The ancient polish capital Cracow (Kraków) is one of the most sights intensive cities in Europe, therefore, it will take you at least two days to look around. If you plan to set off for the outskirts (for example, Wieliczka Salt Mine or famous Jasna Góra Monastery), then you should stay in Cracow for a week. In that case, one should pay special attention to choosing the accommodation.
In short, Cracow is arranged in the following way: well-defined historic center (Stare Miasto, i.e. the Old Town), once surrounded by a rampart, now — by the boulevard ring, and the area around it. To the North of the Old Town, the central railway station and the bus station are located, in the South it is adjacent to the castle hill with Wawel Castle, a little further to the East from the abovementioned castle, the Kazimierz district. The Novy Sviat district is adjacent to the Old City south-westerly. Certainly, I have mentioned not all the city neighborhoods, but only those, that, from my perspective, are of interest, if you want to stay in the city center, while on the trip. Hereafter, I dwell on each of them in more detail.
What Area is the Best to Stay in Crakow?
Cracow Railway Station Area
In the early 2000s, the Central Cracow railway station (Kraków Główny) was not attractive at all: it was rather rundown itself, and its outskirts up to the walls of the Old City appeared to be dirty stalls. Fortunately, anything unpresentable was demolished and a huge shopping mall — Galeria Krakowska — next to the station was set up, where one can spend the whole day shopping. Here, in particular, you can find the supermarket, whose products range you will appreciate, if you plan to rent self-catering accommodation in Cracow. In other words, it is rather convenient to live near the railway station, especially if you travel around the outskirts and frequently go by train and bus (the bus station is located right here, next to the railway station). The hotels and accommodation here are less costly than in the historic center, and if you decide to go shopping to Galeria Krakowska, it is not far to carry the purchases from that shopping mall. The sightseeing attractions are at different distances from the railway station: for example, it will take you 5 minutes on foot to get to Czartoryski museum, where the famous “Lady with an Ermine” is exhibited, but it will take 25 minutes to get to Wawel Castle, because the city center itself is rather extended. As a veteran traveler, I suggest that you should take a closer look at, primarily, more up-to-date hotels near the railway station, because in the newly constructed buildings near railway stations or busy roads, sound insulation is usually provided, but it can be rather noisy in the old buildings. Here, I’d advise you to pay attention to such hotels as Hotel Europejski, Andel's Hotel Cracow and Hotel Atrium.
St. Florian's street Area
Old Town (Stare Miasto), surrounded by the boulevard ring, is quite huge, thus, it is worth taking a look at some of its neighborhoods, for example, the Central market square, the quarters near the castle hill, etc. Each of these quarters has its own peculiarities. For example, accommodation in the Central Cracow street – Florian street (ul. Floriańska), leading from the city gates to the Market square, is beneficial, because there are lots of city cafes and restaurants located there as well as a significant number of stores. That street is scattered with the sightseeing attractions, you don’t need even to turn anywhere — just go straight to the castle, admiring the beauty around you. The view out of lots of windows onto Florian street is also impressive: it is either a beautiful street with its ancient buildings, or quite courtyards, that have their own charm. A potential drawback of living there appears to be noise from endless crowds of tourists, who are always pacing up and down the centre, thus, if you react to the slightest rustle, it is either worth choosing another area for accommodation, or taking a closer look at the travelers` comments on the booking sites as to the matter of sound-proofness and noise. Moreover, you should pay special attention to the availability of air conditioning system and/or central heating in the hotel room, as ancient buildings in the city centre do not always ensure the required level of comfort: it is stifling in summer and chilly in winter. From my perspective, nice options in Florian street are Hotel Pod Różą and Hotel Unicus.
Main Market Square and its Surroundings
The centre of the historical part of Cracow, without any doubt, is Main Market Square (Rynek Główny). The views out of the hotels located along its perimeter are the main value of this neighborhood. It is the square with its pompous palaces itself, and St. Mary's Basilica, Sukennece (Kraków Cloth Hall), once upon a time, cloth was sold here, and now the shops with many souvenirs and silver and amber articles are located on the first floors. It will take you 10 minutes to get to the majority of the sightseeing attractions from the square and 20 minutes to the railway station, public catering establishments and shops are within reach. The noise from the tourist groups and the bells of the surrounding churches, as well as high prices are also considered to be the disadvantages of that place. It is worth considering, that the buildings located on the square are mostly ancient and there are no elevators there, therefore, if you travel with the children, or have a lot of luggage, or have got health problems, then you’d better get in touch with the hotel staff and ask for a hotel room on one of the lower floors. Interesting option here is, for example, the Bonerowski Palace. Moreover, there is a lot of apartments around the Main square — they are up-to-date apartments in the ancient buildings. Among them it is worth paying attention to Apartamenty Bracka 6, Venetian House Market Square Aparthotel and Venetian House Courtyard Apartments.
The area is surrounded by a large number of streets that are much quieter, and accommodation and meals prices there may be noticeably lower than on the Main square itself. Herewith, these streets are still conveniently located relative to the urban infrastructure and sightseeing attractions; therefore, while choosing a hotel near the Market square, they are also to be considered. I’d advise you to take a closer look, for example, at a lovely guesthouse Globtroter, or at Nordic House Apartments.
Wawel Castle Area
It is easy to get to the Wawel royal castle (Wawel) from the central square: a small street – Grotska (ul. Grodzka) leads to it. Its main advantage is that it overlooks not only the neighboring houses, but also the castle itself. From my perspective, it is worth staying at the foot of Wawel, if you are a fan of amazing views, otherwise it will be pity to overpay for panorama you have no need in. High prices for accommodation and farness from the station can be considered the minuses of that location, especially, if you plan to go somewhere out of Cracow. The major drawback, from my perspective, is endless city noise in combination with voices, sounds of the violin under the windows, clattering of hooves and the echoes of urban transport, but you may take ear muffs or try to convince yourself that all these sounds add to the liveliness and authenticity to the city. Proximity of picturesque Kazimierz Jewish quarter, that is within a kilometer, can be considered another advantage of that area, in addition to the luxurious views of the Wawel castle. In the proximity to Wawel castle I would choose from such hotels as Hotel Jan, Boutique Aparthotel&Apartments or Apartamenty Grodzka 21.
Conventionally, the territory of the neighborhood that is formally located beyond the boulevard ring of the Old City can be viewed as the castle surroundings. It is more contemporary, but still all the sightseeing attractions are within reach. There I’d advise to stay at modern Radisson Blu Hotel Kraków, that is suitable for those who like to live in the downtown, not surrendering the blessings of civilization.
Finally, Kazimierz, located to the South-East of the Wawel castle, is another example of how rapidly Cracow is changing and developing. A few years ago, it was a rather rundown location with ramshackle buildings, shame to look at. Nowadays, this is, perhaps, the most fashionable place in the city: nightclubs, handmade goods shops and authentic boarding houses and hotels are located here, whose number is almost the same as in the downtown. Lots of Kazimierz hotels actively exploit medieval furniture design, wooden floors, and ceiling beams in the hotel rooms. Here, however, I won’t advise to choose central streets for accommodation (they are either flooded with transport, or favored by the street musicians till the dark), but quite lanes. I suggest that you should pay attention to such hotels as Rubinstein Residence, Crystal Suites Chez Helena, and Kazimierz Secret.
It is worth considering that the streets in Kazimierz are quite labyrinthine. Driving travelers should pay special attention to that fact: you’d better plan your route of travel well in advance, otherwise, you are at risk of spending a couple of hours looking for the right direction. Generally, if you plan to go to Cracow by car and intend to park the car closer to the hotel (in the downtown), you should take into account the following. It sometimes happens that the hotel staff assures you that you can park the car at the entrance of the hotel for loading and unloading of the luggage for a few minutes and the police are loyal to the tourists in such situations. However, the personal experience shows that the "loyalty" of the police costs a 100 PLN official fine in addition to the stringent lecture that the street is exclusively for pedestrians and the entrance to it is forbidden even to taxi, no matter, what the hotel staff has told you. It is also worth sending off a message to the hotel requesting a parking lot and asking the staff to book it for you, otherwise, if the hotel parking area is completely occupied, you will have to drive around the surrounding streets looking for a place to park.