There’s no better way to kick off your Poland itinerary than with the best things to do in Krakow. From its graceful Old Town to the regal Wawel Hill, the former royal capital of Poland, Krakow possesses a Central European charm that’s rare in cities of its size.
Among the top tourist attractions in Krakow, you’ll discover an almost perfect European city experience. Graceful architecture and cultural attractions from bygone centuries mingle with all the trappings of a bustling modern Polish city.
Not sure what to do in Krakow? Plan the perfect trip with this complete guide to the best places to visit in Krakow, Poland…
Top tourist attractions in Krakow
Rynek Glowny (Main Market Square)
Your first moments while visiting Krakow will usually begin in Old Town. And whether you have 24 hours in Krakow or a week, there’s no better place to start exploring one of the best historic centres in Europe than at the main market square of Krakow’s Old Town, Rynek Glowny.
Krakovians have loved this vast space since the 13th century. It’s one of the largest medieval squares in Europe and has long been the centrepiece of Krakow life. From festivals to holiday markets, Krakow’s culture is always passing through Rynek Glowny.
The square is also dominated by Krakow’s finest architecture. Whirling around Rynek Glowny are elegant townhouses, churches, cafés, and, most obviously, the beautiful and massive Cloth Hall that occupies the centre. Before digging any further into Krakow, take a breather in Rynek Glowny.
Admire the views and dabble in the sights and sounds of this incredible space, dodging pigeons and tourists to snap a picture-perfect classic view of Krakow Old Town.
With a history dating back nearly a thousand years, it’s not hard to imagine why Wawel Cathedral sits among the best things to do in Krakow. Replacing an older church, whose foundations dig back as far as 1020, the current Wawel Cathedral is a magnificent 14th-century specimen that’s one of Poland’s most important historical sites.
Inside, eighteen chapels reign, none more impressive than the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The chapel features a number of Russian wall paintings and a Kazimierz IV’s spectacular marble sarcophagus carved by Veit Stoss, whose famous altarpiece at St. Mary’s Basilica (see below) is a national treasure.
The craziest (or creepiest) feature here is the Royal Crypts below. From 1533 onwards, all the remains of the Polish kings and the other royals have been laid to rest here.
The honour, after Poland dispensed with their monarchy, also extended famous politicians and cultural figures including Adam Mickiewicz. Ironically enough, Poland’s most famous poet was born in Lithuania and never set foot in Krakow until his burial in the Royal Crypts some 35 years after his death.
Wawel Cathedral is open daily from 9:00 to 17:00 except on Sundays when it opens at 12:30.
The deep history of Wawel Castle reaches back even further than the neighbouring cathedral. Over 35 Polish royals, stretching from the beginning to the 14th to the 17th century, called Wawel Castle home. Each pinned their own touches, painting a melange of unique architectural styles on Krakow’s royal castle. Every major European movement—Medieval, Romanesque, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque—features here.
Five major sections comprise Wawel Castle: Crown Treasury & Armory, Oriental Art Gallery, Lost Wawel, State Rooms, and the Royal Private Apartments. Each section requires a separate entrance fee.
All the sections of Wawel Caste are worth visiting, but I’d recommend focusing on the Royal Private Apartments (21-25zł) and Crown Treasury & Armory (16-18zł) if you’re tight for time.
St. Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka)
Besides Cloth Hall, no other building on Rynek Glowny grasps your attention more than St. Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka). Built in the 14th century upon the foundations of a slightly older church, St. Mary’s Basilica is high among must-see Krakow attractions.
While its Brick Gothic exterior captivates, the real treat is on the inside (admission 10zł). Renovations in the 18th century left St. Mary’s Basilica with a late Baroque interior that betrays its façade. From its early years, three beautiful stained glass windows remain.
The true star of St. Mary’s Basilica though is the three-storey Gothic altarpiece by German sculptor Veit Stoss. It took Stoss 12 long years to complete his masterwork. The wooden sculpture, the largest Gothic sculpture in the world, depicts six scenes of the Joys of Mary and, at the center, the death of Mary among the twelves apostles.
Take your time to enjoy the many treasures of St. Mary’s Basilica before heading up the 80m Mariacki Tower (15zł) for big views over Old Town Krakow. The tower is open most days from 9:10 to 17:30 and from 13:00 to 17:30 on Sundays. Mariacki Tower is closed to visitors on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)
At the centre of Rynek Glowny sits Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), a unique 14th-century architectural masterpiece that’s Krakow’s most recognizable feature. Nothing in Central Europe looks quite like it. The Renaissance façade mixed with the neo-Gothic colonnades radiates a flair more akin to Italy than Poland.
The hall was once Krakow’s most important building. Exotic goods from the east—silk, spices, and leather—passed as did Krakow’s own exports, most importantly, salt from the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Today, this beautiful building isn’t of such grand importance. The market arcade of the hall is filled mostly with local handicrafts and trinkets set aside for the legions of tourists passing through Krakow.
Besides the market area, Cloth Hall is home to the 19th Century Polish Gallery and Rynek Underground. For most visitors though, even just a quick coffee at Cafe Szał, set upon a terrace overlooking Rynek Glowny, will make the visit here worthwhile.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Although not technically in the city, no list of things to see in Krakow is complete without Wieliczka Salt Mine. Wandering through the dozens of salt chambers at Wieliczka Salt Mine, located just 10 kilometres from the centre of Krakow, is one of Poland’s most famous experiences and one that any visitor to Krakow should undertake.
The tour of the mine follows one of two paths: the classic tourist route and the miners’ route. Along the more common tourist route, you’ll embark on a 3-hour guided tour that saunters through over 20 salt chambers and chapels. The Chapel of St. Kinga, featuring incredible salt sculptures dedicated to Princess Kinga, is the most impressive on the tour.
Heading off on the miners’ route is a little different. Instead of visiting the mine’s popular tourist sites, this tour puts you in the footsteps of the miners who once extracted “white gold” from these shafts. Grab your work gear and set off to learn how the salt mine operated with this hands-on experience.
Foreigners pay 84zł or 89zł (between April 29 and May 3, and July 1 to August 31) for either the tourist route or the miner’s route. English tours depart every 30 minutes between 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Want fewer hassles? Book yourself on the Wieliczka Salt Mine Guided Tour from Krakow! The tour includes all entrance fees and hotel pick-up for a price that’s not much more than setting off independently.
Along with Old Town, Kazimierz is one of the most interesting quarters of Krakow to explore. For over five hundred years, much of Krakow’s Jewish population called Kazimierz home.
A turbulent 20th century, unfortunately, followed. After Hitler stormed into Krakow, Kazimierz was all but eliminated. Under communist rule, the former Jewish district didn’t fare much better. It fell into a decrepit state and became a veritable no-go zone for travellers.
The post-communist era brought renewed optimism. Not only has much of Kazimierz’s Jewish heritage resurrected, but today Kazimierz is one of Krakow’s best neighbourhoods for hanging out. An invasion of cool restaurants, cafés, and bars pepper the streets of Kazmierz, complementing the historic sites.
Starting along atmospheric Szeroka, set aside time to explore Kazimierz. Besides checking out the array of churches, synagogues (especially the Old Synagogue), and museums, don’t waste the opportunity to grab a bite to eat or a drink.
For a taste of traditional Jewish cuisine, hit up the famous Hamsa (Szeroka 2). Or, for traditional Polish foods with a modern twist, try out the popular Starka Restaurant (Józefa 14).
Want to learn more? I’d recommend hopping on the 3-hour Small-Group Walking Tour of Kazimierz where you’ll be able to dig into the past of Krakow’s former Jewish quarter.
Many recall the story of Oskar Schindler from Steven Spielberg’s epic 1993 movie Schindler’s List. Watch it play out in front of your eyes at Schindler’s Factory, one of the best museums in Krakow.
The museum recounts Schindler’s story and Krakow during WWII in its main exhibition, “Krakow under Nazi Occupation, 1939-1945.” The stories of Krakow’s residents during this painful period in Polish history are relived with the help of genuine artefacts, radio recordings, and film footage within this former enamel factory.
Admission is 21zł for adults and 16zł for those qualifying for a reduced rate. The museum is open between 9:00 and 20:00 most days.
Permanent exhibitions are free on Mondays, but the museum hours are restricted to 10:00-16:00, closing even earlier (14:00) on the first Monday of the month. If you want to visit for free on a Monday, get there early as tickets are limited.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
While many of the top points of interest in Krakow are on the lighter side, there’s one we’d sooner forget. Poland’s scarring twentieth-century experience comes completely to the fore at Auschwitz–Birkenau, two of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps of World War II and one of the top Krakow day trips.
The trip is emotionally draining, but the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is an absolute must-see while visiting Krakow. A sombre atmosphere pervades the entire memorial, stretching across the two sites of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Around the memorial, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the artifacts reminding us of the horrific events of WWII.
Along the way, you’ll encounter both the personal effects of the prisoners and the tools of the guards. What results is an all-too-real reminder of what can happen when unreason rules.
To immerse yourself in the experience, give yourself at least an hour at both Auschwitz I and Birkenau Concentration Camp if travelling independently.
A guided tour, however, penetrates into more depth. English-speaking tours of Auschwitz depart every hour from 9:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. from April 1st to October 31st.
Want to avoid the hassle of public transportation? Grab a spot on an Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Tour from Krakow. The tour visits both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). It includes all entrance fees, hotel pick-up, return transportation, and a knowledgeable guide.
In historical Krakow, you wouldn’t expect a museum as funky as Rynek Underground. Opened in 2010, Rynek Underground hovers upon the recently discovered medieval ruins of Cloth Hall’s predecessor. Their approach to Krakow’s history, however, is hardly ordinary.
Holographic and multimedia exhibits highlight the experience at Rynek Underground. An endless array of presentations paint a strong picture of Krakow from its founding to the present. Even if you’ve only a passing interest in history, don’t leave Krakow without immersing yourself in the Rynek Underground experience.
Tickets run 19zł for adults. Reduced-fee (16zł) and family tickets (38zł) are also available.
Town Hall Tower
Nothing remains of Krakow’s original 14th-century town hall other than Town Hall Tower. Standing 70 metres high beside Cloth Hall, Town Hall Tower offers one of the few vantage points directly overlooking the main market square.
Compared to St. Mary’s Basilica, the views here can be a little underwhelming. There is, however, a small museum that peers ever-so-slightly into the history of the town hall and Krakovian culture.
The best day to visit the tower is on Monday, when admission is free. Otherwise, be prepared to shell out 9zł to enter.
Built upon the site of the now long-gone 13th-century city walls, Planty Park is one of the city’s most loved public spaces. Spending an afternoon wandering among Krakow’s residents in Planty Park is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Planty Park stretches out over 3 kilometres in a horseshoe shape encircling the historic Old Town. The fresh scent of flowers circulates in the air as you wander among the tree-shaded pathways alongside street performers and young couples locking hands in the summer sun.
To truly soak up the experience, punctuate a leisurely stroll in Planty Park with a few breaks at the park benches to people-watch.
Polish Aviation Museum
You don’t have to be a wing-nut to get a kick out of Krakow’s Polish Aviation Museum. Swooping over the entire history of aviation from early 20th-century airplanes to modern fighter jets, the Polish Aviation Museum stretches over four buildings and a tarmac that once formed a Polish air force base.
The main building features an exhibition hall containing a number of smaller planes and flight simulator open to the public. Elsewhere, history buffs will love the Great War Aircraft Exhibition, a WWI-era collection, and the main exhibition hangar, featuring aircraft from up until WWII.
The Polish Aviation Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day except Monday. Regular admission is 15zł (7zł for children and students). Otherwise, pop in on a Tuesday for free entrance.
19th Century Polish Art Gallery
When exploring Cloth Hall, art fans should take note of the 19th Century Polish Art Gallery on the upper floors. The four exhibition rooms cover the work of major Polish artists from, as its name implies, the nineteenth century.
Among the artists represented are Jacek Malczewski, Stanisław Witkiewicz, and Józef Chełmoński. None, however, is more revered in the 19th Century Polish Art Gallery than Jan Matejko. The selection of Matejko’s work here is the most stunning of the bunch and the most popular among Polish art admirers.
Admission to the art gallery is 16zł for adults. Children and students under 26 can enter at a discounted price. The entrance fee also includes access to a balcony overlooking Rynek Glowny.
Best places to stay in Krakow for sightseeing
If sightseeing is your main priority while visiting Krakow, many of the best places to stay in Krakow are found in the areas around Krakow’s Old Town, including Kazimierz. Here are a few hotel ideas to get your Krakow accommodations search started…
- Hotel Legend: A fabulous value-laden 3-star hotel featuring cheery & spacious modern rooms close to the castle area.
- Hotel Polski Pod Białym Orłem: An excellent 4-star hotel offering up elegant rooms with a classic regal Central European charm.
- Hotel Gródek: A boutique hotel in a quiet area located close to Planty Park that features pleasant rooms with classic Central European motifs.
- Hotel Copernicus: One of the best luxury hotels in Krakow, this 5-star hotel occupies a spectacular 14th-century Renaissance building and includes an outdoor terrace with views of Wawel Castle. Head down to the hotel’s ancient cellar to sweat out some pierogi in the sauna or chill out in the atmospheric pool to make your stay here as memorable as possible.