The Polish public transport system is very good and very reasonably priced. This is our handy overview of the different ways to get around Kraków
Public Transport in Kraków
If there’s any preconception about the post-communist cities of Eastern Europe that Kraków entirely disproves, it’s that they have a poor public transport system, or that it’s difficult to get around the place. It’s an image that has perhaps been perpetuated by the traditional grainy, black and whites of post-war cobbled Kraków, where clanking, antique trams still glide slowly down the street, and those curiously bug-looking trolleybuses unique to Europe splutter their way through the traffic. One thing visitors to Kraków usually notice pretty quickly is that’s totally wrong.
Recently Kraków has actually won awards for the quality of its public transport, which, while not incorporating an underground at all, is a very comprehensive network of high quality buses and trams, penetrating right to the edges of the city’s boundaries – from the Airport village of Balice in the west, to the suburb of Płaszów in the east.
On arrival, many people who are visiting Kraków for the first time don’t even consider getting the bus into town. But, while the taxi ranks may be closer to the terminal exit, the ride is typically 25 times more expensive, far less comfortable, and, depending on the destination, often longer. Head to the bus stop that’s just to the left of the terminal exit and jump on any bus; they all head to the centre, and have real time maps on board that will give you the name of each stop long before you arrive.
One of the triumphs of Kraków’s transportation system is in its integration. Tickets bought on trams can be used on buses, and vice versa, and rather than using single trips or returns, each ticket allows you a certain time on the transport system, meaning journeys with changes don’t need two separate purchases. What’s more, tickets can always be bought on the tram, from a machine on board (on the older trams, head to the front carriage if you intend to do this), and from machines at many of the stops (including the airport). The entire city centre is in Zone 1, and a twenty minute ticket (which is usually all you’ll need here) will cost you just 2,80 zł (just over 50p).
On board, Kraków’s trams and buses are something of a source of pride for the city council. Since 2004, with funding from Brussels, new trams have been build and now run on most of the main lines. In 2012 the city was finalist in the European Access City Award, which commends accessibility on public transport, so any disabled visitor should find the system easy to use and generally, very efficient.
As far as tram etiquette goes, try to have the right change ready for your ticket when you board, as, on the busier lines, queues can sometimes build up around the machine, while in the summer, keep the windows closed when riding a new tram type, because however tempting the breeze may be, the air conditioning works excellently.
Kraków’s main bus station is now linked to the tram lines by an underpass that goes through to the central shopping centre, Galeria Krakowska, which in turn is joined to the international and national train station. For any visitor to the city, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the tram and bus system before you arrive, because, while the city’s main attractions are largely walk able, using public transport in Kraków will definitely help you explore the place better.
Renting Bikes and Cycling in Krakow
While the transport system in Krakow is of very high quality, in the summer months especially, one great alternative way to getting around the city is by bike. Since the early 2000s the town planning council have instituted a number of road changes that have seen the introduction of dedicated cyclist lanes for many of the main roads that criss-cross the Old Town centre and its surrounding districts.
While Kraków slowly became more cyclist friendly, so the availability of bike rentals increased. Today, there are tens of different companies dotted around the city that can cater for anything, from half hour rentals for quick sightseeing cycles around the Old Town’s vicinity (it takes around just 15 minutes to cycle the perimeter of Planty Park, and it’s a great way to take in all the sights if you’re short on time), to full weekly rentals, for those who want to explore further.
Those who are familiar with London’s so-called Boris bike will see the welcome sight of council bikes in Kraków. The racks that hold them are dotted around the Old Town and Kazimierz area sporadically, with the most central sitting just under the Wawel Hill on the city side. The rental system is pre-paid, and can only be accessed online (at www.kmkbike.pl). If you are able to navigate the Polish interface then you should find the prices of the KMK bikes much more favourable than most bike rental firms, though perhaps not as practical. (The price is 3 PLN an hour, with the first half hour free.)
Cycling inside the confines of the Old Town area and Kazimierz is fine, and locals do it on a regular basis to get to work, down town and so forth. It’s worth noting however, that while the cobbled, meandering and narrow streets of these medieval centres are rather pleasing and attractive to the walking tourist, to the cyclist they don’t make for the most apt environment for travel. With frequent pot holes and uneven surfaces right through these pedestrianized areas of the city, it’s worth considering alternative routes if need be, and to always wear a helmet.
Outside of the city centre, Kraków boasts some really magnificent cycling routes that are a great way to get a taste of the natural side of Małopolskie. The densely forested area of Las Wolski to the west incorporates both, Kraków zoo and the Piłsudski Mound. The former is on the main road leading into the forest, is easily accessible by bike (if you don’t mind a hill or two), and is one of Kraków’s best out-of-town tourist attractions. The Piłsudski Mound offers the best panoramic of the city from the west, and is the final destination of most recommended city cycling routes.
In the borders of the Las Wolski forest itself, there is a myriad of walking routes and one very long cycle route that takes you deep into the birch and beech tree-clad hills that border Kraków to the west. Famed for their rich wildlife, these were once home to some of the last herds of Polish Buffalo that have now retreated further into the primeval forests of the country.
All in all, Kraków is a very bike friendly town. Each year more street cycle paths are put in place, and it’s a growing favourite mode of transport among locals and tourists alike.