No other city has a greater claim on Polish history and culture than Krakow, even if this glorious European destination has technically been playing second string to Warsaw for the last few centuries!
Until 1596, Krakow was the undisputed capital of Poland, and then Warsaw was given the crown instead. Old habits and traditions die hard, though. As far as the locals are concerned, Krakow might not be the capital, but it is the number one city in Poland.
You’ll quickly find that Krakow has a lot going for it. You can start in Krakow’s famous Old Town, which had the honor of being listed as one of the world’s first-ever UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1978! Here you’ll find the impressive Wawel Royal Castle, Wawel Cathedral, and a colorful array of old medieval streets and market squares to rival any other European city.
Head into the old Jewish Quarter, and you’ll find the lingering remnants of World War II everywhere, while the darker side of Poland’s history can be seen in full at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is just a short drive away from Krakow.
But there’s more to see and do in Krakow than history. Explore the city, and you’ll find beautiful green spaces, trendy bars and restaurants, and plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in one of Europe’s most understated destinations.
With so many fantastic things to see and do in Krakow, you might not know where to begin. That’s why we’ve compiled our guide to the absolute best things to do in Krakow for you. Give these fun and unique Krakow bucket list recommendations a try, and there’s no doubt that you’re going to have an incredible time in this glorious Polish city!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 15 Best Things to do in Krakow, Poland
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15 Things to do in Krakow
1. Explore Krakow’s Historic Old Town
You’ll love how Krakow’s Old Town is one of the most beautiful city centers in Europe. This is an Old Town that can be counted among Europe’s hidden gems, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering why it ever took you so long to book that flight to Poland!
For over five centuries, Krakow was the royal capital of Polish kingdoms until the capital was moved to Warsaw in 1596. But Krakow retained all of its regal glory, and much of the historic architecture survived the ravages of World War II when so many other Polish cities were almost entirely obliterated. So much of the city survived that in 1978 Krakow’s Old Town became one of the first historic locations to ever be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Take a walking tour of the Old Town to uncover the best there is to see in Krakow. You’ll discover how the city began as a humble village on Wawel Hill, where today you still find Wawel Royal Castle and Cathedral. Wawel Hill is at the southern end of the Old Town, overlooking the Vistula River, and at the northern end, you can visit the Barbican, one of the historic gateways into Krakow.
In the middle, you’ll love the bustle of Rynek Glowny, Krakow’s main, central square, which is home to St. Mary’s Basilica and the Renaissance-era Cloth Hall. The square itself dates back to the 13th century, and you can take a break from all that walking and history with an alfresco coffee or beer while you watch city life in Krakow pass by – just like it has for centuries!
2. Take a Regal Tour of Wawel Royal Castle & Wawel Cathedral
Wawel Royal Castle is not only one of the most important Krakow sightseeing attractions, but it’s one of the most important places anywhere in Poland. You can’t miss the castle because it looms high over the Old Town from Wawel Hill, where it has dominated Krakow’s skyline for over 1,000 years!
You’ll find that the oldest buildings in the castle date back to the 10th century AD. However, the Romanesque architecture that’s so prominent today dates back to around the 14th century. The castle became the stronghold of Polish royalty, and until the capital was moved to Warsaw, this was where royalty lived and ruled over the nation.
You’ll be impressed by the regal history and architecture of Wawel Royal Castle, especially when you step inside the hallowed halls of Wawel Cathedral. Traditionally, Polish royalty would be crowned inside the cathedral, and they would be buried in the crypts below.
Wawel Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral are surprisingly extensive, and with ever-changing exhibitions looking back through Polish history, you’ll need a few hours just to see the highlights!
3. Uncover Polish History at the National Museum in Krakow
This is a city that’s packed with history and culture, and there’s no better place to uncover the past than at the National Museum in Krakow. We think this grand museum is one of the must-do things in Krakow, and that’s because this is the biggest museum in Poland!
That’s right, Krakow is the place to learn about Poland’s exalted history, and you’ll soon be lost among the endless exhibits and exhibitions found inside the extravagant building in the city center. The National Museum in Krakow is home to hundreds of thousands of different paintings, works of art, and historical items that have been collected and curated since the museum first opened in the 19th century.
The “Main Building” is where you’ll find the bulk of the collections, including a contemporary Polish art gallery, the Gallery of Decorative Arts, and a large section devoted to military objects and memorabilia. There are nine other “divisions” around Krakow, and you might want to go into the Czartoryski Museum to see the world-famous Lady with an Ermine painting. It’s one of the few grand portraits painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century.
4. Go Shopping at the Cloth Hall
You might be intrigued by the large, Renaissance-style building in the middle of Krakow’s Old Town. You can’t miss it, because it’s right in the middle of the main square. This is the Cloth Hall, and it’s one of the most famous things to see in Krakow!
Krakow’s Cloth Hall is one of the oldest shopping centers and marketplaces in Europe, and merchants and travelers have been visiting, buying, and selling here for centuries. The marketplace itself is ancient, but the Cloth Hall dates back to around the 14th century and was given a massive redesign during its mercantile heyday in the 16th century.
Beneath the famous archways, you can shop for souvenirs and gifts at the market stalls and in the shops. Head to the upper floors, and you can visit the Sukiennice Museum, an art gallery that’s home to the most extensive collection of 19th-century Polish works in the country.
5. Marvel at St. Mary’s Basilica
St. Mary’s Basilica is one of the most popular things to do in Krakow, so make sure it’s high up on your bucket list when you’re exploring the Old Town.
Dating back to the 14th century, this impressive basilica is located in the Old Town’s main square, but you’ll spot the unique twin spires long before you reach the entrance. You’ll also hear the basilica long before you arrive because every hour, all through the year, a trumpet is sounded from one of the spires!
The trumpeting memorializes the arrival of the Mongol armies in the 13th century when the original cathedral was destroyed. King Casimir III the Great rebuilt the church, and today it’s one of the most impressive, artistic, and architecturally beautiful buildings in Poland.
6. Explore an Underground Museum
When you’re standing in Rynek Glowny, in Krakow’s Old Town, take a moment to wonder what might be below your feet. The answer might surprise you because several meters below the square you can find one of the best museums in Krakow.
Opened in 2010, the Rynek Underground Museum is one of the most unique things to do in Krakow. The underground museum was designed to protect a series of archeological excavations, which were unearthed below the Cloth Hall, and at the same time, to tell the extensive story of Krakow from its early beginnings to the present.
This is easily the most modern museum in Krakow. You’ll find an impressive array of electronic storyboards, light shows, and holograms that bring thousands of years of history to life.
7. Gorge on Pierogi and Bagels in Krakow
No trip to Poland is ever complete without gorging on local dishes, and, in Krakow, you’ll have plenty of tantalizing delicacies to try. Eating is one of the best Krakow activities we can think of, and we’ve got a few culinary recommendations that we know you’re going to love!
First up is pierogi, the Polish classic that’s beloved across the nation. Pierogi are delectable parcels of joy. They are little dumplings stuffed with sweet or savory fillings and served with sauces and spices. In Krakow, you’ll find authentic Polish pierogi on almost any traditional menu, and common flavors include sauerkraut, bacon, potato, and blueberries.
Next up is a Krakow favorite, obwarzanek krakowski. This is a unique type of bagel that’s commonly sold as a tasty snack, breakfast, or street food. Obwarzanek krakowskis are cheap, plentiful, and rather addictive – so much so that they’ve been protected by the European Union as part of Krakow’s intangible culinary heritage!
Krakow’s cuisine doesn’t end there. You’ll find that restaurants serve up hearty portions of potato pancakes, a rye broth soup called zurek, and a meat-heavy “Hunter’s Stew” that is sure to warm you up on a cold day.
Then there are the zapiekanka, which are the local take on pizza. If you’ve got room for more, there are the kielbasa sausages, there’s the Krakow fudge, and there’s the sweet Krakow cream cake.
8. Discover a City of Contrasts in the Old Jewish Quarter
Visiting the city’s old Jewish Quarter is one of the most fascinating things to do in Krakow. While the Old Town is the most famous Krakow sightseeing attraction, you’ll find the Jewish Quarter to be just as intriguing.
Known to locals as Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter is often billed as the most up-and-coming district in Krakow. This is where you’ll find some of Krakow’s trendiest bars, restaurants, and cafes, as well as some of the best boutique hotels! There are quirky and creative shops to peruse, and it’s a great place for a night of craft beers and cocktails.
But there’s much more to Kazimierz than this. The area was home to a thriving Jewish community for hundreds of years until the Nazis occupied Poland and drove the inhabitants into a ghetto. This is a place of contrasts, and you can find out more at the Galicia Jewish Museum or Ghetto Heroes Square.
9. Visit Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory
If you’ve ever watched the movie Schindler’s List, then you’ll want to make sure that the Oskar Schindler Enamel Factory is on your Krakow itinerary. Now a museum, this was formerly the factory where German businessman and Nazi party member Oskar Schindler employed Jewish slave labor during World War II. It’s also where he ultimately tried to save as many lives as he could after having a drastic change of heart.
The events that occurred in the factory were largely forgotten after the war, and it was then used to manufacture telecommunications equipment up until 2002. In 2010, the decision was made to turn parts of the former factory into a lasting memorial. During your visit, you’ll learn all about the true events that inspired the now renowned movie.
At the same time, parts of the factory were torn down and replaced with a new, modern building that looks to the future rather than the past. The old factory complex is also home to the excellent Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, where you’ll find exhibitions showcasing the work of Poland’s most exciting new artists.
10. Take a Crazy Tour of Krakow’s Communist District
If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in Krakow, then you’ll find it in the form of a crazy tour of Nowa Huta, the city’s communist district! Nowa Huta is known for its socialist apartment blocks and communist-style architecture, and you can learn more about Poland’s recent socialist past with the “Crazy Guides.”
Crazy Guides run communist-themed tours, but these aren’t just any old tours. You’ll be driven around in a vintage Cold War-era car, such as an East German Trabant or a Polish Fiat. If you’re in a group, they even have an old Soviet-style bus to take you around in.
The crazy communist tour is a fun look at the socialist era. Although, there are hard-hitting moments thrown into the tour, too. As well as sightseeing through Nowa Huta, you’ll have the chance to visit retro restaurants, have a few shots of vodka, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can extend the tour with a trip to a secret nuclear bunker!
11. Take a Long Stroll through Planty Park
You don’t need to go far to find nature – not when Krakow’s Old Town is ringed by a beautiful public park. Planty Park is one of the best sights in Krakow, and you’ll love how easy it is to lose yourself in this suburban parkland without ever having to leave the city.
Planty Park is 2.5 miles long, and it follows the route of the city’s historic defensive walls, which once encircled the entirety of the Old Town. A few of the old gates are still standing, as is Wawel Castle, which you can walk around when you tackle the southern portion of Planty Park. Most of the walls were torn down in the 1800s, though, and replaced with leafy boulevards and walkways that turned Krakow into a revolutionary green city.
Take a stroll through Planty Park, and you’ll be able to enjoy the Old Town skyline while also passing by sculptures of famous Poles, as well as lovely areas of greenery, trees, flowers, and more!
As you might expect, Planty Park changes effortlessly with the seasons. In the spring and summer, the greenery is at its best, and the benches are filled with locals and tourists sheltering in the shade. In the autumn, leaves turn from green into brown, red, and golden hues of vibrant color, while in the winter, you might be lucky enough to see Planty Park covered in a thick layer of snow!
12. Take a Cruise on the Vistula
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Krakow, then make sure you take a cruise on the Vistula. The Vistula is Poland’s longest river, and it winds its way beautifully through Krakow on its journey toward the Baltic Sea.
Krakow was built on the banks of the Vistula, and you’ll already have seen how Wawel Castle overlooks the flowing waters from its location on top of Wawel Hill. There’s no better way to experience the Vistula’s beauty than on a boat tour, and you’ll find all sorts of cruises taking visitors along the river all through the day and during the night.
There are historic boat tours on old paddle steamers, cruises on traditional Polish-style gondolas, and if you’re here to party, there are backpacker booze trips as well! If you don’t care to take a boat tour, the river is lined with walkways and cycle paths, and the Vistula is a fantastic place for a stroll or a bike ride during your stay in Krakow.
13. Have a Day Out in the Salt Mines
A day out in the salt mines? Surely that’s not one of the top things to do in Krakow. We hear you, and we also want to assure you that a day out in the Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the best things to do in Krakow!
Don’t worry – there’s no forced salt mining on the itinerary today. What you will find, though, is an otherworldly subterranean world carved into the rocks deep below the ground. The Wieliczka Salt Mine has been in use for seven centuries, and over that long period of time, hundreds of miles of tunnels and mine shafts have been dug hundreds of meters into the earth.
Take a tour through the old mines, and you’ll find more than darkened corridors. You’ll find spectacular chapels that have been carved from the rocks.
There are beautiful works of art and darkened mysteries. And there’s even a revitalizing, mineral-rich spa experience that’s like no other in Poland!
14. Be Moved by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial
One of the world’s most infamous memorials is located just an hour’s drive from Krakow. Auschwitz-Birkenau needs little introduction, and a day trip here is one of the most moving things to do in Krakow.
We understand this might not be for everyone, but given the importance of Auschwitz-Birkenau, it’s something we do recommend when you’re in Poland. Auschwitz-Birkenau was established as a concentration camp during World War II, and today, the camp has been preserved as a lasting memorial to the Holocaust.
The memorial and museum were established in 1947, just two years after the end of the Second World War. The decision to preserve much of the camp ensures that decades later, Auschwitz-Birkenau is not only a place of remembrance but a place of education.
To learn more, you can join a guided tour of the camp itself. Tour operators organize trips directly from Krakow to the memorial. Or, you can use public transport to travel from the city, before joining a guided tour upon arrival. It’s a moving experience, so be prepared.
15. Go Hiking in Ojcow National Park
Are you wondering what to do in Krakow after ticking off all of the best sights in the city? Then why not take a day trip to Ojcow National Park, where you’ll find beautiful scenery, glorious nature, and fantastic hiking trails.
Ojcow National Park begins just a half-hour drive to the north of Krakow, and it’s the perfect destination for anyone looking to reconnect with nature at the end of an incredible trip to Krakow. Ojcow National Park is best known for its limestone karst scenery, and you’ll love the dramatic rock formations that rise high above the forest!
Start in the village of Ojcow and then hike off into the national park, following the trails to caves and old fortresses built to defend Krakow from invaders. Ojcow National Park is surprisingly compact, with an area of just eight square miles, but you’ll soon discover that it’s absolutely packed with beauty!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Krakow. What’s your favorite thing to do in Krakow?
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