The Ultimate Krakow Travel Guide

The Ultimate Krakow Travel Guide

This medieval city looks like it was taken straight out of a fairytale, with its bustling market square, spiraling Gothic towers, castles, cozy bars and restaurants, and legends of dragons. We loved exploring the city’s narrow backstreets, hidden courtyards, and the network of underground cellars and tunnels. 

Krakow is known as the cultural capital of Poland through its love of music, poetry, and theatre. After years of occupation and struggle, Krakow has emerged a proud city with a strong sense of identity, yet has still maintained its artistic and fun-loving soul.

 In this post, you will find our favorite things to do and plenty of tips for your trip to Krakow. We stayed for 3 days in Krakow but we recommend to go for 4-5 days.  

How to get to Krakow

You can fly to Krakow from most  European city’s.  We took a cheap Ryanair flight from Belgium to Krakow. Other ways to get there are by train or bus from Prague, Budapest and other European city’s. 
 

When to go 

The most popular time to visit Krakow is during the summer from June to August. Temperatures will be hot and rain will be infrequent. Temperatures will be around 25°C. These are also the busiest months of the year for tourism. 

April to May and September to October are lovely times to visit Krakow. The temperatures are mild and the city is a lot less crowded. Accommodation prices are lower and you don’t have to queue everywhere. 

Winter in Krakow can be quite cold, with temperatures dropping to zero during the day and down to -5°C overnight. Snow is common, which can affect conditions if you are traveling by car. 

We visited Krakow in October and absolutely fell in love with it. 

Important things to know 

  • Even though Poland is part of the EU, it is not a member of the Eurozone, so the Euro is not accepted there. Poland uses the Zloty, which you will often see abbreviated to ZL. 1 Zloty is made up of 100 Groszy (the equivalent of cents). 
  • All major debit and credit cards are widely accepted in Krakow. When you pay for purchases, you will always be asked to choose the currency for the transaction. Always choose the local currency. 
  • Try to buy your souvenirs away from the Main Market Square. You will often find the same goods elsewhere but a lot cheaper. 
  • Krakow often makes the list of the world’s top 20 safe destinations. Nevertheless, use the same safety precautions that you would use anywhere when traveling.  
  • Krakow can be very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer, so be prepared with the right clothes. 
  • You should know that it’s illegal to drink alcohol in public places in Poland. So make sure to not drink alcohol in public areas, including parks. 
  • The Krakow Card can be a good investment if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing. It includes entry to more than 40 attractions. 

How to get around 

The best way to see Krakow is by walking. It is free and the majority of the city’s landmarks in the Old Town are within easy walking distance. 

Public transport; The city is served by buses and trams and public transport is available 24 hours a day. Cost depends on the type of ticket you require. The cheapest fare being good for 20 minutes at a cost of 2,80 ZL. You can also buy tickets for 24, 48, and 72 hours. 

Taxi; Metered taxis are available in the city. We recommend you to order a Uber over the phone, it’s cheaper! 

Where to stay 

We stayed at U Pana Cochito hotel which we highly recommend! U Pana Cogito is housed in a beautiful villa with a spacious garden. It offers rooms with air conditioning and satellite TV. All rooms at the Pana Cogito come with a minibar and a refrigerator. Each has a private bathroom with either bath or shower. Some rooms have an LCD TV. The hotel’s restaurant specializes in Polish dishes and served breakfast every morning. 

U Pana Cogito is situated 1.4 km from the Main Market Square and 1 km from the Kazimierz Jewish District.

Wawel Hill 

Krakow’s Wawel Hill is the ancient nucleus of the city itself. Perched on a limestone bluff on the banks of the Vistula River, this naturally defensible position has been the center of human activity since the first-ever settlements appeared in Krakow as early as the 4th century AD. On its top sits the grandiose and magnificent 14th century Wawel Castle, an imposing and symbolic image of the city’s medieval might and superlative architecture. 

Wawel Castle is now a museum containing five separate sections; The Crown Treasury and Armoury, State Rooms, Royal Private Appartments, Lost Wawel and the Exhibition of Oriental Art. Each room requires a different ticket. You can buy tickets at the Wawel Visitor Centre. 

The castle grounds are open from 6 am – dusk and the Wawel Visitor’s Centre is open from 9 am – 6 pm daily. 

The Wawel Cathedral has witnessed many coronations, funerals, and burials of Poland’s monarchs and strongmen over the centuries. This is the third church on this site, consecrated in 1364. The original was founded in the 11th century. The present day’s cathedral is basically a Gothic structure, but chapels in different styles were built around it later.  

The Wawel Cathedral is open from Monday – Saturday from 9 am – 5 pm and Sunday from 12.30 pm – 5 pm and the entrance fee is 12 ZL.

Just below the castle, on the banks of the River Vistula, you will see the Krakow dragon statue. The Dragon is 6 meters tall and breathes real fire! 

Once upon a time, when King Krakus was reigning in Krakow and the Wawel Castle was his residence, people led calm, happy lives. But one-day people heard strange noises from the underground of the castle and discovered that a dragon lived there! 

The dragon was very hungry and demanded food from the residents. If they didn’t grant them with food, the dragon would kill them. The whole city was terrified and begged the king for a solution. 

King Krakus was scared as well and wanted to stop the madness. He was thinking for quite some time and came up with a competition; whoever defeats and kills the dragon will marry his daughter, princess Wanda and win the crown. 

A lot of brave men turned up to fight with the beast, but none of them succeeded. The dragon was becoming stronger and stronger and killed everyone on his way. But then Skuba, a poor shoemaker, came up with a trick. He decided to use the dragon’s gluttony. He took a sheep’s skin and filled it with hay and sulfur. Skuba fed the sheep to the dragon. The sulfur made the dragon so thirsty that he ran to the Vistula river and drank until it exploded! 

Today you can visit the Dragon’s Den, the former home of the legendary Wawel Dragon. Dragon’s Den is open from 10 am – 6 pm daily and the entrance fee is 3 ZL.  

Rynek Glowny

Measuring 200m by 200m, the Rynek Glowny is the largest medieval town square in Europe and one of the finest urban designs of its kind. Its layout, based on that of a Roman military camp, was drawn up in 1257 and has been retained to this day, though the buildings have changed over the centuries. Most of them now look neoclassical but don’t let the facades confuse you the basic structures are much older. 

The Town Hall Tower can’t be missed in the main square, and it’s nice to check out. You can climb the steps to the top for 9 ZL. The balcony on the top is closed but you can still get some beautiful views of the city and its square. 

The Town Hall Tower is open from April – October from 10.30 am – 6 pm and the entrance fee is 7 ZL.

Cloth Hall

Dominating the middle of Rynek Glowny, this building was once the center of Krakow’s medieval clothing trade. Created in the early 14th century when a roof was put over two rows of stalls. It was extended into a 108m long Gothic structure, then rebuilt in Renaissance style after a fire in 1555. The ground floor is now a busy trading center for crafts and souvenirs and the upper floor houses the recently renovated Gallery of 19th Century Polish Paintings. If you want to buy souvenirs, do it here and support the local artisans. 

St Mary’s Basilica 

Overlooking Rynek Glowny, this striking brick church is dominated by two towers of different heights. According to legend, the towers were built by two brothers, each trying to out-do the other. Eventually, one brother grew jealous and killed the other.

The inside of St Mary’s Basilica is stunning! Its wooden altarpiece is the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world. The colorful wall paintings, designed by Jan Matejko, harmonize beautifully with the medieval architecture. 

St Mary’s Basilica is open from 11.30 am – 5.30 pm from Monday- Saturday and from 2 pm – 5.30 pm on Sunday. The entrance fee for the church is 10 ZL. 

Rynek Underground 

This fascinating attraction beneath the market square consists of an underground route through medieval market stalls and other long-forgotten chambers. This Middle age meets 21st-century experience is enhanced by holograms and audiovisual wizardry. 

Rynek Underground is open from 10 am – 8 pm on Monday, Tuesday from 10 am – 4 pm and from 10 am – 10 pm Wednesday – Sunday. The entrance fee is 19 ZL, Tuesday the entrance is free. 

Collegium Maius

Collegium Maius, built as part of the Krakow Academy, is the oldest surviving university building in Poland, and one of the best examples of 15th-century Gothic architecture. The courtyard is magnificent!! A visit is by guided tour only. On the tour, you’ll be shown historical interiors, astronomic instruments, impressive Aula, manuscripts, and the oldest existing globe. 

All visits are guided in groups; tours begin every half-hour and there are usually a couple of daily tours at 11 am and 1 pm in English. In summer it’s advisable to reserve in advance. The courtyard can be entered free of charge.  

Collegium Maius is open Monday – Friday from 10 am – 2.20 pm and Saturday from 10 am – 1.20 pm.

Explore the Old Town

Krakow’s old town is full of majestic architectural monuments, priceless cultural treasures, and cobbled pedestrian streets. The rich and historical value of Krakow’s Old Town earned it a well-deserved inclusion on the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage List back in 1978.

Listed below are some of the places you should see in the Old Town. 

The showpiece of the city’s medieval defenses, the Barbican was built at the end of the 15th century to protect Krakow’s main entrance. Built-in Gothic style, the Krakow Barbican is topped by seven turrets and includes 130 defensive slots used by archers and riflemen.  Today the Barbican is used for various special events.  

Across from the Barbican stands the iconic Florianska Gate. Erected in 1307, this Gothic gateway tower and its adjacent towers are almost all that remains of the city’s ancient defenses which once circled the medieval Old Town. Today Florianska Gate remains the primary entry point to Krakow’s Old Town, leading tourists from the train station, onto one of the city’s main commercial streets; Florianska Street, in the direction of the market square. 

Male Rynek is a small square with pretty buildings not far from the main market square. 

Ul. Kanonicza is Krakow’s most picturesque street. The cobbled alley is lined with superb examples of Renaissance and Baroque architecture and many of the facades feature colorful murals and passageways leading to quiet courtyards. 

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul is one of the first Baroque buildings in Krakow. Designed on the Latin cross layout and topped with a large skylit dome. The twelve apostles standing on the gates outside are the church’s most striking feature, the interior is refreshingly sober. The Church of Saint Andrew is almost a thousand years old. Built towards the end of the 11th century, much of its austere Romanesque stone exterior has been preserved. As soon as you enter though, you’re in a totally different world; its small interior was subjected to a radical Baroque overhaul in the 18th century. 

Planty also known as the lungs of the city is a public park filled with trees, flowers, benches and, historic monuments. We had a coffee and a delicious slice of cake in Bunkier Cafe in the middle of the Planty Gardens. 

Another unique café in the Old Town is Café Camelot, where we had mulled wine. We fell in love with the cafés unique, enchanting decor! 

Explore Kazimierz

This neighborhood was once the heart of the Jewish community in Krakow. During World War ll, Jews were forced to move out of Kazimierz to go to the ghetto. This neighborhood remained abandoned and neglected for many years after the war. In 1993, Steven Spielberg filmed the movie Schindler’s List here, and since then, people have come flooding back to the area. 

Now, Kazimierz is a funky mix of synagogues, souvenir shops, excellent restaurants, and small boutiques. This was our favorite area in Krakow! 

Compared to the Main Square in the Old Town Kazimierz’s central square feels a bit rough around the edges. But that’s exactly the point! Plac Nowy is exactly the place to be to tap into Krakow’s bohemian side. 

The rotunda in the center of the square was a big kosher butcher for Kazimierz’s Jewish community up to 1939. Now there are food stands, selling Zapienkanka; a delicious bread pizza piled with mushrooms, cheese, vegetables, and hot ketchup. You can’t leave Krakow without trying these! 

Eszeweria is the most beautiful bar we have ever seen! Eszeweria’s old world antiques, candelabras, frosty mirrors, and murky, stenciled walls once played host to some of the city’s most novel concerts, these days it’s more of a hang-out place for hipsters. 

We had dinner at Chajim Kohan. The atmosphere was wonderful, the candlelight romantic, the good menu, delicious food, and the ambiance of this place out of this world. The feel of this place is warm and inviting, we loved it!!

Bernatek Footbridge

The Bernatek Footbridge is linking the districts of Kazimierz and Podgorze. It’s here that Cracovian couples have adopted the increasingly popular tradition of attaching padlocks engraved with their names to the railings of the bridge. 

Explore Podgorze 

This is the area where the Nazis herded some 16 000 Jews into a ghetto, centered around today’s Plac Bohaterow Getta, and gradually emptied it via deportations to the concentration camps. The ghetto was chillingly recreated in the movie Schindler’s List.

Unspeakable tragedies happened around Plac Bohaterow Getta, whether it was families being separated for the last time or executions. When the square was redesigned in 2005, 70 large chairs were installed on the square in memory of the victims of Krakow’s ghetto.

The St. Joseph’s Church can’t be missed when exploring Podgorze. The imposing 80-meter high clock tower, and the beautiful design of the church, are visible from all over Krakow. The small square with a park and benches, in front of the church, is also a wonderful place to sit down. 

Pharmacy Under the Eagle

On the south side of Plac Bohaterow Getta is this museum in a former pharmacy, which was run by the non-Jew Tadeusz Pankiewicz during the Nazi German occupation. The interior has been restored to its wartime appearance and tells the story of the ghetto and the role of the pharmacy in its daily life.

Pharmacy Under the Eagle is open from 9 am – 5 pm Tuesday – Sunday and Monday from 10 pm – 2 am. The entrance fee is 10 ZL, Monday the entrance is free. 

Schindler’s Factory

This impressive interactive museum covers the Nazi occupation of Krakow in WWll. It’s housed in the former enamel factory of Oskar Schindler, the Nazi industrialist who famously saved the lives of members of his Jewish labor force during the Holocaust. Well organized, innovative exhibits tell the moving story of the city from 1939 to 1945.

Schindlers’s Factory is open from 9 am – 8 pm Tuesday – Sunday and Monday from 10 am – 4 pm. The entrance fee is 21 ZL, Monday the entrance is free. 

Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow

The museum boasts a large and fine permanent collection of modern art highlighting both Polish and international artist, plus the Mieczyslaw Porebski Library and its collection of works on art theory and history, as well as a permanent exhibition space devoted to Krystian Lupa’s installation Live Factory 2 – inspired by Warhol’s cult NYC studio. 

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow is open Tuesday – Sunday from 11 am – 7 pm and the entrance fee is 10 ZL, Tuesday the entrance is free. 

Polish Vodka

There are a bunch of bars in Krakow where you can sample some Polish Vodka. At many places, the vodka is infused with flavors like cranberry, vanilla, pear, coconut, and even horseradish. It is a lot of fun sampling the different flavors! 

Our favorite spot was Wodka Café Bar in the Old Town. This tiny bar is a hopping place! Have fun choosing your favorite from their long list. 

Polish food

Try an Obwarzanek Krakowski; it is a braided ring-shaped bread that is boiled and sprinkled with salt and sesame or poppy seeds before being baked. It has a white sweetish, moist and chewy crumb underneath a crunchy golden-brown crust. You can buy an Obwarzanek Krakowski at one of the many street stands. 

Pierogi is another typical Polish dish. Pierogi are dumplings made of thinly rolled out dough filled with a variety of fillings. The most popular fillings are meat, sauerkraut, and mushrooms, seasonal food, sweet cottage cheese, or boiled potatoes with fried onions. We had delicious pierogis at Milkbar Tomaszca in the Old Town. 

Day Trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau

No visit to Krakow would be complete without a stop at Auschwitz-Birkenau! The 2 major sites of Nazi concentration camps were preserved to serve as a reminder of the horrors that humans are capable of and to make sure they are never repeated again. You can visit the 2 sites, and need about 2 hours in each spot. 

There are a few ways to visit Auschwitz. One is through a guided tour, the other is to go freely. Just know that at Auschwitz, the free tour is outside the hours of the guided tours they offer. You can enter freely at all times at the Birkenau site. 

To get there you can take a bus from the main bus station. It will cost around 15 ZL per person and the ride takes 2 hours. We booked tickets for the guided tour in the old town.

Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau was emotional for us. It was a heavy day to hear about what people had endured in those camps, to walk where they took their last steps, to be in a site full of so much pain. But it is important to learn about these events, in the hopes that they will not be repeated again! 

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Some 14km southeast of Krakow, Wieliczka is famous for its deep salt mine. It’s an eerie world of pits and chambers, and everything within its depths has been carved by hand from salt blocks. The mine has a labyrinth of tunnels, about 300km distributed over nine levels, the deepest being 327m underground. A section of the mine, some 22 chambers connected by galleries from 64 to 135m below ground, is open to the public by guided tour. 

The salt mines were one of our favorite things to visit around Krakow. This place is truly amazing! 

The only way to visit the mines is through one of their guided tours. You will have 2 tour options; One is the miner’s tour, where you will go through the tunnels, ladders, and chambers working as a miner. Or, you can opt for the relaxed option of the visitor’s tour. Just beware, you will be walking a lot! We booked tickets for the visitor’s tour in the old town. 

There are 2 ways to get there. Either you can find a tour company in the Old Town who will offer tours starting from 119 – 150 ZL including tickets and transportation. Or you can get there by bus from the Galeria Krakowska shopping mall. Take bus 304 to Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli. This option will cost you 4 ZL and takes around 1 hour to get there. 

Krakow is definitely one of our favorite cheap city breaks! 

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