Find out how far your cash will go in Krakow, what to expect in the way of cheap, authentic Polish food - and why you should pack a brolly!
As we arrived at Krakow airport, we weren't quite sure what we would find. Would it be a modern, vibrant city or would it be, well, all a bit Eastern bloc? Read on to find out...
Getting from the airport
First off, let's talk transport. If you're travelling independently, as we were, your first job upon arriving at the airport is to figure out how to get to the centre. Easy! Hop on the free shuttle bus right outside the International Arrivals halls, which takes you to the station. Well, not exactly a station! More of a crumbly-looking platform by a field, next to an unmanned level crossing. But don't worry: every half-hour, a super-modern train arrives to take you in comfort from there to Krakow centre. Buy your ticket from the machine on the train for a bargain 8 zlotys (about £1.60) (prices correct June 09). PS: the train station in the centre of Krakow is called Krakow Glowny.
What to do in Krakow
Many visitors feel a trip wouldn't be complete without spending time in the main Market Square or Rynek. It truly is beautiful, with its medieval buildings surrounding the square itself, all looking onto the Cloth Hall - a one-time trading hall, now converted into a string of kiosks selling wooden toys, amber jewellery, etc. Tip: look here, but buy elsewhere! In summer, the square is bustling with cafes and bars and has a lovely atmosphere. Of course, you'll pay way more here - just as you would if you sat in the GrossMarkt in Bruges, or St Marks in Rome. Try it for a coffee and a bit of people-watching and to soak up the atmosphere. But for food, go off the beaten track, where the food's cheaper and better. Of course it is - they have to try harder!
The Jewish Quarter: Kazimierz
Whether you're interested in Jewish history or not, Kazimierz is a must. If you just want atmosphere, check out the numerous bars and cafes, many offering typical Polish food and some, of course, specialising specifically in Jewish food, including Jewish caviar, which is actually chopped liver. For a bit of history - and for a short education in Jewish culture - visit the Old Synagogue, which since the 1960s has served as a museum. Admission fee: all of 6 zlotys (just over £1).
This haunting destination is within easy reach of Krakow. We decided against it because we were only on a three-day trip, but it's high on our list for next time. You can also take a little electric golf cart-type taxi from various locations, specifying tours of different length, one of which takes in the actual factory made infamous in the film Schindler's List.
Personally, we try to avoid the kind of places that have menus in six languages, but were very relieved to find most places at least had an English translation. Make sure you try pierogi - little dumpling/ravioli-type parcels with savoury (and sometimes sweet) fillings. My wife, not known for being a carnivore, nevertheless tried bigos - a beef stew - and was blown away by it. Health freaks, look away now - everything we ate was very well seasoned (quite salty in some cases), but that suits our palate! And what good value. At one place, we had the following: four beers; one Polish potato and sausage soup; one bigos (beef stew); one pork steak in mushroom sauce; one chips. Total bill: 68 zlotys (about £14).
In summer, the bars and cafes take on very much an outside, cafe-society vibe, with tables, chairs and sunshades in abundance. But at the same time, the weather looks English. In other words, it looks as if it might pour down at any time! And we couldn't help but notice lost of Krakovians walking round with brollies - in June! So be prepared.
Please take me back
After just three days, we only scratched the surface, and can't wait to go back.