Krakow is much more than its many monuments. The Polish city offers a wealth of cultural events, gastronomic variety and, of course, entertainment. This is true at any time of the year, but even more so during the summer months.
With the cold of winter long forgotten, the summer season allows Kraków's visitors and inhabitants to go out and enjoy the area around the Vistula River, enjoy the night to the fullest in its countless clubs or attend interesting festivals such as the one celebrating the pierogi or the one celebrating Jewish culture.
1. Stroll through Planty Park
One of Kraków's favourite summer activities is a leisurely stroll through one of its most famous parks: Planty Park. I suggest you follow one of the most famous maxims among travellers, "where you go, do what you see", and join young and old on a walk through the more than 4 kilometres of this green space.
These walks are ideal for those who have made a trip to Auschwitz from Kraków in the morning, a visit which inevitably causes a sense of anguish. To recover, there is nothing better than a stroll through this park surrounding the Old Town.
In ancient times, the entire medieval city of Kraków was surrounded by defensive walls. From the 18th century onwards, a green belt called Planty began to be built. Today, as you walk along its paths, you can still see some remains of the old walls.
One of the most striking points of the park is the Florian Gate in the northern part, one of the original entrances to the walled city and the perfect starting point for a 2-day itinerary in Krakow.
While strolling through the park you will also see several statues representing important figures in Polish history, such as Nicolaus Copernicus, who attended the famous Collegium Maius in Kraków.
However, the most popular and most visited part of this area is the one located in the vicinity of Wawel Castle. There, on a boulevard that runs along the river bank, many people gather to sit on the grass, walk or enjoy the view.
2. Don't miss the Festival of Jewish Culture in Kazimierz
I have no doubt that during your stay in Kraków you will have spent some time visiting Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of the city, as it is home to many places worth seeing. It is precisely this quarter that hosts one of the country's most renowned cultural events: the Festival of Jewish Culture. If the dates coincide, you should not miss the events organised there.
The festival is held every year for 10 days at the end of June or beginning of July. Originally, in 1988, it was conceived as a series of events to remember the importance of the Jewish community in the city, as well as to recognise its historical and cultural contributions.
Since that first edition, the festival has become consolidated and today attracts almost 30,000 people every year. There are plenty of activities to choose from: conferences, workshops, guided tours and concerts of traditional music that take place in various parts of the neighbourhood.
Other activities that take place during these days include film screenings, Jewish cooking classes and book presentations.
3. Take a boat trip on the Vistula River.
Although summer is usually considered the best time to visit Krakow, it does have one small drawback: the crowds of tourists in many streets. A possible option to avoid them for a while is to take a short boat trip on the Vistula River.
This trip will allow you to visit part of the city in a more relaxed and peaceful way, something you will appreciate after visiting the bustling Market Square, for example.
To book these tours you should go to the vicinity of Wawel Castle, a few metres from the exit of the Dragon's Cave, next to the river.
The walk lasts approximately one hour. In addition to the views of the castle, the most striking points are the Pilsudski or Dębnicki bridges, which you walk under. The end point of most of the trips is the interesting Benedictine monastery.
Another way of river cruising, designed for the fittest, is to rent a kayak and take a leisurely ride on it for a while.
4. Discover one of the country's traditional dishes at the Pierogi Festival
During the month of August in Kraków, usually in the middle of the month, there is a festival in Kraków dedicated to a rather appetizing theme: pierogi, which is similar to stuffed ravioli. If you're in town, don't hesitate to join in the activities to learn more about this dish (and, of course, try some of its various forms).
Anyone who has taken a gastronomic tour of Kraków or simply walked into a restaurant in Kraków will have tasted what is in its own right one of the traditional dishes of Poland. This food is also found in other countries in the region, including Russia. However, the Poles are particularly proud of the way they cook it.
During the days of the festival, all the restaurants present their best creations with this type of pasta as the star. Some of them experiment to introduce new fillings that go beyond the typical pierogi ruskie or pierogi kirniki (with chicken). You can try some made with venison, smoked cheese or lamb.
Perhaps the highlight of the festival is the competition for the best pierogi dish of the whole festival. This event is held in Maly Rynek and during it you can listen to live music and, of course, try a recipe for a really low price.
5. Find a wreath and become a part of the Wianki
Those travelling to Kraków at the time of the summer solstice can witness - and participate if they wish - in one of the city's most beloved traditions: the Wianki. This festival of pagan origin celebrates the arrival of the summer season with different events.
The tradition in Kraków is to throw wreaths of flowers into the river, something that connects with a local legend: Princess Wanda, daughter of the legendary founder of the city, preferred to throw herself into the Vistula rather than agree to marry Rydygier, a German leader who had invaded the city.
The moment you should not miss at this festival takes place during the night. At the base of Wawel Hill, in the area bordering the river, a large crowd gathers every year to listen to the concerts and enjoy the food and drink from the stalls.
At midnight, the people present (especially the young women) throw their wreaths into the water. At the end of the celebration there is a truly amazing fireworks display.
You can also attend concerts and festivities in other parts of the city, in some of the squares where medieval markets are set up.
6. Attend a performance of the Summer Opera Festival
Whether you like opera or just want to enjoy a performance in a magical setting, the Kraków Summer Opera Festival is a great opportunity.
Usually held in July, this festival is considered one of the most anticipated events of the whole artistic season. Performances are held in different parts of the city, both in Kraków's many concert halls and in some less formal venues.
Although tickets are not easy to get, the event that everyone wants to attend takes place in the courtyard of Wawel Castle. In this beautiful setting, surrounded by buildings such as the Royal Palace and Wawel Cathedral, a stage is set up for opera lovers to attend the performances.
First of all, I recommend that you start looking for your tickets as soon as possible. The popularity of the festival, especially the performances that take place in the castle courtyard, means that tickets sell out quickly.
To buy them, assuming you can't buy them at the box office, it's best to look on the official website dedicated to this type of event in Krakow.
7. Experience the Krakow night
The presence of thousands of students in the city, both local and foreign, plus the many tourists who travel in summer make Kraków's nightlife the liveliest in Poland. If you like to party, you'll find it practically every day of the week, whether you're looking for a quiet night out or a more lively one.
Nightlife in Kraków is concentrated in two different areas. The first, the Old Town, is where tourists tend to congregate. The second, much more youthful, is in the Jewish quarter, full of bars and pubs and with an incredible atmosphere in each of its streets.
If you're heading for the second area, my advice is to start by eating a good zapiekanka in the New Square (Plac Nowy). This dish is basically a baguette with mushrooms and other ingredients that is grilled in the oven. In the same square you will also find other food stalls with grilled meat or sausages.
After lunch it's time to wander around the lively streets of the neighbourhood until you find a place you like to spend the night.
More peace and quiet in the Forum
If the night is not your thing but you want to have a beer in peace and quiet, one of the best places in the city is the Forum. It's a former communist-era hotel converted into a bar, and to find it, you have to cross the river from the Jewish quarter.
Summer is definitely the best time to go here, as there are sun loungers where you can enjoy a drink overlooking the river and Wawel Castle.
8. Don't leave the city without trying one of Kraków's typical ice creams
You probably don't associate Kraków (or Poland in general) with ice cream. However, Poles love this sweet treat and you'll find plenty of places to buy it in the city. Just learn the word lody and point to the flavour to enjoy a delicious bite.
Although shops are open all year round, summer is the peak season for ice cream. The best ice-cream parlours have long queues, which will help you to know where to go for a guaranteed treat.
Two good places for ice cream
To make sure you get it right the first time, here are two recommendations for where to buy your ice cream:
- Good Lood: just by looking at the queues you'll realise that this is one of Kraków's favourite places. As a curiosity, every evening at 8pm they publish on their app the flavours they are going to add the following day to their usual four (chocolate, cream, raspberry and salty caramel).
- Lody na Starowislnej: located on Starowislna Street, near the Jewish quarter, this is one of the most traditional and popular ice cream parlours in Kraków.
9. Bike ride to Tyniec
A really interesting activity to do in summer, when the weather permits, is to rent a bike and head to the Tyniec monastery. From the centre of Kraków there is a cycle path that takes you safely and comfortably along the 12-kilometre route, as well as to other places around the city.
Tyniec used to be an independent village, but today it is a part of Kraków. There, on the banks of the Vistula, a Benedictine abbey was built on a hill in the 11th century.
If you want to complete your tour with a visit to the abbey, please note that it is open from 10:00 to 1800 hours.
10. Take a hiking tour in Zakopane
Although Zakopane is known as the 'winter capital', in summer there are a number of activities that are worth a trip, either on your own or organised.
The most popular thing to do in this town at the foot of the Tatra Mountain s (about 2 hours from Krakow) is the hiking trail that leads to the spectacular Morskie Oko Lake.
If you want to do this trail you should know that it starts far away from the town. If you have gone on your own, you will have to take one of the minibuses that continuously leave from the town's bus and train station and drop you off at the beginning of the trail.
There are many other trails in the area, some of them with attractions such as churches, small waterfalls or extraordinary viewpoints. If you are lucky, you may even see a deer along the way.
What the weather is like in Krakow in summer
Summer in Kraków is very pleasant, but it's not really sweltering hot. July and August have an average maximum temperature of 23.4°C, while the average minimum temperature is around 12.7°C.
The month of September is somewhat different, with temperatures dropping. By the final days of summer, highs are already at a pleasant 19ºC, but lows can drop to an average of 8ºC.
One thing to bear in mind is that the possibility of rain is always present, as the average rainfall is 8 days per month. The best way to ensure that you can carry out your plans is to check the weather forecast shortly before you travel.
Cracow's Summer Tourist Influx
Summer is the peak tourist season in Kraków, so crowds are common in the more touristy areas of the city. However, if you go a little outside the historic centre (even in the Jewish quarter) the situation is a little quieter.
This large influx of tourists has an impact on the price of accommodation and flights. Fortunately, the low prices of food, transport and entrance fees compensate for this.