Once Poland’s capital, Krakow is dressed in medieval architecture with a regal flair. Picture well-preserved castles, beautiful basilicas and bustling market squares. But, although it’s rich history is well known, there’s more than meets the eye in Krakow.
With a sprawling underground city in the Salt Mines, an undeniably beautiful natural park nearby and modern art galleries, Krakow is a great destination to visit for a short city break, or as part of a wider tour across Eastern Europe.
Krakow at a glance
Often thought of as a charming winter location, Poland is actually brimming with culture. With art galleries, festivals, street markets and unique attractions, this cultural city is a great place to visit all year round.
This guide will help you find out what Krakow is all about. Read on to discover its historic and religious monuments, shopping and art districts as well as its tantalising nightlife.
Travel advice when visiting Krakow
According to Gov.uk, the crime in Poland is not that extensive, but there have been reports of petty theft. This is why insurance is recommended to cover you if anything were to happen while you’re away.
Like most cities, there are higher risks of theft and pickpockets in the main tourist areas, so be vigilant around transport areas including at Krakow railway station.
Official taxis can be identified by their logo or company name and telephone number displayed on the side and top of the vehicle. Only use these as unregulated taxis commonly overcharge.
When you’re out at night, ensure you double check your bill when buying drinks in bars as overcharging has been known to happen.
The historic centre of Krakow is quite small so it’s easy to navigate around on foot. There are some streets in the centre of Krakow, such as the cultural Floriańska, which are completely pedestrianised.
With defined cycle lanes, Krakow is a great place to explore on a bike. Around the city are KMK Bikes which you can rent for a maximum of 12 hours at a time. Simply register online and pay at the bike station.
But, if you don’t want to walk or bike outside of the centre there are other modes of transport you can take. Trams and buses run regularly throughout the day with a less-frequent service running throughout the evening.
Your ticket must be validated at the start of your journey on public transport. Failure to do so could result in a hefty on the spot fine.
Local taxis and the internationally popular Uber also operates in Krakow and is actually where the European base for the company is. If you’re unaware of Uber, it’s a one-tap app that you download to your phone to book taxi transport. As it’s all on your phone, you don’t need to carry cash with you.
Average accommodation costs
Depending on your budget, the typical accommodation costs around £85 per night for two people.
Popular attractions in Krakow
Brimming with interesting historic sites, Krakow is a great place to explore. Here are three of the best things you won’t want to miss.
1. Wawel Castle
The Wawel Castle is a symbol of the city and with its several showrooms and exhibits, it has become a real cultural hub for visitors. Take time to stroll around the castle grounds to admire the Renaissance architecture.
You could visit the preserved Crown Treasury and Armoury which displays 13th-century weapons including the famous Jagged Sword or the lavishly decorated State Rooms and Royal Private Apartments. In the Exhibition of Oriental Art, you can see an impressive collection of 17th-century Turkish weaponry which was picked up after the great Battle of Vienna. There is lots to see in the Wawel Castle collection. Spend all day here to see the interesting artefacts and hear about ancient legends of dragons.
Built in the 15th century, the Barbican is a well-preserved medieval gate that was once part of a wider defence system that enclosed the city along with a 30-metre wide moat.
Situated in the north of the city, the Barbican often hosts events such as jousting tournaments, medieval showcases with dancing and reenactments of battles. With seven turrets, archy lookout points and a classic Gothic style, the Barbican is a real sight to behold.
3. St Mary’s Basilica
Built in an eye-catching red brick, opposite Cloth Hall, St Mary’s Basilica, with its two uneven towers, is unmissable. In the warmer months, you can climb the 80 metres to the top of the tower for exceptional views across the city.
The basilica you see today was built in 1320, with an opulent wooden interior, blue painted ceilings and stained-glass windows. The carved altar took German craftsman Veit Stoss a colossal 12 years to create starting in 1489. If you catch the basilica at the right time, you’ll hear the bugle call spell out of the tallest tower.
The best things to do in Krakow
Once you’ve admired the beautiful architecture and all the historical monuments, enjoy some of Krakow’s best attractions. Here are just three to add to your itinerary.
Explore the Salt Mine
One of Krakow’s best attractions is the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Approximately 14 miles from the city centre, the UNESCO Salt Mine is an underground maze of winding passageways and chambers, 135 meters below the surface.
Climb down the 800 steps into the excavated mines, some are spectacular with hanging salt crystal chandeliers and the ornate St Kinga’s Chapel, all carved out of salt. There’s even a reflective underground lake and salt statues to admire. As temperatures can drop dramatically, it’s recommended to bring warm clothing with you when you explore.
Purchase amber in Cloth Hall
Cloth Hall market, opposite St. Mary’s Basilica is where you can pick up something unique. Through the Renaissance-style building, Cloth Hall Market is one of the oldest market places in the world with trading dating back to the 1300s. Inside you can purchase everything from sheepskin rugs, wood carvings, lacework and woven fabrics. Enjoy browsing the stalls and see the collection of Amber stone available in jewellery and trinkets. Transported from the Baltic Sea, higher-priced amber can be found in jewellers along Florianska Street.
Relax in Market Square
You’ll more than likely gravitate towards the historic centre of the city, mainly for its cultural sights but also because it’s one of the largest medieval squares in Europe, spanning 200 metres.
Buzzing with activity, enjoy the hubbub of shops, restaurants, bars and museums. Settle yourself down in a cafe and enjoy people-watching while taking in the grandeur of the square. You’ll find that regular events take place in this square throughout the year so you may stumble across something great. The famous Christmas Crib Competition is rooted in tradition. Colourful by design, handmade models of castles, cathedrals, dollhouses and cribs are paraded through the square. The first official competition happened in 1937 and it is a real sight to be seen.
Excursions and tours in Krakow
Although there is a lot to do in Krakow that will certainly create an exciting itinerary, there are some great excursions you can take. If you would like to explore more of Poland’s history and exciting cities, taking an excursion from Krakow is easy to do.
Around an hour and a half’s drive away from the city centre, pay your respects at the memorial and museum, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Established by the Germans in 1940, learn more about the horrific destruction and genocide of minorities and European Jewish people that followed. A guided tour is recommended for details about this Nazi concentration camp and to hear more about the extreme darkness of the Holocaust.
If you’re in Krakow for an extended period of time, you may want to take a trip to Poland’s capital, Warsaw, only about a two-and-a-half-hour train ride away. Explore Warsaw’s UNESCO Old Town, museums, including the notable Warsaw Uprising Museum and the legendary museum about composer Frédéric Chopin. There’s even a chocolate factory you can tour and attractions in honour of Marie Curie.
Food and drink in Krakow
With Poland’s rich culture, there are many local dishes and drinks to try while you’re in Krakow.
Oscypek is easily identifiable for its beautiful, patterned exterior and spindle or cylinder shape. Made from at least 60% sheep’s milk, this cheese is shaped by hand and put into wooden moulds before it’s smoked either with pine or spruce wood. It’s traditionally eaten raw or fried but it does make a nice addition to a pasta dish.
As well as coffee and black tea, herbal tea with sugar or a slice of lemon is a popular drink to have throughout the day. Compote is another soft drink offered. This sweet drink is made from apples, cherries, pears and berries mixed with sugar and spices. It’s customary to drink a dried fruit version during Christmas Eve traditions.
Served up in most bars and restaurants, it’s well known that vodka is a popular alcoholic beverage in Poland. Interestingly, you can try flavoured variations of this drink in Krakow. Different flavours include juniper, pepper, plum and cherry. Vodka is traditionally served in a short glass with no ice.
With large portions of rich soups, freshly-baked poppy seed bagels and sauerkraut stews, enjoy traditional dishes in the many restaurants and cafes dotted around the historical centre.
Whether you want a casual drink or to dance the night away, Krakow is a great place to do both. With outdoor seating lining the main Market Square and Bohemian bars in Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, there are plenty of opportunities to relax as the day draws to a close.
Bustling Florianska Street is where you’ll find most of the vibrant activity both day and night. Enjoy jazz clubs, cocktail bars, live music venues and light-up dance floors. There are plenty of bars in this area, so you’re well set for a night out on the town if you wish to venture out.
Shopping in Krakow
With both traditional and arty outlets; Krakow is a great place for a spot of shopping. It’s the type of city where you can pick up antiques and artwork one morning and hip handmade clothing and local confectionary the next.
Interestingly, ceramics are a part of Krakow’s heritage with regional patterns decorating bowls, teapots and pouring jugs. You’ll be able to purchase an authentic collection within the Jewish District around Joseph Street.
It’s good to note that across the whole of Poland, most shops are unable to trade and will be closed on Sundays. Pharmacies, petrol stations and bakeries should open as normal throughout the week.
Krakow culture and art
A city that has been shaped by its history, Krakow has a unique culture that’s worth exploring. Find out more in the city’s fantastic array of museums and galleries.
One of the most memorable museums you’ll enjoy is The Stained Glass Museum in the west of the city. Over 200 stained glass windows are strung up over panes so the light can pass through them in a mirage of colours. The museum also has a workshop where you can see how stained glass windows are curated. This working stained glass studio has been open since 1902. Visit to find out more about the history of this beautiful art form.
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK) is worth exploring for its modern collection of art installations. Shining a light on Polish and international artists, the museum holds fantastic touring exhibits as well as having a large permanent collection of paintings, and displays.
Outdoor adventure in Krakow
Around a 20-minute drive in the west of the city is the stunning Zakrzowek Quarry. This limestone reservoir has enticing blue waters at the bottom of sheer rugged cliffs. Varying in depth, you can swim here in the warmer months but do take care if you would like to take a dip.
Set in lush woodland, stroll around the perimeter to enjoy the vast countryside and a bit of peace away from the historic centre.
With world-famous monuments and historical sites, there’s a lot to fill up your trip with. But, Krakow is much more than its visitor hotspots. Check out these top three hidden gems.
Ojców National Park
Just a short drive from Krakow is the sprawling Ojców National Park. With an abundance of nature consisting of over 1000 plant species, the greenery slopes through Jura Upland. One of the most iconic sights within the park is the Hercules Club rock formation, which stands at 25 metres tall. Throughout are around 400 natural caves which are all waiting to be discovered. There are also two castles, one of which is a 14th century Renaissance palace. With such interesting things to see and explore, this park makes for a great day out.
Visit Tytano for food and drink
Hidden away in an old Tobacco Factory, Tytano is a myriad of restaurants and nightlife. Each building has high ceilings, flashy neon lights and authentic food and drink. With outdoor seating in the summer and twinkling string lights in the courtyard, you can enjoy the unique rustic setting.
Explore colourful Kazimierz
Take a wander around the creative district of Kazimierz to discover colourful, political and creative street art. Due to a city-wide project titled, the 101 Murals for Krakow, you’ll find innovative art dotted around the city. In Kazimierz, see huge murals covering the side of buildings such as the artwork on Józefa 17. This is a collection of paintings from historical figures.
Another famous mural is Jadha which was painted by Israel artist Pil Peled and is said to represent strength. The Ding Dong Dumb on Piwna 3A is across the Father Bernatka Bridge and worth viewing for its controversial comment on religion.
Best times to go to Krakow
Krakow has a cool climate and is generally jacket weather between Spring and Autumn. Temperatures rise to highs of 20°C in June and July and drop to lows of -10°C in the winter. But, don’t let the colder conditions put you off. Krakow is used to the cold climate so attractions stay open all year. Christmas markets and snow-covered streets bring in crowds during winter.
If you’re planning on visiting Krakow, this guide should give you the inspiration you need to visit some of Krakow’s best sites and attractions.
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