- Always have a map with you
Free maps can be picked up at Tourist Information Points. Tourist Information Points are everywhere, you literally can’t miss them. It’s good to keep one of these maps with you, since they show a wide area of the city centre, where most of the tourist attractions are. The maps are well marked with the most important monuments, as well as the Main Bus Station, Main Train Station, and the Shopping Centre. Most of them are within walking distance. Also, a map is provided with three different thematic routes you can take: a walking tour, a bike tour, and a Communism tour.
- Take free walking tours
Free tours are common in many countries around the world. It is the best way for local guides to promote their city and to share their love of their hometown. A local guide can show you the city much better than anyone else. Also, you will hear interesting stories and local legends. The guides are well educated and passionate about what they do. They are great storytellers, and they have a great knowledge of history. The tour goes on in a friendly, fun, and relaxed atmosphere. You can find more info about these tours here.
- Don’t get tricked by the exchange offices
The currency in Poland is the Polish Zloty. One zl is around 0.23 Euros. You may see exchange offices offering you a better deal, but the truth is – it is a trick. Basically, they DO offer a better exchange rate, but only for extremely large amounts (above 500 Euros). Just to mention: you’ll get a slightly smaller amount if you exchange your money at the shopping mall.
- Take trams instead of taxis
Taxis may seem to be the most comfortable way to go from point A to point B, but it isn’t completely true. Taxis are more expensive and besides that, trams have another advantage. The tram network is well established through the city, so during rush hours – trams are quicker than taxis. Plus, they are equally comfortable and never crowded. There are ticket sale machines at several stops around the city. Tickets are sold with time limits, which means you are going to by a 10 minute ticket, a 20 minute ticket, or a ticket for the day (24h). So, your ticket will „expire“ after the specified number of minutes. Usually, the 20 minute ticket is enough for a ride to just about anywhere, since trams are very fast. This ticket costs 2.80 zl, which is a bit more that 50 cents. If you can’t buy a ticket before you enter the tram, you can buy one once you are on board. But, inside the tram – you cannot pay with paper money, only with coins. Here’s another useful bit of information: my friend and I were always in a rush somewhere, so it happened several times that we didn’t have any change to buy tickets. So, we decided to take our chances and found there were no control officers at all. Buses are also a good way to travel, tickets are bought the same way as for trams. Don’t be afraid to ask the Poles for help if you don’t understand the route map, although it is pretty clear and easy to follow.
- Organize your schedule wisely to save money
Fun fact: one-fourth of all of Poland’s museum resources are in Krakow! That means there are a lot of interesting things to see. The Polish National and History museums have branches in the city, so there is something for everyone, for sure. There is also a Natural History Museum and a Polish Aviation Museum.
Two important things need to be said here: most of the above-mentioned museums are closed on Mondays, and most of them have days with free admision! So, here are the top three, the most interesting ones:
a) State Art Collection in the Wawel Castle
During November and December, the Collection is open from Tuesday through Saturday, from 9.30h to 16h. Tuesday is the day when admission is free! However, you still need to get a ticket at the ticket office. If you don’t have a ticket, you cannot go in. Free tickets go away fast, so make sure you’re an early bird on Tuesday and get yours in time! This gallery has many interesting artworks, but the most popular one is Leonardo Da Vinci’s „Lady with Ermine“. This piece of art is normally in the Czartoryski Museum, but given the fact that the Czartoryski is currently being renovated – the picture has found a temporary home in the Wawel.
While you’re there, take a tour of the Gothic castle and the cathedral on Wawel Hill. It is completely free, and you will see many interesting things. Directly connected to the Wawel is the legend of Smok Wawelski, the mythical dragon. Allegedly, his bones are to be seen above the doors of the cathedral. And you can visit his mythical cave, also. Looks pretty awesome!
b) National Museum
The National Museum has eleven branches (including the Czartoryski Museum, which is currently not open). If you want to save some money, choose Sunday as a day to visit the exhibitions. On Sunday, the permanent galleries are free of charge. Our recommendation is to see the Arms and Uniforms exhibition at the Main building of the National Museum. Hours are: from Tuesday to Saturday – from 10h to 18h; and on Sunday from 10h to 16h.
c) Schindler’s Factory
This is a must-see when you come to Krakow. Oskar Schindler was a man who saved thousands of Jews from certain death under the Nazi regime. But this is also a museum that is generally dedicated to the occupation of Krakow during the Second World War. The museum is open every day of the week, on Monday from 10h to 14h, the remaining days – from 10h to 18h. This is to be mentioned because on Mondays – admission is free of charge! Just keep in mind that the last entrance to the museum is at 12.30h. My friend and I were fifteen minutes late and they wouldn’t let us in, so we had to come back the next day, and we had to pay for our tickets. So, organize your time wisely!
- Always ask for a student discount
You should always ask; the worst thing that can happen is to hear a “no”. But, usually, asking pays off! They will ask you for some kind of a student ID card, but if you don’t have one with you (which happened to my friend and me), just say that you are indeed a student, that you are under 26 years old, and are willing to show your regular ID card for verification. You can get up to a 50% discount this way.
- Sightseeing without spending a dime
If you wish to know more about the history of Krakow and you prefer exploring the city on your own, there are beautiful things to see without spending any money, for example: the Jagiellonian University – Collegium Maius. This is one of the oldest universities in Europe, with alumni including great figures such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Pope John Paul II. The professor’s garden is free to visitors, as well as the back garden. You will enjoy the beautiful buildings and all the interactive things the Jagiellonian has to offer. We visited in November, which made it even more charming because of the golden leaves and fresh autumn air.
You can also visit the Town Hall Tower, dating from the 14th century, which is open and free for visitors. The Florian Gate is also beautiful, as well as St. Mary’s Basilica. All of these are located on the Main Market Square and are easy to identify. Keep in mind that you cannot go inside the Basilica for free: there are two entrances – one for worshippers and one for tourists. If you wish to go inside, you have to pay the entrance fee, but it is really a small amount of money (around 10 zl, if I’m not mistaken).
As for the Main Market, you can enter for free and explore, and it hasn’t changed its purpose. Inside, you will find many interesting counters selling souveniers, jewelry, especially amber, clothes, etc. A small piece of advice here: make sure to walk through the whole hall before making a purchase, since prices may vary. For the same souvenir, you may pay double of the amount, if you’re not careful.
Kazimierz (the Jewish district) is also a must-see. It would be best if you could visit Schindler’s Factory before you explore this part of town. Your impression will be much more focused.
- Food and Dining
Krakow isn’t an expensive city. At the really good restaurants, you can get a full, satisfying meal for around 70 zl (that is around 16 Euro). But, if you wish to experience true Polish cuisine, you may want to spend a bit more. Hunter’s stew is very popular, as well as meat in general. Traditional Polish meals also include zurek (soup with sausages and potato) or barszcz (beetroot and dumplings). Krakow also offers many international cuisines, such as Georgian, Italian, Greek, and even Serbian. If you’re really lacking money, search for places that offer daily menus. My friend and I ate at a place called „Good Food“ for 15 Zl (which is less than 4 euro). You get served a daily soup and a main dish of your choice. The taste isn’t anything to brag about, but hey – it’s food and it’s really cheap!
There are many great cafes located in the center, and also in Kazimierz. Coffee and cakes are really tasty, wherever you go.
As for having fun and going out, this can get a bit more expensive. Drinks in clubs will cost you more than in bars and restaurants. If you’re a beer lover, make sure to check out many of the beer houses Krakow has to offer. The price of beer depends on origin and quality.
If you like travelling on your own, you might want to check out the free guides for Krakow that are offered online, such as the one provided by Arrival Guides (download here) or the popular Krakow in Your Pocket (download here)