Krakow, a charming city that makes even the most reticent person fall in love. The city invites us to get lost in its old town, walk its cobbled streets and enjoy its central square as we delight in its entertaining legends of dragons, brothers and trumpeters. It is almost impossible not to be dazzled by the beauty of this city. Even Hitler himself was amazed and did his best to keep Krakow intact. Furthermore, Krakow is a city that history is not indifferent to. Here you can become aware and learn from the terrible events of history. Without further ado I leave you 10 places to see and activities to do in Krakow:
1. What to see in Krakow: The market square.
Like many cities in Europe, Krakow also has its central square known as the Market Square or Rynek Główny. However, it is not just any square, it is the largest medieval square in Europe and one of the most beautiful as well. Not in vain, in 1978, UNESCO declared Rynek Główny and its old town as a World Heritage Site.
The square, which measures 40,000 m2 and is almost 800 years old is divided in the middle by the Sukiennice building. This Renaissance-style building was the old fabric market but is now full of souvenir stalls.
On one side of the Sukiennice is the only surviving part of the old town hall in Krakow, a 70m Wieża Ratuszowa tower. The tower tries to compete with that of Pisa in Italy, as it is 55 cm deviated as a result of a major storm in 1703.
The Basilica and its trumpeter.
On the other side of the square, the Basilica of Santa María stands out with its towers of unequal height and the scenario of two very entertaining legends. That of the brothers who competed when building the towers, and that of the trumpeter who dies trying to save the city. In fact, today, every day and at all hours on the dot, from the tallest tower in the basilica, a trumpeter goes out the window and performs a melody that suddenly stops.
On the same side of the square you can also find the small but beautiful Church of San Adalberto (dating from the 10th century) and the monument to the poet Adam Mickiewicz, famous for his poem Pan Tadeusz dedicated to a great Polish tail.
But that is not all, the square is surrounded by restaurants, cafes, businesses and flower stalls. Decorated by a large row of horse-drawn carriages that accentuate the medieval style.
The combination of all these factors make Rynek Główny a beautiful square, with a lot of life and a vibrant atmosphere that invites us to stay and enjoy the place for hours.
2. What to see in Krakow: Wawel Hill.
Wawel is the hill that lies on the banks of the Vistula River very close to the market square. In fact, it is part of the historic center of Krakow declared a World Heritage Site. On the 228 m high hill, with a history of 1700 years, are located two of the most important historical buildings in Krakow and in Poland in general, the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle.
The Cathedral, also called the Cathedral of Saint Wenceslas and Saint Stanislas, is one of the most important churches in the country that has witnessed great events in Poland. Coronations, burials and great ceremonies have happened in this Cathedral.
In terms of architecture, what stands out the most from the Gothic Church are the 18 chapels that have been attached to its sides. The one that stands out the most is the Renaissance-style Chapel of Sigismund with a square base and a golden dome. Both inside and outside, the Cathedral is worth visiting. Its mix of styles, shapes and colors attracts a lot of attention.
The Royal Castle.
The other important building on the hill is the Royal Castle. Its origin dates from the 14th century when King Casimir III the great sent to build it. Since then it was the residence of several Polish kings and a great power center of the Polish State. Currently, you can visit the different rooms of the Castle, and one the most important art museums in the country.
After enjoying the Cathedral and the Castle, Wawel Hill has some very beautiful viewpoints of Krakow. And for those who like stories and legends, through the door that leads to the river, is the dragon that fires through its mouth in allusion to the legend of the Dragon of Wawel and King Krak.
3. What to see in Krakow: Visit the Stare Miasto.
Stare Miastro is called the Old Town or Old Town in Polish. It is the area delimited by the old city wall that has now been transformed into a long park. Also, the Old Town is where the market square and Wawel Hill are located so it really central.
But the Stare Miastro is so much more than the square and the hill. The old town is full of very interesting streets and buildings to see and visit in Krakow. At the Florian gate, the north entrance to the city, you can find the Barbican, an old fortification and the last well-preserved vestige of the city wall. Crossing through the door you will find Florianska street or Grodzka on the other side of the square. This is the old Royal Mile that connects to the Cathedral and that the ancient kings walked during the coronations. Today, along this path you will find countless shops, restaurants, cafes, hotels and places to buy souvenirs.
Inside the old town you can also enjoy many other attractions of the city. For example, there are the Maius school, the Jagiellonian University, the Czartoryski Museum, the National Museum of Krakow, the Museum under the Rynek, and many more. The old town is very beautiful to get lost in its streets both during the day and at night. It is an area where there is a lot of movement at all times and it makes you feel like you are walking through a medieval city.
4. What to see in Krakow: Barbican and Florian’s Gate.
The Barbican is an old defensive military building from the Middle Ages that was connected to the city wall. Today it is one of the last three in its style to survive throughout Europe, although that of Krakow is the best preserved.
The purpose of this this military structure was defending the entrance gate and the wall against enemies. For this reason, its shape is circular and it is surrounded by a moat. It was built with walls almost 3 meters thick, seven towers, and many windows from which to shoot arrows. It was connected to both the wall and Florian’s gate by a covered passageway. Today you can visit, tour its interior and enjoy an exhibition of the moment paying 9PLN.
Just in front of the Barbican is the Florian Gate. This was the most important gate of the eight gates that existed in the 15th century when the city was walled and is currently the only one that remains standing. This entrance was the most lively at the time, with great movement of people since it was only a 5-minute walk from the Market Square, the main commercial point at the time. It was also the door that started the Camino Real to Wawel Castle. Each King who was crowned had to walk this path.
The 33.5 m high tower was built in the 14th century as protection against Turkish attacks and was connected to the barbican by a bridge that crossed the moat. It was named St. Florian in allusion to the patron saint of the city of Krakow. Inside the door, there is a small chapel in the name of the Czartoryzki family (important Polish royal family).
5. What to see in Krakow: Visit the Collegium Maius.
The Collegium Maius in Krakow is the oldest building of the Jagiellonian University, the largest in Poland. It was inaugurated in the 15th century by order of Casimir III, making it the second oldest in central Europe. Among the most outstanding students of the Collegium are Nicolas Copernicus and Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla).
The building is very beautiful, in a Gothic style, with an interior patio that stands out for its arcaded galleries. In particular, every 2 hours from 9am, a very interesting clock strikes the time with a show. A series of wooden dolls, representing important figures from the school, parade below the clock accompanied by the university anthem “Gaudeamus Igitur”.
In addition, the Collegium Maius has exhibitions of scientific instruments from several centuries ago, collections of paintings from the 15th century and sculptures from the Middle Ages. You can also visit several of the Collegium rooms such as the Assembly Hall, the Copernicus Room or the Stuba communis (former refectory).
Entering the courtyard and seeing the clock is free, but if we want to see the rooms and the exhibitions, the entrance fee is from 12PLN to 16PLN for adults depending on what you want to see.
After enjoying the patio and witnessing the clock show, we can have a coffee with a pastry in the old Collegium café. In one of the oldest parts of the building there is a very nice cafeteria that attracts attention for being in the basement. With its brick walls they make us feel like being in the middle ages sharing a coffee with the young Copernicus or Karol Wojtyla.
6. What to see in Krakow: Take a break and walk around the Planty.
The Planty (plantation) is the park that surrounds the old town and where the wall that protected the city used to be. The park is a combination of 30 gardens of various styles. A green space of almost 21 hectares with a length of 4 kilometers that makes it one of the main areas of the city.
In the 19th century, due to the growth of the city of Kraków, it was decided to demolish the walls and create a space of nature. Initially with tree plantations, then incorporating bridges, later marking the trails and finally adding benches, monuments and fountains, the planty became a very beautiful green belt of the city.
The Planty invites you to take a walk along its paths, relax a little from the busy noises of the center and recharge your energies to continue touring the city.
7. What to see in Krakow: Try Polish food in a milk bar.
One of the most important things to do, to really know each country or city we visit, is taste their traditional food. Krakow is no exception and therefore it is advisable to go ea, as cheap option, to the milk bars in the city.
Milk bars (Bar mleczny) are small dining rooms that sell traditional Polish food at affordable prices. These bars were installed by the socialist government in the interwar period to offer workers eat cheaper. The name “milk bar” comes from the first menus that were offered based mainly on dairy products, vegetables, soups and pasta.
I recommend the Pod Filarkami bar mleczny located at Starowiślna 29, 31-038 Kraków corner with Dietla avenue. Of course, it is very unlikely to find an employee that speak English there.
Among the typical dishes to try are: Zurek, Zupa pomidorowa, Pierogi z mięsem, Pierogi ruskie, Schab ze sliwkami, Bigo, etc.
8. What to see in Krakow: Taste the famous and traditional Obwarzanki.
If there is something that we cannot miss on our visit to Krakow, it is to try Obwarzanki bread. It is the most typical of the gastronomy of Krakow.
Obwarzanki is a traditional braided shaped bread, usually sprinkled with poppy seeds, sesame, or simply coarse salt. Just go to one of the hundreds of street stalls found throughout Krakow.
But it is not just bread, it is THE BREAD from Krakow, originally baked only during Lent. It has a history of more than 600 years and since the Middle Ages the traditional recipe has been inherited from baker to baker is maintained.
In the 13th century the Bakers Guild was created in Krakow. At that time, the obwarzanki could only be baked within the city walls. Only certain specific bakers were allowed to sell the breads at the bakery stalls around the Sukiennice. The production and sale of obwarzanki was meticulously controlled by the guild at the time but from the mid-19th century onwards any baker was allowed to make them.
A certified bread.
Since 2010, the obwarzanki has been awarded the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). This means that the European Commission recognized that this particular bread is part of the culinary heritage of Krakow and the tradition of the city. The certificate strictly determines the weight, shape and the production process of the obwarzanki. Furthermore it can only be delivered to bakers in the city of Krakow. This is how important the obwarzanki is for Krakowians, it even has it’s own museum Zywe Muzeum obwarzanki.
So, after all this, we are more than convinced that it is a moral duty to try the obwarzanki. Just go to one of the hundreds of street stalls found throughout the city.
9. What to see in Krakow: Jewish quarter or Kazimierz.
The Jewish Quarter is one of the most interesting areas to visit in Krakow. It is called Kazimierz because in the 14th century King Casimir III founded the current Jewish quarter as a different city. However, over time, it ended up annexing Krakow, transforming it into one more neighborhood.
Over the years Kazimierz had almost 4,000 inhabitants. Jews from all over came to live in the then city. However, during the Second World War, this neighborhood was one of the most affected. The entire community was transferred to the Podgorze ghetto in another part of the city.
After the war, the neighborhood was left in a state of total decline. After several decades, at the end of the 20th century, the area began a process of restoration and appreciation. The famous film “Schindler’s List” ended up encouraging the recovery of the neighborhood (although the film evokes the ghetto, it was actually filmed in the Jewish quarter) transforming it again into a place with many inhabitants.
In Kazimierz you can visit several old synagogues such as the Upper Synagogue, Remuh, Principal, Isaac, Popper, Cupa and the most important, which is now the Museum of Judaism, the Old Synagogue of the 15th century. You can also visit Nowy Square where a very picturesque market with many places to eat cheaply works.
Today it is an area full of life where you can enjoy many cafes, restaurants and some concerts. It is quite frequented by local people, students and tourists. Currently the Jewish Quarter is one of the most popular and fashionable places to live, where you can find a lot of entertainment.
10. What to see in Krakow: Old Ghetto and Schindler’s Factory.
Poland, and in particular Krakow, is one of the most interesting places to see in order to understand a little more about the tragic events of the Second World War. The invasion of Poland marked the beginning of the war, therefore, in Krakow you will find a lot of information first hand about it. Two of the most iconic places are the old Podgorze Ghetto and the famous Schindler’s Factory.
Podgorze was born when the Nazi regime created a ghetto in 1941 to remove all Jews from the city center. In this neighborhood you will find several very interesting places to learn about history and become aware of the aberrations that happened. Here you find the remains of the wall that contained the ghetto (Lwowska 25 and Limanowskiego 62 streets) and the main Bohaterów square, where about 17,000 Jews wait to be classified and transported to the concentration camps.
In Bohaterów square square you find the monument of the chairs designed by the filmmaker Roman Polanski dedicated to the Jews who had to leave their homes.
Also the Farmacia del Águila is the protagonist of a particular story. When the ghetto was created, all Poles were forced to leave that place. However, a pharmacist named Tadeus Packiewicz decided to take the risk and stay to help Jews.
Very close to the ghetto is the famous Schindler’s Factory with another interesting history. Taking advantage of the “free” labor of the Jewish ghetto, the German businessman (who was originally a Nazi spy) set up his enamel factory in Krakow. However, the factory served as a tool to protect many Jews from Nazi persecution. He even managed to save the lives of many of them by including them on the list of non-Jewish employees.
The Factory and the actions of Oskar Schindler were mostly known thanks to Steven Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List”. Today the factory is the Holocaust Museum. However, the main focus is not on Schindler himself but on the terrible events that happened during the holocaust. It really is very interesting.
Extra bonus activities to see in Krakow.
11. Reflect by visiting the Auschwitz-Birkeu concentration camp.
The Auschwitz-Birkeu concentration camp was the most terrible of all these establishments. It is estimated that more than a million people died in this place. Not only Jews, but also non-Jewish Poles, gypsies, homosexuals and prisoners of war.
The Concentration Camp is located about 45 km from Krakow, near the city of Oswiecim. It is made up of different sectors, Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkeu and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. The first two are visited on the excursion and the visits are approximately 90 minutes each.
It is true that Auschwitz-Birkeu is not for everyone and some may be more or less affect by the excursion. However, what is certain is that it’s extremely interesting. You will never be able to fully understand what has been lived in that place but it is a great opportunity to become aware of everything that we should not repeat again.
It is possible to visit the concentration camp in a private way, either by car or by public transport. The bus leaves from the central station in Krakow. If you prefer the train, it is possible to go to Oswiecim and then take a bus.
12. Wieliczka Salt Mine.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is another highly recommended excursion departing from Krakow. This place is one of the most visited in Poland with more than 800,000 visitors per year. Moreover, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978.
The mines have been mined from the 13th century to the present, being the second oldest active salt mine in the world (the first one is also in Poland). Today it continues to produce table salt.
Wieliczka is over 300 km long and up to 327 m deep. The tourist route is 3.5 km passing through 22 chapels until you reach the most impressive, St. Kinga. Along the way you will find underground lakes, sculptures and objects made of salt, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper or the impressive chandeliers. You can also find old machines and tools used by miners.
The mines are 15 km from the city, so you can hire the excursion from Krakow. It can also be reached by bus from the Krakowska Gallery or by train from the central station.
It is advisable to wear a coat because in the depths the temperature can reach -15º C. Also comfortable shoes because you have to walk 3.5 and go climb several stairs.
Where to stay in Krakow?
It is the old part of the city where most of the tourist attractions are located. In addition, its streets are full of shops, restaurants, bars and cafes where you can savor local dishes.
Although, the offer of hotels is very wide the prices are more expensive than in other areas.
This neighborhood of Kleparz is located north of Stare Miasto, very close to the Market Square or Rynek. In this place, being very close to the historic center, shops, bars and restaurants abound.
This neighborhood is located on the other side of the Vistula but is still close to many of the tourist spots. Bohaterów or Heroes’ Square, the Eagle Pharmacy and Oskar Schindler’s Factory are located in Podgorze. However, it hasn’t a wide offer of accommodation and the prices are still a little high when compared to other districts.
Kazimierz is a quiet and bohemian neighborhood, highly recommended when choosing accommodation to stay in Krakow.
Located south of Stare Miasto, this neighborhood was where the Hebrew community formerly lived. During World War II they were confined to the Podgórze Ghetto, on the other side of the Vistula River.
However, after a state program of renovation and recovery of the neighborhood, Kazimierz came back to life. It stands out for its offer of shops, art galleries, bars and even has a plaza with food trucks.
The accommodation offer is also very wide and varied. Here you can find accommodation for all budgets. My accommodation when visiting Krakow is Aparthotel Miodowa, very nice, with breakfast and well located.