24 Hours in Krakow for Culture Lovers

24-hours-in-krakow-culture

Let me introduce you to your next favourite city: Kraków, Poland. Since the fall of communism, Poland’s become a traveller’s dream. Historical Polish towns and cities await in every corner of the country, but none demands attention more than Kraków, the former royal capital.

For culture lovers Kraków is magical—its architecture and museums will inspire you, its food will fill you, and most of all, its people and their unrelenting hospitality will warm you.

Like a great book, Kraków shouldn’t be glossed over, but if you’re tight on time, steal some of these ideas for your first 24 hours in Kraków:

24 Hours in Krakow: An Itinerary

Rynek Główny (Main Market Square)

Nearly every traveller’s first day in Kraków starts here: Rynek Główny (Main Market Square), the heart of Old Town Kraków. However you choose to arrange your schedule, you’ll end up back at Rynek Główny—whether by design or inadvertently.

Market Square in Krakow, Poland

Start the day off acquiring your morning coffee buzz at one of the many cafés overlooking this massive square. For people watching, this is Kraków’s switchboard; take your time and enjoy watching Kraków’s early morning crew dodge pigeons as they wander across the square.

Cloth Hall in Market Square, Krakow

See that massive hall on Rynek Głowny? That’s Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), a marketplace that’s been rockin’ out mad bargains since the 15th century. Test out your haggling skills (yes, you can still do that outside of the Middle East) to snag some cool Polish souvenirs for your loved ones back home.

Above the “Grand Bazaar” invoking vibe of the lower Cloth Hall sits the Sukiennice Museum, the world’s biggest 19th-century Polish art exhibit. While it might not rival the Louvre, if you have a passing interest in art—or Polish history—you might enjoy a quick browse for minimal 2zł ($0.64) fee.

Polish musicians in Market Square, KrakowTwo other buildings are worth your time in Rynek Główny: St. Mary’s Basilica and Town Hall Tower. Even if you’re “all churched out,” the impressive interior of St. Mary’s Basilica is well worth the 10zł ($3.19) fee. Since the tower at St. Mary’s is currently closed, ascending up Town Hall Tower is your best bet to catch bird’s eye views of Kraków. And at 7zł ($2.23), it’s not exactly a budget killer.

Tower at St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow, Poland

Old Town Kraków

Half of the fun of Kraków is throwing your plans out the window and simply wandering–and there’s no better place to do it than Old Town.

Culture vultures could spend a lifetime randomly uncovering Old Town Kraków’s innumerable charms, whether it’s hunting down architectural genius in medieval squares or drenching yourself in Polish culture at Kraków’s best museums such as the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow or National Museum in Krakow.

Looking into Old Town Krakow from Market Square

Of all of the amazing moments I experienced in Kraków none was more memorable than eating a traditional lunch at Restauracja Kuchnia u Babci Maliny. There’s absolutely zero chance I would have ever found this place on my own, but thanks to a friendly local, we snaked through the courtyard of the Polska Akademia Umiejętności at ulica Sławkowska 17 into a dark basement full of simple wooden dining tables to eat what may have been one of the most filling meals I’d eaten for such little money. Hunt for it and you won’t be disappointed! (If you’re a vegetarian or vegan though I’d give it a miss.)

Wawel Hill

After exploring Old Town, hop a couple blocks south and dazzle at the crown jewels of Wawel Hill, home to the most coveted cultural attractions in Kraków: Wawel Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral.

Wawel!

An entire day—and a big chunk of your daily travel budget—could magically float away perusing the innumerable treasures you’ll discover in Poland’s former royal home. The exhibits on Wawel Hill each command their own price, but if you have to choose, try the Royal Tombs in the Wawel Cathedral (12zł) and the Crown Treasury in Wawel Royal Castle (18zł in high season). Mondays can be hit or miss with opening times, so plan accordingly.

wawel-hill-krakow-poland

Once you’re done exploring Wawel Hill, introduce yourself to Wawel Dragon, a badass (literally) fire-breathing dragon immortalized in bronze in front of his former mythical lair below the northwestern side of the castle walls. Watch your eyebrows!

Kazimierz

Not long ago Kazimierz, Kraków’s historic Jewish quarter, was a no-go zone. Outsiders rarely came, and the odd one that wound up here, would have discovered a dismal place far removed from the ageless beauty of Old Town.

Today, things are different. Kazimierz is on the rise and the district that once scared off all but the bravest souls now attracts them; it’s quickly becoming Kraków’s new hipster hangout.

Start your tour of Kazimierz on ulica Szeroka, the former main drag of Jewish Kraków. Ulica Szeroka is one of Kraków’s most distinctive streets, lined with restaurants and bars and anchored with two major synagogues—Remuh Synagogue and the Old Synagogue—and the Remuh Jewish Cemetery.

2009-03-13 03-16 Krakau 007 Kazimierz, Szeroka

If you’re hungry you could grab a bite at one of the restaurants on ulica Szeroka or wiggle through the alleys of Kazimierz to Restauracja Starka (ul. Jozefa 14) for a taste of traditional Polish cuisine.

When evening slides in, finish off your day by rehydrating with a refreshing piwo at one of Kazimierz’s many pubs. Popular Polish beers include Żywiec, Okocim and Tyskie, but to for a better idea of what Poland’s been brewing up lately retire to Omerta Pub, home of Krakow’s best selection of Polish craft beers.

Comments

    • says

      Thanks, JP! Krakow really is a wonderful city. I’m actually having so many fond memories of it after writing this that I’m finding it hard not to grab a flight over there right now :)

    • says

      Ahh yes, the traditional dress in Poland is quite interesting. It’s not something you spot often other than in the old town (which makes sense because it’s where the tourists congregate). Warsaw has great moments too, but as a cultural city, Krakow is hard to beat!

  1. says

    We really didn’t get along with Krakow when we were there in 2012, but maybe if we return again with some of your suggestions we’ll have a much better time. Thanks for sharing.

    • says

      It would certainly be a difficult city on your current vegan challenge, Dale! I’m a little surprised that you didn’t like Krakow, but I can totally understand. I feel the same way about Budapest: people are always raving about how awesome it is, but I just never connected with it. Really feel like I need to give the poor ol’ gal another chance!

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