Manager @ Krakow Urban Adventures. Busy mother, traveller, and lover of local customs and culture. Happy about constant changes in lifestyles and the fact that the Earth still runs.
A vibrant café culture, a UNESCO-listed Old Town steeped in history, plentiful parks and an exciting nightlife are just a few of the reasons to pay a visit to Krakow. But with so much to take in as a tourist, it can be easy to forget you’re a guest in the locals’ home. To make the most of your trip while also minimising your travel impact, we suggest keeping the following tips in mind. Not only will the local appreciate your efforts, but you’ll end up having a better experience of the city and local life.
Practice street smarts
When visiting Krakow, it’s always a good idea to walk on the right side of the sidewalk as you explore, and when you’re crossing the street, use proper pedestrian crossings rather than trying to cross just anywhere. Also make sure the light is green when you start crossing. It’s not only common sense that puts safety first, but also protects you from the steep fines fines given by the city guards (Straż Miejska) if you cross when and where you’re not supposed to.
Public transit tips
While riding the tram or the bus, remember to stamp your ticket in the small machines on board. Be sure to do it immediately after getting on, to avoid a potential fine if there is an inspector around.
If there is no place to sit when you get on a bus or tram, make sure to stay away from the door so you don’t disturb people who want to get off at the next stop. It is also seen as rude to talk loudly, use your mobile phone, or to eat on public transport,
Be polite when taking photos
In many monuments and museums you can’t take photos with a flash, or in some, like St. Mary’s Basilica or in the Wieliczka Salt Mines, a special payment is required if you want to take pictures. Other sites, like Wawel Cathedral, do not allow photos at all. Ask your Krakow tour guide or a local if it’s okay to take photos before snapping any pictures. It’s also important not to take any photos in religious places while there is a service going on.
Dress for respect and practicality
There is no special dress required to visit Krakow, but there are some places like Catholic churches or Jewish synagogues where you will be asked to cover your knees and arms when sightseeing. If you are going to visit a very elegant restaurant in the city centre or attend a theatre performance, it is a good idea to wear something more than just a t-shirt and leggings. While it’s not forbidden to enter while wearing casual clothing, you might feel strange if everyone else is dressed more formally. In addition, if you plan on doing any trekking in the nearby mountains or visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines, don’t forget to take warmer clothes, comfortable shoes and a raincoat as the weather can change quickly.
Shop and explore like a local
There are many handmade products like amber jewelry or Polish pottery available around the city centre of Krakow. If you want to go deeper into local products, take our Made in Krakow tour with a guide who will take you to our favourite local galleries and small, locally owned shops selling clothing, leather products, jewellery and more.
In terms of more touristy sites, it is our subjective opinion, but the interior of Wawel Castle can be skipped as the monument is more fascinating to see from the outside than the inside. It’s a good option for rainy or cold weather, but on sunny days, it is much better to visit the up-and-coming Podgórze district, or climb Krakus Mound for amazing panoramic views of the whole city.
There are many local, extraordinary neighbourhoods to visit while in Krakow. We especially recommend Podgórze, Debniki and Zwierzyniec, where you will be surrounded by beautiful parks, historic homes and local, colourful markets full of fresh and tasty products.
Krakow is a beautiful city all year round, but if you want to avoid crowds, we suggest visiting in the spring or early autumn. Usually the weather is very nice for sightseeing and all the monuments are more accessible than in June or July. If you like winter, Krakow in December is nice if you want to visit the Christmas markets. January and February can be cold but still offer the chance for quieter sightseeing. Our local secret for feeling good and warming up during this time of the year is to enjoy a lot of hot soups, hot wine or even hot beer.
In the summer between May and August, Krakow is quite crowded, but still less so than some of Europe’s top destinations. If you want to sidestep crowds during this time, it’s a good idea to visit the highlights of the city like Wawel Castle, Schindler’s Museum, etc., immediately after they open or (even better) one hour before closing time. Make sure to book your tickets in advance online to save time, rather than waiting in long ticket lines.
Be an eco-visitor
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Krakow is a clean city and in many places around the city centre you will notice special litter bins for separating waste. You can easily avoid single-use plastic bottles as our tap water is drinkable and available for free in the majority of local restaurants.
Avoid food waste
If you ordered too much food and want to help the local community, you can always leave uneaten items in one of our many social refrigerators, available for people who need them. The one closest to the tourist areas is in the Kazimierz district at 28 Paulinska street. A list of others is available on the Foodsharing Krakow Facebook page.
Put your feet to work
Krakow is a great city for pedestrians and you can also use public bikes to get around, which are available in many places around the city. There is detailed information in English about how to register with bike-sharing systems like Wavelo. Taxis, Uber and private cars are quite expensive, contribute to traffic, and increase pollution. If you don’t feel like walking or riding a bike, try to stick to public transport, which is cheap, local and available even during the night.
Learn the lingo
Making a small effort to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Polish can make all the difference for showing your respect to locals. Keep these phrases in your backpocket when you’re wandering around Krakow:
- yes = tak
- no = nie
- hello/good day = dzień dobry
- goodbye = do widzenia
- thank you = dziekuje
- cheers = na zdrowie
- Please do not add straws to my drink = proszę napój bez słomki
Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be feeling – and acting – like a local in no time! And of course, don’t forget to hop onto one of our locally led Krakow tours for even more insight into life in this fascinating city.