18 Best Things To Do In Kraków, Poland
Kraków is not only one of the oldest cities in Poland, it is also one of Europe’s most beautiful. A UNESCO World heritage site since 1978, it’s a truly lovely place and far more colorful than I had imagined.
We visited at the end of November for the first week of the Christmas market and saw a cosy side of the city, magically sprinkled with a few flurries of snow.
It isn’t a large city by any means and can be covered mostly on foot. The hotels and the food are top notch and very affordable when compared with most of Western Europe.
Staying in the old town allows for immediate access to the charming cobblestone and colorful houses that make Kraków such a delight.
We stayed Hotel Pod Róża, a former Renaissance palace, which was perfectly centrally located on the pretty Floriańska street with Saint Florian’s Gate at one end and the main square at the other.
It’s an extremely elegant hotel with both a spa and Michelin star restaurant. Breakfast was epic, and consisted of three courses - appetizers, an egg course of your choice and sweet treats to end - saved us a fortune on lunch!
Getting There and Around
An Uber from the airport took about 20 minutes and is probably the easiest way to get to the old town.
Bear in mind that cars aren’t allowed in the city center so you must walk to the outskirts to get taxi or Uber pick-ups which are only in certain areas (Jana Matejki square is one of those areas).
What to See and Do...
1. Rynek Glowney - The Main Square
The largest market square in Europe is a sight in itself. It dates back to the 13th century and is surrounded by cafes and restaurants - with outside seating even in the snow!
2. St. Mary’s Basilica
This huge imposing church, completed in 1397, located in the corner of the square is an emblem of Kraków and should definitely not be missed.
Even if you have seen a million European churches and think they are all starting to look the same, go in and look up. The breathtaking blue ceiling dotted with gold stars is truly unique.
Photography isn’t allowed inside the church and prayer is preferred over tourism. You can climb the tower for panoramic views over the square as well. Also, a trumpeter plays from one of the highest windows every hour - he waves too.
3. The Cloth Hall
A beautiful Renaissance centerpiece to the large square, The Cloth Hall used to be a place for trading.
It now hosts cafes and the long arcade that runs though its center is home to many souvenir stalls - maybe focus on the architecture instead of the tack on display.
4. Town Hall Tower
The tower is the only remaining part of the old Town Hall which was torn down in 1820 to open up the square. The cellars once housed a prison complete with a medieval torture chamber.
The interesting sculpture (Eros Bound) by the famous Polish artist Igor Mitoraj, lies next to the tower and is enjoyed by kids and adults alike as you can climb into the disembodied head and peer out of its eyes.
5. Grodska Street
This notable street is part of the Royal Route used by kings to reach Wawel castle. One of the oldest streets in Kraków, it is lined with stunning buildings and some good donut shops too.
6. Kanonicza Street
Kanonicza street displays stately Renaissance architecture and was also home to Pope John Paul II from 1951 to 1963.
7. Holy Trinity Church
With over 120 Catholic Churches in Kraków, there are more than enough places to worship. This particular church, Holy Trinity, has a wonderful surprise inside its fairly ordinary exterior - another blue ceiling complete with golden stars - and this time you can take photos.
8. Saints Peter and Paul Church
The Baroque Catholic Church is another unique one due to the row of statues of the apostles outside the entrance.
9. Wawel Royal Castle & Cathedral
Wawel castle and the cathedral share a spot at the top of the hill and you can buy tickets separately to different areas.
The ticket office for the cathedral is just opposite its entrance. Be sure to check out the dragon bones hanging right by the door to the cathedral - as any child will confirm, these are most obviously dragon bones and definitely not whale bones.
The climb up the bell tower is included in the cathedral ticket price and offers nice views from the top.
10. Wawel Dragon Sculpture
The legend of the dragon that once terrorized the city, devouring citizens and livestock is commemorated by the dragon (‘smok’ in Polish) sculpture located down by the river at the base of the castle.
This seven headed monument breathes fire (although there must have been a gas shortage when we visited) and guards the dragon’s cave (which is only open seasonally).
11. Kazimierz -The Jewish Quarter
Kazimierz, an area steeped in history, is now home to cosy cafes, bars and restaurants. The crumbling buildings were once home to the Jewish population when, after the invasion of Poland during WWII, were forced into a walled zone known as the Kraków ghetto. Many scenes from the famous movie, Schindler’s List, were filmed in the area.
Nowadays, street art, hipster vintage shops and bohemian bars make for an interesting vibe.
Notably, our favorite cafe was here - Cytat Cafe. Full of books with quotes all over the walls, it’s super cosy and a great spot to grab and sandwich, coffee or cocktail - and the best ever apple pie. Make sure to visit the Star Wars toilet and the Harry Potter one too!
12. Oscar Schindler’s Enamel Factory and Museum
Oscar Schindler was a German entrepreneur and member of the Nazi party credited with saving approximately 1200 Jews by employing them all in his factory thus saving them from the horrors of Nazi labour camps.
Schindler’s desk, recognizable from the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie is on display, but the old factory located on the other side of the river mainly focuses on what Kraków went through during the Nazi Occupation of 1939-1945.
It is an interesting tour and we found it appropriate for our 8 year old - but the museum does recommend 14 years and up, so use your judgment. Bear in mind as well that it is a popular museum so you might need to buy tickets in advance.
Of course, there is also the possibility to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps located 60 km west of Kraków.
13. MOCAK - Museum of Modern Art in Kraków
This relatively new museum, MOCAK, sits right next to the Schindler museum and it is therefore convenient to visit both. My advice would be to check the current exhibition before buying tickets, as there was a particularly dull political one featured during our visit, which was not a fan favorite.
There’s also a food hall, Hall Lipowa, next door as well if you get peckish.
14. Kraków Pinball Museum
This underground Pinball Museum located in cool looking cellars is a kid, and in our case, Dad, win! It’s free to look around or you can choose to play all the machines for an hour or longer for a small fee.
There are pinball machines and classic arcade games such as Donkey Kong and Galaga. They also serve beer!
It makes for a very welcome pit stop after sightseeing for little ones. Note: there is also a lovely little cafe at the entrance called Tartelette that might be a good spot for the non-gamers.
15. Floriánska Street
Another pretty street not to be missed that leads from the main square to St. Florian’s Gate is Floriánska Street. There’s a nice view of St. Mary’s Basilica at the other end as well.
16. St. Florian’s Gate and Barbican
Originally built as a rampart to protect the city in 1307, St. Florian's Tower Gate and adjacent towers along with the Barbican are almost all that remains of the ancient medieval fortress that surrounded the Old Town. The Barbican can be found on the other side of the gate.
17. Stolarska Street
18. Great Restaurants and Cosy Cafes
Truly a lovely place in an enchanted setting along with some of the best food we’ve ever had. Do yourself a favor and get the ‘Grey Goose' for dessert - a whimsical treat that includes a perfect white chocolate filled egg and a cotton candy nest.
Serving traditional Polish fare in its cosy underground cellars, with even a bit of entertainment thrown in.
Our favorite cafe literally made of books. Lunch, coffee or cocktails and comfy chairs, the best apple pie, and Star Wars and Harry Potter themed toilets!
In the old Jewish quarter, it used to be a synagogue.
A dark moody cafe and restaurant also in the Jewish quarter. I think it may come alive at night.
Tucked away - it’s a nice little spot if you can get a table.
Off the main square and packed with tables - and very cheap drinks.
Very cosy spot for coffee or cocktails.
Next to Siesta Cafe - another cosy spot.
Excellent sushi but a bit far out of town.
Bar area with an arcade.
Good coffee surrounded by plants.
Tiny spot for a break.
While not on everyone’s radar as a tourist destination, Poland, and in particular, Kraków, makes for a lovely weekend away. Go for the Incredible food, beautiful architecture and a tons of history.
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