I just had to write a Krakow itinerary, covering the best things to do in Krakow, Poland. Why, you ask? Because this is one amazing city!
Throw away any preconceptions you might have about Eastern Europe. This isn’t some grey, ex-Communist town filled with charmless concrete tower blocks, inhabited only by shuffling old ladies in headscarves – that’s an image of Eastern Europe which is seriously outdated, and completely incorrect. Instead, imagine a vibrant city with Old Town charm, carriages being pulled by trotting horses, and warm, friendly locals. Imagine sitting out in the sun, with a good Polish beer and hearty food. That’s the real Krakow.
But what are the best things to do in Krakow? How long do you need to see all this wonderfulness?
Fear not, intrepid traveler! This handy-dandy Krakow itinerary is going to give you all the info you need! Let’s get started!
Want to get the goss on some seriously useful items to take to Poland? Check out my packing list for backpacking Europe!
What’s the best time to visit Krakow?
Okay, first things first. Before we launch ourselves into the excitement of a Krakow itinerary, like a small child about to zoom down a water slide, we need to consider the best time to visit Krakow. It’s kinda important, y’all.
In a statement which will no doubt cause you zero shock, Poland gets hella cold in winter. Krakow, located reasonably near the Tatra Mountains (the highest part of the Carpathians, fact fans), can go down to a rather chilly 23.2 degrees Fahrenheit in January, its coldest month. Although doing your Christmas shopping and skipping through snowy streets is an undoubtedly attractive prospect, have a serious think on whether you want to deal with those cold mountain winds before you book.
The best time of year to visit Krakow is spring, preferably between May and June. These months generally have lovely weather, longer days than autumn, less crowds, and a cheaper rate in the hotels. I visited in July, and although the weather was absolutely perfect, it’s by far the busiest time of year, and having to push through crowds can diminish your enjoyment of attractions such as the Cloth Hall a tad.
Whichever time of year you choose, check out Wunderground for long-range forecasts on what kind of weather to expect!
How to use this Krakow itinerary
Okay, if you’re still in the planning stage of your Krakow trip, you might not be sure how many days you want to spend in the city. Do you need a three, two, or one day Krakow itinerary?
The good news is that you can use this as anything from a one day itinerary, right up to a four or five day trip planner!
The average visitor will probably spend three days in Krakow, so I’ve divided up all the best things to do in Krakow into that format. Day one and day two are for the city itself, both in the Old Town and the wider area, whilst day three is devoted to day trips – there’s some wonderful excursions on offer in the area, as well as important historical monuments. If you’re looking at having a fairly full-on three days sightseeing, you should be able to squeeze everything in!
If you’re looking at spending four or five days in Krakow (you lucky bunny!), you can use the “day one” etc as a looser guideline. You’ve got extra time: you can take it easy, and explore the best things to do in Krakow in greater depth! You don’t have to do all the sights listed in a single day. You’ll also have time to do all of the day trips, which comes thoroughly recommended from this here traveler.
Only have one day in Krakow? Pick and choose from days one and two. You’ll likely want to stay closer to Krakow Old Town, however, so the day one Krakow itinerary is your friend here!
The best things to do in Krakow!
Now that we’ve got how to use this Krakow itinerary nailed down, let’s get looking at all the exciting stuff you’re going to be doing! There’s sooo many things to do in Krakow – you’re definitely going to make the most of every day you’re there.
Trust me: by the time you’ve seen all of the beautiful sights below, you’ll love Krakow as much as I do!
Day one – things to do in Krakow Old Town
Today is all about Krakow Old Town, the heart of the city – and home to some of its most amazing sights!
Hang out in the main market square
There’s a few lovely little plazas scattered around Krakow (Maly Rynek is another personal fave), but Rynek Glówny is the main market square – and it’s the beating heart of Krakow.
Located right in the center of the Old Town – or Stare Miasto, to give it its proper name – this has been the main square since the 13th century. It’s so awesome, it was once voted the best public space in the world. I mean, think about that for a moment. Out all of the squares, plazas, parks and piazzas, this is the best in the world.
And once you step foot in the square, you’ll see why – it’s surrounded by beautiful architecture, often inhabited by a market selling flowers and toys, and gorgeous horse-drawn carriages ply their trade along the sides.
There’s a number of things to see in Rynek Glówny (which we’ll go in depth on later!), but one of the best is just to stop and watch. Take a perch by the Town Hall Tower (all that remains of the Town Hall), or stand opposite St. Mary’s Basilica on the hour. A bugler climbs the tower and plays a tune which rings out above the city, before giving a cheery wave. It’s basically the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen.
Out of all the wonderful things to do in Krakow, this really is the one that’ll steal your heart!
Feel like royalty at Wawel Royal Castle
Wawel Royal Castle is at the head of the Historic Center of Krakow, a UNESCO World Heritage site – in fact, it was the first UNESCO site in the world. It’s a must for your Krakow itinerary!
All roads in Krakow lead to the Old Town, the roads of which all lead to Wawel Castle, so you certainly won’t have any trouble finding it. If you do, it’s that flippin’ big building on a hillside by the Vistula River – a site which certainly would’ve been easily defensible when this place was built in the 13th century. The historic tradition keeps on; in the summer, you can do a spot of archery at the foot of the castle! But if you’re more interested in seeing the site itself, head up the hill and through the gates.
Even though the castle site is seriously ancient, the buildings are far more modern-looking than the stereotypical castle you’re imagining. But that takes nothing away from their beauty and importance: the structures look almost Italian in a Renaissance style, and they house some of the most important treasures in Polish history.
The star attraction is a sword called Szczerbiec, used in the coronation of Polish monarchs for centuries – aside from its obvious historic value, the hilt is covered in etched magical formulas. It’s probably as close to Excalibur as you’re ever going to get!
Wawel Royal Castle is deserving of its spot on our list of things to do in Krakow, just as much as its status as the first UNESCO site!
See some amazing holy art at Wawel Cathedral
Still in the castle complex? Good stuff, because the next stop on our Krakow itinerary is Wawel Cathedral! As you might’ve guessed, it’s located super-close to Wawel Castle, because monarchs hate walking far or something. Lazy swines.
Unlike the castle, Wawel Cathedral is free entry, though you may have to queue a little in order to get in. The Cathedral is very popular with the locals, partly because Poland tends to be a very church-going nation, and partly because this was the site of the first Mass given by Pope John Paul II, though he hadn’t quite ascended to those heights at that point. He was born Karol Wojtyla in nearby Wadowice, so he was very much a local boy, and he’s still greatly revered in the area.
I was even given a little picture of him by a very kindly shopkeeper when I bought something totally unrelated in his souvenir shop, so be sure to pay the proper respects to his statue located outside!
The Cathedral is understandably unenthusiastic about photography in the building, but you can expect to see a truly gorgeous, compact place of worship. Keep an eye out for some truly beautiful art, not limited to the tombs of an incredible amount of Polish royals, including the brilliantly-named Wladyslaw the Elbow-High. There’s also the sarcophagi of the first Polish saint, St. Stanislaus, as well as St. Hedwig, who was consecrated as a saint by – guess who! – Pope John Paul II.
Wawel Cathedral is actually one of the smallest things to do in Krakow, but it’s well worth a quick trip!
Be awed at St. Mary’s Basilica
I was tempted to put St. Mary’s Basilica at number one on this Krakow itinerary, because it’s quite possibly the most beautiful church I’ve ever been in. And trust me, I’ve been in a lot of churches.
You don’t want to enter through the front doors – these are exclusively reserved for worshipers, as the cathedral is very much in use by the locals (although there’s also regular services in English). Go around the side, and purchase a ticket from the small office opposite the side door, then head in through said entrance. I can guarantee that you’ll take a sharp intake of breath as you enter through the door, because the interior of the building is so awesomely, mind-bogglingly beautiful. It’s genuinely a sight you’ll never forget: if you’re tight on time, this is one of the things to do in Krakow that you just can’t skip.
The most-beloved part of the Cathedral is the altarpiece, a magnificent piece of art which was carved from a lime tree in 1489. It was stolen by the Nazis during World War II and hidden in the depths of Nuremberg Castle, miraculously managing to survive the heavy bombing inflicted on the town. It was restored and returned to Krakow, where its rightfully been cherished ever since!
Oh, and the bugler I mentioned? Want to know why the tune cuts off so suddenly? It’s to commemorate a bugler who was signalling an imminent attack on the city by Mongols back in the 13th century, and who was promptly shot in the throat. You hope he was shot by the enemy, but it’s never made explicitly clear… either way, be sure to give the bugler a wave back!
Get some Krakow souvenirs at the Cloth Hall
Another sight to pop on your “must-do things to do in Krakow” list (which is already getting quite long, am I right?) is the Cloth Hall – trust me, absolutely no Krakow itinerary would be complete without it!
Located in the main market square, the Cloth Hall was – surprise! – built to be a market hall back in the 15th century. It would’ve been quite a sight in its heyday, as it was a bustling center of international trade. Krakow was a major player in the salt trade, which was incredibly important thanks to its use in preserving food, so all kinds of goods would’ve passed through here in exchange. It’s easy to imagine when you step inside, even though the building has been renovated since.
In these here modern times, the Cloth Hall is souvenir central – you can quite easily buy any memento you care to purchase here. Everything from cozy fleece-lined slippers to wooden toys, and from amber jewelry to bright t-shirts is for sale both inside and out: a number of shops ring the outside wall, in addition to the many stalls inside. You might get a little squeezed for space if you’re visiting in the summer, especially around the jewelry stands, as this is probably the busiest spot in the entire city.
If you’re really interested in the history of the building, there’s a museum upstairs, but let’s face it: you can’t go here without picking up a few Krakow souvenirs!
Climb up the Sigismund Bell Tower
It might seem strange to have the Sigismund Bell Tower as a separate entry on this Krakow Itinerary – after all, it’s located in Wawel Cathedral – but it’s so historically significant that it’s totally deserving of its own entry!
Forget Big Ben and the Liberty Bell, for they are mere baby bells (no, not the cheese) in comparison. The Sigismund Bell was cast in 1520, and is one of the symbols of Poland; it’s appeared in artwork, engravings, coins and more. It’s so significant due to its tendency to be rung in moments of national importance, having been sounded during the German invasion of Poland in 1939, various visits by the region’s favorite son Pope John Paul II, and when Poland entered the EU. Generally, whenever anything really good, or really bad, happens.
Otherwise the bell only rings on holy days and national holidays – and given the bell is so large that it once accidentally knocked someone out of a window, that’s probably not such a bad thing. Definitely make the most of the moment if you hear it ringing! It’s quite easy to visit though; simply pop along to the Wawel Cathedral, and get a ticket from the office. Although the Cathedral itself is free, you’ll have to pay a small fee for the bell tower tour.
Seeing the Sigismund Bell should definitely be on your list of things to do in Krakow, even if it isn’t ringing. The scale of it alone will take your breath away!
See a fire-breathing dragon
Yeah, yeah, I can hear you there. “See a dragon? Is this a Krakow itinerary, or a guide to Middle Earth?”
Nope; I can confirm that there are zero hobbits in Krakow, but there is at least one fire-breathing dragon! Pop around the back of Wawel Castle, and you’ll see a statue of a dragon, lurking outside of a cave on the banks of the Vistula River. Wait just a few minutes, and it’ll suddenly breathe a pretty ferocious jet of fire, much to the delight of the parents and children (who climb quite worryingly close to its head). You can actually trigger the flame by sending an SMS text message, which is gosh darned awesome – text “SMOK” to 7168, and he’ll obligingly spit some fire in your direction!
Why’s he here, though? The Wawel Dragon is the most popular of Krakow’s legends – you’ll see cuddly toy dragons and souvenirs everywhere in the city – thanks to a story dating from the 13th century. The cave which lies behind the statue was home to the real dragon, which terrorized Krakow by taking the city’s beloved daughters off for use as evening meals. The King didn’t fancy his own daughter getting chargrilled, so he put out a most desperate plea for help. A local man with casual views on animal abuse filled a sheep with sulfur and left it for the dragon. It got eaten, the dragon was so thirsty that it drank the entire river, and it exploded. The end.
The Wawel Dragon is one of the best things to do in Krakow, if only to remember that poor sheep. RIP, little fella.
Go shopping for amber
As soon as you arrive in the city, you’ll realize that one of the best things to do in Krakow is shopping – the streets of the Old Town are filled with small, interesting stores. Whether you’re searching for clothes, antiques, or souvenirs, you’re bound to find what you need!
However, one of the best things to buy in Krakow is amber. Polish amber has always been highly prized (Poland was one of the major amber trading nations all the way back into ancient times, when amber was exported all the way around the Mediterranean), and Krakow’s position as a major trading city meant that amber never went away. Go into the Cloth Hall in the main market square, and you’ll find a number of stalls selling amber jewelry, surrounded by eager shoppers!
If you can’t hack the crowds, take a walk down Grodzka (in the direction of the castle), and pop into Schubert World of Amber. Part shop, part museum displaying that you can do a heck of a lot more with amber than you ever thought, it’s well worth popping in and treating yourself to a few pieces! Small jewelry bits such as pendants are the most affordable, and you can be guaranteed that both amber and silver settings are completely genuine.
You definitely shouldn’t leave a spot of shopping off your Krakow itinerary!
Sample a chimney cake
Yep, I know that chimney cakes are a strange choice for a Krakow itinerary. Anyone who travels in Central and Eastern Europe will have a complicated relationship with these pesky little cakes!
The conflict has come around because they travel extremely well. Although they’re Romanian/Hungarian in origin, it seems that just about every country in the region either claims them as their own, or completely denies it whilst still producing tons of them. Prague is a particular example of this: cafes and stalls selling chimney cakes are absolutely everywhere, most claiming them as a “traditional Czech cake” – but they’re nothing of the sort. Chimney cakes are popular with tourists, and so they’ve become a “tourist trap” batter-based outcast.
So why am I recommending them as one of the things to do in Krakow? Basically because I’ve sampled many a chimney cake (they might be touristy, but they’re tasty!), and the ones of in Krakow are the best I’ve found. Head to the Chimney Cake Bakery, right up in the north of the Old Town near the Florianska Gate, and I promise you’ll have the best chimney cakes in Europe. They’re massive, incredibly good value, and super, super tasty!!
If you want my recommendation, get the white chocolate and coconut one!
See the Turin Shroud at the Franciscan Cathedral
Crowds at St. Mary’s Basilica getting you down? Or just want to explore more of Krakow’s beautiful churches? Pop the Franciscan Cathedral on your list of things to do in Krakow.
The Franciscans set up shop in Krakow in 1237, having gained permission from the local King, and they modeled their cathedral on one in Viterbo – as you walk around, you’ll realize that it’s in the traditional cross-shape. The nave is gloriously decorated, especially the ceiling in blue and gold, and various artworks catch the eye as you make your way towards the stained glass windows and intricate gold designs at the altar. There’s also the remains of a saint of display, consecrated by – guess who! – Pope John Paul II.
Is you pop into the Chapel of the Passion, you can also have a look at the Turin Shroud! No, not the real one, but an exact copy which is on permanent display. Give it a good examination, because the original isn’t nearly so easy to view (especially if you’re in Krakow, given that the shroud is understandably kept in Turin).
The Franciscan Cathedral isn’t a must-see if you’re short on time, but still a worthy addition to any Krakow itinerary!
See vampires at Rynek Underground Museum
Been strolling around the main market square, and generally adoring the sights? If you’re looking for one of the more unusual things to do in Krakow, how about going underneath it?
Yup, thanks to the Rynek Underground Museum, you can escape the warmth of a summer’s day and explore the city’s history from a unique angle! Buy a timed ticket in advance, as its super-popular and only admits 300 people at a time, but once your allotted slot comes around, you’ll be able to descend underneath the square.
The museum came about because of excavations which took place in 2005. Some work was being done to the Cloth Hall, and a number of ancients items relating to trade turned up – predictably, given that it’s a centuries-old marketplace. But archaeologists can never resist the opportunity to see what else might be floating around, so they had a bit of a dig, and came up with a myriad of amazing finds. Primarily, a number of burials in which the unfortunate occupant’s head had been removed and placed between their feet – people suspected of being vampires.
If that doesn’t put it on your Krakow itinerary, nothing will, but it’s well worth visiting to get a sense of what medieval Krakow looked like! Bear in mind that the touch screens can be a bit erratic, to say the least.
Cuddle bears at Galeria Bukowski
Remember how I mentioned that shopping is one of the best things to do in Krakow? If you like cuddly toys, and cuddly toy animals in particular, then you’ll definitely want to have a look in Galeria Bukowski!
Again, this might not seem an obvious stop on your Krakow itinerary – after all, it’s a toy shop – but it gets an entry on this list because it’s quite possibly the most adorable shop you’ll ever set foot in. Bukowski is a family-run teddy bear company which started up in Stockholm, but which are incredibly popular in Poland and elsewhere in Europe. All of the designs are created by the company’s founder, Barbara Bukowski, and I can happily say that she has a tremendous eye for cute. They’re SO ADORABLE.
Head into the shop located just off the main market square, and you’ll find a store which isn’t big in terms of size, but which is packed to the gills with the softest teddies you’ll ever have the privilege of cuddling. Bears and kittens, puppies and pandas vie for your affections, and the only issue you’ll have is choosing how many you want. Personally, I came out with three. Yup.
It’s also worth including this in your Krakow itinerary just to meet the sweetest shop assistant in the world, who single-handedly runs the shop. She’ll give the toys a brush before popping them in a bag, just to make sure they’re looking at their best, and she’ll love you forever if you pop a few zloty into the charity box, which goes to animal rescue homes in the area. Do it!
Buy fresh candy in the world’s smallest sweet shop
You’ve done a lot of walking whilst following this Krakow itinerary… how about some sugar to perk you back up?
The city is home to the smallest candy factory in the world, and going along to try to some samples is definitely one of the best things to do in Krakow! Head along to Ciuciu Cukier on Grodzka Street, and you can see where they make their tiny, deliciously-flavored candies in a space measuring a mere 50 square meters. They roll out hot, caramelized sugar, adding flavor and color (don’t ask me how they add the tiny pictures on to the candy; that’s pure witchcraft as far as I’m concerned), and are quite happy for you to watch! Shows are on the hour, from 11am to 7pm.
The rest of the shop is devoted to bags of pre-made candy, in just about every flavor you can imagine. Check out their website for the full list, but you can grab flavors as diverse as raspberry and orange, to amaretto and chocolate, to salt and pepper and coffee. I’ve never seen so many different flavors in one place! I went for one which was called “Pure Caramel”, and I can confirm that they were smooth, sugary, and highly addictive! (seriously, give me some more right now.)
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, or know anyone who’d appreciate some truly amazing sweet treats, this has to go on your Krakow itinerary!
Day two – things to do in Krakow
Krakow is so much more than its Old Town – there’s a ton of cool attractions in the neighborhoods just beyond. If you need a 2 day Krakow itinerary, then this is the day you go further afield for some exploration!
Walk around Planty Park
There’s a number of wonderful parks in Krakow (another of which we’ll be visiting later!), but let’s start today with a walk around Planty Park.
Wondering where it is? Well, when you were exploring the Old Town yesterday, you may have noticed that there’s a strip of green land which completely encircles the central district. Ta-da; that’s Planty Park! It might not be wide or vast, but taking a walk in a circuit around the Old Town is one of the best things to do in Krakow in the morning. You really get to see the city wake up, with the roads on the far side humming with commuters, whilst locals walk their dogs.
Grab breakfast in one of the stalls you can find throughout the park – there’s a number which sell fresh bakery products (as well as the aforementioned Chimney Cake Bakery) – or there’s sit-down cafes if you prefer. Keep walking around the park’s length, and you’ll discover a number of statue, including a water fountain devoted to Chopin, and the statue of Jan Matejko which allows you to gain a framed view of the park.
Planty Park is one of my favorite spots in the whole of Krakow, and a perfect place to wake up before a day’s sightseeing!
Learn important history at Oskar Schindler’s Factory
A walk out to Oskar Schindler’s factory is one of the most popular things to do in Krakow – and a must on your Krakow itinerary.
Although Schindler’s story is better known these days thanks to Schindler’s Ark (and its film adaption, Schindler’s List), it’s important to visit here to truly understand and learn about what happened here in World War II. Schindler arrived in Krakow as a fully paid-up member of the Nazi Party, taking over an enamel factory which had been confiscated from its Jewish owners, and inherited a staff of over a thosand Jewish workers. After seeing first hand the horrors inflicted on the Jews, he secretly renounced the Nazis, and did everything in his power to keep his workers safe.
He spent his entire fortune on bribes to the SS, with the sole purpose of keeping his workers safe, and eventually helped them to move with him to the Czech Republic, where they were safe from being sent to concentration camps. He was quoted as saying “I felt that the Jews were being destroyed. I had to help them; there was no choice”. When he died in 1974, he was buried on Mount Zion in Israel, an enormous honor. The factory in Krakow is now converted into a museum recording the efforts of Schindler, and it’s well worth seeing in order to take in the enormity of what he did, and properly pay tribute.
A guided tour is the best way to see the factory, as there’s only a certain amount of tickets available per day – plus you definitely won’t miss any of the history!
Try pierogi at Ariel Jewish Cafe
Pierogi are a Polish specialty, and no trip to Krakow is complete without sampling these little pockets of yumminess! Put these on your Krakow itinerary, because otherwise we’re gonna have words.
You might’ve seen pierogi on a few menus whilst visiting Krakow, and wondered what they are. Wonder no more! They’re a Central and Eastern Europe dumpling, which may have originated in Russia and been brought westwards by the Tatars. If you can compare them to anything, their closest relative is probably something like tortellini. Instead of pasta, a filling is wrapped with noodle dough, and boiled in water until they have achieved peak pierogi deliciousness. You commonly see them offered as lunch, though I find that a large serving shared between two is just about perfect!
My favorite place to try them is Ariel Jewish Cafe, on Szeroka Street – you can get them boiled or fried, depending on your preference, and they’re absolutely delicious! Sitting outside the cafe on a warm day, chatting with the lovely staff and watching the world go by to the distant strains of live klezmer music, is definitely one of my favorite things to do in Krakow. It’s a really friendly place, and they’ll welcome you in with open arms.
Don’t miss pierogi from your Krakow itinerary, even if it’s just as a super-fast snack; they’re scrumptious, and a big favorite in Poland!
Explore the wonderful Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter in the medieval suburb of Kazimierz is quite possibly my favorite area in the city, and a must for any Krakow itinerary! Narrow roads hide many examples of interesting shops, markets, and street art, and the locals are some of the warmest in Krakow.
A guided tour is probably the best way to see it all, as local knowledge is always the best knowledge! You can expect to see sights such as the Old Synagogue and Remuh Synagogue (don’t worry about feeling like you’re ‘invading’ at a place of worship; the staff here are adorably welcoming, no matter if you have a different faith or no religion at all), as well as the get the history of the Jewish Square. You can also see a remainder of the wall of the old Jewish Ghetto – a reminder of the tragic past of this lovely neighborhood.
Also be sure to check out the Popper Synagogue, which was founded in 1495, but the interior of which was utterly destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War. It was so badly damaged that it could no longer function as a synagogue, but the building survived and is currently being used as a very good bookshop. It’s sad to see the building, which was quite obviously designed for a different purpose, but the shop sells Jewish literature and histories and is well worth supporting.
Walking around the Jewish Quarter is one of my favorite things to do in Krakow, and its risen from its tragic past like a phoenix.
See a sobering reminder of the past at Ghetto Heroes Square
For some people with Ghetto Heroes Square on their Krakow itinerary, it can be tempting to see the place as a piece of fun art, or an Instagram destination. That couldn’t be further from the truth: this place was in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto during World War 2, and the chairs reflect a tragic story.
This square was used as the pickup point for Jews being “deported” – as a result, the Jewish families who had been living in the Ghetto would bring their belongings with them, such as tables or chairs, hopeful that they would be able to take them to their new home. Of course, unknown to them, they were about to embark on their final journeys to Auschwitz concentration camp. Items such as furniture had no value to the Nazis, so tables, chairs and wardrobes were left to rot in the square, never reclaimed by their owners.
You can also see the Eagle Pharmacy in the corner of the square. This was the only pharmacy in the Ghetto which was owned by a non-Jew, and was allowed to stay open because the Nazis were terrified of epidemics starting within the tightly-packed area. However, the owner was a total hero, and was smuggling in goods and letting the local resistance use it as a meeting space!
Ghetto Heroes Square might be one of the saddest things to do in Krakow, but it makes a powerful statement about the absence of the furniture’s owners. Even though it might look like a appropriate place to sit down, please don’t sit on the statues, or use them as a photo prop. They deserve much better.
Browse a flea market
Now that you’ve seen the tragic, yet important aspects of the city’s history, it’s time to get back to some more fun things to do in Krakow – namely, shopping!
The market in Plac Nowy was one of my favorite stops on my Krakow itinerary, partly because of a super sweet stallholder who was incredibly concerned about a bite on my arm in case it was a tick (it turned out to be a mosquito bite from a previous stop in Budapest), and who gave me details on almost every pharmacist in the area so I could get it checked. But even that aside, it’s a wonderful place to go browsing, whether you’re interested in antiques, jewelry, knick-knacks or souvenirs!
By the way, you might see a few items on sale in the market which look as though they’re from the Second World War – be aware that the vast majority of these are reproductions. Trust me – I visited here with my boyfriend, who’s actually a historian and a bit of an expert on the subject, and he can spot a reproduction from a mile away! The stall owners aren’t trying to swindle you – if you ask if an item is original, they’ll be totally honest and say no – but we saw quite a few tourists who thought they’d located a bargain. Nope!
There’s also a few places to grab a bite to eat, making Plac Nowy market a great place to stop and watch local life for a while!
Explore ancient mounds
All of these things to do in Krakow seeming a little too urban? Itching to see some green space? Take a look at Google Maps, and you’ll see that Krakow is fairly surrounded by parks and greenland – including four mysterious mounds.
Even more interesting, two of these memorial mounds are absolutely ancient – whereas the other two are much more modern, meaning that the city planners went seriously old school when devising tributes! The two ancient ones are Krakus Mound and Wanda Mound. The former is named after King Krakus, the legendary founder of the city. Remember the story of the Wawel Dragon, with the king who was worried about his daughter being dragon chow? Yup, that’s him. Wanda Mound is supposedly the resting place of his daughter, though neither mound has any evidence of burials.
Of the modern mounds, Kosciuszko Mound was completed in 1823 to honour Tadeusz Kosciuszko. He was a military leader and friend of Thomas Jefferson, who led battles both in Europe and the United States, and became a national hero in multiple countries – not bad going! His mound is the most attractive of all, and offers a lovely view of the surrounding countryside. Pilsudski’s Mound, also known as Freedom Mound, is the most modern, and completes the set.
There’s no need to visit all four mounds, but it’s well worth adding one to your Krakow itinerary – they make great viewpoints, especially on a clear day!
See magnificent flying machines at the Polish Aviation Museum
If you’ve got any sort of interest in planes or gliders, the Polish Aviation Museum is one of the things to do in Krakow that you just have to visit!
I’ve always had a soft spot for old airplanes, mostly thanks to a misspent youth and too many hours playing Knights of the Sky on Amiga, and this is definitely the place to see them. As well as practically every Polish plane developed after 1945, the museum also has 22 very rare WW1 planes which had previously been kept in Berlin. During WW2, the owners were worried that they’d be damaged by the extensive bombing of Berlin, and so had them moved to Poland. After the war ended, Poland politely informed the German owners that they wouldn’t be giving them back, and they’ve stayed here ever since.
The museum is located a few miles outside of the city center, so tram is your best bet for getting here. Simply hop on a number 4, and get off at Muzeum Lotnictwa. From here, it’s just a walk up a nicely wooded road until you reach the museum entrance. Considering that aviation museums are usually a loooong way out of town, this is definitely a great opportunity to see the aircraft close up!
It’s might not be a stop on everyone’s Krakow itinerary, but if it floats your boat, you’re going to love it!
Get cultural at the Museum of Contemporary Art
If planes aren’t your thing, how about a bit of contemporary art, in a setting which reminds you that beauty and community will always triumph over evil?
Scroll back up our list of things to do in Krakow, and you’ll see the Oskar Schindler factory – if both of these sites appeal, then you’re in luck, because the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAK) is located on the same site. Part of the factory was demolished, and so this place has risen like a phoenix. Mostly showing art from the last two decades, this is one of the most popular attractions in Krakow, and it’s easy to see why. Tickets are cheap (and you can also get a combined ticket which includes the Schindler Factory, which is a brilliant idea), and the top floor provides more traditional paintings, whilst downstairs is reserved for the weird and wonderful.
However, the thing I really love about this gallery is that the artworks are explained. I don’t know about you, but I find contemporary art which is so abstract that I can’t understand what it’s about kinda frustrating. Here, there’s a plaque showing the artist’s thoughts and interpretation. Love. It. You might even be lucky enough to meet one of the artists, who are quite often popping in and out, by all accounts!
If you love art, you’ll definitely want this on your Krakow itinerary. Even if contemporary art isn’t usually your thing, give it a try, and prepare to be converted!
Go for a stroll in Jordan Park
Yup, most of the best things to do in Krakow are in the urban areas – it’s true. But if you just want to get out into the green, you can’t do much better than Jordan Park.
The park is named after Dr. Henryk Jordan, who was a pioneer in physical education for children (if you hated having to run around doing sports at school, you’ve probably got him partly to blame). Jordan Park was established in 1889 with the intention of creating a safe, fun space for children to get some exercise, and at its heart, that’s still what it is. Walk though here, and you’ll see football pitches, running and bicycle tracks, and even a small lake for boating. It’s basically designed as a place for small children to run around like maniacs, and it does an excellent job of it!
If that sounds far too energetic, take a walk to the southern side of the park, and you’ll find an avenue of busts. No, not that kind: these are statues honoring some of the greatest names in Polish history, and even if that’s not your specialist subject, it’s interesting to walk up and down the line and read the brief biography you’re given for each one. At the top of the avenue, a memorial to Dr, Jordan has pride of place.
Jordan Park is a short walk westwards out of the city center, and well worth including in your Krakow itinerary. It’s a lovely, peaceful place which is full of life!
Day three – day trips from Krakow
Although there’s plenty of things to do in Krakow in order to keep yourself amused, you really want to add at least one day trip to your Krakow itinerary. The area is responsible for some of the best day trips I’ve been on – ever – and there’s plenty of reputable companies offering day trips from Krakow throughout the city. Fortunately, these same companies offer their trips through GetYourGuide, so you can even book them before you leave home!
Let’s take a look!
Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp
It’s been mooted that day trips to places such as Auschwitz concentration camp are “dark tourism” – an exploitation of places associated with death and suffering. However, I think they’re equally important as places of education: a center where you can learn about a dark time in a country’s history, in humanity’s history, and learn the lessons so that they’re never repeated.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is the most notorious of the concentration camps which were set up by the Nazis throughout Europe (there were an estimated 15,000 camps), because it was also an extermination camp. It wasn’t just Jews who were sent here: the camp also held Polish and Soviet prisoners, Roma, and anyone who didn’t fit in with Nazi ideals. 1.1 million people died on this site. Let that number sink in for a bit.
I don’t need to detail the horrors that occurred here, partly because it’s well-known, and partly because it’s important that go visit the site itself, learn, and witness. Everyone knows that gas chambers were disguised as showers, that crematoriums non-stop, and that prisoners were murdered without thought. But a visit here teaches you the individual stories, and truly opens your eyes, far more than reading statistics or words on a screen can ever do. It might be an upsetting stop on your Krakow itinerary, and one that you might be hesitant to visit, but it’s important. As much as anything, it’s a way to pay tribute to the murdered, by hearing their stories.
Auschwitz is now a state museum, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s by far best seen with a guide, as you’ll be able to gain the proper interpretation, and because the site is so large. GetYourGuide is my preferred day trip organizer; I’ve used them many a time, and they’re always reliable and prompt with customer service. It’s definitely a day trip you’ll want to book in advance, as it becomes understandably busy.
One last thing – be sure to tick off anyone you see treating the camp as a photo opportunity, or taking things they may have found on the ground. The first is incredibly disrespectful, and the second is a criminal offence.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Day trips to salt mines might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world – but you’d be wrong to think that! Wieliczka Salt Mine is legit one of my very favorite things to do in Krakow, and you’ll find yourself breathless at the beauty of that place. No Krakow itinerary is complete without it!
Salt has been processed here since Neolithic times, thanks to super-salty brine water which seeps through the rock (you can actually taste it at one point, and I can confirm that it’s probably the saltiest thing you’ll ever experience, outside of a small child losing a game). In the 13th century, the locals thought “hey, this could be pretty darn profitable; let’s dig into this here rock, nab the salt, and sell it in the Krakow main square”, and it did so well that they were still producing it up until 1996.
You’ll need a guide to enter – wandering aimlessly around a vast mine complex generally doesn’t end well – and having a tour booked in advance means that you get to skip quite a lot of queuing at the entrance. From there, you’ll descend to a depth of 327 meters under the ground, and your guide will walk you through tunnels carved out of salt rock, showing you the methods which were used to mine precious resources. The guides are great: they’re fully aware that mining methods have to be jazzed up a bit in order to be interesting, and you’ll genuinely enjoy their dry commentary! And yes, they’ll let you lick the walls if you really, really want.
However, the highlight is St. Kinga’s Chapel, and I can promise you that it’ll be one of your favorite items on your entire Krakow itinerary. It’s an underground church, carved completely from salt. There’s reproductions of The Last Supper made of salt. A statue of John Paul II is carved from salt. Even the chandeliers are made from salt. It’s absolutely spellbinding, and completely worth the trip in its own right!
We’ve come to the last entry on our Krakow itinerary – but a day trip to Zakopane just might be the perfect way to sum up the outstanding beauty of this region!
Zakopane is a mountain town about two hours from Krakow, and it’s located right on the border with Slovakia, in the Tatra Mountains. It’s an incredibly beautiful part of the world; think of every cozy, snowy Christmas mountain scene you’ve ever spied on a greetings card, and then amp it up to 100. Log cabins dot the landscape, and skiing facilities and pine trees cover the mountains.
Don’t worry though! Although the town is fully geared up for winter visitors, with facilities for skiing, snowboarding, climbing, and sleigh rides, there’s plenty to do if you’re visiting in summer (or just not keen on risking anything winter sports-y). The main street of Krupówki is filled with shops and restaurants, and also hosts a huge number of market stalls near the funicular, selling leather goods, cozy fleece slippers, and carved wooden toys!
Head up the hill on the funicular, and you’ll not only get some stunning views over the valley, but you’ll be deposited in a veritable crafts and souvenir wonderland. Pony rides and hair braiding are available for the little’uns, whilst stalls sell the ubiquitous fleece and leather goods, including some incredibly well-made woolen sweaters. You can also sample a local specialty, where potatoes are grilled on a skewer, cut so they open out into a spiral, then flavored with spices – they’re absolutely delicious! OMG. Go for the bacon ones.
A trip to Zakopane will definitely be one of your favorite things to do in Krakow… and it’s a memory that’ll last forever.
Where to stay in Krakow
So, we have our Krakow itinerary! You’re now completely prepared to make the most of your Poland travel, and see the best things to do in Krakow. You’re going to have such an amazing time, and realize what a completely underrated country Poland is. Trust me, you’ll fall in love with this incredible place!
But wait! Now that you’ve seen all the awesome stuff Krakow has to offer, and you’re all “heck yeah, I want to go there!”, we need to find you somewhere to stay! I’m not just going to show you all this cool stuff and then abandon you when it comes to hotels; I’m not like that. We’re practically BFFs now!
So, let’s have a look at some options which might appeal to you, whatever your budget may be!
Lemon Tree Hostel: If you’re looking for super-cheap accommodation right in the city center, you can’t go wrong with this highly-rated hostel! Perfect for solo backpackers, the gender-separated dormitories are comfortable, clean, and efficient, with free WiFi and a host of facilities to help make your stay as good as possible! Close to all the best things to do in Krakow, and owned by a lovely lady who’ll do everything in her power to make your stay a happy one, this is a great choice for bargain hunters who want to be in the thick of it all.
One World Hostel: This place has so many advantages for the budget traveler. Close to everything on your Krakow itinerary, it’s a stone’s throw from the central train station (with direct links to the airport) and the sights of the Old Town. There’s a Carrefour supermarket nearby for groceries, and the rooms are bright and clean, with an emphasis on providing a safe and friendly place for people to stay. Rooms have excellent security, and there’s a good choice of dormitory, with everything from 12 to 4 people occupancy!
Metropolo by Golden Tulip Krakow: Happy to take some tram journeys during your stay? If so (and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be), grab this absolute bargain! Because the Metropolo is a little further out, though with the city center easily accessible by tram, you can get a sumptuous King room for not much more than you’d pay for a hostel. No, seriously. The rooms are large, clean and luxurious, and the hotel is absolutely devoted to helping its guests – they’re even pet friendly! If you want a sparkling, new hotel, which even has a sauna at your disposal, this is the place!
Aparthotel Basztowa: If you’re looking for an apartment at a budget price, with all the facilities of a hotel on hand, then you can’t go wrong with Aparthotel Basztowa! Situated right at the top of the Old Town, near to the station and all the facilities you’ll need, you pick up your keys from the reception of the Hotel Polonia next door. This means that you can use all the services of the hotel, such as bag storage and reception, without having to pay their prices! Rooms are basic, but have absolutely everything you’ll need.
Aparthotel Betmanowska: This aparthotel is my kind of place. It’s right in the middle of the city near the Cloth Hall, allowing you to tick all the boxes of your Krakow itinerary with ease. It’s adults only, meaning that you can sleep in without the pitter-patter of tiny elephants. And it’s beautifully decorated, with those little luxury touches you’ve always wanted – bathtubs overlooking a city view? Yes please! Air conditioning, WiFi, and coffee machines are also at your disposal in this modern dream of a hotel!
Mondrian Luxury Suites: Click the link here, and have a look at that review score. See it? Have you ever seen a score as high as that? No, me neither, and I think that says everything you need to know about the Mondrian Luxury Suites! The owner is absolutely dedicated to making sure you have a perfect trip – he’ll even sit with you, and help you plan out things to do in Krakow – and the building itself is absolutely brimming with facilities and luxury touches. If you’ve ever wanted your own posh city apartment, you’ve got to go here!
Hotel Unicus Palace: When this place says it’s a palace, it ain’t kidding. 5-star rated? Check. Large, deluxe rooms? Check. Surfaces so clean you could eat off them? Check? Friendly, super-helpful staff? Check? Indoor swimming pool, hammam, and fitness center? Check. All of this in the city center, a stone’s throw from all the very best things to do in Krakow? Check, check and check. This really is the place to go if you want to feel like royalty – and if you want to be treated like it, too!
Hotel Copernicus: Okay guys – sometimes, only the very best hotel in Krakow will do. You need the very best place is town to retire to after a full day’s Krakow itinerary, and the Hotel Copernicus is that place. It’s an Old World Renaissance building that you’ll fall in love with from the start; everything has that touch of luxury and class. An indoor swimming pool tends to your fitness needs, and the restaurant is recommended by the Michelin Guide. A marble bathroom is yours, and you can walk barefoot across historic hardwood floors. This is simply the best place to stay in Krakow!
I really hope you’ve enjoyed this Krakow itinerary, and learning about the best things to do in Krakow! Take it from me – you will genuinely, truly fall in love with both Krakow and Poland, and wonder why you didn’t go there sooner. Take the opportunity with both hands, and immerse yourself in one of the best cities in the world!
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