Krakow is the second-largest city in Poland but not to be beaten in terms of culture and energy. The devastation of the second world war and a strangling communist past is still a recent memory for many locals. However, the people of Krakow are looking to break free from their horrible history and show off the uniqueness, stunning architecture and liveliness of their city. It’s common for streets to be filled with locals spilling from cafes and bars whichever day of the week. Expect to find plenty of live music and bars around every corner and enjoy the relatively cheaper prices to Western Europe. Here are the top things to do in Krakow.
- 1 History of Krakow
- 2 Things to do in Krakow, Poland
- 2.1 Walk or bike through around the Old Town
- 2.2 Relive Schindler’s list at the Oskar Schindler’s factory
- 2.3 Find a lost bar in Krakow
- 2.4 Climb Kościuszko Mound
- 2.5 Enjoy a meal at the Milk Bars of Krakow
- 2.6 Wander through the Jewish Quarters
- 2.7 Listen to live Jazz Music
- 2.8 Taste Polish pierogi
- 2.9 Admire the beauty of the Main Square
- 2.10 Have a beer in an old tobacco factory
- 2.11 Take a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau
- 2.12 Wieliczka Salt Mine – a key Krakow Sightseeing Place
- 3 How to get to Krakow?
History of Krakow
They say that there is evidence of Krakow existing since the Stone Ages. There have been tools dating back to that era found near the Wawel hill. The place grew in prominence over time and saw plenty of change of hands. It was in the 1300s that the city flourished as the capital of the Piast Dynasty, who established their base in one of the key landmarks of Krakow – the Wawel Castle. It saw many invasions including that of the Mongols. Multiple fortifications were done to protect the city. Krakow remained the capital of the Polish kings till the 1700s, despite them moving out to Warsaw in the 1610s. In fact, most of them are buried in the Wawel Cathedral.
The saga of sieges continued through the 18th and 19th century with World War I and II. In spite of the various struggles, Krakow continued to be an important city in Poland. Today with its illustrious history that still resides in its old walls, it has been declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you get here, you will not just be enthralled with the places to visit in Krakow but will love the various activities in town too.
Things to do in Krakow, Poland
Walk or bike through around the Old Town
Krakow went relatively unscathed during the war compared with the rest of the country and such you can find the Old Town full of beautiful gothic and medieval buildings. However, instead of starting your stay within the city walls, get your bearings by hiring one of the city bikes or walking around the perimeter. The path surrounding the Old Town or Stare Miasto as called in Polish, is a beautiful tree-covered walkway and is just under 4 km in length.
There are plenty of bike tours that take your around the Old Town – one of the key Krakow Attractions. You can pick a route that takes you along the historic route of the Polish kings, past the pretty cathedrals like St. Mary’s Basilica up Wawel Hill to the Wawel Castle itself.
Relive Schindler’s list at the Oskar Schindler’s factory
When the Germans began the persecution of the Jews, Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party NSDAP helped protect the Jews by hiding them and employing a few in his enamel factory. The gentleman is credited to have saved over 1200 Jews with his efforts. His factory has now been converted to an important place of interest in Krakow. You can well reconstruct the scenes from the famous movie – Schindler’s list as you walk through the rooms – both hidden and open.
Find a lost bar in Krakow
If you have heard of a Speakeasy bar then this is Krakow’s version of the 1920’s prohibition themed drinking holes. If you’re yet to visit a Speakeasy, know you’ll need to be up for an adventure and a bit of a scavenger hunt. Most of the lost bars kick off around 9 pm and require some research for you to find and follow clues to enter. Use your imagination, ask strangers for help and don’t give up. Four of the top lost bars in Krakow are Mercy Brown, Sababa, Z Ust do Ust and Lost Bar.
Climb Kościuszko Mound
When I visit a city, I love walking. I walk everywhere and I believe it gives me such a great feel to what the city is about. Kościuszko Mound is located 4 km to the west of the Old Town. This beautiful walk goes through Blonia Park and a couple of local neighborhoods. Alternatively, you can take an Uber or a bus to the mound.
The mound is a special place to Krakow as it was originally built as a tomb and monument to Polish explorer Tadeusz Kościuszko. Ever since it was converted into a fort, visitors learn about the history of the Polish road to freedom and various exhibitions. Not only is it a great history lesson, but you are also granted unobstructed panoramic views of the city and the surrounds.
Funnily enough, while in Poland I learned that this explorer also named the highest mountain in Australia, which is where I worked a ski instructor.
Enjoy a meal at the Milk Bars of Krakow
Once you have worked up enough of an appetite, a good place to go for lunch is to a Bar Mleczny, which literally translates to milk bar. Historically these were the canteens of ex-socialist workers where they could go to have a cheap, filling lunch. Today, you can find milk bars throughout the city and enjoy traditional food in a cafe-like style for around 5 euros.
While the queue to get food might seem long, the meals are prepared and served quickly. A couple of good milk bars to try are Gospoda Koko and Milkbar Tomasza, both located within the Old Town.
Wander through the Jewish Quarters
The Jewish Quarter in Krakow is part of the Kazimierz district. It is located to the southeast of the Old Town and borders the Vistula River. This funky neighborhood is where you will find bustling cafes, bars and restaurants, galleries, synagogues, historic sites and street art covering whole buildings. Spend an afternoon meandering through the streets getting wonderfully lost. Make sure you check out the Corner of ul. Nowa & ul. Józefa for the most colorful street art building.
In the warmer months, the waterfront will be full of locals walking their dogs and gathering with friends over a beer or espresso. A lot of the local nightlife is in Kazimierz and priced slightly cheaper than in the Old Town.
Listen to live Jazz Music
Krakow is one of the best places in Europe to listen to live jazz. Each night of the week you will find a bar or club offering a place to get lost within the music. Expect to find renowned international acts, acoustic nights, and even locals performing at open mic nights. While the nights and the music may be varied what is certain is that you’ll have a great night out. Some top venues to check out are the Harris Piano Bar, Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club, The Piano Rouge and the Old Jazz Cafe.
Taste Polish pierogi
No trip to Poland would be complete without tasting pierogi. This filled dumpling can be found throughout central and eastern Europe but always has a unique taste depending on which country you are in. The Polish pierogi can have a sweet or savory filling and is a great quick snack. You will find them at most milk bars or head to Przystanek Pierogarnia for an exclusive dumpling menu.
Admire the beauty of the Main Square
In Polish, Rynek Główny, or main square is a central meeting point for tours and locals meeting up with friends. In fact, it has been so since the 13th Century. It is considered as “Europe’s biggest Market Square”. Spend an hour wandering around the 10-acre square and marveling at the architecture. St. Mary’s Basilica and the Town Hall Tower dominate the skyline. However, not to be missed is the long Cloth Hall through the center. This building was used for traders to sell their goods as early as the 1300s, and such is one of the oldest malls in the world. Today you can buy your loved ones a souvenir from the stalls inside.
While you are at it, seek an entrance to a hidden treasure. Meters below the Main Square lies the Rynek underground museum – a network of tunnels with preserved exhibits from the Krakow History. From strange burial practices to underground market stalls and more, you will love the past that the museum showcases to you.
Have a beer in an old tobacco factory
In its former days, Tytano was a booming tobacco factory running for 125 years. This once abandoned building and sub-buildings have been converted into pubs, cafes and restaurants. Located less than a kilometer from the main square, Tytano is close enough to walk to but also feels like you have entered a completely different world. Rundown building exteriors are juxtaposed with modern and hip interiors. For craft beer lovers try Wezze Krafta.
Take a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau
When visiting Krakow, make sure you include a day to learn about the horrendous war-time history of the country. The Auschwitz concentration camp is 1.5 hours to the west of the city by car and is best done by a tour. At the camps, there is limited signed information so ensure if you have made your own way there you get the audio tour. While there is nothing that can prepare you for such a visit, I believe it is important for everyone to visit Auschwitz to understand and prevent similar things happening in the future.
Wieliczka Salt Mine – a key Krakow Sightseeing Place
A must-see in Krakow is this multi-leveled labyrinth of a salt mine. Just 14 km from the main city, the guided tour of Wieliczka Salt Mine will awe you with its underground attractions. Witness the Chapel of St Kinga which is completely made with salt – including its high chandeliers. You cannot miss the underground salt lake in the Erazm Chamber. The salt mine is an important UNESCO World Heritage site.
If you are looking for tours to explore the Wieliczka Salt Mines, then you can book one through this link.
For booking your admission tickets online, you can book through the admissions link. Booking through this can help you skip the lines.
There are plenty of other guided tours that you can book online for Krakow. Check out this Krakow Tours link for the same.
Booking through the above links will not cost you anything extra but will help me earn a commission that keeps this website going
These are just some of the key things to do in Krakow. Should you have more time, you can get around to exploring a lot more in this historic town. For now, pin this up on your board and comment in below as to what would be your favorite in this list of Krakow attractions.
How to get to Krakow?
- Krakow has an international airport with plenty of flight connections to the rest of the world.
- It is also, well connected by roads and railways to the rest of Europe.
- Once in Krakow, you can opt for the public transport system to get around.
This post has been authored by Erin from Curiously Erin. She is a long-term budget traveler. She has spent the majority of the past 10 years working various jobs around the world to fund her travels. Some highlights include teaching skiing to children in Lake Tahoe and spending two years living on a superyacht in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. She loves the outdoors, coffee and being a slow meaningful traveler.