Krakow, Poland is one of the top places to visit in Europe, and no trip to Poland is completed without visiting Krakow. For years the city has been one of the main Polish destinations for both local and international travelers who easily fall in love with the place, its history, beauty, and charm.
I’m a huge fan of Krakow too, always have been, visiting the city at least a few times per year to meet friends and to enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of the place.
To share my love for the place I’ve created this comprehensive Krakow guide with all the best things to do in Krakow. Some of the places are well-known tourist attractions while others are more off the path, known mostly to locals. Overall, you will see how diverse attractions in Krakow are, making everyone fall for the place so easily since there is something for each taste.
When planning your trip to Krakow be sure to save enough days in your Krakow itinerary for all the city has to offer as well as for some great day trips from Krakow. You really are in for a treat there!
Why visit Krakow
Krakow, the second-largest city in the country, is one of the best and most popular places to visit in Poland and a perfect place to start your journey in Central Europe.
Since it’s one of the oldest cities in Poland (first mentioned in 966 but first settlement here dates back to BC times) you will find numerous historical places to visit Krakow. Between 1038 and 1609 Krakow was the capital of Poland and some of the finest monuments in the city date back to that golden period.
Krakow is home to the oldest Polish university, Europe’s largest market square in medieval times, or the second-largest Polish castle, among other attractions. Krakow’s Old Town was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List for its great historical and cultural value.
For over a hundred years (1795-1918), Krakow was part of Austria-Hungary and you still can see clearly the influence of the Habsburg Empire there. There is also a big Jewish heritage that you can see and experience especially in the Kazimierz district.
What I always liked the most about visiting Krakow is its vibe, a bit on the artistic side, and even if it is changing with the growing tourism, it is still there. While most people who visit Krakow focus only on its top attractions, the city really has more to offer – you will see it below in my list of top things to do in Krakow!
How to get to Krakow
Krakow is well-connected with the rest of the Polish cities as well as with numerous destinations abroad.
The local airport, Balice (IATA code KRK), is served by numerous airlines, both low-cost and regular, and offers connections to many places in Poland, Europe, and even the US. The airport is located not too far from the center (around 12 km) and is easily reachable by public transport (trains and buses). You can also pre-book the private transfer that will take you from Krakow airport to your accommodation in Krakow – click here for details.
You can also easily reach Krakow by train, with frequent daily connections from most Polish cities. There are also direct trains from Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Bratislava, and Budapest. The main train station is located in the center, next to the main bus station, some 10-15 minutes walking from Main Square.
Where to stay in Krakow
Since Krakow is the top Polish destination for tourists, the city offers plenty of accommodation options for each taste and budget. Your Krakow sightseeing will keep you mostly in the center so I recommend finding the accommodation either in the Old Town (or somewhere close) or in Kazimierz district.
Here are some recommended places to stay in Krakow:
- Budget: Mundo Hostel (9.2/10) / Bubble Hostel (8.7/10) / Evergreen Hostel Krakow (9.4/10)
- Mid-range: Ventus Rosa Boutique Aparthotel (9.4/10) / Sky Hotel Krakow (9.4/10) / Leonardo Boutique Hotel Krakow Old Town (9.0/10)
- Luxury: Grand Ascot Hotel (9.3/10) / Hotel Wentzl (9.3/10) / Queen Boutique Hotel (9.3/10)
- and many more!
How to get around Krakow
The majority of Krakow attractions are located in the central part of the city and you can easily get everywhere by walking.
If you need to get to some more distant places or you are simply tired of walking, there is a fine public transport system with buses and trams, that cover all the places you want to see in Krakow. You can check connections on an app like “Jakdojade” where you can also buy tickets for the ride. Tickets are also available in kiosks or ticket machines at the stops and inside the buses/trams.
Best Krakow tours
If you would like to get some insider knowledge of Krakow and learn more about the city, these tours seem like a good option:
- 90-Minute Guided Segway Tour of Kraków Old Town
- Krakow: Tour by Electric Car & Optional Schindler’s Factory
- Krakow: Kazimierz, Jewish Ghetto and Schindler’s Factory
- Krakow: Wawel Castle & Cathedral Guided Tour
- Krakow: Walking Tour of Old Town and Kazimierz
Things to do in Krakow
And finally, let me tell you more about what to see in Krakow. The city really offers more than just the main tourist attractions and as you will see below offers something for everyone (hence the list of things to do in Krakow is so long).
Visit Wawel Hill
As you already know, Krakow was the capital of Poland between 1038 and 1609 (with a few short breaks in between). At that time the main seat of the Polish kings was the Wawel Castle, towering on the hill above the Vistula River.
Over the centuries the place was rebuilt and renovated numerous times and what you can see now is a peculiar mix of styles and remnants of the old times.
Today the place is among the top things to see in Krakow that you definitely can’t miss. It’s best to reserve at least half a day in your Krakow itinerary to explore all that the Wawel Castle has to offer (after all this is the second-largest castle in Poland, after Malbork Castle).
There are two major highlights on Wawel Hill – the Royal Castle and the Wawel Cathedral. When visiting you can choose from different attractions and you need to buy the ticket for each separately (unfortunately, at the end of the day it adds up to a pretty big sum).
Within the castle, you can visit places like State Rooms, Royal Apartments, Treasury & Armoury, or the “Lost Wawel” exhibition (my personal favorite were rooms and apartments, so beautiful and rich in decor).
The ticket to the cathedral also allows you to go up to the Sigismund Tower (with the most popular bell in Poland) and to the royal crypts (the resting place of the most prominent Polish rulers).
Be sure to take some time to wander around the Wawel Hill grounds too and see the place from every angle, it hides some real gems and beauty.
You can also visit Wawel Castle with the tour. Here are the recommended ones:
Explore Dragon’s Den
Every child in Poland knows the legend about the Wawel dragon who used to live under the castle hill.
The creature terrorized locals and demanded to give it cattle. Eventually, a brave young shoemaker tricked the dragon, feeding it with the sheep full of sulfur. It led to the dragon getting so thirsty, it drank so much water from the Vistula river that the creature finally burst, saving the city.
Today you can explore the den where allegedly the dragon used to live. Below the castle and next to the riverside, there is a statue of the dragon that burps fire every few minutes, a perfect reminder of the famous legend.
You can also join the 2-Hour City Walking Tour in Creepy Krakow to learn more about the dragon as well as other scary stories from the city – click here for details.
Enjoy the Main Square
The Main Square (“Rynek” in Polish which basically means “the market”) is one of the largest squares in Europe (with the dimension 200 x 200 meters) and one of the top Krakow attractions. For centuries it’s been the heart of the city and this hasn’t changed until today.
It dates back to the 13th century and back then it was the largest medieval square in Europe. Since the beginning, it’s been the center of the social, political, and cultural life in Krakow and played an important role in Polish history.
These days the Main Square is also used for numerous events, including the periodic ones such as Lajkonik celebrations (a bearded man resembling a Tatar, one of the symbols of the city) or the annual Krakow szopka Festival (a nativity scene typical for the area).
But even without the events, the Main Square is worth spending some time at. This is where you will find some of the most important Krakow monuments, such as St. Mary’s Basilica, the Church of St. Adalbert, Town Hall Tower, or Adam Mickiewicz monument. Right in the middle of the Main Square, there is an impressive building of the Cloth Hall.
Buildings surrounding Main Square are among the most beautiful townhouses in Krakow. The square is full of cafes and restaurants that might be a bit overpriced but there is no better place to sit down and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere created by tourists, locals, and too many pigeons.
You can learn more about Main Square and other top Krakow sights on the “Krakow In a Nutshell” tour – click here for details and to book the place.
Visit the Cloth Hall
The majestic building of the Cloth Hall dominates the Main Square and catches your attention right away with its beauty and form.
Since Krakow was an important stop on the trade route the city needed a proper place to exchange goods. At first, the local trade center was made of wooden stalls but in the mid-14th century, the Gothic Cloth Hall was built. Over the centuries the place was rebuilt and redecorated a few times and what you can see today dates back to the 19th century and doesn’t resemble the original building at all.
Inside the lower level, you will find numerous stalls selling souvenirs, jewelry, and craft while the outdoor part is home to a few cafes and restaurants. The upper part of the Cloth Hall is home to the division of the National Museum which hosts some of the most important 19th-century Polish paintings and sculptures.
On the first floor, on the way to the museum, you can find one of the best hidden gems of Krakow – Cafe Szał which offers some wonderful views of Main Square.
Go up the Town Hall Tower
One of the distinctive places in the Main Square is the Town Hall Tower, the only remaining part of the first town hall that was located in this very place. The tower, together with the town hall itself, was originally built around the year 1300 but the main part of the building was destroyed in 1829 when it was planned to open up the Main Square.
Today this is part of the Historical Museum that you can visit for a beautiful panorama of central Krakow. To get to the top you need to walk up 110 stone steps (some of them are a bit steep but it’s worth the effort).
Along the way, you can admire one of the most beautiful Gothic interiors in Krakow as well as exhibitions of medieval attires and archive photographs. But still, the main reason to visit the Town Hall Tower is the view from its upper part and you will not be disappointed with it.
Admire the beauty of St. Mary’s Basilica
Yet another iconic attraction of Krakow, St. Mary’s Basilica dates back to the 14th century and is one of the best examples of Polish Gothic architecture. The structure is really impressive from the outside but the interior is simply mind-blowing with its rich decoration and mesmerizing details you can’t stop looking at (some of them date back to when the church was built, others are newer). This is simply one of the most stunning churches you will ever see.
What makes it even more special is the wooden altar with realistically sculptured figures, designed by Wit Stwosz at the end of the 15th century – a truly unique masterpiece. To see the altar from up close you need to use the side entrance to the basilica and pay a fee.
It is possible to go up to one of the towers of the Basilica to enjoy the beautiful panorama of Krakow’s Old Town and beyond. The entrance is limited since at each full hour, every day 24/7, all year long, the so-called Hejnał mariacki (the trumpet signal typical for this very church) is played. When you listen to it you will notice that tune breaks off in mid-stream – it is a way to commemorate a famous 13th-century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before a Mongol attack on the city.
The Rynek Underground is a fairly new addition to Krakow’s tourist attractions, opened only in 2005. The place takes you under the surface of the Main Square where you can travel back in time to the Middle Ages and learn more about Krakow’s history at that time.
During the archeological works, the remnants of the old parts of the city were found and now it’s possible to admire them. You will see foundations of the buildings from the 12th and 13th centuries or original tools and items from that time and the interactive presentations will tell you about life in Krakow in that fascinating period when the city was the capital of Poland.
The entrance to the underground is located in the Cloth Hall, in front of St. Mary’s church.
Find the hidden passage
Krakow doesn’t have as many hidden passages as Lviv in Ukraine but one of the interesting hidden places in the Old Town is the Bielak Passage, connecting the Main Square with Stolarska street. Its history dates back to the end of the 19th century when the local trader, Jozef Bielak, decided to interconnect his two properties to create a bigger commerce area.
In the 1960s this was a popular place, with shops, cafes, and cinema. Recently the place was renovated and new initiatives were introduced there yet the vibe of the place remained the same. Even if there are no events taking place there it’s still worth stopping by to see the passage and its decor.
Wander around the Old Town
Since Krakow was hardly destroyed during World War 2, you can still enjoy and admire the original architecture of the city that is best preserved within the Old Town, the oldest part of Krakow surrounded by Planty park. That’s where you will find main attractions (such as the Main Square) but there are also plenty of hidden gems that are best discovered when wandering aimlessly around.
Each and every street is charming, showing the true beauty of Central Europe. When wandering around you will stumble across picturesque corners, beautiful churches, or even a bridge like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy. The list of attractions here is endless and it’s only up to you how many of them you will discover.
My favorite sights in Krakow Old Town include Small Market Square, Szczepanski Square, Bracka street, or Kanonicza street but truthfully every single street here is beautiful and has its own charm.
You can also explore the Old Town with a tour. Here are some highly-rated ones:
- Krakow Private City Tour- Krakow Old Town walking tour
- 120 min Old Town Segway Tour in Krakow – Small-Group
- Krakow Old Town Walking Tour
Visit more beautiful churches
While St. Mary’s church is, with no doubt, the most stunning and impressive church in Krakow, other Catholic holy places especially within the Old Town are also worth visiting. Even if you are not a religious person their artistic and architectural value is enormous and it’s definitely worth seeing them.
Some of the most beautiful churches within the Old Town include Saints Peter and Paul Church, Church of St. Anne, St. Andrew’s Church, Basilica of Holy Trinity, St Barbara’s Church, and Church of St. Francis of Assisi.
If you are a fan of visiting museums, you are in for a treat in Krakow. There are numerous cultural institutions offering a variety of exhibitions to cater to each taste and to each interest.
The most important one is the National Museum located in the massive building some 15 minutes walking from the Old Town. You can find there one of the best art collections not only in Poland but in Europe.
Other museums worth visiting include Princes Czartoryski Museum (where you can see the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci – “The Lady with an Ermine”), the gallery in the Cloth Hall (with some of the most famous and impressive paintings by Polish artists) or the Museum of Krakow.
If you are interested in contemporary art MOCAK (located across the Vistula river) is the place you can’t miss. There are also some unusual museums like The Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology that you should visit if not for the exhibition then to stop at their cafe with a beautiful view of Wawel Hill.
I recommend getting the museum pass to get the free entrance to some 40 museums in Krakow – you can find out more about the pass and purchase it here.
Enjoy Planty Park
Krakow Old Town is surrounded by a beautiful Planty park, created in the first half of the 19th century in the place where the city’s fortifications used to be (today you can still see some parts of them, including the Barbicane). The place was carefully designed hence it was also known as the city’s garden.
Planty park quickly became one of the favorite places for locals to go for a stroll and relax and its popularity hasn’t changed until today. The area is full of numerous monuments that you will surely stumble upon when walking around. There are also plenty of benches where you can sit down and slow down from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Planty Park is a perfect getaway from exploring the Old Town and a great oasis in the middle of the busy city.
See the remnants of the fortifications
In medieval times Krakow’s Old Town (that back then was the whole city) was surrounded by the walls protecting the place – Krakow learned the lesson after the Mongol invasion in 1240. It was possible to enter the city by 7 gates that were closed for the night, the city was also protected by the moat.
Over the centuries, the shape of the fortifications gradually decreased, and eventually, it was decided to dismantle the city walls. Today only a small part of it remains, with the Barbican (from the end of the 15th century, today it is home to the Historical Museum) and the most famous St. Florian’s Gate that opens up to Florianska street which leads all the way to the Main Square.
A small part of the former fortification is open to the public, you can walk along the walls and enter three remaining gates.
See one of the most important theaters in Poland
Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, located at the edge of the Old Town, is among the most significant theaters in Poland, the birthplace of the Young Poland movement at the beginning of the 20th century.
The building itself is worth your attention. It was erected in 1893 in the place where the former 14th-century church and monastery of Order of the Holy Ghost was located and the sudden change in the city’s scenery brought many controversies.
The theater’s building was designed in the Eclectic style with neo-baroque and neo-renaissance additions and is a fine example of theaters built at that time in Europe (resembling similar buildings in places like Vienna, Chernivtsi, Zagreb, Brno, or Paris, just to name a few). This is simply one of the most beautiful buildings you can find in Krakow.
If you wish you can go to see a play in the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, you can find the current schedule here. This will also be a good way to see the theater’s stunning interior which is equally impressive as the outside look.
Visit the Jagiellonian University
Krakow is home to a few higher education institutions but the most famous and prestigious one is the Jagiellonian University, the oldest university in Poland and one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world. It was founded in 1364 by King Casimir III the Great and since then it’s been known as one of the best places to get your higher education in Poland (I almost ended up studying there too, almost…).
Today its campus is strewn around all over the city but the oldest part, Collegium Maius, is located right in the Old Town, at Jagiellonska street. It’s easy to miss the place, you need to enter a rather bland gate to be transformed back to medieval times and a beautiful bricked yard with the arcades.
You can find there a museum dedicated to the Jagiellonian University but even if you don’t plan to visit it, it’s still worth stopping at Collegium Maius to see this charming hidden place and feel the atmosphere of the old times.
Jagiellonian University is included in the highly-rated Private Walking Tour of Krakow Old Town with local historian PhD – click here to book it.
Admire the art-nouveau architecture
My favorite building is the Palace of Art located at Szczepanski Square within the Old Town. It was designed in the style of Viennese art-nouveau at the beginning of the 20th century and used to be an exhibition space for famous Polish artists. At the same square, you will notice another beautiful art-nouveau building – the Stary National Theatre (one of the oldest theatres in Poland).
On the Main Square, the townhouse located right next to St. Mary’s church is a real gem too, dating back to 1907.
When it comes to art-nouveau interiors two places stand above others: Jama Michalika Cafe (located at 45 Florianska street) with typical for the period decor, furniture, and stained glass windows and Franciscan Church with polychrome wall decorations and stained glass windows by one of the great Polish artists – Stanisław Wyspiański.
Explore Kazimierz district
Kazimierz, the former Jewish district of Krakow, is a fascinating place to explore and a perfect alternative to the Old Town. Even if in recent years the area went through the major gentrification process it still has its charm and vibe and is less touristy than the area near Main Square.
Kazimierz was founded in the 14th century and until 1791 it was a separate city, incorporated into Krakow only at the end of the 18th century. This was the center of the Jewish community of Krakow and still today you will find numerous remnants of their history and culture all over the district, including a few synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and the annual Jewish Culture Festival.
But Kazimierz is also a hip and trendy district, with numerous cafes, restaurants, small shops, and independent galleries. It’s one of the favorite places for locals and tourists to hang out, in the summer evenings it’s a challenge to find a free table in one of the many bars and restaurants.
The heart of the district is Plac Nowy bustling with life especially on the weekends when during the day you can enjoy shopping at the flea market and in the evenings you might hang out in the surrounding bars or the square itself. Kazimierz is also a perfect place for photography lovers as you will find there plenty of charming corners, winding lanes, hidden passages, and most Instagrammable places in Krakow.
Since Kazimierz is a very complex district, with so much history and hidden spots, it’s best to visit it with the tour. Here are the best ones:
- Tour of Kazimierz, Jewish Ghetto & Schindler’s Factory
- Private Schindler’s List and Jewish Heritage Tour in Krakow
- Krakow Jewish Quarter Guided Walking Tour
One of the best remnants of the Jewish past in Kazimierz is the synagogues. Before WW2 there were several dozen synagogues in Kazimierz but only a few remained until today. Some of them still work as prayer houses while others were converted to museums that are possible to visit or are buildings of public use.
I visited two of them, both located at Szeroka Street. The Old Synagogue dates back to the 15th century and, as the name suggests, is the oldest synagogue in Poland. Today it is home to the museum where you can learn more about Jewish life in Krakow. The nearby Remuh Synagogue is much smaller but so pretty inside.
Other synagogues worth mentioning are Tempel Synagogue (that I still have to visit but it already looks impressive from the outside), Tempel Synagogue (which was turned into a popular cafe/bar, Hevre, with a beautiful interior) or Izaak Synagogue (now a cultural and educational center).
Visit Jewish Cemeteries
Besides synagogues, there are other traces of the Jewish presence, including two cemeteries that remained until this day, both located in the Kazimierz district.
Remuh Cemetery is located next to the synagogue with the same name and is the older one, with tombstones dating to the 16th century. You can find there graves of some very important people not only from Krakow Jewish community but also from Vienna or Prague. The Remuh Cemetery operated until 1800 when the New Jewish Cemetery at Miodowa street (behind the train tracks) was established.
It was opened until 1920 and today you can find there around ten thousand headstones, including some of the most notable Jewish people from Krakow. The New Jewish Cemetery is much larger than Remuh Cemetery and I personally find it much more interesting and perfect for wandering around, admiring beautiful tombstones, and reflecting on the Jewish past in Krakow.
Try street food in Kazimierz
While you are exploring the Kazimierz district be sure to try some local street food, including the queen of Polish quick bites – zapiekanka. This Polish version of pizza dates to the 1970s and ever since has been the most popular fast food all over the country.
Zapiekanka is a rather simple dish – a toasted open-face sandwich made of a sliced baguette and topped with white mushrooms and cheese (the basic version), if you want to feel fancy you can add numerous other things on top: vegetables, sausage, ham, etc as well as various sauces.
You can get the best zapiekanka in Poland in Kazimierz, in the round building in the middle of Plac Nowy. There are a few points selling this yummy street food, “Endzior” claimed the title of the best ones (you will quickly notice which one is this as the line is always the longest there) but honestly, zapiekanka from each place here is to die for. The selection is really wide and you can choose from various toppings, whatever you feel like eating. Don’t leave Krakow without trying zapiekanka, it’s a true Polish food experience!
If you feel like eating different kinds of street food there are a few places in Kazimierz where you can find a good selection of food trucks (at the corner or Sw. Wawrzynca and Waska streets or at the corner of Jakuba and Ciemna streets).
And speaking of street food, there is one more typical Krakow food experience you might want to check out – eating the sausage served from the old blue car that is some sort of institution in Krakow. The car is parked every evening near the Market Hall at Grzegórzecka street, you might expect to wait in line as the place is really popular and iconic.
But back to Kazimierz, besides the street food, the area is literally packed with all sorts of cafes, restaurants, bars, and other places where you can hang out. It’s impossible to list some of the best ones as there are so many of them so just follow your intuition, see which place appeals to you, and then sit down, relax and enjoy the wonderful Kazimierz vibe.
Cross the Vistula river via Father Bernatek Footbridge
Father Bernatek Footbridge is one of the newest additions to Krakow’s scenery, opened in 2010 in the place where the Podgórski bridge used to stand. The footbridge connected two popular districts Kazimierz and Podgorze and added up to the atmosphere of the area.
The bridge is rather neat, with the steel arch and above and a few sculptures hanging around. It is also an unofficial love bridge in Krakow where lovers hang locks declaring their love.
Explore Podgorze district
Podgorze district, located across the Vistula River from Kazimierz, a few years ago became a new favorite hotspot for locals. Numerous cafes, bars, and restaurants surfaced, changing the scenery of the district that is now a mix of small businesses designed for local inhabitants and hangout places for everyone else. It’s a peculiar combination that works very well in Podgorze (that is still not as touristy as Kazimierz has become).
Besides the hangout spots, you can also find here numerous attractions, including the fairytale-alike St. Joseph Church, some beautiful houses hidden in the backstreet, a green oasis of Bednarskiego Park, or some interesting museums. Reserve a few hours in your Krakow itinerary to explore Podgorze too, to get a feel of a not-so-touristy yet still wonderful face of Krakow.
Podgorze is included in these two interesting tours – joining them will help you learn more about this part of Krakow:
Visit Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory
The world learned about Oskar Schindler’s life and story thanks to the award-winning movie “Schindler’s List”. When World War 2 started Schindler (a Sudeten German) took over the Enamel factory and hired unpaid workers from the Jewish community. Over war years, he saved over a thousand Jews, granting him the title of “righteous among the nations”.
Today the administrative buildings of the factory are home to the museum telling the story of Oskar Schindler as well as showing the life in Krakow under the Nazi occupation. For me, this was the most interesting museum in Krakow and I can definitely recommend visiting it not only to the history fans but to everyone interested in learning more about the city.
Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory is located a bit away from the center, in Podgorze district, next to the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art, but it’s definitely worth a little detour during your Krakow sightseeing.
You can join the guided tour of the Factory (with the skip-the-line ticket included) – click here for details.
Visit Liban Quarry
Not far from the Krakus Mound you will find the Liban Quarry, named after the local industrialist Bernard Liban who opened the lime kiln in this very place in 1873 (however the quarrying here dates back to the Middle Ages). During World War Two, Nazi occupants opened the work camp here for Polish people, many of them died in inhuman conditions. Liban Quarry was also used as the scenery for the movie “Schindler’s List” in 1993, many of the scenes were filmed here.
Today the quarry is mostly abandoned but that makes it an even better place to visit. You can still find there remnants of the work camp (such as the road paved with the tombstones from the Jewish cemetery) as well as parts of the “Schindler’s List” movie set. But mostly the place is full of overgrown vegetation and numerous paths waiting to be explored.
Visit the site of Kraków-Plaszow concentration camp
During World War Two, Nazi Germany, who occupied Poland at that time, created the labor camp in the suburb of Krakow – Plaszow. It was opened in 1942 in the place where two Jewish cemeteries used to be and was used to keep mostly people from the liquidated Krakow Ghetto.
The place was soon transformed into a concentration camp that has operated until early 1945. In the peak moment, around 35.000 people were kept here, mostly Jewish but also Polish and Roma people.
Today the area of the concentration camp is the eerie green place and only a careful look around will tell you what a horrific and tragic place this was. You might still find the foundations of the buildings or remnants of the Jewish tombstones strewn around, the newly added info boards tell the history of the place. There is also a very somber and powerful Monument to Nazi Victims that commemorate those who were kept in this concentration camp.
Stop by at Plac Bohaterow Getta
Plac Bohaterow Getta is a symbolic square located in the Podgorze district, right across the Vistula river from Kazimierz. It dates back to the first half of the 19th century when it served as the secondary market square in the area. During World War Two this was the main square of the ghetto created by Nazis for the Jewish population of Krakow.
Today you can find there a few dozens of empty iron chairs to commemorate the tragic events of the ghetto’s liquidation in 1943. In one of the buildings surrounding the square, at number 18, you can visit the museum in the former pharmacy, the only one that used to work in the ghetto during the war.
Admire the panorama from one of the mounds
One of the most distinctive places to visit in Krakow is its mounds. Besides the historical value, they also offer a beautiful panorama of the city that you can’t miss.
Mounds date back to prehistoric times and served burial, cultural or defensive purposes, later on, they were also created to commemorate important events or people. Besides six mounds in Krakow, you can also find those structures in a few other places in the Lesser Poland region.
The most popular mound is Kościuszko Mound, dating back to the first half of the 19th century and surrounded by the military complex from the same period. It’s located a bit outside the center (you can reach it by bus) but from the mound, you can see a beautiful vista of Krakow.
If you have time for visiting only one mound I definitely recommend Krakus Mound, located in the Podgorze district. It is not known when this mound was created but today many legends are connected with this place.
Krakus Mound offers the most beautiful views of central Krakow and its numerous towers. This is also one of the favorite places for locals to go for a stroll and enjoy the green area. The best time to visit Krakus Mound is around sunset when the city is painted in soft orange color.
Relax at the green oasis of Zakrzowek
Zakrzowek is one of the hidden gems of Krakow that is hardly visited by tourists (and is a favorite place for locals). This former quarry was closed in 1990 and filled with water, creating a beautiful nature getaway not far from the center of the bustling city. The unreally turquoise water contrast with rocks making the place simply stunning.
Zakrzowek reservoir is also a popular diving place, bringing those who want to explore the underwater area of the query from all over Poland and beyond. But you don’t need to be a diver to enjoy the place as this is also a great area for a walk around or sunbathing at the shore.
Near the reservoir, you will find Skałki Twardowskiego, the rock formation used by local climbers. If you are into adventurous sports there is no better place for you to visit in Krakow than Zakrzowek. You can easily get here by tram or bus from the center of Krakow.
Enjoy the vibrant atmsphere of Forum Przestrzenie
When looking at Krakow from the Wawel Hill there is one building that catches your attention right away – the former Hotel Forum. This brutalist masterpiece was built in the 1980s and back then it was one of the most modern buildings in the city. The enormous structure has been mostly abandoned since 2002 when the hotel was closed due to the damage in the construction made by the proximity of the Vistula river.
Recently the lower part and the surrounding area got the new life when Forum Przestrzenie was opened. To put it simply this is a cultural space with plenty of diverse food options available and it’s easily one of the top alternative spots in Krakow.
In the summertime you can hang out outside, relaxing at one of the loungers and enjoying a beautiful view of the Vistula river and beyond. The place is vibrant until late night hours and it’s one of the best spots to hang out in Krakow, always bustling with people and a great atmosphere.
Admire the 20th-century architecture
If you are interested in 20th-century architecture, especially modernism and postmodern styles, you are in for a treat in Krakow.
When Poland regained its independence in 1918, Krakow became yet again one of the most important cities in the country and therefore developed rapidly with the idea of “Great Krakow”. It was also seen in the architecture. Some of the grand buildings were created then, designed in the popular at that time modernist style.
You can find some of the best examples at Mickiewicz Avenue and Slowacki Avenue, not far from the Old Town. Some of the grandest buildings here include the National Museum, the Jagiellonian Library, or the AGH University of Science and Technology’s main building. Besides buildings of public use also townhouses in the area were designed in the same style, many of them have unique emblems placed above the entrance.
There are modernist buildings also in the Old Town (which needed to be redesigned after the 1850 fire), some of the best are the Main Post Office, the State Agricultural Bank, or the townhouse at 41 Main Square. If you would like to discover more examples of modernism in Krakow check this website (it’s in Polish but you can easily figure out the places).
Explore Nowa Huta district
Nowa Huta is a paradise for everyone who enjoys monumental socialist-realism architecture. The area developed shortly after WW2 when the biggest European steel mill was built here followed by the nearby district. It was a modeled city, designed in the popular at that time socialist-realist style (with a touch of Renaissance), and today it still is considered an architectural masterpiece from that period.
The center of the district is Plac Centralny and that’s where you will find some of the oldest and most impressive buildings (as well as along Aleja Róż – the central avenue of the area). While architecture is the main reason to visit Nowa Huta, it’s not the only one. The district offers more attractions, such as Wanda Mound, Polish Aviation Museum or simply the laid-back atmosphere of the place.
To get to know Nowa Huta better join one of this highly-rated tours:
- Trip Around Nowa Huta
- Nowa Huta Steel Mill Administration Buildings and Shelters with local NGO
- Communism Tour in a Genuine Trabant Automobile
Find great street art
You will find most of the works in hip districts like Kazimierz and Podgorze but these are usually smaller pieces like stencils and a few murals here and there, including some of the world-known artists like Blu. Just wander these districts, curiously looking at the walls around you and you will easily find some of the best pieces of street art in Krakow.
There are some fine works in other parts of the city too, including the Old Town and central Krakow. You can find the map with the locations of the best works of Krakow street art here.
Shop at Stary Kleparz
Stary Kleparz (Old Kleparz) is the oldest continuingly operating market in Krakow, functioning for over 600 years. It’s located just outside of the Old Town, at Rynek Kleparski, and you can easily get there on foot.
You can buy a variety of local products at Stary Kleparz, fresh produce, homemade cheese, mouth-watering fruits and vegetables, and more. The market serves mostly locals in their everyday shopping but tourists are more than welcome to come and enjoy this piece of Krakow too.
Once a month on Sundays Stary Kleparz hosts Art Food & Bazar where local designers, artists, eco-producers, and independent sellers offer their products to buy.
Wander along the Vistula River
The Vistula Embankments is a popular recreational area for locals and a favorite place for a walk for visitors. It’s a perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city yet still be right in the center.
The most popular part is just below Wawel Hill – you can start your walk at Dębnicki Bridge to see the most beautiful vista of Wawel Castle. Along the way, you can stop in one of the restaurants located on the boats.
Relax in one of many cafes
Krakow has a long tradition of coffeehouses, the first one was opened in the 1770s. Since the city was part of the Habsburg Empire (with a very strong cafe culture) its influence affected the local scene too. As a result, for years Krakow has been the top spot for cafes within Poland, some of them serving as iconic cultural institutions (such as Jama Michalika) or important political centers.
Still today Krakow has the best cafe scene in Poland and you can choose from so many wonderful places serving a solid cup of coffee. You will find the best ones in Kazimierz (such as Cytat Cafe or Mleczarnia), Old Town, and Podgorze. There are so many good cafes to choose from that you will easily find your favorite ones when exploring Krakow.
Try delicious Polish food
Polish cuisine is really delicious and it would be a shame if you don’t try it during your trip to Krakow. Fortunately, there are plenty of restaurants serving typical Polish dishes, mostly around the Old Town, that it shouldn’t be difficult to find those. Even if most of the food is made of meat, there should be a few vegetarian options as well, or meat-free versions of popular dishes.
You can also join the highly-rated food tasting tour and learn more about Polish cuisine. Click here for details.
Some of the dishes you should try include żurek (a sour rye soup served with sausage, potatoes and egg), pierogi dumplings, gołabki (cabbage rolls), bigos (with pickled cabbage as the main ingredient), kotlet schabowy (a pork cutlet, kind of like a thicker version of Wiener Schnitzel) and many more.
If you would like to learn how to make the most popular Polish dish – pierogi – join this Traditional Polish Pierogi Cooking Class.
Go for day trips
While Krakow itself is amazing (and this long list of things to do in Krakow can prove that) the surrounding area is pretty interesting too, with a variety of possible day trips from Krakow.
The most popular ones are to Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz Concentration Camp but Krakow’s surroundings offer so much more. You can go to the mountains, visit beautiful cities like Tarnow, Rzeszow or Bielsko-Biala, see smaller towns like Lanckorona or Cieszyn, admire one of the most beautiful castles in Poland – Lancut, go along the trail with impressive ruins of castles from medieval times or visit UNESCO-listed secluded wooden churches.
The options really are endless and it’s up to you how many of these amazing places you will see when visiting Krakow.
Here are some of the recommended tours from Krakow:
- Day Trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Wieliczka Salt Mine from Krakow including Lunch
- Zakopane Day Trip with Hot Springs
- Zakopane and Dunajec River Rafting Tour
- Trail of the Eagles’ Nests Day Tour
- Slovakia Treetop Walk and Zakopane Tour
Final thoughts on visiting Krakow
If you are still wondering if you should visit Krakow I can tell you that yes, certainly you should. I might be a bit biased, given my relationship with the place, but the city is popular for a reason and there is no way all the visitors who fall in love with Krakow can be wrong.
Krakow offers so much that it’s impossible to tell the real highlights of the city, you need to decide on your own what sounds the most appealing to you. And that’s one of the greatest things about the city, the variety of things to do in Krakow and places to enjoy that everyone can easily find something for his or her taste.
Krakow is a perfect option for the city break holidays but it can also be a good starting point during your trip to Poland or around Central Europe. But no matter how long you will stay in Krakow, you are in for a treat!
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