Visiting Krakow, Poland is a trip that embodies the rich history, culture, and culinary traditions of Eastern Europe. While visiting this magical city for the first time, we were entranced by the beauty of its architecture, the warmth of its people, and the coziness of its food.
Holding UNESCO World Heritage status, Krakow is famous for its well-preserved medieval architecture that witnessed significant historical events. As the former capital city of Poland, Krakow served as the royal seat for hundreds of years and was the residence of Polish kings and queens whose legacy can still be seen today in the grand Wawel Castle that dominates the city skyline. Walking through the Old Town streets teleports you back in time, yet the atmosphere, thanks to the large student population and modern hangout spots, is young and vibrant.
One of the main reasons to visit Krakow is to immerse yourself in the rich history. The city played a crucial role as a supply base during World War II, due to which it miraculously became one of the few that escaped the devastation of the war, unlike Warsaw, and features the best preserved Old Town in Poland. There is a reason Krakow’s tagline reads “Magical Krakow” and we think it’s concentrated in the Old Town. That is where we suggest to start getting to know Krakow. Get your map ready and use our recommendations for places to visit in Krakow, attractions, and more!
The Best Places to Visit in Krakow
Rynek Glowny, or the Main Market Square, is the best place to begin your Krakow itinerary. Not only is it one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe that dates back to the 13th century, but it is also considered the heart of the city where main events and festivals happen. If you are lucky, you’ll see the square filled with market stalls, live performances, and horse-drawn chariots providing much amusement.
Here, you will find the monument to the famous Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, and the world’s oldest shopping mall Cloth Hall, which used to offer textiles and spices but is filled with souvenirs and crafts today. And underneath it, there is Rynek Underground, a unique museum of Krakow’s medieval history.
St Mary’s Basilica is the other iconic landmark located in Rynek Glowny. The Gothic church has a special tradition which you should observe from one of the cafes on the square. The tradition is a melody played on a bugle every hour on the hour, except it cuts off abruptly to honor the bugler who was shot by an arrow as he alerted the village of arriving Tatar invaders back in the 13th century. Inside, the church will delight you with breathtaking stained glass windows and an altar. If you climb up the tower, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views over the Market Square.
Royal Wawel Castle
Perched up on a hill, Wawel Castle is the symbol of Krakow, visible from all over the city. As one of the main tourist attractions in Krakow, the castle is a must-see. You’ll get to observe a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture, the opulent Crown Treasury and Armory, the State Rooms, and the Royal Private Residence, which was occupied by the Nazi Governor Hans Frank during WWII. The Wawel Cathedral, located within the castle complex, is where Polish monarchs were crowned and funeral ceremonies were held. And at the bottom of the hill, Wawel Castle is guarded by a dragon. The 20-foot statue breathes fire at regular intervals, but honestly, the legend is much more captivating than the experience itself, which is why joining a walking tour in Krakow is a must!
Kazimierz and Podgorze
We toured this amazing neighborhood during our stay in Krakow. Kazimierz is permeated with the heritage and history of the Jewish population that lived there until they were forced out and moved to a Jewish ghetto in Podgorze across the Vistula River. Wander around the cobblestone streets, pay a visit to Synagogues, and Jewish Cemetery, and learn more about the neighborhood at Galicia Jewish Museum. Today Kazimierz is a lively bohemian neighborhood with cafes, boutiques, and art galleries, and serves as a testament to the resilience of the city and its people.
After wandering around Kazimierz, stroll down to the Vistula River and make your way to Podgorze, a place of devastation during the Nazi occupation and an up-and-coming neighborhood of Krakow today. Pass through Ghetto Heroes Square, by the Empty Chairs Memorial, and the ghetto’s one and only “Under the Eagle Pharmacy”.
Schindler’s Enamel Factory
This museum is one of the most important historical places to visit in Krakow. We visited this place where around 1000 Jewish workers got to escape being sent to the concentration camps thanks to their employment at the factory. Its owner, Oskar Schindler, insisted on keeping his Jewish employees, thereby saving their lives. This story inspired Steven Spielberg to create the famous movie called “The Schindler’s List”, parts of which were filmed here. Today the factory is a museum and goes into detail on the horrific events during the Nazi Occupation.
On our world tour, we’ve come to love visiting art museums and libraries. Can you imagine our excitement when we learned MOCAK has both? MOCAK is one of the most unique places in Krakow, located inside the former halls of the Schindler’s Enamel Factory. It houses thought-provoking and interactive contemporary artwork by local and international artists. And after enjoying the exhibitions, you can visit the café and library situated on the premises. For those craving a quiet place to spend the day or a dose of inspiration, this is it.
Auschwitz Tour from Krakow
If you are searching for day trips from Krakow and have time for just one, make it a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It takes only about an hour to get from Krakow to Auschwitz. You may want to dedicate the day to your visit and to process this somber experience. This place is a former remote Polish town which was turned into the largest Nazi concentration camp during WWII.
Today, it serves as a memorial and a museum. Although the exhibition recites a heartbreaking chapter in Polish history, Auschwitz is among the most important places to visit in Poland. It is not a mere must-see to cross off, but a place to pay respect to everyone who lost their life here and learn so that history is never repeated. We cannot recommend enough that you go with a tour guide to be able to walk away with as much information as possible.
Things to Eat in Krakow
A visit to Krakow, Poland would be incomplete without exploring the culinary scene. Polish cuisine is the ideal comfort food, flavorful and hearty on a chilly day. It has the perfect amount of carbs to reward you for walking all day. We have already sampled Polish dishes during our stay in Warsaw. If you didn’t read that post, here are some must-tries to add to your list. We also had a nice dinner at Fiorentina Italian restaurant with some of our viewers and had a wonderful evening of talking travel and making new friends.
Krakow, Poland is Full of Delicious Food Options
To start your day, have obwarzanki, ring-shaped bread akin to a bagel. We bought them in street food stalls and bakeries, so popular they are on the EU-protected food list. For lunch have the most iconic Polish dish – pierogi. We loved eating the bite-sized dumplings filled with various fillings like meat, cheese, or potatoes sprinkled with fried onions. They can also come with sweet fillings like fruit! Then there is bigos, meat stew, which is perfect for dinner. They are great for snacks, usually accompanied with vodka – pickled herring and kielbasa, polish sausage.
For a truly authentic dining experience, we recommend visiting a Bar Mlecni, or milk bar, of which there are many in the city. It’s a communist-era cafeteria-style eatery and a one-stop shop for traditional Polish food at affordable prices, all offering a pretty uniform menu. Some stayed true to their original décor style, but others have adopted a hipster twist to appeal to students. For dessert, chase your order of pierogi with a slice of apple pie called szarlotka.
So, what do you think, is Krakow worth visiting? We loved this city, and hopefully, our recommendations help you have an unforgettable stay in Krakow, Poland. If you are wondering what else to see in Poland, check out our post on Warsaw.
Best Time to Visit Krakow, Poland
We have linked a great website to this button showing the weather for this location by the month. Click below to be taken to Weather-and-Climate.com.