Visiting Krakow, Poland was one of the single most surprisingly delightful experiences in Europe I’ve ever had. I hope this post can help you discover Krakow and plan the best possible Krakow itinerary.
My ideal European city would combine medieval history, culture, affordability, friendly people, and great food. There is no place that embodies this atmosphere for me more than Krakow, Poland with its cobblestone streets, colorful medieval buildings, and quaint cafes. And although there are crowds, I feel as though the masses have yet to discover Krakow as a major European hot spot.
- 1 Discover Krakow
- 2 Things To Do When Visiting Krakow
- 3 Things to do Near Krakow
- 4 Where to Stay in Krakow
- 5 Where to Eat in Krakow
Visiting Krakow, Poland requires a fair bit of time because of the unique neighborhoods and variety of experiences the area has to offer. I would suggest a minimum of 3 days visiting Krakow and two more days to visit the mountainous region of Zakopane in the south, for a total of 5 days around Krakow.
With 5 days in Krakow minimum, you can see the highlights of the old city, take a couple of unique tours to learn more about the culture of Poland and this region, and take an overnight trip to the Zakopane region.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Krakow transports its visitors to another era with its historical authenticity and architecture depicting Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles because it was uniquely undamaged during German occupation in WW2. The old market square is bustling with vibrancy and perhaps a surprising number of tourists during the high season.
I fell in love immediately visiting Krakow in the spring. So much so that I returned again in the fall. Both times, the fairytale city blew me away. The following are some of the more popular (along with a few other less popular but equally marvelous) things to do to get the most out of visiting Krakow in 3 to 5 days.
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Things To Do When Visiting Krakow
Visit the Market Square
Krakow Market Square is quite large. One of the largest in Europe, in fact. Two sides are divided by Cloth Hall, an old market for stalls, which still serves to sell souvenirs and trinkets. St. Mary’s Basilica towers over the square from where a trumpeter plays on every hour. Restaurants line the square, we even discovered one with a unique underground piano bar. See Piano Rouge on TripAdvisor
Visit Wawel Hill
Truly one of the most impressive castles there is, Wawel Castle on Wawel Hill is a must when visiting Krakow. The exterior of the castle and cathedral is just stunning and the inside of the cathedral, as you might expect, does not disappoint. It is free to visit the outside, but you must buy a ticket to see the inside areas. Wawel Hill is open at 6 am year round, so you can be the first one there for sunrise if you’d like. Entrance to most attractions start at 9 am and you must buy separate tickets for each.
One of the most remarkable neighborhoods in Krakow is Kazimierz and its 14th century Jewish quarter. Jewish residents were evacuated to the ghetto during WW2 and then on to Auschwitz or other horrific fates. As with all of Europe’s Jewish population, very few survived to return to their neighborhood.
The neighborhood lost all remnants of its past for decades until a revitalization began partially due to the filming of Schindler’s List in 1993 in this neighborhood. You can even take a tour of Schindler’s Factory. Today, Kazimierz is trendy and dynamic with Jewish synagogues, shops, and cafes. You cannot miss this neighborhood.
You can walk or take public transportation here from the town square (Kazimierz is technically considered part of the old town) and explore on your own, take one of the many electric cart tours around Krakow, or take a guided walking tour like THIS HIGHLY RATED ONE.
Take an Electric Cart Tour Around Krakow
This one is purely if you want a quick and chill way to see lots of the city quickly. There are lots of electric carts cruising around the streets of Krakow offering tours of the neighborhoods. They can be expensive if you don’t have a group to split the costs or find a partially full cart to join. But you can choose which areas to visit (including Kazimierz) and an audio guide tells stories and gives the history of the area as you drive. It’s really quite a relaxing and fun way to learn a bit about Krakow, especially if your feet are tired from walking a lot. CLICK HERE for cart tours.
The first time I visited Krakow was for a travel bloggers conference and we participated in 3 different tours in Krakow. One of my favorites ended up being a cooking class with Urban Adventures. This is the tour I did and it was AWESOME. We met our guide then went to the 13th century stary kleparz traditional market not far from the Krakow main square. We had to learn our ingredients and how to request them in Polish to the stall owners. It was hilarious but fun. I remember how to say hello and thank you in Polish today, thanks to that tour.
Next, we went to the guide’s grandmother’s apartment and made pierogi and ate together. It was so much fun and his grandmother was adorable. She helped us cook then rated the quality of our pierogi. Of course when in Krakow, you must have this traditional dish.
Visit Nowa Huta
You’ve probably heard about Poland’s communist time. Poland was “liberated” from the Germans by the Soviet Union in WW2 and hence became a communist country until 1989. Because of this, the communist era is very evident in all parts of Poland. A very interesting tour to take is in a vintage car to the socially engineered communist community of Nowa Huta. It’s fascinating to see what an ideal communist neighborhood looked like and hear about what life was like. Try THIS ONE.
Things to do Near Krakow
Visit Auschwitz – Birkenau Memorial and Museum
There’s nothing fun about visiting an extermination camp. But I believe it’s important to see and better understand what happened in history. When we better grasp the reality of human suffering, we are more likely to prevent it. If you’re in Krakow, take the time to visit this historical and tragic site.
For getting to Auschwitz from Krakow, you can take a tour, hire a driver, or take public transportation. (Try this bestselling tour to Auschwitz)
The drive can take approximately 1.5 hours to get there and different tours are available in different languages throughout the day, but you should book ahead. Expect it to take a few hours for the tour. Read the Auschwitz website for information about tours, times, and rules HERE.
Visit Wieliczka Salt Mine
This unique salt mine from the 13th century was in operation producing table salt until 2007 and listed as a UNESCO site since 1978. It is 178 miles long! Today, the mine has a route for tourists, salt sculptures and chapels, and makes for an interesting attraction. BOOK A TOUR.
To visit, you must drive approximately 20 minutes outside of Krakow. Ticket prices include the guide fee and can be purchased online ahead of time. On average, it takes about 3 hours to complete the tourist route of the salt mine. Be sure to bring warm clothes as it is brisk in the mine. Read more on their website: Wieliczka Salt Mine. If you’re ambitious and want to combine Auschwitz and the salt mine in one day, there are tours that do that.
Zakopane is a town about 2 hours south of Krakow at the base of the Tartra Mountains. This small town is lovely to visit any time of year. If you have the time, there are varying lengths of hikes in the Tatra Mountains, you can take the funicular, Kasprowy Wierch, up the mountain for great views (if it’s clear) and even step into Slovakia. Walking round Zakopane, you’ll have the opportunity to see traditional wooden houses from that region and maybe even catch a glimpse of a sheepherder and his sheep. Day Trip to Tatra Mountains and Zakopane
Read my guide on Things to do in Zakopane
Where to Stay in Krakow
The best area to stay in Krakow is the old town. And although the two neighborhoods I recommend are both considered to make up the old town, I’m going to distinguish them as the Old Town (section of medieval Krakow encircled by a 4 km stretch of park which used to be the medieval city walls) and Kazimierz. You can see in the map above, within the highlighted Stare Miasto (entire Old Town), there is a smaller ring of a green park (see pic below), which is considered the true old town which was enclosed by walls and a moat.
You’ll get a more medieval European old town feeling within the Krakow Old Town borders, or a little trendier, rough around the edges hipster vibe in Kazimierz. Both have tons of restaurants, cafes, and shopping.
Where to Stay in Krakow Old Town
This is the historical center of Krakow, a ring in the center surrounded by green space that use to make up the fortress wall. There are a number of lovely hotels, and prices are relatively affordable compared to other cities in Europe.
Hotel Copernicus – My personal favorite, I toured this hotel on my fist visit and fell in love with it. To save money, I decided not to stay here on my second visit to Krakow, and I’m kind of kicking myself. If you’re into historical authenticity, unique charm, and the WOW factor, this hotel has it. Plus, it’s on my favorite street in Krakow and close to Wawel Hill.
Grand Hotel – Want to feel like royalty? This has the elegant charm you’re looking for.
Bonerowski Palace – This fantastic old building is right on the old square and has an elegant interior.
Keep in the mind, the price for luxury in Poland is quite a bit less than other places.
Hotel Imperial – Affordable class right by the market square. Great reviews.
Hotel Polski Pod Bialym Orlem – Location. Location. Location. If you like the renaissance this ones for you. You can get a very simple twin room or spring for a more elegant suite.
Hotel Senacki – Very neat classic interior and close to Wawel Castle.
Hotel Indigo – Eclectic art and industrial modern vibe, this place has rave reviews. It’s obvious why. This one is just outside the old town borders, however the location is still great.
Hotel Unicus – Amazing location, really neat indoor pool.
Queen Boutique Hotel – Elegant and unique with views of Wawel Castle. Just barely outside the old town walls.
Hotel Lavender – Not hostel prices but still a beautiful hotel for budget prices. Just a hop outside the central old town.
Antique Apartments – Looking for the comforts of home like a kitchenette and washer? This is perfect.
Krakow City Apartments – 4 minute walk from the market square with a fully equipped kitchen.
Hostel u Amity – For single beds for around $12/night, this is still a very nice hostel right in the old town.
Where to Stay in Kazimierz
Residents of Krakow have flocked to this area to get away from the tourist scene in the Old Town and it’s become hip and trendy (and touristy now) over the years. There are tons of cafes, shops, hotels, and cool apartments.
Hotel Metropolitan – Not necessarily luxury based on price, but very modern and beautiful.
Condo Hotel Privilege Suites – Again, not the typical price of luxury, but these apartments are seriously gorgeous.
Puro Krakow Kazimierz – Has ridiculously good reviews and major swag factor.
Dada Boutique Home Hotel – Modern, clean, with great reviews.
Golden Tulip – Modern, clean, and centrally located.
Hotel Eden – A unique and stunning 15th century building in an amazing location in the Jewish quarter.
David Boutique Hotel – Location and price make this a great option.
Dream Hostel and Apartments – Great reviews and location and different room options. I like to think you, my readers, trust me to do the research for them and pick the best hotels with the most charm, character, and best overall value, so please give me feedback if you stay at any of these hotels.
Where to Eat in Krakow
Ahh, most everyone’s favorite activity, isn’t it? And Krakow has no shortage of places to do it. I’m a sucker for dining “experiences” so the atmosphere of a place is almost as important as the quality of the food. I want to LOVE being there. I certainly haven’t tried them all, so I don’t consider myself an expert on Krakow restaurants, but I can vouch for the following. Here are my favorites, in no particular order:
Cafe Camelot – probably the prettiest pink cafe with chandeliers I’ve ever seen, and the prettiest outdoor dining area on the loveliest street. Plus, I have never been disappointed by anything there. They have a delicious french toast breakfast and pasta dinners. The desserts are heavenly.
Plus, Cafe Camelot has one of the prettiest streets and outdoor areas too.
Gossip Cafe – a very cute cafe perfect for coffee or breakfast with a rustic urban vibe, also the top rated cafe on TripAdvisor.
Bistro Bene – Have the waffles with fruit. Droooooooool…
Big Hat of Coffee – Number one reviewed place for coffee (per TripAdvisor). Need I say more?
Boscaiola – My favorite for Italian. The calzone is huge! Lovely little cozy place.
Piano Rouge – Possibly the most unique atmosphere I’ve had the pleasure of dining in. The lights are colored and the rock walls sparkle with glitter. The ceiling billows with draped sheets and a singer croons in the downstairs underground lounge. And this restaurant is right in the market square!
Klimaty Poludnia – This is a total hidden gem. This restaurant you find at the back of an little alley just outside the old town. The atmosphere is fabulous and apparently it can be hard to get in without reservations.
Szara Ges – Located in the main square, this restaurant has an elegant atmosphere without being snobby. A great place for an artistic meal and some vodka tasting.
Mr. Pancake – I’m recommending this place purely on the basis of novelty, not quality of food. If you want to make yourself sick with the sweetest, most over-the-top pancakes, this place is for you.
There are plenty of other things to do and eat in Krakow, depending on your interests. If museums interest you, you’ll have a plethora to keep you occupied. If churches are your thing, well, I can assure you there are an abundance. 3 days in Krakow won’t be enough time to see everything, but you’ll be able to pick and choose a few highlights to really get a sense for what an incredible city it is and see why visiting Krakow was a great choice.
With 5 days in Krakow, you’ll be able to see even more of what makes this region special and beautiful. Discover Krakow’s surroundings even more in depth and get a glimpse of the mountain region and more traditional highland life.
Ahhh, Poland. You had me from the moment I stepped foot there. Visiting Krakow has been one of the most infatuating and inspiring experiences I’ve had in Europe.
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