Day 1: Get acquainted with the city
Krakow is a medieval jewel and any long weekend in this city should start at the Market Square, where you can easily reach the main sights. From there you can easily reach the main sights - are you ready? Let's discover the best of Krakow!
Start your holiday with a traditional breakfast
Are you familiar with Polish breakfast? In the northern European country, the first meal of the day is also the most important. Locals usually start the day with a slice of bread with kielbasa (a flavoured sausage), scrambled eggs or quark cheese with radishes. Hard-boiled eggs and herring may complete the menu. In Polish culture, breakfast is so important that they usually have a second one at 11:00.
In Kraków, many establishments offer a traditional breakfast. Not far from the Market Square you can try dishes from Smakolyki (28 Straszewskiego Street) or Dynia (20 Krupnicza Street). The latter is particularly recommended for the warmer months as it has a lovely garden. If you are staying in the Kazimierz district, I recommend Moment Resto Bar & Music at 22 Estery Street.
Stroll through the old town
Until the 16th century, Kraków was the capital of Poland. King Sigmund III Vasa moved his court to Warsaw but could not take with him the splendid buildings that make up the city centre. This area is very compact and can be easily visited on foot. On your tour, you will see a number of fascinating monuments:
- Market Square (Rynek Główny), one of the largest squares in Europe. It is surrounded by colourful houses, while in the centre stands one of the symbols of the city: the Lonja de los Paños (Cloth Exchange), an old market that has retained its commercial vocation.
- Floriańska Street (ulica Floriańska), one of the most prestigious shopping streets in the country. It is part of the Royal Route, an old route leading up to Wawel Hill.
- Wawel Hill, a mound overlooking the city. Here you will find the cathedral, the castle and a large cave where, according to legend, a dragon used to live and torment the locals. For more information, see the post Visit Krakow Castle: opening hours, how to get there, guided tours and more.
- St. Mary's Basilica (Kościół Mariacki), the main church in the Old Town, easily distinguished by its asymmetrical towers.
- Barbican, one of the best preserved medieval fortifications in Europe. It was built to control the nearby St. Florian's Gate.
Relax in the greenery of the Planty Park
After visiting the Barbican, you will only have to walk a few metres to Planty Park, a green ring around the city- no other city in Poland can boast such a beautiful place! This urban garden came into being at the beginning of the 20th century when the city authorities decided to convert the city walls into a leisure area.
At the beginning, Feliks Radwański was the person in charge of the work, while in the following years, his projects were taken over by Florian Straszewski. Today, the Planty Park is divided into eight gardens stretching for about 4 km.
End the day with a well-deserved dinner
After a long walk through the centre, it's time to think about dinner, and to appease your hunger, there's nothing better than some good ribs. In Kraków, if you want to try this dish, head for Plac Dominikański 2.
Here you will find the Rzeźnia restaurant, a place for hardcore carnivores. If you're not in the mood for ribs, you can opt for Polish tartar or Buffalo-style chicken wings. At Rzeźnia, the portions are very generous and you can accompany them with a few shots of local vodka. No work tomorrow after all, right?
Day 2: Immerse yourself in a magical place
After you have seen the old town, you can take a trip that will take you down into the belly of the earth. Naturally we are talking about a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a magical place just a few kilometres from Krakow.
Spend a morning at Wieliczka Mine
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is located about 15 km from Krakow and is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. The mine was opened in the 14th century and its development is largely due to the efforts of King Casimir III the Great, who granted many privileges to the miners and founded a hospital to cure them. This magical place has a depth of 327 metres and is criss-crossed by a network of chambers and galleries dotted with sculpted figures. Read on for a brief list of its most famous attractions:
- St Kinga's Chapel, the mine's flagship. This place of worship was carved by two visionary brothers over 30 years of work.
- Weimar Chamber, the most romantic of the entire site. Its main attraction is its tiny illuminated lake.
- Chapel of San Antonio, a Baroque monument excavated in a block of green salt. It is decorated with figures of saints and has a pulpit carved entirely from salt.
- Gołuchowski Chamber and its station. During the 19th century, miners used an underground railway and the station was located in this very environment.
- Spalone Chamber, the most "explosive" place in Wieliczka. Salt men with long sticks in their hands are reminders of the workers who risked their lives the most: the burners. Their task was to burn the methane before its concentration caused an explosion.
Stroll through the Kazimierz Quarter
The Kazimierz quarter was founded by King Casimir the Great in the 14th century as an independent town. In the 15th century, Jews were expelled from Kraków and eventually moved to this district. Before the Second World War, about 60,000 Jews lived here and were engaged in all trades, from catering to handicrafts.
Kazimierz could boast of its rich cultural life, but all this was destined to end. In 1941, the Germans came to the town and drove the inhabitants out of their homes. The Jews ended up living in the Podgórze quarter or in the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.
After the conflict, Kazimierz fell into oblivion and only in the 1990s did it return to its former glory. Today, the former Jewish ghetto is Kraków's most vibrant neighbourhood. The past comes alive in the synagogues and at night, the streets come alive with a wealth of entertainment. For a drink, head to Klub Piękny Pies (Plac Wolnica 9, ideal if you like indie, soul or grunge) or cross the threshold of Alchemia, possibly the best-known bar in Kazimierz. For more info, I recommend reading the post What to see and do in Kraków's Jewish Quarter.
Treat yourself to a traditional restaurant
Among the restaurants linked to tradition, the Czarna Kaczka deserves a special mention. Its name means "black duck" and, as you can imagine, it specialises in this type of meat. Here you can try a delicious roast duck in the Cracovian style (with horseradish and mushroom sauce) or a more refined magret of duck in red wine accompanied by dumplings with red cabbage and dried plums.
If you fancy fish, the Czarna Kaczka restaurant offers freshwater fish dishes such as trout fried in butter or pike-perch fillet. Vegetarian options are also available, including excellent potato pancakes. The restaurant is located on Poselska Street and occupies the first floor of a 17th century building. To finish off your meal, you can opt for a vodka tris. If you are interested in gastronomy, I recommend you read the post about the best restaurants in the Polish city.
Day 3: Get out of town to see the worst legacy of WWII
Auschwitz-Birkenau is a memorial of human cruelty. Having four days, I recommend you to visit this sadly famous place.
Visit the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp
Located in the suburbs of Oświęcim, this concentration camp claimed the lives of 1.1 million people. As the Second World War drew to a close, the Nazi authorities attempted to destroy evidence of the genocide, but fortunately the liberation of the camp in January 1945 prevented the process from taking place.
After the conflict, the Polish government decided to restore Auschwitz-Birkenau as a memorial and museum. Since 1979, the lager has been a Unesco World Heritage Site and receives more than 2 million tourists each year.
Visiting it is like reliving a horrific page in contemporary history. However, knowledge is awareness and a few hours in the barracks are more than enough to understand the horrors of the Shoah. For the full experience, I recommend booking an organised tour.
The article How much does it cost to visit Auschwitz: ticket prices and guided tours explains point by point all the options available. I advise you to choose a morning visit, so that you can return to Krakow for lunch.
Return to Krakow for a bite to eat
Auschwitz-Birkenau is very large and much of your time will be spent walking through barracks and open fields. Although the place will make you feel sick to your stomach, you might get hungry on your way back to Kraków. A good way to satisfy your hunger is with some pierogi, the quintessential Polish comfort food.
There are dozens of specialised places and one of the most popular is Pierogarnia Station. Pierogarnia Station uses the recipe of Ula (the owners' aunt) and has eight locations both in the centre and on the outskirts of Kraków.
If you don't feel like sitting down and prefer to take pierogi to go, you can choose the Robimy Pierogi food truck. The van is located in the Kazimierz district (21 Dajwór Street) a short walk from the Old Synagogue. His dumplings are handmade according to traditional recipes and, above all, do not contain any flavour enhancers.
Enjoy a pleasant boat trip
After such a challenging day, a relaxing activity is ideal. This way you can continue to admire the gems of Kraków without having to walk. As you know, the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship (Małopolska) is bathed by the Vistula, a river that rises in the Carpathian Mountains and flows into the Baltic Sea. Along the way you can admire buildings and monuments from a different perspective.
If you choose an excursion at sunset, you will enjoy the most romantic of walks. Cruises depart from Kraków's river port (bulwar Czerwieński) and last about an hour. There are several types of boats available depending on the season and/or time of day, and most of the tours are audio-guided. If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, you can visit Kraków's best churches.
Day 4: Final shopping
On the last day you can do some last minute shopping and enjoy some original experiences, so make the most of every last minute!
Buy some souvenirs in the Cloth Market
No holiday is complete without a little trophy shopping, and the ideal place to do this is the Lonja de los Paños. Underneath this majestic building there are dozens of food, craft and souvenir stalls. Read on, we have prepared a short list of the most typical souvenirs of Kraków:
- Amber jewellery. Kraków was an important stop on the Amber Road, a trade route that started at the Baltic Sea. The prices are surprisingly competitive at the Cloth Market.
- Regional costumes
- Hand-carved chess sets. In Poland there is a peculiar hexagonal version that you're unlikely to see elsewhere.
- Wicker objects
- Żubrówka, the excellent local vodka recognisable by the bison on its coat of arms.
- Obwarzanek krakowski, a braided bread that resembles a bagel.
Stroll through the courtyard of the Collegium Maius
The oldest university building in Kraków. Built in the 15th century, the building is famous for the clock in the courtyard. Every two hours, between 09:00 and 17:00, wooden figures appear and parade accompanied by traditional music. If you feel like it, you can visit the Jagiellonian University Museum, which houses a collection of astronomical and astrological instruments dating from the second half of the 15th century.
End your long weekend with a unique experience
After dinner, you can bid farewell to the Polish city with a bit of adrenaline. Axe throwing comes from Canada and the United States. Around 2000, what was once a pastime became such a discipline that there are professional leagues in these countries, while the international championship has been broadcast by ESPN. If you've never tried it, I recommend you do: it's a great way to let off steam.
In Krakow, the place to go is Axe Nation. You'll find it at 46 Grodzka Street, not far from the Church of St. Peter and Paul and the Archaeological Museum. Axe Nation is one of Krakow's top-rated attractions and has five lanes spread over three rooms. The establishment is ideal for stag and hen parties and private parties.