Krakow is a city steeped in medieval and Jewish history. The city has some of the most stunning architecture in Europe, with its cathedrals, old salt mines, and castles, and cobbled streets. Krakow is a cheap city to visit, with many restaurants and bars serving delicious food and drink at amazing prices. Your budget will go further in Krakow than most of Europe’s other top cities. And there are fewer tourists too. The city looks as beautiful in the winter snow as it does in the summer sun, so the problem is not deciding whether to go or not, it’s deciding what time of year to go! If you’re looking for a short break for the whole family or a romantic getaway with a partner, look no further than Krakow, it’s a must to add to your list of places to visit.
I love Krakow, for the fantastic architecture and fascinating history, (Although the cheap booze is a good bonus too).
If you are planning a visit to Krakow, here are some of the best things to do in the city.
1. The main market square and Cloth Hall.
Kraków square is one of the largest in Europe and is surrounded by stunning architecture, cobbled streets, and vibrant bars, restaurants, and cafes. I love to sit outside one of the local cafes with a fresh coffee and a delicious Polish bagel and just enjoy people watching.
The main attraction here in the square is the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). It’s considered to be the world’s oldest shopping mall. Here you will be able to find stalls selling polish souvenirs, sheepskin rugs, and countless other goods. It’s the perfect place to buy a souvenir to take home.
Moreover, visit St Mary’s Basilica church while you are in this area. Built-in the 14th century this piece of gothic architecture is as stunning inside as it is outside. The church is situated just off the main square and stands at 80 meters tall.
2. Take a tour of the Jewish quarter (Kazimierz)
There are many guides in the city offering tours of the Jewish quarter, the former world war two ghetto area. This 2-3 hour walking tour of Kazimierz is most famous around the world now for the setting of the Steven Spielberg film Schindler’s list. You will visit Oskar Schindler’s factory. Oskar Schindler was a member of the German Nazi party, but he was said to have saved over 1000 Jews during the holocaust by employing them in his factory. The Jewish community once thrived in this area of the city. Sadly, after the Second World War, this area became run down. But since the film Schindler’s list was released, the tourists started to flock here, and this, in turn, created chances for the new businesses to open up to cater to the tourists. The tour
Around the Jewish Quarters is a real lesson in Polish and Jewish history, and I recommend it for anybody who likes history and stories about world war 2.
The main square in Kazimierz is also lined with bars selling cheap beer, and cafes, as well as food stalls, great street art, and buzzing nightlife. Some of the best food in the city can be found in the Kazimierz region.
3. Schindler’s Factory
Oskar Schindler was responsible for saving 1000’s of innocent Jewish lives during world war 2. Although he was a member of the Nazi party, he was considered a hero by many. His enamel factory was located in Krakow and is now home to two museums. The museums are a must-visit during your time in Krakow, they offer a sad and at times terrifying, but fascinating insight into the city’s darker times during world war 2, you simply won’t regret coming here.
I always recommend booking online to avoid disappointment.
4. The Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour
Just 20 minutes outside the city, you will find The Wieliczka Salt Mine, a huge underground world that stretches to a depth of 327 meters, with passageways and chambers, reaches approximately 178 miles long. Salt has been mined here since the 13th century, and, although the majority of the mining stopped in 1996, it is now one of Poland’s biggest tourist attractions.
Inside you will see statues and chandeliers made entirely of salt, a magnificent salt sculpture of Leonardo de Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper and St Kinga’s chapel, and a massive underground lake.
The easiest way to get to the Wieliczka salt mine is to take the train or bus. Check the website Get Your Guide for further information, including opening times, latest prices, and to book.
5. The nightlife
Kraków is one of the best places for nightlife I have experienced in Europe. The city is a college town so there’s lots of young people around and bars that cater to them. Everybody is out for a good time and this seems to create a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere, so don’t be afraid to talk to the locals.
The city has the highest density of bars in the world, from cellar bars to rooftop bars, stretching from the main square to Kazimierz. My advice would be to do a pub crawl, a properly organized one through guides based around the city, their knowledge of the best bars and clubs is second to none. Avoid the strip clubs though, these just seem to rip off the tourists and feel quite intimidating. And if you happen to love vodka, (I don’t) then why not try one of the private vodka tasting tours! They love vodka here, and you can even find it mixed with things like horseradish in some bars.
Auschwitz was a concentration and extermination camp set up and run by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during the second world war between 1941-1945. Over 1 million men, women, and children, with the vast majority Jewish, lost their lives here. Auschwitz used to be made up of 3 large camps, and 3 smaller ones but today it’s just a museum and memorial to all those who died during the holocaust.
During the tour, you gain a sense of the living conditions the prisoners had to deal with, including the extremely cramped bunk beds they were forced to sleep on.
The best way to visit is to book a guided tour from Krakow through Get Your Guide, this way you get door to door pick up, and generally makes the whole thing easier and less stressful. Visit the website for all tour types, times, and prices. Allow a whole day although the tour itself only lasts a few hours.
I always use Get Your Guide for my tours when I visit places simply because their knowledge is second to none, and any tour is delivered with passion. It’s my ultimate travel companion.
The tour itself left me feeling sad, but it’s also one of the most unique places I have visited.
A couple of things to remember when you are there are
- Be respectful, remember, this is a place of utter tragedy, so this is the number one rule
- Photos and videos are allowed in certain areas (your guide will tell you more)
- Bring a jacket, most of the tour is outdoors and in winter months it can be very cold.
7. Wawel Castle
The Wawel castle is a residence located in central Krakow, and one of the main attractions in the city. The castle used to be home to the polish kings while Krakow was the capital. The original building is over 1000 years old but parts have been rebuilt due to things like fire. It’s one of Poland’s biggest castles and the best place to learn about Poland’s long and interesting history, and with over 70 exhibition hall’s including military collections and famous paintings, and many others, it’s certainly worth a visit while you are here in the city, especially if you’re a history fanatic. You can walk around it for free without a tour guide which I would recommend if your budget is tight, (which mine was), or if you are after a more in-depth and thorough tour you can pay for a guide.
8. Kościuszko mound
Located just 3 kilometers from the city center is Kosciuszko’s Mound, an artificial mound erected in memory of polish national leader Tadeusz Kosciuszko between 1820 and 1823. Trek the 34 meters to reach the top and you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Krakow. The hike to the top is a little steep but not difficult, with plenty of rest spots on the way, and the views when you reach the top are well worth it. Included in the admission price is the entrance to the fort which is right next to the mound.
When is the best time to visit Krakow?
The best time to visit Krakow is in the summertime especially if you don’t like the cold, but avoid July and August if you like things a little quieter. It gets hot in Krakow in the summer but it can have frequent rainfall too, so take a waterproof jacket.
Krakow is cold in the winter, but it does have a lovely Christmas market and it’s far less busy than the summer months, just make sure you pack your warmer gear.