I would use this to get around: two feet and a heartbeat. Krakow is an incredibly walkable city, especially if you stay in or near the old city centre. There are buses, trams and trains to get you out of the downtown core, but most of what you’re there to see is probably more effectively done on foot. Plus, if you eat ANY Polish food at all, you’ll wanna be working that off ASAP.
I would stay here: Hotel Wyspianski. Truthfully, this is the only hotel I’ve stayed at in Krakow, so I’m only recommending it because I know it’s decent, convenient and affordable. However, rooms are a bit small, the continental bfast was just OK and the hotel bar looks like a community college coffee shop, so I would probably try to find something a bit nicer in the same price range. But it’s not bad, especially if you’re less materialistic and judgemental than I apparently am.
I would eat here: Szara. It’s right on the main square and the food is delicious, although a bit pricey. I had the roast duck and it was one of the best meals I had in all of Eastern Europe. Seriously. Service was fantastic and the dining room is gorgeous. There’s also a guy who sits outside the restaurant playing the hammered dolcimer like it’s no big deal.
I would drink here: The Old Jewish Quarter. It was a bit tricky to find on foot and felt to me like it just sort of appeared out of nowhere, but there’s a market square lined with bars and restaurants that seem to really come alive at night. This is a bit of an up-and-coming trendy neighbourhood down by the water and not really far from the centre of town. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in Krakow for more than one night.
I would do this: Go to Auschwitz. There are buses that run the 30 minute trip from Krakow out to the old Nazi concentration camps. There are actually two camps, which I didn’t know until I got there. Auschwitz I is the main museum. You can wander on your own here, but we had a guide and he was really fantastic. It helped to keep me moving and focused, otherwise it would have been very easy to get overwhelmed by the size and depth of the place. Birkenau (Auschwitz II) is the second camp where most of the gas chambers were. It’s much larger, but is set up as a memorial so there is no museum and no guided tour. It has it’s own devestating feel to it because this was the first and only stop for many prisoners. Those who were executed upon arrival never even made it as far as Auschwitz I. If I were you, I’d head to Auschwitz I, take a guided tour for a couple of hours, and then move over to Birkenau for about an hour.
I wouldn’t do this: try to save money by staying on the outskirts of town. There’s really nothing out there but construction and highways, despite the presence of a few larger chain hotels. Gross. Don’t do it.