Krakow

20 Best Things to do in Krakow (Ultimate List)

This September I had the chance to visit the beautiful Krakow, Poland with my family. Kraków, often anglicized as Krakow, is a historic city in southern Poland. It is one of the country’s oldest and most significant cities, with a rich cultural and architectural heritage. The town left me completely in awe and I cannot wait to visit it again.

From the bustling city center, amazing food, and beer to the astounding cathedral, Krakow kept surprising me more and more. So naturally, I had to write an ultimate Krakow guide about accommodation, transport, parking, and shopping. But, you may wonder, what are the best things to do in Krakow? Well, keep reading as I have compiled an ultimate list of the 20 best things to do there! 

Without much further ado, let’s explore this Polish gem!

1. Explore the Historic Wawel Castle

The first item on my list is probably the most obvious one. You absolutely have to explore the Historic Wawel Castle while in Krakow. It is one of the city’s most prominent locations, both historically and culturally. 

The castle dates back over 1,000 years, witnessing various royal coronations, weddings, and burials, making it a symbol of Polish royalty. Notable structures within the complex include the Wawel Cathedral, the Royal Castle, and the Sigismund Tower.

According to legend, a dragon once inhabited a cave beneath Wawel Hill. The legendary Wawel Dragon now has a statue at the foot of the castle, and visitors can see the dragon’s den near the Vistula River. Wawel Castle and Wawel Hill have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, recognizing their cultural and historical importance. Today, Wawel Castle operates as a museum.

Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle

2. Wander Around the Lively Rynek Główny

Rynek Główny, translated as the Main Market Square, is the central square of the Old Town in Kraków, Poland. The main square is a vibrant place full of restaurants and bars. Moreover, it is a great spot to spend some time surrounded by the locals. 

However, the downside is that it is expensive. So, I recommend eating away from the center, which is way cheaper. Also, If you are traveling in your car, be prepared that there are not many parking places near the center and that you will have to go on foot. 

But don’t worry, there is a really good and cheap tram system in Krakow, so getting around is quite easy. Rynek Główny is one of the biggest medieval squares in Europe, spanning approximately 9.4 acres. It was established in the 13th century and has served as a central location for trade, commerce, and public gatherings throughout the history of Kraków. This square is part of the Historic Centre of Kraków, which was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Rynek Główny
Rynek Główny

3. Admire the Stunning St. Mary’s Basilica

St. Mary’s Basilica, also known as the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a remarkable example of Polish Gothic architecture situated on the Main Market Square. The church’s design is characterized by two asymmetrical towers, intricate brickwork, and stunning stained glass windows. 

And let me tell you, the Basilica truly left me in awe. One of the most significant attractions inside St. Mary’s Basilica is the Altarpiece of Veit Stoss (Ołtarz Mariacki).

St. Mary’s Basilica is known for its hourly trumpet call, the Hejnał Mariacki, a tradition since the 13th century. When I first heard it, I was a bit confused as to why it was abruptly cut short. Later I found out that this is to honor a trumpeter who, according to legend, was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm during a Mongol attack.

St. Mary’s Basilica
St. Mary’s Basilica

4. Take a Day Trip to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp

You might wonder, is 3 days in Krakow enough? Well, it all depends on what you want to see. If you, like me, want to visit the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, 3 days in Krakow might not be enough. We stayed 5 days in Krakow, which turned out to be a perfect number of days to explore the city and take a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt mines.

If you plan to visit the salt mines or Auschwitz while visiting Krakow, be sure to book individual visitor tickets well ahead, especially if you wish to go there in the morning. We ended up taking a guided tour with The Auschwitz Tours, which, by the way, was great. The guided tour cost us 130 Zloty per person, including bus transport, entrance ticket, and guide. 

Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Auschwitz Concentration Camp

5. Visit Schindler’s Factory Museum

The Schindler’s Factory Museum is officially known as the “Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory” or “Muzeum Fabryka Emalia Oskara Schindler.” The museum is dedicated to the history of Kraków during the Nazi occupation in World War II, with a particular focus on the activities of Oskar Schindler. Oskar was a German industrialist who saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust. 

The factory became famous through Thomas Keneally’s book “Schindler’s Ark” and Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation, “Schindler’s List.” Now, it serves as a museum. The museum features Schindler’s office, photographs, film footage, oral history accounts, and artifacts. 

6. Explore the Historic Kazimierz Jewish Quarter

Kazimierz is the historic Jewish quarter in Kraków, Poland, known for its rich Jewish heritage and vibrant cultural history. Kazimierz was founded in the 14th century by King Casimir III the Great. It became a separate city adjacent to Kraków before being integrated into Kraków in the 19th century. 

The Jewish community began settling in Kazimierz in the late 15th century, and over time, it became a thriving center of Jewish culture, religion, and commerce. In recent decades, there has been a renewed interest in preserving and revitalizing Kazimierz. 

Efforts have been made to restore historic buildings and promote the district’s cultural and historical significance. Kazimierz gained international recognition as a filming location for Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.”

Kazimierz Jewish Quarter
Kazimierz Jewish Quarter

7. Descend Into the Underground World of the Wieliczka Salt Mine

As I have mentioned previously, if you wish to visit salt mines, you have to plan it. The tickets sell out really quickly, especially for morning tours. When I tried to buy a morning ticket, all tours before 9:30 were already sold out for the next week. We managed to get individual tickets for the salt mines three days ahead with a guide trip starting at 9.30 AM.

I recommend leaving a whole day for this trip to really explore it without any stress. The Salt Mines are located 14 km south of Krakow. You can get there by train or bus, but as we were 4 people we ended up taking an Uber, which was only about 10 Euro.

One of the highlights of the Wieliczka Salt Mine is the Chapel of St. Kinga, an underground church carved entirely out of salt. Interestingly, due to the microclimate in the salt mine the Wieliczka Salt Mine has been recognized as a health resort. Some chambers have therapeutic purposes, and you can find a spa within the mine.

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Wieliczka Salt Mine

8. Enjoy a Boat Trip on the Vistula River

If you thought that walking through Krakow was the only way to explore it, you are wrong. Another way is by the river. Yes, you heard me. By taking a boat trip down the Vistula River, you will have a perfect chance to see the mesmerizing Krakow city line. Boat trips typically depart from the riverside areas near Wawel Castle or Kazimierz. 

One of the highlights of a boat trip in Kraków is the opportunity to see Wawel Castle from the river. The historic castle, perched on a limestone hill, looks majestic from the water. Boat trips often pass through or near the Kazimierz and Podgórze districts, providing a different perspective of these historic neighborhoods.

 As you cruise along the Vistula, you’ll pass under the Bernatka Footbridge, the Pilsudski Bridge, and the Grunwaldzki Bridge. Many boat tours provide guided commentary in multiple languages, some even offer a meal. I would recommend taking a boat ride at sunset or at night. 

Boat Trip on the Vistula River
Boat Trip on the Vistula River

9. Climb to the Top of Kościuszko Mound

The Kościuszko Mound, also called Krakus Mound, is a big hill in Kraków, Poland. They built it between 1820 and 1823 to remember Tadeusz Kościuszko, an important figure in Polish and American history. It’s about 34 meters tall and 90 meters around, with a twisty staircase going up to the top, where you can see all of Kraków and around. They made the mound using dirt and rocks from special places, like the Battle of Racławice.

Tadeusz Kościuszko was a hero in wars in America and Poland. The mound is a symbol of freedom and being proud of your country. People walk or take a bus to get there, and when you climb up, it’s like you’re on a tower looking at everything. So, if you’re in Kraków and like history or want to see a great view, you should go to the Kościuszko Mound!

Kościuszko Mound
Kościuszko Mound

10. By a Souvenir at the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)

If you’re looking for souvenirs at the Cloth Hall, you’ll find many traditional Polish items that make great keepsakes. Poland is known for its Baltic amber, and you’ll find a range of beautifully crafted amber jewelry in the Cloth Hall. Another great authentic souvenir is Polish pottery known as “Bolesławiec” pottery. Wooden items like traditional carved boxes, spoons, and figurines are common souvenirs. 

You might also find intricate wooden jewelry and other handcrafted wooden goods. Items featuring traditional Polish folk art patterns are also among the more popular items. Poland has a long tradition of lace making, and you can find delicate lace products such as tablecloths, doilies, and shawls. 

If you’re interested in alcoholic beverages, consider buying a bottle of traditional Polish vodka. And if you enjoy beer, look for amber-colored beer glasses with traditional Polish patterns. They make for both functional and visually appealing souvenirs.

Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)
Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)

11. Try Local Street Food

When in Krakow, definitely try their food! I recommend using TripAdvisor to see what are the best places or asking a local. Is Krakow a cheap city? Well, compared to other European cities, yes.  Nevertheless,I recommend always going to the small streets in the center because the prices will be better. 

One popular and iconic street food in Kraków is the “Zapiekanka,” a type of open-faced sandwich made with sautéed mushrooms, cheese, and sometimes ham or other ingredients. You can find Zapiekanka stalls or food trucks in different parts of the city, especially in the Kazimierz district and the Plac Nowy area. 

Another must-try street food in Kraków is “Obwarzanek Krakowski.” These are round, braided bread snacks that are boiled and then baked. Additionally, Kraków is known for its kielbasa (sausage). You can find sausage stalls offering a variety of grilled or smoked sausages, often served with bread and mustard.

Obwarzanek Krakowski
Obwarzanek Krakowski

12. Take a Stroll Down Planty Park

Planty Park is an essential part of old Krakow, surrounding the Old Town like a protective ring. It is always bustling with people, but still has a peaceful atmosphere. As a result, it has become one of the favorite spots for locals and is a perfect place for a stroll or just a day in nature. 

Luckily, I was here in September, so I had a chance to experience the full magic of Panty in autumn. The park is ancient, with most trees over a hundred years old. Planty Park spans four kilometers and includes statues, ponds, and various gardens. 

You can always see the historic buildings of old Krakow, even when surrounded by greenery. Attractions in or around the Old Town of Krakow may include landmarks like Wawel Castle, St. Mary’s Basilica, and the Cloth Hall. It’s truly a magnificent place, and unlike any park I’ve ever seen before.

Planty Park
Planty Park

13. Discover the Medieval Krakow Barbican

The Barbican was built in the late 15th century, around 1498, as an additional defensive structure for the city of Krakow. It was part of the city’s defensive walls, which included a series of gates, towers, and walls to protect the city from potential invasions. Now, it is a part of Planty Park. 

It features seven turrets, a drawbridge, and a moat. The Barbican is strategically located at the junction of several important routes leading to the city, including the Royal Road and the road from Wawel Castle. Its position made it a crucial element in the city’s defense system.

During the summer season (April – October), Barbican is open from Monday to Sunday, from 10:30 am to 6:00 pm. On the other hand, during the winter season (November – March), it is closed. Luckily, there is only one shared ticket for both the Barbican and the Defence Walls.

14. Discover Polish Art in Czartoryski Museum

Walking in the heart of the city, you will most likely stumble upon the Czartoryski Museum at ul. Pijarska 1. Established in the late 18th century by Princess Izabela Czartoryska, the museum holds immense cultural significance.

Its crowning jewel, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine,” is one of the most celebrated paintings in the world, showcasing the artist’s genius. The museum is home to Raphael’s “Portrait of a Young Man,” which was stolen during World War II but later recovered. 

In 2012, the museum underwent renovations, including the restoration of its main building and the refurbishment of the Arsenal, which now hosts a collection of military artifacts. Art enthusiasts and history buffs alike should make sure to visit the Czartoryski Museum. It’s a must-see destination.

15. Soar to Great Heights at the Polish Aviation Museum

The Polish Aviation Museum, known as Muzeum Lotnictwa Polskiego in Poland, is one of the largest aviation museums in Europe. The museum’s collection includes a diverse range of aircraft, helicopters, engines, and aviation-related artifacts. 

Here you can explore exhibits covering different periods, from the early days of aviation to the modern era. The museum is particularly notable for its extensive display of military aircraft, including planes used during World War I and World War II.

Some highlights of the Polish Aviation Museum include historic aircraft such as the PZL P.11, a Polish fighter aircraft from the 1930s, and the iconic World War II fighter, the PZL P.24. The museum also houses a variety of aircraft engines, aviation equipment, and interesting historical displays.

Polish Aviation Museum
Polish Aviation Museum

16. Visit the Eagle Pharmacy 

Eagle Pharmacy (Apteka pod Orłem in Polish), played a significant role during World War II. It is located in the Kazimierz, at 18 Kanonicza Street. During the Nazi occupation of Krakow in World War II, the pharmacy was run by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish pharmacist. 

The Eagle Pharmacy was one of the few places where Jews from the ghetto could receive medication, food, and other necessities. Pankiewicz and his staff were involved in smuggling food and medicine into the ghetto, risking their lives to help those in need. 

While the Eagle Pharmacy itself is not a dedicated museum, there is an exhibition inside the pharmacy that commemorates its historical role during World War II. The exhibition showcases the history of the pharmacy, the wartime events, and the efforts to assist the Jewish community. 

17. Embark on a Cave Adventure at Dragon’s Den

The Wawel Dragon’s Den is a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill, near the Wawel Castle. Legend has it that a fearsome dragon named Smok Wawelski once inhabited a cave in this den. According to the tale, the dragon was defeated by a clever cobbler named Skuba who stuffed a sheep with sulfur and left it outside the dragon’s den. 

The dragon, having a penchant for eating sheep, devoured the bait, and the sulfur made him so thirsty that he drank from the Vistula River until he burst. Today, you can visit the Wawel Dragon’s Den, marked by a metal sculpture of a dragon breathing fire. 

It’s a popular attraction, especially for children, who enjoy the periodic fire-breathing performances. The den and its surroundings are part of the historical and cultural richness of Krakow. Moreover, it is a perfect blend of folklore and architectural beauty for visitors to explore.

Dragon’s Den
Dragon’s Den

18. Experience Craft Beer Through Beer Tastings

You cannot go to Poland and not try their beer. Poland boasts a rich beer culture with several prominent brands. Żywiec, dating back to the 19th century, and Tyskie, one of the oldest breweries founded in 1629, offers popular lagers. Lech and its Premium variant, along with Okocim and Warka, contribute to the diverse Polish beer landscape. Debowe Mocne caters to those seeking stronger brews. 

In Krakow, historic pubs abound, such as Wierzynek, Europe’s oldest restaurant since 1364, and Pod Wawelem near Wawel Castle. C.K. Browar, a microbrewery in the city center, crafts its beers on-site. U Jana, nestled in a cellar with medieval charm, and Omerta Pub, featuring a modern atmosphere and craft beer selection, add to the vibrant Krakow pub scene. 

19. Enjoy an Evening at a Dinner Show With a Folk Theme

When in Poland, eat like a Polish person. And when in Krakow, dance like a person from Krakow. Or just enjoy other people dancing. One of the best experiences you can have here is a Folk dance show combined with the traditional local cuisines. Who said dinner has to be boring?

One venue in Krakow that has been known to host such dinner shows is the Karczma Halit. It’s a traditional Polish inn that offers an authentic atmosphere with live folk performances. You can enjoy a hearty Polish meal accompanied by lively music and dance.

Another popular spot is the Wierzynek Restaurant, which occasionally hosts folk-themed dinner shows. 

20. Leave a Padlock at Father Bernatek Footbridge

Father Bernatek Footbridge is a pedestrian bridge spanning the Vistula River and connects the districts of Kazimierz and Podgórze. Its name comes from Father Jan Bernatek, a Catholic priest known for his social work in Krakow.

This modern bridge stands out due to its artistic elements, including a series of metal sculptures designed by the renowned Polish sculptor Jerzy Kędziora. These sculptures depict figures in motion, giving the bridge a unique and dynamic appearance.

The Father Bernatek Footbridge has become a popular spot for locals and tourists, offering picturesque views of the city and the river. But one of the things that really stands out is the padlocks adorning the bridge. If you wish to leave a padlock, you have many little shops nearby where you can buy them. 

Father Bernatek Footbridge
Father Bernatek Footbridge

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