Krakow is one of those cities that tends to polarize travelers. Some love it and stay for several weeks, others quickly jump ship to nearby Wroclaw or Warsaw, or maybe even hop the border to Germany or the Czech Republic.
Yet whether you love it or hate it, you can’t deny Krakow is probably Poland’s most traveler-friendly city. Public transport is fantastic, things are cheap, the city is beautiful and clean, the nightlife is raging and there is a ton of things to do in Krakow.
If you’re planning on heading to this historic city, here’s a blueprint to help you hit the ground running without missing any of the best that Krakow has to offer.
25 Things to do in Krakow, Poland
Krakow’s Old Town is gorgeous and always brimming with activity – most of the action centers around the main square.
Make the most out of your time in Krakow with 3-day museum and transport pass that gives you complimentary access to 40 top museums, tram travel and a 24-hour bus ticket. You’ll also enjoy discounts at select restaurants, shops and other activities with your pass.
Old Town Walking Tour
This a free walking tour in Krakow (there are a few). You can choose to go at 10am or 2pm (there’s also a 4pm slot between March and October). I definitely recommend getting the 10am spot, as the sun can be pretty heavy in the afternoon.
This particular tour will take you through Krakow’s beautiful Old Town (it really is beautiful).
Like most of Europe, there is so much history here and the guide will unravel Krakow’s story right from the Middle Ages to the present day. The tour takes around 2.5 hours, so make sure you have walking shoes on. The meeting point is between the St. Florian’s Gate and Barbican – just show up.
Cycle the scenic streets on this Sightseeing Bike Tour of Krakow. Led by a local guide, pedal past the city’s top attractions, such as Jagiellonian University, Wawel Castle, the Jewish quarter and more.
Learn about the area’s rich history and architecture as you go, stopping to relax with a traditional Polish lunch. After an afternoon of exploration, your tour concludes at your original departure point.
As you’ll already be around the Old Town, spend the afternoon wandering Krakow’s Underground Museum. Literally underneath the main square, the museum is a collection of exhibits that illustrate the city’s entire history.
It’s pretty snazzy (and cozy) so there’s a 300 person limit at any one time. Especially in the busy season, make sure to book in advance. You can do it online or pre-purchase tickets at the Cloth Hall in the main square (ask, it’s not hard to find).
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Poland (Travel Guide)
Lunch at Moaburger
This was one of my favorite places to eat around the main square. The burgers are huge, fresh and delicious, the french fries are superb, and the ample sauce tops everything off nicely. Not exactly Polish, but will definitely hold your stomach down for the rest of the day.
Check out Galeria Krakowska
A little shopping to end the afternoon. I was super impressed by this mall. It’s 3 stories of non-stop shopping, all your favorite brands, and the prices are good too. I visited Krakow near the beginning of my Eurotrip, so ended up buying quite a few supplies here.
Also if you have any housekeeping to do, such as buying a sim card or grabbing a few groceries, this is a pretty good place to do it. Not a bad place to enjoy a coffee and do some people watching as well!
Dinner at Smakołyki
This is a Polish cafe that serves slightly spruced up versions of traditional Polish dishes. The menu is a melting pot of deliciousness, and even after three visits here you probably won’t have tried everything you wanted to (I hadn’t – that’s for sure).
The pancakes are awesome if you’re looking for breakfast, but I prefer to head here later in the day when I’m ready for something heavy. I easily go through three courses here, every time. Find them at Straszewskiego 28.
Are you a foodie? You can not visit Krakow without going on a Krakow Evening Food Walking Tour. Treat your taste buds to fresh local smoked cheese and “pierogies,“ the famous stuffed dumplings filled with meat and potatoes while walking through the evening-lit streets of Krakow.
Enjoy a cold Polish beer in one of the many hidden haunts along the main market square. The Krakow Evening Food Walking Tour last 2.5 hours and is filled with many great local eats!
You’ll probably be exhausted (and full!) after that, so head home for some shuteye and rest up for the next day. There’s a lot to see in Krakow, you’ve barely scratched the surface.
Walking Tour Jewish Town
The cool thing about Krakow’s walking tours is they don’t try and cram everything into one afternoon – things are split into several tours meaning you can take a different tour each day.
The Jewish Tour is another one of their free tours, which runs every day at 10am, 1:30pm (plus a 5pm between March and October). Again, I’d recommend the first or the last spot to avoid the heavy sun.
Kazimierz is a charming little area of Krakow where the Jews, after being shunned by much of Europe, finally found a home. In fact, Kazimierz is still considered one of the most important places in Jewish history.
The Jewish population was allowed to flourish here due to Krakow’s religious tolerance back in the day, meaning the Jewish community grew to be quite large and prominent.
This walking tour takes about 2.5 hours and you’ll see a lot of interesting corners of Kazimierz, plus the stories that go with them.
The meeting point is in front of the Old Synagogue on Szeroka Street. Again, just show up.
Lunch at Gossip Cafe
Not far from Kazimierz is Gossip Cafe. This is a boutique coffee shop on Zwierzyniecka 4, along the main road and not hard to find at all. It’s small, so you may have to wait, but most times I was able to find myself a seat.
The menu is a collection of healthy choices made fresh daily, with smoothies, juices, classic breakfasts and a few traditional Polish choices too. Definitely one of the best places in Krakow for a brunch or a quick coffee break.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Poland (Travel Guide)
Walk the riverside
Krakow’s riverside is gorgeous. During the summer you’ll find many students sitting on the grass banks studying, people rollerblading and riding bikes, some doing yoga under the trees, and many people simply enjoying an afternoon stroll.
The river is huge so it’s a good way to spend a slow afternoon and people-watch, or simple sit on the banks and enjoy some time out. I spent many afternoons here, recovering from long nights out, reading books, meeting up with friends. In my opinion, it’s one of the best places in Krakow.
Wawel Castle and Cathedral
Another popular thing to do when in the riverside area is to visit the Wawel Castle, the home of much of Poland’s old royalty in the olden days. Today it’s been transformed into an art and culture museum that’s always teeming with visitors.
Depending on the time of year, not all areas are accessible, and there is also a limit to the number of people allowed in. Try to head there earlier in the day if you really want to visit. The impressive Wawel Cathedral is right behind it – also worth checking out.
Dinner at Pod Temida
You can’t leave Poland without eating at a bar mleczny. Literally translated as “milk bar”, these are workers’ canteens from the Socialist era, that were set up to ensure all workers were able to get access to a nutritious meal. It was usually included in the worker’s salary, so they would just show up, get fed quickly and head back to work.
These milk bars flourished all through the 1900’s and are still popular today – now run as cheap canteens open to the public. If you’re looking for cheap, delicious, traditional Polish food, a milk bar is hands down the best place to get it.
My favorite is Pod Temida, which is right in the middle of the action on Grodzka 43. Try the blueberry dumplings, known as pierogi – they’re amazing.
While Krakow is famous for it’s action-packed center, there’s a lot more to the city than that. One of the best places to get a glimpse of what else it has on offer is Nowa Huta.
This is a part of Krakow that not many tourists see, but it’s an important part of the city that you shouldn’t miss. If you jump on tram number 4, you’ll be there in 25 minutes (head to the Plac Centralny stop).
The history here though is rather fascinating. Nowa Huta was planned and built by the Soviet Union in the late 40’s, designed to be a model socialist era city – a rival opposite to the cute and artsy Krakow. The buildings are all almost identical, and the city laid out in generic blocks to give it that Soviet feel.
The wide streets and colorless buildings are a stark contrast to the Krakow most people know, something you’ll notice quite quickly before you even get off the tram.
What can you do there? Wander the “Plac Centralny” central square, check out the Nowa Huta Museum, see if there are any exhibitions at the Nowa Huta Culture Centre, take a look at the Ludowy Theatre and the Arka Pana Church. My visit to Nowa Huta was quite rushed near the end of my trip, so I kind of just scrambled around the town. Book a Nowa Huta Tram and Walking Tour to ease your stress.
I would have loved to have taken a tour here if I’d had the chance, there is so much history to see and learn about.
Lunch at Max Grill
Max Grill is a little open air grill in Nowa Huta. It has a street food feel to it, and you can see the guys flame grilling piles of meat right behind the counter.
It’s cheap, easy and delicious, and has the grill firing well into the night. Definitely worth a visit! Find them at Jana Pawła II 232.
See the Steelworks
One of the icons of Nowa Huta was the massive steelworks, which employed almost 40,000 people at its height. In fact the name Nowa Huta actually translates to “new steel mill”, as these steelworks were intended to be the Socialist era symbol that Nowa Huta was known for.
Take the number 4 tram and go another two stops and you’ll get there (if you’re unsure, ask – everyone knows where it is). You’re not actually allowed inside the steel works anymore, but it’s cool to see what the town was built around.
Grab a beer at CK Browar
One of the better places to wind down with a drink in Krakow is CK Browar. This is a huge pub/restaurant at Podwale 6/7 that brews their own beer. There are lots of brews to choose from, so it’s great to come in a group if possible and share a few pitchers (or just drink a lot, that works too).
It’s popular to come here for dinner before a night out, and most groups indulge in a multi-liter tower of beer to go with their meal. It’s almost always busy, so try show up early to get a seat. Experience the craft beer culture of Kraków on a small-group, 3-hour walking tour.
Spend the Night Out
Not ready for the night to die young? Nightlife in Krakow is an animal of its own, and travelers from all over Europe come here just for the parties. Kazimierz turns into a total hipster bar-hopping town after sundown, and there are many traditional bars and clubs in the main square.
I won’t name any specific places, because the truth is there is just too many – Krakow has the highest density of bars and pubs in the world. There is also a pub crawl every night if that’s your scene. The town pops almost every night of the week, just put on your dancing shoes and show up.
With such a variety of bars and clubs, it can often be difficult to choose the best nightlife venues in Krakow. Guarantee a great night in Poland’s capital on a Krakow Club and Bar Crawl. This is a great choice for travelers looking to meet like-minded people. Your evening experience includes a 1-hour open bar, free shots in each venue, a photographer, and VIP entry to one of Krakow’s hottest nightclubs.
Auschwitz & Birkenau
The most popular day trip out of Krakow is to the Auschwitz concentration camp. This is one of the most well known of the German concentration camps where over a million people were killed during the Nazi regime.
Today, it serves as a memorial of the crimes committed against the Jews and other minorities during the war and post-war era . A place where you can better understand exactly what went on during those years.
To get there, simply catch the train to Oswiecim from Krakow’s main train station. It should cost you 15.60 PLN (about 3.5 EUR). From Oswiecim you can simply walk to Auschwitz – about 25 minutes away – or catch a bus if you prefer.
There’s bound to be a lot of other travelers making the same trip, so it shouldn’t be hard to figure out.
If you are not up for doing this adventure alone, book a Auschwitz – Birkenau Guided Tour. Make your visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum as easy as possible on this tour from Krakow. In a small group limited to eight people, you’ll travel to the former Nazi concentration camp in a comfortable minivan before embarking on a shared guided tour of the complex.
Entry to Auschwitz is free, but there is a quota on the amount of visitors so you should reserve in advance for the time slot that you want. You can do that online here.
You’ll need around 90 minutes for the Auschwitz site and maybe another 90 minutes for Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Make time to see them both and be prepared for a humbling and reflective experience.
Other Krakow Tours Worth Checking Out
- Wieliczka Salt Mine Guided Tour from Krakow
- Zakopane and Tatras Mountains Day Tour
- Pieskowa Skala Castle and Czestochowa Day Tour
- In the Footsteps of John Paul II Day Tour from Krakow
- Lagiewniki – Wadowice – Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Day Trip
- Full-Day Warsaw Trip from Krakow by Train
Where to Stay in Krakow
I stayed in Krakow for five weeks and I Couchsurfed the first week (the Couchsurfing community is very active), then stayed in an Airbnb quite far outside the center for the remainder.
As mentioned the public transport is excellent so there was no need for me to stay within the city center for the length of visit I did.
On a shorter trip however, close to the center is probably where you want to be. If you’re on that backpacker vibe, there is an endless number of hostels, and you can find some decent private rooms too.
I’d recommend staying at Hotel Kazimierz in the Kazimierz area, which is a little more chic and less bloated with tourists.
We have put together a short list of hotels we recommend in Krakow based off luxury: Sheraton Grand Krakow, mid-range: Hotel Astoria, and hostel: Moon Hostel. All hotels are located no more than .05 miles from Krakow main center allowing you to be located in the best area of town to experience Krakow.
Read reviews and check prices with our Hotel Search Engine, that gives you the best hotel deals found across the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you.
Transportation in Krakow
Getting around Krakow is incredibly easy. The tram system runs until 11pm (there is a night service too which is less frequent) and reaches most corners of the city. Simply get on board and buy a ticket at the self-service machines (they’re in English). A ride will cost you less than a euro.
If you’re feeling lazy, in a rush, or need a ride home after a big night out, grab an Uber. Uber is efficient and surprisingly cheap in Krakow. I used it regularly and it was always great, most drivers speak English and rides only cost about 10-15 PLN (2.50-3.50 EUR).
If you plan to use local transport and trams, be sure to purchase a Krakow Museums and Transport Official Pass to check off the best things to do in Krakow.
If you are interested in exploring Europe by train then check out our Ultimate Guide to Eurail Pass Train Travel in Europe.
Basic Information for Visiting Krakow
- Currency – Poland uses the Polish złoty (pronounced zwoh-tay). A lot of major banks are in Poland and it’s easy enough to get cash from the ATM. Also, paying with tap-tap credit cards is hugely popular here. You’ll see currency converters around the main center too, although I never had the need to use them.
- Language – The official language here is Polish. Most people speak at least basic English, and a lot of the younger crowd speak quite well. It’s rare to find people who are fluent though. A little Polish will go a long way.
- Safety – Krakow is considered a very safe city to navigate both during the day and at night. Knowing tis, we encourage you to get out and see the city at night when it is lit up, especially the Wawel Castle. There is also a lively street culture with dancing that happens at night and you shouldn’t miss it.
About the Author
Brendan is a former accountant turned full time traveler from Auckland, New Zealand. He is the blogger behind Bren On The Road and the founder of Missing Wanderer. His travels have taken him across every continent since he first started his journey in 2011. He lives and breathes budget travel, and writes to educate others on how to see the world on small budgets.
More on Europe:
- Ultimate Guide to Eurail Pass Train Travel in Europe
- When is the Best Time to Visit Europe?
- Travel Insurance for Europe Vacation: Do I Need It?
- Best Places to Fly a Drone in Europe
- Viking River Cruises in Europe-What to Expect