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Krakow Poland travel

Krakow Balice Airport

Kraków Balice Airport

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.

KRK is the Cracow airport code if you are looking up a flight online

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.

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Krakow Poland travel

Stary Kleparz In Krakow

Cracow’s Stary Kleparz the old market

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).

Polish girl selling mountain cheese in the old market in Krakow

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.

 

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Krakow Poland travel

Shopping in Krakow Poland

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.

Krakow has the largest shopping mall in Europe - this i a bold claim but if you look at square feet I think it is, but this is largely because of the large movie house in this mall so it ups the size a bit artificially.
  • 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).
  • Alma is like a natural food store in the UK or the USA

  • 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.
  • The high quality fresh food is found at the farmers market in the center of Krakow

  • I shop for clothes at Bonarka

  • 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.
  • You must purchase something in Cloth hall

  • 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.
  • Buy a chess set or Amber in cloth hall in Cracow, the price is right

  • 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.
  • Krakow bookstore Empik for Polish books there is an American bookstore for used books called Massolit

  • 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.
You will not find anything like the shopping in Krakow any where else in the EU, everything is modern and new

 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.

Traditional shop in the main market square of Krakow during holiday times
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Wawel chocolate. Especially the Kasztanki or Tiki Taki kind, simply because you will not find it anywhere else other than Poland.

 

 

Yet, another small little shop in poor Poland
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Poland travel

Krakow to Vienna

How to go from Kraków to Vienna

The best an only way to travel to and from Vienna is by bus from Krakow. In the evening every night there is a bus and it take about 9 hours with no border stops. It gets into Vienna in the morning. You could also drive but this is a very cheap and fast way. Many Poles work in Vienna (Wien) for the weekend. There are Poles everywhere there. In many ways they are similar cities but really Vienna is a Baroque and linear city and Krakow is city from Ancient times has a more medieval and chaotic character.

A comparison between Krakow and Vienna

A Cracovian’s first impression after coming to Vienna is usually: “Wow, this is almost like home”. Those two towns are quite similar. What I love about Vienna the most was that despite having a skyscraper district it is a big town with a fairly small town atmosphere, just like Kraków.

I prefer beautiful Krakow to Vienna - You can see my wife and daughter in the photo - it is in Krakow

 

Both towns have big rivers passing through them, similar architecture and downtowns. Kraków’s Main Square and Vienna’s Stephansplatz look a lot alike. Both are loaded with cafes more than any average city, too. They even have the exact same trams or at least they did a couple of years ago when I visited it last time.

They both have cultural variety, but naturally Vienna has more as it is almost twice as big as Kraków and is also the capital (which Kraków is not). You might get an impression that there are more foreigners living in the town that native Austrians, and this might be true. They are mostly Asians and Middle-East Asians, but it varies in different districts. Vienna was rated the best city to live in the world, no wonder everyone wants to live there.

Transport – how to get about town

Vienna has better public transport, no doubt about that. Besides buses and trams there is the underground that Kraków lacks. Although a lot of times it is crowded, I recommend using it, rather than buses and trams, it is faster and more convenient, especially during hot summers. There is a train coming every 2 or 3 minutes usually and you can get a monthly or a 2-week pass. No one knows why Kraków doesn’t have it, except some legendary reasons like “oh, we cannot have it because it will destroy our old buildings”. This is how the president of the town defends himself for not doing anything about it. If Vienna and Rome can have underground and not collapse, then Kraków can too. Maybe a couple of years down the road it will.

Entertainment

So Vienna has this “fun district” called Prater. There is an amusement park, a regular green park and a zoo. Kraków has a zoo as well, many parks but no amusement park, except a mobile one for a couple of weeks in the spring. I think this is a quite a flaw, since there are not that many other places that the whole family can enjoy. But again, maybe someday.

Kraków and Wien are the capitals of art. I’m not even going to try to name all the places to visit, but any guidebook will help you choose the things you want to see. Vienna is a lot about Mozart, not as much as Salzburg, but still. You should experience something connected to Mozart while in Austria or your visit doesn’t count. If you are not enough of a fan to go to a concert, at least eat a Mozartkugeln.

There is this American shop in Vienna that I adore as it is the only place around that sells American food. You can get thigs like Diet Cherry Vanilla Coke for instance, and that’s hard to get even at Walmart. I’ve heard of people taking pilgrimages for Cadburry chocolate, too, even though Austria’s own chocolate is probably better to be honest or at least at the same level. Either way I wish Cracow had a place that could provide me with the sweet taste of Dr Pepper every now and then. If you know one, please share.

Cost of living

Kraków is a lot cheaper, especially if you rent a place. Food costs less also, and so do theatres, museums and public transport. Any country that has the Euro as currency tends to get pricey. But it’s not too bad and if you live and work there it will not bother you at all. However, if you just visit the town as a tourist, you will have way more fun in Kraków and won’t run out of money as quick as you would in Vienna.

Let me know what you think of both cities if you have been to either or both.

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Poland travel

Krakow Poland Wieliczka bus trip cheap

How to tour Wieliczka salt mines for a fraction of the price

If you are on a limited budget while in Kraków and would like to see the salt mine in Wieliczka, do not just get any tour that someone is trying to sell to you. You will see scores of tour agents and students handing out fliers for VIP tours as well as tours offered in your hotel. However, the purpose of this post is to tell you how to go to Wieliczka like a Cracovian or an insider.

Salt from the mines around Krakow. There use to be an massive sea which is why this region has such healthy and salt and mineral deposits

Ifor those on more a a budget and like to use your brain when traveling, try my method of going to Wieliczka. Most VIP tours will cost about 25 dollars just for the transport. However, this does not including the cost of entrance tickets or anything else.

Be smart and take the very same ride on a public bus instead, it will cost you less than 3 dollars round trip and it is a bit of an adventure.

The secret to a cheap adventurous trip to the Salt Mines in Krakow

What you need to do is take the 304 express bus to Wieliczka. It’s quite easy to find them as they are bright yellow (It is actually run by a joint American Polish company but part of the Kraków public mass transit system, it is powered by clean natural gas). While almost all other Kraków buses are blue.

I see many old foreigners and all kinds of people who are not rocket scientists, do not speak any English or Polish, taking this bus to the salt mines, so you can figure it out too. Do not be afraid to try something different.

It stops in Krakow center twice: at Bagatela theater and then Filharmonia.

The 304 also stops at Bonarka shopping mall on the way (or way back) which in square feet is the largest shopping mall in Europe. So it is a win-win as you can do some shopping on the way back.

I personally think Bagatela (a small theater, you can notice it, because above it is a large screen advertisement) is easier to reach from the Main Square. All you need to do is walk along Szewska Street (pronounced like Chef-ska, it is easy to find as it as McDonald’s on it) until you find it crossing with Dunajewskiego Street.

The busy Karmelicka Street is kind of an extension of it. Once you get to the zebra crossing on your right, you will see your bus stop. Across the street you should see a cosmetic store called Rossmann (good to know if you need anything). If you have Rossmann behind your back and the Planty park is across the street from you, you are at the right one.

The bus actually has a decent schedule for a bus that goes out of town, it usually comes every 15-20 minutes. So just stand and wait or ask people. Most young people speak some level of intermediate English.

Where to buy the tickets for Weilicka salt mines

Which ticket to buy? It is easy, do not worry. It is good for your brain to figure this out. Buy not just, regular bus tickets for this one as it goes outside the city border (obviously, you are trying to get to Wieliczka not just a Krakow local stop). You could buy a local ticket, and ‘play dumb’ (like I did not know) and they would not fine you because you are a foreigner. But technically could get a 60 pln if you have bad luck and get caught by a bus ticket checker, and have not the right ticket, but I have personally never been checked outside the city center in all the years I have ridden public transport in Krakow. So do not worry.

What you need an agglomeration ticket (bilet normalny aglomeracyjny). It costs 3.20 zł. (that is like 1 dollar).

You can buy a ticket on the bus with the driver or in he automatic machines on the bus. They take change, not bills.

You can also buy it right there at the stop, there is a ticket machine and a kiosk not very far from it. The bus has a machine that you can use if you did not manage to get your ticket earlier, but those are less complex and will only take change, a lot of time the exact amount and if you insert a 5 złoty coin in, it will most likely spit it back out. So my advice is take care of the tickets before you get on the bus. You can also buy it as a kiosk from a human not a machine.

Once you are on the right bus it is down the hill. You get off the bus at the stop that says Kopalnia Soli. It is right by the Salt Mine and I believe there is a sign that is easy to notice.

A single ticket to a guided tour around the mine with a foreign speaker costs 68 złoty. If you are an individual visitor or in a group of 5 or less, you do not need to book it.

Once at the salt mine they have English guides and English everything you like. Its like the Disney of Krakow and very easy to get around and figure things out. It reality is is not far from Krakow so you do not have to worry about anything. There are vans and other ways to get back.

I like actually buy some of the salt and take a bath in it. It has many micro-nutrients that are good for mood and aliments and detoxification. You could bring it back to your hotel and take a bath.

If you take this challenge it is a safe way to try an off the beaten path adventure travel for less. If you have any questions just ask.

Enjoy your trip to Wieliczka for less.

 

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Krakow Poland travel

Krakow to Lviv

How to travel from Krakow to Lviv

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.