Members of leading British consumer association Which? have chosen Kraków as Europe’s best city break destination for the third year in a row.
The Polish city finished ahead of Spanish rivals Seville in second and Valencia in third, and well ahead of traditional tourist hot spots Amsterdam and Venice (joint 5th), Barcelona (19th) and Prague (26th). Poland’s capital, Warsaw, also made the list, tying with Paris in 29th.
The almost 5,000 respondents surveyed by Which? gave Kraków top marks for the quality of its accommodation, food and drink, and cultural attractions, which include Wawel Castle, the former Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, and more recent additions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Kraków also scored highly on value for money, with Which? noting that average hotel rates of £59 are less than half of those found in some western European and Scandinavian locations.
“To those holidaymakers still stuck on Amsterdam, Paris and other classic European destinations, try Poland for your next trip to find food, hotels and sightseeing that’s just as good but at half the price,” says Which? travel editor Rory Boland.
With its picturesque, UNESCO-listed old town – which, unlike those of Warsaw and many other Polish cities, avoided large-scale destruction during World War Two – Kraków has become increasingly popular with foreign tourists, over three million of whom visited last year. The city’s tourism strategy envisions attracting even higher numbers, including more high-spending “premium” visitors.
These developments have not pleased all residents of the city, however. Many complain of the disturbance and disruption caused by mass tourism. Some Cracovians feel that the city centre has lost its former atmosphere, with residential buildings turned into short-term accommodation and traditional businesses making way for those serving tourists.
Earlier this year, Kraków was one of ten European cities that jointly wrote to the European Union asking for support in tackling the rise of holiday-rental services such as Airbnb, which they said have brought about the “touristification” of neighbourhoods. The local authorities last year began a poster campaign in the city centre reminding tourists to respect the needs of residents.
— Wyborcza.pl Kraków (@Wyborcza_Krakow) September 11, 2018
One particular type of visitor – British stag and hen parties – has proved particularly controversial. The city has sought to clamp down on the drunken behaviour and public nudity that often accompany them. Earlier this year, a local councillor posted pictures of one group of British men on Kraków’s market square clad only in Borat-style “mankinis”, an incident that led to a police investigation.
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.