Poland’s capital Krakow is a beautiful, walkable city with a rich history and lots of interesting things to see and do. It’s the country’s second-largest city, home to Europe’s biggest market square, interesting museums, and some beautiful architecture. Another great thing about Krakow is that it’s a very affordable destination if you’re on a tight budget. Food, accommodation, and visits to tourist attractions are quite cheap compared to European standards. Whether it’s your first visit to this city or you’ve been here before, here are the 12 best things to do in Krakow.
The best things to do in Krakow
1. Visit Krakow’s Main Square
Dating back to the 13th century, Krakow’s Main Square is part of the city’s old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the largest medieval town square in Europe and it’s surrounded by beautiful historic townhouses.
Every hour on the hour, the Main Square is filled with trumpet music. You’ll see a trumpeter standing behind the window of St. Mary’s Basilica’s highest tower. The Polish anthem he’s playing is called the ‘Hejnal mariacki’ and it dates back to the 14th century.
2. Enter St. Mary’s Basilica
This beautiful basilica built in the 14th-century towers high above Krakow’s Main Square. Although it does look good from the outside, you’ll only see its true splendor once you enter it. The church is full of colorful wall paintings and its stained-glass windows are magnificent.
3. Walk through the Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall used to be of the most important buildings in Krakow and it remains one of its most iconic buildings today. It was a major center of international trade and its history dates back to as far as the 14th century.
Back in the days, the Cloth Hall was an international trading hub where you could find a variety of exotic products from the East along with salt from Wieliczka Salt Mine. Today, the Cloth Hall serves as a souvenir shop but even if you’re not planning on buying anything, it’s still one of the best places to walk through.
4. Go on a free walking tour
One of the best things to do in Krakow or any city if you’re on a tight budget but would like to learn more about the city is going on a free walking tour. These tours will allow you to visit the city with a local guide.
There are many free walking tours of the main sights of Krakow. They range from exploring the old town or Wawel Hill during the day to ghost and vampire tours at night.
5. Check out the Barbican and St. Florian’s Gate
Constructed in the 14th century as part of the city fortifications against a Turkish attack, Florian’s Gate is one of Krakow’s most important historical sites. It stands right behind the Barbican, Europe’s best-preserved fortified outpost.
The Old Town of Krakow was surrounded by city walls with dozens of defensive towers until the 19th century when they were destroyed by Austrian authorities. Today, you can still see a part of the city walls on both sides of Florian’s Gate.
6. Walk along the Royal Route
The Royal Route, going from St. Florian’s Church to Wawel Hill, was once the route of the royal processions, parades, receptions, and funerals. It’s a beautiful route that passes some of the city’s most famous landmarks and goes along Krakow’s Main Square, St. Mary’s Basilica, and Florianska Street (one of the main streets in Krakow’s Old Town).
7. Marvel around Wawel Castle and Cathedral
Perched on top of a hill south of the Old Town, the Wawel castle and cathedral are of great historical value. It was here that the royal family lived back when Krakow was the royal capital of Poland. Wawel Hill was Poland’s political center for centuries and it’s one of these sights you can’t miss on a visit to Krakow.
Visiting the grounds of Wawel Hill is free of charge, but you’ll have to buy an entrance ticket if you want to visit the castle, the cathedral, and the dragon’s den (the cave under Wawel Hill).
8. Explore the Kazimierz District
This part of the city was once known as the Jewish District. The Krakow ghetto is rich in Jewish history, synagogues, and other historical buildings. The Krakowian Jews called this area home until WWII when they were confined to a ghetto across the river.
Today, Kazimierz is the place where you’ll find the hippest bars and restaurants, it’s a lively neighborhood with a unique atmosphere. Keep an eye open for street art too while you’re here, this is something this district is famous for!
9. Visit Oskar Schindler’s Factory
Krakow became known internationally thanks to Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (1993). This movie tells the story of Oskar Schindler and how he saved the lives of many Jewish people by employing them in his Enamelled Goods Factory.
The factory opened as a museum in 2010 and besides telling Schindler’s story, it also houses a permanent exhibition about Krakow during the Nazi occupation. Schlinder’s Factory is an absolute must for history buffs or anyone who would like to learn more about Krakow’s history.
Visit Oskar Schindler’s Factory on a Monday if you want to save money when you travel. The museum is free to visit on this day of the week!
10. Try some local delicacies
Polish food is delicious and Krakow is the ideal place to try some! With its yummy pierogis (Polish dumplings), traditional beetroot soup, and a great variety of street food, Polish cuisine has something for every taste.
Make sure to try zapiekanka when you’re exploring Kazimierz. This is a warm, open-face sandwich typically topped with mushrooms, cheese, ham, and other ingredients. There are stalls selling it at Plac Novy, the center of the Kazimierz district.
Another thing Poland is famous for is its vodka. There are numerous bars in Krakow where you can taste different flavors. Definitely one of the best things to do in Krakow!
11. Visit Auschwitz-Birkenau
Auschwitz-Birkenau is located just 70 kilometers from Krakow and it’s one of the most popular day trips from this city. It was the largest concentration / death camp ever built by the Nazis and it has now been turned into a museum that honors the victims.
Auschwitz can be visited independently or by booking a tour with an educator. Whichever way you choose, there are two main sites to visit. If you book a tour, you’ll visit Auschwitz, the concentration camp, first. Here, you’ll find numerous barracks filled with the prisoners’ belongings. The second part of the tour will take you to Birkenau, the site where the train tracks and gas chambers are located.
Although it’s a very sad place to visit, it’s also a place that will teach you a lot about history and the people that were imprisoned and died in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
12. Tour Wieliczka Salt Mine
This salt mine that’s located 14 kilometers from Krakow has consistently been operating since the 13th century. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that can be found deep under the town of Wieliczka. What makes the mine so special is that it’s filled with chapels, altars, and statues, and all of these are made of salt!
The mine has over 300 kilometers of tunnels and it houses more than 20 chapels. The highlight of the main tour is the Chapel of St. Kinga, a huge chapel decorated with beautiful saline artworks and chandeliers. So itțs no wonder a visit here is one of the best things to do in Krakow.
Top things to do in Krakow by…
Laura Meyers is the founder of Laure Wanders, a solo travel and adventure blog. Her adventures have taken her to a Voodoo priest in Togo, the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas, and the jungles of Sumatra. She started her blog to share these stories and to inspire people to travel solo and immerse themselves in different cultures.
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