Krakow vs. Cracow

2 min read    24 comments

What's in a name? When Shakespeare asked that question, he had something more romantic in his mind than the name of a city, and yet the Krakow vs. Cracow debate has been going on almost since the time of the Bard.

Other languages have always had their own spellings of Krakow: Cracow, Cracovie, Krakau, and yet to Poles the city has remained Kraków. But in English, the correct spelling used to be Cracow with a C, at least for several centuries as the city then in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth found its way into English books. However, within the second half of the 20th century, the spelling more similar to the Polish word began to take precedence. Even Encyclopaedia Britannica, Webster's, and other dictionaries switched their entries to "Krakow".

Perhaps you've noticed that we're keen to use both forms of the city's name in our guide - but what's the correct form? If you want to get technical about it, the official Polish name for the city is Kraków (with the dash over the "o" making it more of a "u" sound), but "Cracow" has been used in the English language for centuries. During Elizabethan times, when Poland was one of the largest countries in Europe, Cracow was written about often in English, and thousands of British businessmen travelled here. On the other hand, "Krakow," once rarely used, has recently come to dominate the anglicised name of the city thanks to modern travel - your luggage tag says "KRK," right?


Above: We stuck to the Cracow spelling

If we go by popularity count, a search on Google shows about 139 million hits for "Krakow" and less than 6 million hits for "Cracow". However, if we regard Wikipedia as the ultimate source of all knowledge (as many people do these days), it's interesting to note that both "Krakow" and "Cracow" redirect to their official entry, "Kraków", using the Polish spelling - a fact that has brought much debate on the Wiki forums. And how about the citizens of our fair city? Ironically, here the C has reigned supreme over the K, as going again with Google hits, there are about 22,000 hits for "Cracovian", 984 for "Krakowian", and 806 for "Krakovian". Perhaps it's one of those traditional language things, which explains why a citizen of Warsaw is called a Varsovian in English today.

In the end, whether you spell it Cracow or Krakow it's still technically correct, and you'll notice we use both spellings on our site. When searching for the city's airport or train station, make sure you use the "Krakow" spelling as that is the official name for both. And make sure you don't make the mistake of spelling it "Kracow" or "Crakow" or even "Krakov", as you might end up in the wrong town altogether!

 So today, technically both forms are correct - just don't use "Crakow" or "Kracow" - that's just too much confusion for one city to handle!


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John Cleese

In Polish it's "Kraków" not "Craców" so I don't see any point in using "C..c" instead of "K...K". As a matter of fact, for English speakers it would be reasonable to spell it "Krakoov" as this would result in a pronunciation closest to the Polish original.

Reply Nov 24th, 2019

It's feckers like this that insist on calling me Conrad ;-)

Reply Jun 11th, 2019

I found many people mixing "Krakow" and ... "Kharkow". Maybe better to stay with Cracow... The English spelling is a modified Latin spelling. In Poland we also use modified Latin names of foreign cities: Kolonia (Koeln), Ratyzbona (Regensburg).... Google will return millions of hits for "Krakow" because for the search engine "Krakow" is equivalent to "Kraków" (polish spelling). And yes, when searching the internet it is wise to use both English and local name. Comes funny with Greek or Cyrillic alphabet countries....

Reply Sep 12th, 2018

Let me guess, whoever wrote this is English or British. It's Krakow. Always will be. Typical British move, trying to demean and inferiorize other nations by changing the way they should call their own cities (just like in India and China) - even when it doesn't make sense! Just as someone else wrote, it looks horrible and phonetically changing the spelling doesn't make sense! Whenever I see anyone, but especially Polish people, writing Cracow, my opinion of them sinks, I assume they must be of very low IQ, and/or that they love to be the bitch on a leash of the English. NEVER EVER WRITE CRACOW. Scumbag post and author here.

Reply Jan 28th, 2018

You seem to have entered into a self-complacent bubble without EVER thinking from a larger perspective. The anglicised form of the city is "Cracow", just as the German version is "Krakau" and French - "Cracovie". Just deal with it. The fact that an anglicized name of the city exists is not the sign of colonization but rather attests to the cultural and economic significance of the city. Think of Venice (Venezia), Milan (Milano), Munich (Muenchen) or Turin (Torino). Will you also advocate using the local varieties for all these cities?

Reply Feb 5th, 2018
United Kingdom

Michael chill out. We Polish call London Londyn, are we also scumbags for doing that? There are many example of that in our language. After years of seeing internet comments I've come to the conclusion that one of the worst of our national features is getting worked up over silly things.

Reply Feb 11th, 2018
United Kingdom

I was thinking of visiting your lovely City, but I did not realise that the people of Poland hated the English so much. I have also met a lot of Polish people in the UK and find them very intelligent and polite.

Reply Apr 10th, 2018

Laura, if we start judging countries by what people comment on the internet then we will never leave our houses!

Reply Apr 11th, 2018
United States

Really? I tried to take a vacation to Poland when I was in Peace Corps Ukraine... (I say tried because I ended up in the hospital 2 hours after arriving in Poland.) Anyway, when I got out of the train station, I could've sworn I saw the spelling on a few buildings that said "Cracow." Up to that point, I'd always spelled it "Krakow." I can look through my pics again, but I thought I saw that spelling in the city itself.

Reply Dec 5th, 2018

100% agree! I'm from Beijing, and find Peking unpronounceable. Strange that finest universities retain their names in Latin as Peking U and Tsinghua U (instead of Beijing U and Qinghua U). It's really like a bitch on the English leash. Shame on them!

Reply Mar 11th, 2020

Very interesting topic! I also noticed that people use both of those forms - for example we have Cracow Screen Festival, but also See Krakow guided tours (very good, by the way).

Reply Dec 6th, 2017
United Kingdom

You write about the comparison of these two words very eloquently but it all goes wrong when you spell 'Englishized' (If that's even a word) with a 'z' which makes it an American word

Reply Nov 15th, 2017

Well spotted - and now fixed!

Reply Nov 30th, 2017
Czech Republic

Kraków with C looks weird. And Polish pronunciation is something like Crakuf, W/V in Polish and Czech is like V and like F on end of word, not english wh sound. It's funny to hear in Krakow for example castle Wawel with english pronunciation. :-)

Reply Nov 1st, 2017
Freddie Mac

Now we know that Krakus-Krak was the legendary founder of Kraków so why would you spell the name of the City as, "Cracow"? One of the first things I did before going to Kraków for the first time in 2011 was learn how to spell it and how to pronounce it properly in the Polish language. I have returned to Kraków many times since then and will never pronounce it as Crack Cow...Simples :)

Reply Mar 27th, 2017
Ubuy Ubuy

Well I see you sqiu's down under me are listening. Thats good to know. So a zab to clean should be a good price for a rush job.

Reply Jun 26th, 2017
United States

Kraków is the only way

Reply Mar 27th, 2017
United States

Cracow not only looks bad, but is also a pretty useless spelling. Krakow and Cracow have no differences in phonetics. All the English did was make change the spelling for pretty much no reason :)

Reply Feb 7th, 2017

only Krakow ! :-)

Reply Feb 10th, 2015
United States

My family is from Poland and I speak a little Polish myself. Cracow looks ugly to me, I never knew in English it was spelled anything other than Krakow. Plus in Polish, Cracow would be pronounced much differently than Krakow.

Reply May 23rd, 2014

You are American, and Americans rarely know anything about the history of Europe. You will hopefully agree that "Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary English" is not a bad source to refer to. And this dictionary lists the entry of "Cracow" in the first place, adding that the Polish version is "Kraków". The US version of "Krakow" (without the diacritic) looks horrible. It is neither grounded in history (unlike Cracow), nor is it faithful to the Polish version "Kraków". The Americanized version of "Krakow" is probably rude to the local people and looks most horrible.

Reply Feb 5th, 2018
United States

Right on! Cracow is so blahh... but Krakow is the true Polish way. It's Poland, not America. By the way- love the website!! Poland is suh-weeeet!

Reply Mar 25th, 2008

I really don't understand why Wikipedia's entry reads "Kraków" when their entry for Warsaw is "Warsaw", not "Warszawa". It's called consistency, people! Nonetheless, I think the "Krakow" spelling is the best, because it's closest to the Polish and used more often today than "Cracow", even by native English speakers.

Reply Jan 7th, 2008
Ubuy Ubuy

Youre cyber bullying is one of behaviors that makes you unfit to fill any position that has any true responsibilities.

Reply Jun 26th, 2017