let me know. Also let me know about your experiences if you have ever been to Krakow or Lviv.
Hang around in the two top-tier cities in Poland long enough, and at some point you’re bound to hear of the perennial debate that goes on between residents of the current capital versus residents of the former capital. Warsaw has been the seat of government since 1596, a fact that stings some from Krakow, long the home of Polish kings and location of the famed national monument, Wawel Castle. Numerous Varsovians, on the other hand, no doubt long for the slower and simpler life typified in the Royal City to the south.
Warsaw and Krakow are two distinct cities, with some significant differences between them. And the “conflict” between Cracovians and Varsovians over city superiority is one driven by a few factors. I’d like to take a look at both issues in this post, with a particular focus on how the aesthetics of each city compare. Warsaw is the ugly one, right..?
Big City Life versus Village Charm?
But let’s start with some basic differences between the two. Krakow is “older”, in the sense that historically, it became a significant place hundreds of years before Warsaw did. Its architecture also was not destroyed in the war, while Warsaw was systematically annihilated following the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, with estimates that up to 90% of the city was destroyed. So nearly all of what you see in Warsaw today is post-war construction, while in Krakow much of it predates the war, sometimes by many years.
Flat Warsaw is the home of wide boulevards, skyscrapers, embassy row and many modern boutiques and trendy restaurants. Krakow enjoys a medieval center, a lot of green space, the historic Jewish district of Kazimierz, and a thriving university culture, with students numbering 150-200,000, perhaps one-fifth of the city population.
A lot of joking goes on that Krakow is a village. This can be taken in a derogatory way, but I see it as a plus. The town has a cozy feel—all roads lead to the center (or at least most trams) and with most social life happening in the historic center, you frequently bump into people you know—not bad for an urban area registering around a million people.
In Warsaw, you really feel you are in the city; having been to all major urban centers in Poland, I’d say this is in fact the only real “city” in the country. Everything from the skyline and the amount of ethnic diversity (low by most other Western countries’ standards, but high for Poland) contribute to this feel. So if you are an urbanite, this is where you’ll feel most at home in Poland.
Of course, Warsaw is more expensive. Krakow is not too far behind, when looking at the price of housing and other measurements of living costs. Attention from foreign investors, as well as the sheer attractiveness of the city form a cultural and employment perspective, has led to a high cost of real estate in Krakow, though on average not as high as in Warsaw. Warsaw wages tend to be a good bit higher than in Krakow, and with most international firms setting up headquarters in the capital, the better jobs situation is not surprising. But unemployment is fairly low in Krakow as well, as it tends to be in the cities, and there are a number of international firms, such as Cap Gemini, Shell, and State Street with a significant presence in Krakow.
One note: I find the air fresher in Warsaw. It may have something to do with the geography, with the fact that Krakow lies in a “bowl”, surrounded by hills, while in flat Warsaw, the breeze seems to have a place to go. The factories of industrial Nowa Huta, a prototypical Stalinist-era settlement appended to Krakow in the 1950s, may have something to do with that as well.
The myth of “Ugly” Warsaw
What about aesthetics? At lot of the debate has to do with the attractiveness of the cities themselves. Conventional wisdom has it that Warsaw is the “ugly” sister, that the Stalinist architecture that replaced much of the bombed-out city contributes to a grey and depressing environment. There may be some truth to this—and especially compared to what Warsaw once was, when it was known as the Paris of the East.
You also feel the presence of World War Two more in Warsaw, perhaps more than in any other city and certainly more than any other city in Poland. Monuments and memorial signs seemingly attached to every other building constantly remind one of the conflict. In some ways Warsaw is a living museum of the war. I find this very interesting historically, and more importantly, a proper reminder of the sacrifice and suffering the WW2 generation endured. Though I can understand the sentiment that it contributes to a depressive atmosphere.
However, despite the common call that Warsaw is an ugly place, I would have to wholeheartedly disagree. Warsaw in fact is a quite beautiful place, with some very interesting areas and much of historical value.
Why Warsaw’s Old Town is more pleasant than Krakow’s
After the war, the residents of Warsaw, Latin motto Semper Invicta (“Always Invincible”) painstakingly rebuilt the old town. Using old photos and documents, they coaxed the old city to rise again like a phoenix from the ashes, or better, like a triumphant mermaid (the “syrena”, the symbol of Warsaw). What exists today is a very charming and compact old city center, partially surrounded by a city wall. The streets here are quieter, cozier, and more “atmospheric”, if that is a word, than most of the Old Town in Krakow. This is likely due to the fact that the Warsaw Old Town is generally less heavily frequented (at least on weekdays) whereas the Krakow old center lies in the center of the city and bustles with tourists, students, and businesspeople the whole week through.
I think it is arguable that Krakow’s Old Town is more beautiful as well. Just have a look at the square in Warsaw—smaller, but undeniably charming with its colorful, skinny tenement homes. The tenement homes of Krakow’s Old Town, by contrast, are frequently covered with unsightly enormous advertisements, hiding renovation work that seems, for some reason, to never end. Additionally, for the near-decade I’ve lived in Krakow, there has always been some sort of disruptive city construction project happening on the Main Square—first it was the renovation of the surface from asphalt to stone, then there was something to do with the cellars discovered under the square, now it’s the renovation of the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). I find it hard to remember a time when the Rynek was clear of construction. These are probably all good and necessary things, but one wonders at the speed at which they are completed.
Warsaw also seems to be more (wisely) conservative in the manifestations of commerce allowed in the historic center. Walk down a street in Old Krakow, and on the facades of the historic buildings, you’ll notice any manner of gaudy attention-getting signs and advertisements for businesses. For a spell, there was (unbelievably) even a flashing BINGO sign over one establishment on Grodzka street, part of the Royal Way leading to Wawel Castle. “Tacky” is just a starting point when it comes to that example.
Warsaw old city buildings seem to exhibit a much more restrained degree of advertising. Signs for businesses are more muted and more suited to the surroundings. It’s less “commercial” but counter-intuitively may pay off in a commercial sense by creating a more pleasant atmosphere, thereby drawing more traffic.
Krakow does have the decided edge on the question of restaurants, cafes, and entertainment in the old center. There is simply much more going on in this category, and Warsaw’s establishments are more spread about the city, with Krakow’s concentrated basically in one place.
But with the recent renovation of Krakowskie Przemiescie (the “Royal Way” leading up to the Old Town in Warsaw), the capital has enhanced a charming thoroughfare and raised its aesthetic profile. This boulevard has gotten a major facelift, and you can see that it has attracted more businesses and, coupled with its extension, the street of Nowy Swiat, makes a very enjoyable commercial center adjacent to but separate from the medieval center itself.
There are numerous other attractions throughout the city as well, from the unique Warsaw University Library, which seems to grow out of a hill in a remarkable composition of architecture and the organic, to the incomparable 76-hectare Lazienki Park, where peacocks roam amongst figures drawn from Roman mythology, while red squirrels and birds eat nuts from your hand (true 20 years ago, and true today, as I found on a visit last month).
What conclusions can be drawn? It pains me a bit to say this, as one whose heart and body reside in Krakow, but after years of study, I can’t deny the fact: Warsaw is a beautiful place too, and Warsaw’s Old Town is simply more pleasant than Krakow’s.
Krakow’s could be nicer, but will always have a different atmosphere–unless the powers that be in Krakow decide they want to clean up the carnival aesthetic they’ve either promoted or benignly allowed to flourish (ie, by reducing the number of concerts/events on the main square, and not doing things like awarding permits to people playing progressive metal on amped-up electric guitars).
Not that all this is necessarily “bad”—that point is up for debate. Krakow is simply using its historic center in a more overtly commercial way, and reaping benefits, but while imposing the costs on all residents and visitors of a diminished “old town” atmosphere. That’s simply a cost-benefit question that one has to weigh. On another note, you’ll always have more tourists in Krakow’s center, which tends to clog the place up a bit, but contributing the same undeniable economic benefits.
In any case, you can argue over the merits of using the center in a more commercial way, or whether a bustling old center is preferable to a more subdued one. But when it comes down to it, I prefer a stroll in Warsaw’s Old Town over Krakow’s most any day of the week. And I find plenty of attractions in other parts of Warsaw to marvel at. Warsaw’s ugliness is simply a myth, something that the organization UNESCO recognized as well, when it placed the rebuilt historic center on its World Heritage list back in 1980.
Warsaw or Cracow – So anyway, what’s the problem?
Back to the Warsaw-Krakow “feud”. There are some classic lines of attack that residents of each city rely on. Cracovians might say that Varsovians have a complex over living in the “ugly, soulless” big city, while Varsovians might respond that Cracovians have inferiority issues over being stripped of capital status and in some ways ending up a historic backwater.
Recently a Warsaw tourism campaign featured posters in Krakow with the phrase “Kto sie czubi, ten sie lubi”, which, translated, basically means that he who picks on another person, actually likes that person—sort of like the little schoolboy that teases the girl he secretly admires. The posters came complete with a statistic claiming that 72% of the residents of Krakow were “proud of the capital”.
This certainly set off further debate in both camps. I haven’t seen corresponding statistics on Varsovians’ opinions of Krakow, but assuming the above-cited percentage is true, I think you’d find similar numbers of Warsaw residents expressing positive things about Krakow. Where the “truth” in all this lies, I do not know, but the debate goes on, good-naturedly.
Warsaw vs. Krakow – One Writer’s Verdict
Frankly, I appreciate both places. I live in Krakow, yet frequently visit Warsaw. Warsaw was where I first experienced Poland, as a tot back in the early 80s, so it has a special spot for me. Yet for a number of reasons, I find life in Krakow a bit more up my alley. That said, I could easily enjoy living in Warsaw, and even did so for a spell. Admittedly, I’ve probably been a bit more pro-Warsaw in this piece, but I think “ugly” Warsaw is an idea long past its expiration date, which is the main point I wanted to make here. In any case, there are major pluses, and some minuses to both places, which may be worth addressing at another time.
As for the conflict, speaking with Polish friends from both places, I get the feeling that Cracovians pay more attention to it than Varsovians do. Why that is, I’ll leave to you to speculate.
As a note, the writer of this article is the American writer on the Amish – Erik Wesner. He is a writer and live in Krakow, Poland, however, has family from Warsaw. Please leave a comment and let me know your reaction to Krakow vs. Warsaw.