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Guide to the city of Krakow, Poland.

Krakow is Poland’s second largest city and the country’s main tourist destination. The local economy is fueled mostly by expanding service sector although diverse industry and production still provide a fairly significant portion of jobs and wealth. The city remains the culture capital of Poland and its seven universities and nearly twenty other institutions of higher learning make Krakow the country’s principal center of science and education. 

Krakow's Kanonicza street
Kanonicza street in Krakow with the Wawel Royal Castle in the background. 

Geography of Krakow, Poland.

The city is situated in southern Poland on both banks of Wisla (Vistula) river. Geographic coordinates of central Krakow are 50°04'N 19°56'E. Its average elevation is about 220 meters above sea level. There are several hills within the city limits, highest Sowiniec 384 m above sea level.

Krakow has area of 326.8 square kilometers that constitute 0.1 percent of the territory of Poland.

Best Krakow guide  The Krakow companion guide

Population of Krakow.

Number of permanent residents of Krakow proper hovers around 755,000 while the Krakow conurbation totals some 1.5 million. The local populace is ethnically almost homogeneous with people proudly declaring their Polish nationality. Yet immigrants start to leave a mark on the city, and some expatriate communities, notably Britons prove themselves quite vocal. 

Krakow’s best known historic landmarks. 

The city boasts hundreds of historical buildings, from medieval churches to Art Nouveau edifices. Krakow’s most popular ancient monuments are Wawel Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski na Wawelu), Wawel Cathedral (Katedra Wawelska), St. Mary’s church (Kosciol Mariacki), Collegium Maius, Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), Barbican (Barbakan), St. Florian Gate (Brama Florianska), Tyniec Abbey (Opactwo Tynieckie), and Old Synagogue (Stara Boznica). 

Krakow Museums.  

There are 36 museums in Krakow including separate branches of the National Museum in Krakow and the City of Krakow Historical Museum. Krakow National Museum with its ten branches and two libraries is Poland’s biggest. Most interesting museums in Krakow are The Czartoryskis Museum (Muzeum Ksiazat Czartoryskis), Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski), Schindler's Factory, Bishop Ciolek Palace (Palac Biskupa Ciolka) exhibiting medieval art, Museum of Archeology (Muzeum Archeologiczne), and Aviation Museum (Muzeum Lotnictwa). 

Entertainment in Krakow.  

Concerts of classical music, jazz, and pop take place every day in Krakow and especially on weekends there is wide choice of them. The city’s is famed in Poland for its energetic nightlife, courtesy of hundreds of nightclubs. Krakow’s seven repertory theaters as well as a plethora of independent companies stage plays in Polish. Krakow Opera Company performs two or three times a week except for the summer break from early July to late September. Ballet and other dance shows usually take place once a week or even less frequently.

See calendar of concerts and other events in Krakow.

Food in Krakow. 

The city can boast several hundred restaurants and over thousand other eateries from fast food joints to sushi bars. Good restaurants in Krakow are concentrated in the Old Town historic center, also nearby Kazimierz district. Most restaurant menus reflect international diet adapted to the country’s culinary tradition. Otherwise, despite deep inroads of foreign cuisines, Polish-style cooking prevails.

History of Krakow.

The oldest man-made artifacts excavated in Krakow date from early Stone Age, namely the Paleolithic period, some 200,000 years ago. Archeological evidence from ensuing ages proves that the place has been a major regional center since the Neolithic period 6,000 BC. Circa 990 Krakow, then already a thriving city, was incorporated into the emerging Polish state. In 1038 Krakow became the capital of Poland. In 1257 Prince Boleslav the Shy endowed the city with self-government and vital commercial privileges. Krakow formally remained the capital city of the Kingdom of Poland till the turn of the 18th century, but in fact the political center had moved to Warsaw in 1611. In years 1815 to 1846 Krakow constituted, together with its environs, an independent statelet called Krakow Republic, subsequently annexed to the Austrian Empire. By the end of the 19th century Krakow became the center of the Polish national awakening and in 1918 it was Poland’s first city that regained independence from foreign rule. 

View of Krakow's Old Town in the 16th c.
View of Krakow published in 1617. The Old Town's skyline changed little since then.

It’s Krakow, Poland. Forget Cracow, Krackow, Crakow, Krakov and the like.

The original Polish spelling of the name of the city is Kraków, pronounced ‘krakoof’.

Standard English spelling is Krakow even if the dated version ‘Cracow’ – tainted by the borrowing from the French who call the city ‘Cracovie’ – happens to some speakers of English, including natives of Krakow. Other forms such as Krackow, Crakow, Cracov, and Krakov are patently incorrect.

Actual origin of the name ‘Kraków’ is lost in the mists of proto-history. Its form suggest a ‘the place of Krak’, i.e. a town founded or owned by some Krak, so “Krakow” may translate as “Krak’s”. It gave rise to the legend of good Prince Krak who had ruled over Poland from Krakow.

The first appearance of the name of Krakow in writing dates back to year 996 when the city was mentioned in Arab transliteration in a report of Ibrahim ibn Jacob, a Moor trader who traveled to the Eastern Europe. 


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