There’s no better place to kick off your Poland itinerary than Krakow. The old royal capital of Poland possesses a Central European charm that few cities its size pull off. Sensing the beauty and grace of Krakow is immediate; a first step into Old Town is never the last. And so the lifetime love affair begins…
Wandering around Krakow represents an almost perfect European experience. Graceful architecture and cultural attractions from bygone centuries mingle with the trappings of a modern Polish city. Every corner presents a new adventure. Whether for your eyes or your taste buds, Krakow’s an assault to the senses. All in a good way, of course.
Whether you’re tackling your first 24 hours in Krakow or have a week to spare, fill up your days with help from this guide to the best things to do in Krakow…
Table of Contents
- What to do in Krakow: The top attractions & best places to visit
- Where to go in Krakow: A summary of the top points of interest
What to do in Krakow: The top attractions & best places to visit
Ever since I first stepped foot into Krakow, I’ve longed for it. There’s something special about Poland’s most popular city for travellers. With fewer tourists than Prague and (for me at least) more interesting than Budapest, Krakow is one of my top picks for the best cities to visit in Central Europe.
Best of all, you’ll never run out of things to do in Krakow. Whether exploring the city’s historic districts, gawking at medieval churches or embarking on a day trip to one of the world’s most infamous (and sombre) sites, Krakow’s gonna keep you on your toes. Get started with these top things to do in Krakow…
First moments in Krakow usually begin in the Old Town. There’s no better place to start exploring one of the best historic centres in Europe than the main square of Krakow’s Old Town, Rynek Glowny.
Krakovians have loved this vast space, one of the largest medieval squares in Europe, since the 13th century. It’s long been the centrepiece of Krakow life. From festivals to holiday markets, Krakow’s culture is always passing through Rynek Glowny.
The square is 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.
Getting to Rynek Glowny
The true centre of Old Town, Rynek Glowny, is one of the easiest places in the city to get to. Arriving from Krakow Glowny, saunter south down Pawia and Westerplatte. Hang a right on Mikołajska. Follow Mikołajska three blocks to reach Rynek Glowny.
With a history dating back nearly a thousand years, it’s not hard to imagine why Wawel Cathedral should feature 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 of Wawel Cathedral are 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.
Getting to Wawel Cathedral
From the centre of town (Rynek Glowny), walk south along Grodzka past the university. At the Church of St. Giles, follow the sidewalk right towards the walls of Wawel Hill. Swinging back along the walls to the right, you should soon find a path that will take you up Wawel Hill and towards Wawel Cathedral.
The deep history of Wawel Castle reaches back even further than neighbouring Wawel 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 require a separate entrance fee. All sections are worth visiting, but I’d recommend, if nothing else, the Royal Private Apartments (21-25zł) and Crown Treasury & Armory (16-18zł).
Getting to Wawel Castle
Simply follow the directions above for Wawel Cathedral. Wawel Castle sits just south of Wawel Cathedral on Wawel Hill. (That’s a lot of Wawels!)
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.
Getting to St. Mary’s Basilica
The beautiful St. Mary’s Basilica occupies the northwest corner of Rynek Glowny. To get there from Krakow Glowny, simply follow Pawia and Westerplatte to Mikołajska. You can’t miss it!
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 Cloth Hall. 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, Cloth Hall 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 though, even just a quick coffee at Cafe Szał, set upon a terrace overlooking Rynek Glowny, will make the visit to Cloth Hall worthwhile.
Getting to Cloth Hall
If you’ve already found Rynek Glowny, you’ll see the Cloth Hall. Simply push into the entrance and enjoy perusing everything it has to offer!
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Although not technically in the city, no list of things to do 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 Wieliczka Salt 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 Wieliczka Salt 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.
Getting to Wieliczka Salt Mine
The small town of Wieliczka lies just 10 kilometres from the centre of Krakow. Trains from Krakow Glowny to Wieliczka Rynek Kopalnia depart regularly and take about 20 minutes. Buses are a little more convenient, leaving for Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli from the bus stops near Galleria Krakowska and Krakow Glowny.
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, the former Jewish district of Kazimierz is Krakow’s most interesting quarter to explore (and one of the best places to stay in Krakow). 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 district didn’t fare much better, falling into a decrepit state and becoming 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 complement the historic sites that pepper the streets of Kazimierz.
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 in Krakow’s coolest district. For a taste of traditional Jewish cuisine in Kazimierz, 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 about Kazimierz? I’d recommend hopping on the 3-hour Small-Group Walking Tour of Kazimierz to dig into the past of Krakow’s former Jewish quarter!
Getting to Kazimierz
Lying just south of Old Town, Kazimierz is an easy walk from many of Krakow’s main tourist attractions. From Rynek Glowny, walk south along Grodzka, shooting past Wawel Hill. Follow the main avenue of Świȩtgo Idzego, Stradomska and Krakowska into Kazimierz.
Many recall story of the 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, a museum recounting both Schindler’s story and Krakow during WWII.
One of the best museums in Poland, Schindler’s Factory is centered upon 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. To give the museum the full attention it deserves, you’ll need at least a couple hours.
Admission to Schindler’s Factory runs 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 on the month. If you want to visit for free on a Monday, get there early as tickets are limited.
Getting to Schindler’s Factory
Schindler’s Factory is located in the industrial district of Podgórze, just south of Kazimierz. To get there, hop on a tram along Starowiślna over the Vistula River to Plac Bohaterów Getta. From here, walk east along ulica Kącik, turning right onto ulica Lipowa after the train overpass. The walk from Plac Bohaterów Getta should take no more than 10 minutes.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
While many things to do 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 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 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.
Getting to Auschwitz-Birkenau
Auschwitz-Birkenau sits in the town of Oswiecim, about an hour outside of Krakow. Both buses and trains leave regularly for Oswiecim from the main train station (Kraków Główny) and bus station. Buses are the more convenient option as they depart more frequently and will drop you off directly at the memorial.
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) includes all entrance fees, hotel pick-up, return transportation and a knowledgable 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 interesting in history, don’t leave Krakow without immersing yourself into the Rynek Underground experience.
Only 30 people are allowed to enter at each time slot, so snag your tickets for Rynek Underground online if you want to guarantee your spot. (Especially during the tourism high season in Poland). Tickets run 19zł for adults with reduced fee (16zł) and family tickets (38zł) also available.
Getting to Rynek Underground
Grab your tickets for Rynek Underground around the southern side of the Cloth Hall. The entrance to the museum is at the opposite side of the Cloth Hall.
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 Rynek Glowny.
Compared to St. Mary’s Basilica, the views at Town Hall Tower 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 Town Hall Tower is on Monday when admission is free. Otherwise be prepared to shell out 9zł to enter.
Getting to Town Hall Tower
Like so many other Krakow attractions, Town Hall Tower rocks out on Rynek Glowny. You can’t miss it, poking above the unmissable Cloth Hall in the centre of the square.
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.
The park stretches out over 3 kilometres in a horseshoe shape that almost completely encircles 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.
Getting to Planty Park
Wherever you find yourself in Old Town, you won’t be far from Planty Park. All the streets pushing east or west out of Rynek Glowny (nearly in the whole of Old Town, actually) lead to the edges of Planty Park. The Kraków Barbican, the only remaining segment of the city walls, sits inside the northernmost section of the park.
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 9am to 5pm every day except Monday. Regular admission is 15zł (7zł for children and students). Otherwise, pop in on a Tuesday for free entrance.
Getting to the Polish Aviation Museum
Sitting about 3 kilometres outside Old Town, the Polish Aviation Museum is a little more difficult to get to compared to other popular Krakow attractions. Taking trams 4, 5, 9, 10, 15, or 40 will get you close to the museum. Otherwise, it’s about a one-hour walk via Mogilska / Jana Pawla II and Markowskiego to the Polish Aviation Museum.
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 small and quiet 19th Century Polish Art Gallery is 16zł for adults with deep discounts for children and students under 26. The entrance fee also includes access to the balcony overlooking Rynek Glowny for some incredible views.
Getting to the 19th Century Polish Art Gallery
To find your Polish art nirvana, find you way into the Cloth Hall on Rynek Glowny. The small 19th Century Polish Art Gallery is on the upper floor.
Where to go in Krakow: A summary of the top points of interest
Still not sure of what to do in Krakow? Here’s a quick summary of our favourite things to do in Krakow:
- Are you a history buff? Besides soaking in the history all around you in Old Town, carve out a couple hours for Rynek Underground and Schindler’s Factory.
- Want to see something out of the ordinary? The nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine isn’t your typical European urban attraction. Visit for a glimpse of the otherworldly.
- Obsessed with World War II history? Don’t miss the chance to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. A visit here is never easy, but necessary for fully understanding the horrors of the era.
- Can’t get enough of art? A visit to the 19th Century Polish Art Gallery should leave you spirited. Definitely don’t miss the incredible Gothic alterpiece at St. Mary’s Basilica or the collections at both Wawel Cathedral and Wawel Castle either.
- Searching for the best food in the city? Head on down to Kazimierz, central Krakow’s coolest neighbourhood, to dig into the local food scene. Don’t leave without tasting some of the district’s famous Jewish cuisine at a popular place like Ariel or Hamsa.