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Poland’s historic city of Krakow is a favourite with UK visitors, who make up 25 per cent of its more than seven million tourists a year. The medieval Old Town at the city’s heart is surrounded by an entire district boasting heritage buildings, a royal castle, a historic Jewish quarter and other landmarks, all of which are contained in Krakow’s listed UNESCO World Heritage site. Driving in the city centre isn’t recommended, but self-drive is by far the best way to explore the outlying region, with its Renaissance castles, charming ancient towns and the pilgrimage destination of Czestochowa.
Who to Book With
Krakow’s car rental companies include a batch of well-known international names, such as Dollar, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, Sixt and National, as well as several local companies. Offices are located at the airport and in the city, and all the firms’ cars can be booked in advance online, allowing a more flexible choice of vehicles and better prices.
Best Time to go
Spring and autumn are the best times for a holiday in Krakow, as the city gets crowded in the hot, humid high summer season, when accommodation and air fares are at their highest. Cultural events take place year-round and, for winter sports fans, the Tatra Mountain resorts are at their best in January.
Need to Know Essentials
The following documents must be shown at your pick-up point:
- A valid UK photo-driving license or International Driving Permit
- Your passport as a second photo ID
- The credit card used for the reservation
- Confirmation of your rental
City centre driving is best avoided, as parking is scarce and expensive, traffic is heavy at most times and local driving zones confuse even residents. Touring the many places of interest in the vicinity of the city is best done by hiring a car, as the roads are good. However, care should be taken due to the unpredictability of Polish driving habits. GPS is the best option for first-time visitors, as roads outside the city aren’t always well signposted. Poland drives on the right, and fuel is slightly less expensive than in the UK. Seatbelts for all occupants are mandatory, and children under 12 must sit in the back. Mobile phone usage is forbidden without a hands-free kit, and the drink-driving limit is practically zero, with harsh treatment if caught. Petrol stations may not accept card payments, making carrying cash advisable.
Public transport options in Krakow come in the form of a comprehensive network of trams and buses run by the municipal authority, offering cheap transport around most areas. For fitness fanatics, bicycles can also be hired, while a reliable taxi service is provided for those taking it easy.
Krakow’s rail station serves express routes from all major Polish cities, although there is no city commuter rail service or subway here.
Taxi services in Krakow are plentiful and easily-accessed, with upper limits for fares set by the municipality. Within the city, fares should not be more than £30.00. Cabs can be booked by phone at 15 different taxi offices, although English is rarely spoken. All taxis are metered, with rates per kilometre clearly displayed. BobTaxi and MegaTaxi are two of the most recommended firms.
Krakow’s bus and tram services are mostly provided by the municipal authority, although a few private companies run fleets of minibuses. Tram and bus tickets are purchased at newsstands, ticket machines or form the driver, and an average journey costs around £0.40p. The minibus companies charge slightly less per journey, with the payment made to the driver. For longer-distance travel, buses 200-304 travel beyond the city’s boundaries. The minimum fare is also slightly higher than the in-town charge.
Many visitors to Krakow take a day to travel to the WWII concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, an hour’s drive from Krakow. Also nearby is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Wielicza with its ancient salt mine, and the many heritage towns in the region, including the lovely Nowy Sacz and the fascinating Tyniec monasteries, both easily accessed by self-drive.
Tiny Ojcow National Park - Located just a short drive from Krakow, is one of Europe’s prettiest recreational and eco-tourism spots. It is heaven for birders due to its 134 species that include hawks and water birds. Ocjow village, boasting a Renaissance castle, a hermitage and caves used by prehistoric settlers, nestles in the park’s centre. All this is set just over 30 minutes’ drive from the city’s borders.
The Eagle Nests’ Route - From Krakow, this route connects several of the many Renaissance and medieval castles that overlook magnificent scenic landscapes. The route ends in Czestochowa, Poland’s most important pilgrimage destination due to its miraculous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, reputedly painted by St Luke the Evangelist.
Tatra Range - Set just two hours’ drive from Krakow, the Tatra Range of the Carpathian Mountains towers over pristine natural beauty and gives stunning views across lakes, forests and rivers to Zakopane town. This attractive resort, a popular hub for skiing, caving, rock-climbing and other adventure activities, is the heart of Polish highlander culture.