Discovering the secrets of Krakow and exploring its streets and monuments is the ideal plan for a long weekend. The city and its surroundings offer plans that will stay in the traveller's mind forever. Here's what not to miss on your trip to Krakow:
1. Take a guided tour of the city
Kraków's Old Town and Jewish Quarter are the most identifiable places in the city because of the stories behind them. Although a solitary stroll through both places is visually pleasing, the experience of a guided tour is infinitely more enriching.
A local and specialised guide will show you the city through their eyes and help you learn about its history and anecdotes beyond the facts that appear in textbooks. They will also show you monuments and places of great cultural interest that might otherwise go unnoticed.
You have different options for guided tours of Krakow: you can choose a walking tour (my favourite), a bike tour or an electric car tour. There are also specific tours such as the Jewish quarter tour, the gastronomic tour or the Old Town tour and more general tours to get an overview of Kraków.
Whichever one suits you best, a guided tour of Krakow is always a good idea if you want to really get to know the city without getting bogged down on the surface. Here is a list of what I consider to be the best ways to discover the city and its surroundings: 10 Best Tours and Day Trips from Krakow.
2. Visit Auschwitz Concentration Camps
Located about an hour and a half's drive from the centre of Kraków, the Auschwitz concentration camps are one of the most visited places in Europe. What was once the capital of horror is now a museum dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Nazi regime.
The Auschwitz camps can be visited individually (here's how to get to Auschwitz from Krakow) or through a guided tour. My recommendation is clearly the latter option; check the prices of tickets to Auschwitz and guided tours and you will see that it pays off.
I would suggest booking your tour first thing in the morning, as Auschwitz concentration camp tours usually last about two hours and you'll have time to recover from the shock of the tour before lunchtime.
Many packages include, in addition to admission to the Auschwitz complex, transfer from Krakow and are available in several languages. What you will see at the Auschwitz concentration camps are the remains of a historical period that it is essential to raise awareness among younger generations so that it will never happen again.
This tour is not recommended for children under the age of nine and, on a personal level, I wouldn't recommend it to very sensitive travellers either because, although enriching, it can be quite tough, even though the guides never go into lurid details.
Here is my practical guide to Auschwitz Tours from Krakow: Day Trips and Best Prices and also some tips that will be good to keep in mind if you are going to visit the Auschwitz concentration camps from Krakow.
3. Descend into the bowels of the earth with a trip to the Wieliczka salt mines
After Auschwitz, the excursion to the Wieliczka salt mines is the most popular visit around Kraków among travellers passing through the Polish city. This place has also been declared a World Heritage Site, so if you're wondering whether it's worth visiting the salt mines from Kraków, the answer is yes.
The most important thing to know is that you should book your tickets well in advance. Even if you choose to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines on your own, the mines are always visited with a guided tour available in several languages and are usually in high demand. You can book online either a full tour of just the transfer to Wieliczka from Krakow or just the entrance tickets to the salt mines near Krakow with a guided tour.
Some of the features you'll find at the Wieliczka salt mines include a salt-carved chapel, a lake, chambers connected by a network of underground tunnels and salt sculptures of famous people (where you can take some of the best photos of the Wieliczka salt mines).
The salt mines are located about half an hour's drive from Kraków and the visit to the salt mines takes about two and a half hours. You can also take a joint trip to Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mines from Krakow, so the entrance fee to the Wieliczka Salt Mines will be lower.
Finally, the best tip for visiting the Wieliczka salt min es is to bring warm clothes regardless of the time of day you choose to visit the salt mines. Inside the mines the temperature drops and, especially if you visit the Wieliczka salt mines with children, the cold can play tricks on you.
4. Visit Oskar Schindler's factory
For those who have seen Steve Spielberg's masterpiece, the relevance of this place will be clear. For those who haven't: Oskar Schindler was a German businessman who dedicated himself to saving large numbers of Jews from concentration camps by employing them as workers in his factories. After the war, Schindler was executed, but the descendants of his employees still honour him.
A visit to this factory in the centre of Kraków is a lesson in history from which a certain hope emanates, since in the midst of all the horror that was experienced in the city during the Nazi occupation, there were people who resisted being part of it.
5. Take an inside tour of Wawel Castle
Close to the historic centre stands Wawel Hill and the imposing castle of the same name. From there you will have a perfect view of the city from the top and you will also be able to see the 14th century Renaissance castle.
It can be visited every day from 9:30 to 16:00 (in summer until 17:00) and inside you will find the crown treasury, the royal armoury, the royal apartments, the crypts of illustrious personages and my favourite place: the dragon's cave. It is a highly recommended visit, either on your own or as part of a guided tour, as Wawel Castle is one of the emblems of the city of Krakow.
6. Stroll around the market square
In every city there is a place to wander around, to browse shops, watch the locals, have a leisurely lunch or just sit and relax. In Kraków that place is Kraków's Market Square, a medieval-style square surrounded by colourful palaces. You'll pass by it many times during your visit; enjoy it and explore it leisurely, because it's well worth it.
7. Enter the Krakow Cathedral
The Wawel Cathedral is located on Wawel Hill, is dedicated to St. Stanislaus and is over 1000 years old. It is one of the most important buildings in Poland so don't forget to take a closer look and visit the inside, as the entrance is free.
Inside you can't take photos and if you want to climb the tower to see the aerial views of the city you will have to pay about four euros. If you find this visit interesting, don't hesitate to add one of the best churches in Krakow to your route. You won't regret it.
8. Discover the Collegium Maious
Located in Kraków's Old Town, the building in which Copernicus studied is notable for its beautiful inner courtyard. If you're interested in astronomy, you must visit the university museum, but if not, you can also come in the evening, when the organised tours are over, to relax in the garden and admire the architecture.
9. Visit the Barbican Fortress
This sturdy fortification is located in the centre of Kraków and measures about 25 metres. It was built in the 15th century to protect the city from the advance of the Ottoman Empire and, although a visit to its interior is not necessary, you should go around it as you pass by to appreciate its Gothic style. You will find it just past the Florian Gate, the main entrance to the medieval walled city.
10. Taste Polish cuisine
The list of things to see and do in Kraków could not be complete without a mention of Polish cuisine. The country's most popular drink is known to be vodka, but what about the traditional dishes? In Kraków' s restaurants you'll find delicacies such as Pierogi, Paprykarz or Zurek, all of which consist mainly of meat, pasta and spices. Polish cuisine takes elements from other cuisines such as Armenian, Slavic, Turkish, German, Jewish and French. The result, at least in my opinion, is exquisite.
11. Visit Warsaw from Krakow
Another tip I can give you for planning your trip to Krakow is not to limit yourself to the city itself. Many people wonder before their trip whether it is better to visit Kraków or Warsaw, but the truth is that you don't have to choose. If you have enough time on your trip, you can travel from Kraków to Warsaw on your own or on one of the organised excursions around Kraków- don't miss out on either city! And if you want to know more, here's a post about how to get from Krakow to Wroclaw. Poland is waiting for you.
Plan your visit in detail
As you can see, Krakow has a lot to offer to tourists, but being a big capital it also has seasonal events that you can't miss. Choose the date of your visit to Krakow (my recommendation is to travel to Krakow at Christmas, especially if you're visiting Krakow with children) and then check out this list of travellers' favourite months to visit the Polish city:
- What to do in Krakow in January
- What to do in Krakow in February
- Things to do in Krakow in August
- Things to do in Krakow in October
- Things to do in Krakow in November
- Things to do in Krakow in December
Every time of the year has its advantages. Whether you visit Krakow in winter, visit Krakow in summer, visit Krakow in autumn or visit Krakow in spring, you'll find things to do, so book a minimum of 3 days for your visit (if you're staying less and want to save time, I recommend booking airport transfers to Krakow in advance). However, there are several itineraries available here for you to check out even if you're staying more or less days: