Let me introduce you to your next favourite Central European city: Kraków, Poland. Since the fall of communism, Poland’s become a traveller’s dream. Historical Polish towns and cities await around every corner of the country, but none demands your attention more than Kraków, the former royal capital of Poland.
For culture lovers Kraków is magical: Its architecture and museums will inspire you, its food will fill you, and, most of all, the hospitality of its people will warm you.
Like a great book, Kraków shouldn’t be glossed over, but if you don’t have the time to take in the city (and some of the best day trips from Krakow) fully, steal some of these ideas for your first 24 hours in Kraków…
Table of Contents
- Planning out your first 24 hours in Krakow? Get started with this 1-day itinerary…
- Where to stay in Krakow
- Recommended Krakow day tours
- Getting to Krakow
- Want to see more of Krakow in 24 hours? Apply these 1-day itinerary tweaks…
- Finished your one day in Krakow? Here’s where to go next…
Planning out your first 24 hours in Krakow? Get started with this 1-day itinerary…
Rynek Główny (Main Market Square)
Nearly every traveller’s first day in Kraków starts in 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.
Start the day off grabbing 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.
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” 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.
Two other major Krakow attractions 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.
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. (Even if visiting during the Polish tourism high season means you won’t exactly be alone).
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, boredom is impossible in Old Town Krakow.
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! (The heavily meat-based servings might not appeal to vegetarians or vegans, though.)
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.
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!
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 and one of the coolest things to do in Krakow!
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.
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.
Where to stay in Krakow
Even with the size of the city, figuring out where to stay in Krakow is hardly as difficult as in other Central European cities like Berlin or Prague. And if you’re only spending one day in Krakow, the answer is even simpler.
On this Krakow itinerary, you’ll probably spend most of your time in and around Old Town, so it’s a good place to start looking for your Krakow accommodations. Just be aware: Krakow (and especially Old Town) is popular. Book ahead several weeks/months if you can! Here are a few hotel recommendations:
- Aparthotel Stare Miasto: A great choice in Old Town Krakow. Rooms here are infused with modern Polish charm and are budget-friendly considering the excellent location.
- Expedia | Hotels.com | Booking.com | Agoda
- INX Design Hotel: A brand-new boutique hotel situated on a main drag in Kazimierz. Colourful artistic designs spread throughout the property create an ambiance unlike any other hotel in Krakow. The outdoor terrace serves up spectacular views of Kazimierz and Old Town.
- Expedia | Hotels.com | Booking.com | Agoda
- Hotel Copernicus: Enjoy classic Central European grace at this delightful 5-star hotel just steps from Wawel Castle. The sauna and swimming pool, hidden in the Renaissance era building’s cellar, feels like a royal escape.
- Expedia | Hotels.com | Booking.com | Agoda
Recommended Krakow day tours
Looking to squeeze more out of your Krakow itinerary? Here are a few of the best day tours in Krakow:
- Krakow in One Day Sightseeing Tour: A value-laden 3.5-hour guided tour that takes in all the major tourist attractions of Krakow including Cloth Hall, St. Mary’s Church, Wawel Castle, and Kazimierz.
- Krakow Old Town & Jewish Quarter Walking Tour: A fun-filled 3-hour walking tour covering the sites of Old Town Krakow and the Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz. Tour ends at Wawel Castle where there’s an option to continue on.
- Krakow City Highlights Tour: A private 3.5-hour tour through Old Town, Kazimierz, and Nowa Huta customized to your sightseeing preferences.
Getting to Krakow
By air: Krakow is served by John Paul II International Airport Kraków–Balice (KRK). If this is your first stop on your Poland itinerary, you can find flights to Krakow (both direct and indirect) from most major North American and European cities on airlines like LOT Polish Airlines, RyanAir, and easyJet. More options exist from Warsaw (2.5 hours away by train).
By train: From Warsaw (another interesting Central European city, of course!), you can catch a train that will zip you between central stations in about 2.5 hours. (Double check the schedule or risk getting on a slower local train!) The ticket cost for the Warsaw to Krakow train varies, but booking ahead a few weeks in advance you can find 2nd-class tickets for as low at 49zł for the faster trains. Search for Polish train fares and schedules here.
Already in Central Europe? Here’s how to get to Krakow from other Central European cities:
- Prague: From Prague to Krakow, I’d recommend hopping on a night train, unless you want to waste nearly an entire day in transit. The train leaves Prague at 23:00, arriving in Krakow at 07:00. Prices start from €29 for a couchette to €49 for a 2-bed sleeper. It’s not luxurious, but it’s a time- and money-saver!
- Vienna: Trains from Vienna to Krakow take about 4 hours with prices starting at about €19.
- Berlin: It’s about an 8-hour train ride from Berlin to Krakow. There is a night train that costs about €29. Buses are quicker and cheaper, but less comfortable. You can find fares starting at €18 for the 7 and a half hour journey.
Want to see more of Krakow in 24 hours? Apply these 1-day itinerary tweaks…
- Got some spare time in Kazimierz? Visit Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory featuring a museum outline Krakow’s dark days under Nazi occupation. The factory is also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków.
- Need a little relaxation? Plant yourself in to Planty Park, a relaxing greenspace encircling the entire Old Town where the medieval city walls once stood.
- Love museums? Browse through a millennium of Krakow history at Rynek Underground, a museum set in the underground vaults below Rynek Główny.
Finished your one day in Krakow? Here’s where to go next…
- Warsaw: A quick train ride will zip you along to the big & brash capital of Poland. Get started planning your Warsaw trip with these guide for one day in Warsaw and for things to do in Warsaw.
- Prague: If you loved Krakow, you simply can’t miss out on the opportunity to check out the majestic capital of the Czech Republic. Maximize your time with these ideas of spending one day in Prague.
- Berlin: A trip to Central Europe without visiting the German capital would be a farce. Start tackling one of the most interesting cities in Europe (nay, the world!) with this complete 1-day Berlin itinerary.
- Munich: Whether or not Oktoberfest is rockin’, you’ll get a kick out of the beer gardens and historical prowess of the Bavarian capital. Get some ideas for your trip with this guide on what to do with one day in Munich.