When planning a trip to Europe, the first destinations that come to mind probably include Rome, Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, or any other big city that people tend to visit. Krakow, the second-largest city in Poland, rarely gets mentioned.
Krakow has a bit of everything – beautiful architecture, incredible history, and amazing people and cuisine. Set on the banks of the Vistula river, Krakow looks like it fell out of a Disney movie.
It’s easy to fall in love with and it offers something for anyone. Walk around through its quaint streets and relax, visit incredible sights and museums, experience Slavic nightlife, or seek one of the outdoor adventures.
Besides, it’s the country’s centre for arts and culture with a buzzing community that spends time in numerous bars and coffee places throughout the city.
If that was not enough to convince you to visit Krakow, let’s dive in and explore what exactly the city has to offer.
The first thing you will notice is the incredible architecture. The old city centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its traditional streets combining Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, towers, archways, and cobbled squares.
The heart of Krakow’s Old Town is the main square, Rynek Glowny. It’s actually the largest city square of Medieval origin in Europe. You can spend the whole day (or even two) exploring its many shops, cafés, and fountains. Climb the steps of the 70m tall Town Hall Tower and enjoy the beautiful view of the square and people moving around.
If you’re afraid of heights, don’t feel bad. Simply walk into one of the cafés, grab one of the many great Polish beers, and watch people wandering by.
While you’re at Rynek Glowny peek into St. Mary’s Basilica, home of one of the most famous Medieval masterpieces, the gothic wooden altar by Veit Stoss. The entrance is free, but we would recommend paying for a guided tour as the cathedral is full of incredible history.
Each hour, there is a trumpet call paying homage to the trumpeter who warned the city of the incoming Mongol invasion. It cuts off halfway as the trumpeter was shot through the throat while sounding the alarm.
On the other side of the square, you will find The Krakow Cloth Hall – Sukiennice. It has a covered market underneath and a museum above. It’s the best place to buy original Polish handicrafts for souvenirs.
Don’t be afraid to veer off into numerous side streets and courtyards along the way. The city is a gold mine for unique and compelling places.
Once you’re done with the Old Town, make sure to head to the beautiful Wawel Castle perched just above it. Legend has it that Krakow was founded when a Slavic prince defeated a dragon which dwelled in a cave by the river Vistula. In that place, he founded the city and built the Wawel Castle.
It was home to the kings of Poland till the late 16th century and is one of the largest royal castles in Europe. It offers several museum sections you can visit as well as gardens and the cathedral where Pope John Paul II served mass before he became pope.
Make sure to climb the bell tower for a beautiful view of the town, and to touch the bell to make a wish.
Lastly, check out the famous Wawel Dragon that roars fire every 5 minutes.
Despite its long history, Krakow is most famous for the period around World War II. The city was invaded 5 days after WWII started, and Wawel Castle was the centre of the German General Government. Even during these dark times, there are many great examples of defiance and support among the people.
The most famous is the story of Oskar Schindler. You probably saw the movie masterpiece Schindler’s List, based on the events from this period. He saved more than 1200 Jews from death in the gas chambers.
His old enamelware factory has now been turned into a museum. It gives a fascinating look into Krakow during the occupation while telling the story of his heroism and the people he saved.
Just outside Krakow is the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. It is the concentration camp where more than 1.1 million people lost their lives. 90% of them were Jews. Visiting the place serves to commemorate the many victims of the Nazi regime. The museum contains an extensive collection of personal items that belonged to the victims.
Visiting these two sites will leave a lasting impression that makes you understand how the suffering was real for an immense number of people.
Since you’re planning a trip to Poland, you’ve probably heard of pierogi (filled dumplings). Food holds great importance in Polish families, so traditional recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Each family has its own pierogi recipe that will delight you.
Did you know that bagels were first created in Krakow? They were the original Jewish pastry and they have a medieval predecessor called Obwarzanek Krakowski which is still sold all over the city.
For a truly authentic experience, try eating out at a bar mleczny, a milk bar. Milk bars were originally cheap places subsidized by the government that now offer traditional Polish food at incredibly low prices.
If you’re visiting during colder periods, make sure to try borscht, a nourishing beetroot soup recognizable by its purple colour. If that is not enough to warm you up, Polish vodka will definitely do the trick.
Visiting Stary Kleparz market is a highlight for all foodies. A short walking distance away from the Main Square, the market is the best way to blend in with the locals and do your grocery shopping.
It wouldn’t be fair to talk about Krakow without mention of its raucous nightlife. An over-the-top pub crawl, vodka tastings, microbreweries, underground beer halls, and plenty of disco places are all located at a convenient walking distance.
Start your evening with an original cold brew, and watch your barriers dissolve as you try one of the many Polish vodkas. We’re sure you’ll leave the city with a new favourite vodka flavour.
The most important part of town for all-night drinking is the historic Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz. Pop-up restaurants, artisan beer houses, and plenty of people having fun. The whole neighbourhood has a distinct style you will absolutely fall in love with, and the atmosphere is just incredible. Hop into any place you like as you’re sure to have a fun time.
After everything we mentioned, this comes to mind as one of the most important things on the list. Krakow offers excellent value for money. It’s not an ultra-cheap destination, but considering everything it offers, it’s more than worth it.
Local tours and entrances are considerably cheaper than in other similar European cities, you can find a great meal for less than 10€, and accommodation is diverse and plentiful.
In the last few years, more and more low-cost airlines have added flights to Krakow and nearby cities. Besides that, there is a high-speed train from Warsaw that will get you here in no time.
Krakow is still relatively undiscovered, but it won’t stay that way for long. More and more people are creating unforgettable memories in this historical city every day. Its combination of traditional and modern cuisine, trendy bars, and a vibrant nightlife have all put Krakow on the map. And when you are in Krakow, don’t miss out on our museum. Visit us and have a fantastic time discovering all of the illusions we have here.
More travel information you will find on KAYAK Travel Guide.
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