13 Best things to do in Krakow:
Krakow is the second largest city in Poland and one of its oldest with parts dating back to the 7th century. It’s easy to see why tourists flock to this beautiful city. The historic centre is filled with colourful streets all leading off the huge main square Rynek Glówny, it has an abundance of amazing budget friendly restaurants and so many historic sights.
As the city has grown in popularity so has the swarm of tourists. Be prepared for crowds and a stready supply of stag and hen parties! Due to this, I would recommend visiting the city outside peak season (June-August) when the place is much quieter. Personally I would love to go back to Krakow in the winter when I can wrap up and explore with a steaming hot chocolate in hand.
So if you are planning a trip, here are my recommendations on the 13 best things to do in Krakow:
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1.Explore Market Square – Rynek Glówny
The market square in Krakow is the biggest of its kind in Europe. It’s probably one of the best too, filled with restaurants, bars and a variety of market stalls selling everything from flowers to cheap souvenirs.
It really is a fabulous place to grab a drink or some lunch are watch the world go by. Be sure to check out the town hall and climb the steps to the top. It’s not quite as high as St Mary’s Basilica but the views are still pretty good!
For more details on visiting the tower check out the official website here.
2. Wawel Royal Castle
Situated a short stroll through the old town you will find Wawel Castle perched on a hill overlooking the river. The castle grounds are free to enter, however you need to pay for each individual building you wish to visit.
If you are interested in castles and history then you could easily spend a whole morning/ afternoon checking out the whole place.
If you wish to buy tickets for any of the building then I recommend skipping the first ticket office at the entrance as there is usually large ques especially in the peak of summer. Instead walk into the grounds and you will find another ticket counter inside the visitor centre at the opposite end of the grounds.
For further details on visiting Wewel Castle check out the official website here.
3. Wawel Cathedral
Also situated within the grounds of Wewel Castle you will find the amazing Wewel Cathedral. If like me you enjoy visiting Cathedrals and churches, then you will be amazed at this cathedral.
Built in the 11th century the cathedral holds a special place in Polish history as it was the church of Polish kings for four hundred years. Today you can visit the many chapels and the sarcophagus of past Polish Kings as well as admire the beautiful architecture within.
For more details on visiting Wewel Cathedral check the official website here.
4. The Barbican & St Florians Gate
The Barbican is a round defensive fort situated just outside the old town. The building was once connected to the old city walls than ran around the city. Unfortunately, these walls are long gone except for the Florian Gate witch you can walk along and get some great views of Florianska Street. Entrance to both is included in the same ticket and is very cheap so worthwhile if you have the time.
For more details on visiting the Barbican and Florian Gate check out the official website here.
5. The Sukiennice – Cloth Hall
The Cloth hall is a fabulous indoor market with traditional sellers selling all things Polish. The hall dates back to the 13th century and it’s the main focal point within Rynek Glówny. Upstairs you will find a branch of the Krakow National Museum housing a collection of 19-century Polish art and downstairs you will find the fabulous Underground Museum.
6. St Mary’s Basilica
St Mary’s Basilica is probably the most well-known building in Poland. The church itself is beautiful inside and has the most amazing Gothic altarpiece worthy of a visit just on its own. However, you can also buy a separate ticket to climb the 239 steps to the top and take in fabulous views of the market square and beyond.
If you are lucky you may also get to see the bugler that plays the hejnal from one of the windows in the tower. Legend has it that hundreds of years ago as Mongol troops approached the city, a bugler sounded the alarm, however, he was hit by an arrow mid tune and died. He had done enough to save the city though as the gates to the city were closed in time. Since then a bugler had played the same tune every hour and stops abruptly at the same point each time in honour of the bugler who died. If you plan a trip up the tower right you may even get the chance to watch the bugler play.
Please note tickets to go up the tower are limited each day, you will be given a specific time to climb up with a guide. Make sure you buy tickets early in the day to be sure of a chance to visit at a time suitable for you. Tickets are bought at the ticket office opposite the side entrance to the church.
For more details on visiting St Mary’s Basilica check out the official website here.
7. Take a boat trip
Looking for something a little more relaxing whilst in Krakow? Then why not take a little cruise down the River Wisla. If you go to the banks of the river close to Wewel Castle you will find a variety of boats offering leisurely cruises. On board you can sit back and relax enjoying the informative commentary whilst enjoying a drink from the bar.
8. Wieliczika Salt Mine
One of the most visited attractions in Poland is the fabulous Wieliczika Salt Mine. This place is incredible! Inside you will find a labyrinth of corridors and chambers 327 metres underground all carved out of the rock salt. This place is just 14 km from the centre of Krakow and can easily be reached via public transport or organised tour.
For more details why not check out my guide to visiting the Wieliczika Salt Mine here.
9. Rynek Underground Museum
Most people walk around Rynek Glówny completely oblivious to what is underneath the square. Back in 2005 excavations took place on the eastern side of Krakow’s main square. Originally supposed to have been completed within 6 months; the project was extended and took a further 5 years to complete.
Today a museum underneath the Cloak Hall displays a treasure trove of knowledge of Krakow’s historic past with a mix of artefacts and restored archaeological exhibits. This is an excellent museum giving a great insight into medieval Krakow including how best to bury vampires! Along with various exhibits there are many interactive stations and light shows as well as holographic displays. Definately something different to do whilst in Krakow!
For more details on visiting Rynek Underground check out the official website here.
10. Auschwitz – Birkenau Memorial Museum
I wouldn’t class visiting Auschwitz as one of the best things to do in Krakow but more of a must do!
Auschwitz and Birkenau was the largest concentration and extermination centres of the Nazi regime. It’s not a pleasant experience but one which should be taken in order to understand the atrocities that happened here.
At times it can be quite overwhelming but I believe it’s important to learn about such events in the hope that these don’t happen again! However it’s sad to know that even today similar atrocities are still happening around the world!
For more information about Auschwitz and Birkenau check out the official website here.
11. Check out the Jewish quarter
Head across the river Wisla you will find a lovely little district called Kazimierz. This place has a completely different feel than the rest of Krakow. It is filled with beautiful little streets and a unique atmosphere.
Originally the area was a place of coexistence of ethnic Jews and Jewish culture with around 64 thousand Jews living in the district before the war. However, at the start of WWII most of these people were forced from their homes. Most where sent to what became the Jewish ghetto or moved to various concentration camps such as Auschwitz.
Today the area is filled with cute cafes and a multitude of fabulous restaurants and bars as well as historic places and museums. Defo a great place to chill out with a drink and watch the world go by.
Don’t forget to check out some of the museums and monuments. One of the most poignant is Ghetto Square. Here 33 huge chairs symbolise the tragic death and the empty seats that the residents of the ghetto left behind.
12. Schindler’s Factory, Eagle Pharmacy & Gestapo HQ
If after visiting Auschwitz you want to find out more about what it was like for the Jews in Krakow then head to the Oskar Schindler Enamel Factory. The story was made famous by the film Schindler’s List back in 1993 and tells the story of a Oskar Schindler. A Nazi supporter who arrived in Krakow ready to make his fortune. However, after staffing his factory with Jews, he soon learns of exterminations of Jews happening within the Ghetto so arranges to have his workers protected. In doing so he soon realises, he is also saving innocent lives.
The factory situated in the Jewish quarter is now a great museum. It not only tells the story of the factory but also the everyday lives of the Jews in Krakow. These stories detail the struggle during the Nazi occupation of Krakow in 1939 to 1945 through a series of well-organised, interactive exhibits.
13. Go shopping and enjoy the local food & drink
Finally after all that sightseeing you will need to relax and put ya feet up! Krakow has an endless amount of bars, restaurants and cafes. All ready to help you recharge ya batteries whilst doing a spot of people watching.
Of course if shopping is your thing then there are also plenty of shops, markets and malls to keep any shopaholic happy!
So there you have it my best things to do in Krakow list. Hope you have enjoyed reading and able to pick out some fabulous things to do whilst visiting this beautiful city.
Have you been to Krakow, would you add anything else to this list? Let me know in the comments below. Plus if you have enjoyed this article then please share on your favourite social media and subscribe to hear more about my travel adventures.
Thanks for reading,