Krakow is a city in Southern Poland famous for its mediaeval old town. In those days, it was the national capital, but it is now the second city of Poland behind Warsaw. Krakow’s old town is a charming UNESCO World Heritage gem and one of the first in the world to be honoured. Its rich history dates back many centuries, but there have also been dark times. Perhaps the darkest was when the Nazis occupied the city during the Second World War. The large city population in Krakow were forced into a ghetto, and many were sent to a concentration camp to be gassed, Jews and non-Jews, fairly indiscriminately.
Happily, those days are past, but they are not forgotten. Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, became the first non-Italian pope for over 450 years in 1978, and that was celebrated nationwide. As charter flight opportunities increased, the number of visitors to this stunning city multiplied. They came to see a city that was to be named the European Capital of Culture in 2000, and they have kept coming. The ideas below are just some things to do in Krakow and why you will enjoy spending time there.
- Krakow, Poland
- 20 Things To Do In Krakow
- 1- See A Royal Castle
- 2- Delight In The Old Town
- 3- Take A City Tour
- 4- Cruise the Vistula
- 5- Enjoy A Hero’s Factory
- 6- Enjoy A Folk Show
- 7- Experience The Ghosts of Krakow
- 8- Test Your Gun Skills
- 9- Listen To A Chopin Concert
- 10- Dance At A Party Onboard
- 11- Explore A Museum Underground
- 12- See Polish Art Treasures
- 13- Soak In Thermal Baths
- 14- Enjoy The Countryside
- 15- Visit An Old Communist Neighbourhood
- 16- Taste Local Craft Beer
- 17- Drink On A Pub Crawl
- 18- Relive The Nazi Horrors In Auschwitz
- 19- Head To The Polish Mountains
- 20- Admire The Artistry In Salt
- 20 Things To Do In Krakow
20 Things To Do In Krakow
1- See A Royal Castle
Wawel Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site on the summit of a hill of the same name, was the monarchy’s residence until 1795.
You will marvel at the opulent halls as you walk through them.
Many impressive artifacts are displayed in the castle’s museum, while the private apartments are evidence of royal wealth with tapestries, chandeliers and paintings.
The castle has plenty of fabulous art and an impressive collection of Ottoman tents.
King Casimir II the Great built the castle in the 14th century and two centuries later, King Sigismund the Old expanded it. Skip the line and buy your ticket to the castle here.
2- Delight In The Old Town
Krakow used to be one of Europe’s richest cities in the 15th and 16th centuries.
As you walk around the old town, you will see evidence of that with your own eyes.
Krakow was not bombed in the Second World War, meaning that none of its architectural treasures was destroyed in times of conflict.
The huge market square is magnificent, with St. Mary’s Basilica, an impressive building in one corner.
Roads lead off the square, one leading to Wawel Royal Palace, but all worth exploring.
You can read about the district before taking the tour, but an experienced guide will certainly add to your pleasure in walking around.
3- Take A City Tour
A great way to see the city is aboard an electric buggy.
With a guide, you will pass all the major landmarks, including Wawel Castle, the former Ghetto in the Jewish Quarter, and the Main Square.
Market Square is special and you are unlikely to find anything better throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
The Barbican, its fortified turrets and walls, impressive churches, and historical buildings are all en route.
After the former Jewish ghetto walls and Ghetto Heroes Square, your tour ends at Schindler’s Factory Museum, where you have time to explore before being collected at an agreed time to be taken back to your starting point.
4- Cruise the Vistula
Krakow sits on the Vistula River, the longest river in Poland.
It rises a little south of but mostly west of Krakow and flows out into the Baltic Sea.
You can cruise on the river to see the city’s various landmarks from a different perspective.
The Wawel Royal Palace dominates the city’s skyline from the river.
You will get a commentary about the places you are passing. There is an open deck allowing you to take photos as you travel.
5- Enjoy A Hero’s Factory
Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist, saved more than 1,000 people during the Second World War. Schindler’s factory made enamel, and he was able to employ many who otherwise were destined for Nazi concentration camps.
The factory is now a museum that has attracted huge numbers of visitors since the release of Steven Spielberg’s iconic film ‘Schindler’s List’ in 1993.
Before then, it was a story that only academics were aware of.
Stories of Jewish resistance, archival documents, recordings on film and radio, and photos are all part of the day of learning more about a true hero. Join the tour here.
6- Enjoy A Folk Show
Part of Polish culture involves folk music and dance.
You can enjoy an evening where you can dance with the performers if you wish, although you are unlikely to be in traditional costume.
You will also try traditional Polish cuisine on a fun night.
One of the venues for such a show is on the outskirts of Krakow, overlooking a beautiful lake, Kryspinów.
Your dinner includes cherry vodka, a local favourite, with wine and beer also available.
You won’t be driving, so don’t worry about consumption but remember, the next day, you will probably be out exploring again.
7- Experience The Ghosts of Krakow
Most old cities have ghost stories and Krakow is no exception.
At night you can take a two-hour ghost tour to learn more.
The Old Town by night is illuminated but it was not always so in past centuries.
Your walk takes in the St. Mary’s Basilica, the Cloth Hall, and Florian Gate, with your guide telling you stories as you walk.
The most famous legend involves the city dragon.
A man-eater, the locals kept the dragon happy by providing cattle every week.
Sons of King Krak poisoned it, but the younger son killed his brother to take full credit for the slaying of the dragon and was banished as a result.
The dragon’s cave is below the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula.
8- Test Your Gun Skills
Krakow has an extensive shooting range where you can try a range of weapons under supervision.
AK 47 Kalashnikov rifles are a popular choice, and you will get expert guidance about how to use them and any other gun that takes your fancy.
The targets are metal but rarely last beyond a week, such is the power of some guns.
Compete to get the best score and have your photograph taken while holding any of the weapons.
The target you hit is also a great souvenir of the day; take it away with you.
9- Listen To A Chopin Concert
Frederic Francois Chopin is Poland’s most famous composer, born in 1810 and dying in Paris in 1849 at a relatively young age.
His skills, other than composing, involved the piano and you can listen to modern musicians playing his music in Market Square, which adds to the occasion’s atmosphere.
Although he lived in Paris for virtually all his adult life, his songs were invariably in Polish.
Chopin Concert Hall in Market Square is a beautiful building, Gothic in style.
Even if you are not a fan of classical music, this is an evening that you will not forget, a great experience.
10- Dance At A Party Onboard
It’s party time at weekends, and one party you may like to join is one on a boat as it cruises down the Vistula.
The bar is open throughout your two-hour trip, with music and party games throughout the cruise.
A magician provides an added attraction on the trip.
After two hours on the boat, your next stop is one of Krakow’s late-night clubs to continue your party.
You will not have to queue and at the end of the night, you will get photos from the night as souvenirs and it’s a great way to make new friends.
11- Explore A Museum Underground
There is a hidden attraction in Market Square, an underground museum just below the square’s surface known as Rynek.
The museum chronicles the history of the city from its very early days.
You will see what that same square looked like many centuries ago.
In years gone by, foreign envoys were welcomed in the square where traders dealt in valuable materials.
Walking around, you will see old foundations, medieval roads and some 11th Century tombs.
After an interesting walk, you can return to the square for refreshments, lunch, dinner or a drink.
12- See Polish Art Treasures
While the Renaissance is more commonly associated with countries west of Poland, the “Lady with an Ermine” portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci in Krakow dates back to those days.
Adam Jerzy, the son of Princess Izabela Czartoryska, bought it in 1800.
The painting was donated to the Museum in Puławy and was confirmed in Polish ownership just a few years ago.
You can see it, among the 37 museums in Krakow for free after purchasing a city card. The card becomes valid as soon as you activate it, so do that early in the morning.
13- Soak In Thermal Baths
The water at Chocholowska Baths comes from 3,600 metres (almost 12,000 feet) below ground and has nutrients that include sulphur, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.
You can relax in one of eight pools where the water is 36 degrees Celsius (97F).
There is plenty of opportunity to be active; water basketball and volleyball are examples.
The slides are also open between March and November, weather permitting.
Steam and dry saunas, the choice is yours. You will enjoy waterfalls, volcanoes and geysers.
At the end of the day, the restaurant is ready for any refreshments you might want.
14- Enjoy The Countryside
The immediate area around Krakow is worth exploring for its castles and beautiful countryside, such as Korzkiew and Pieskowa Skała, with its courtyard and observation tower.
On you go to the castles in Rabsztyn and Ogrodzieniec.
The latter’s fame has increased because it is a location used in the series “The Witcher”.
On the way to that castle, where you get incredible panoramas, there is a viewpoint of Europe’s only desert, the Błędowska Desert.
Before you return to Krakow, there are two more castles to see, in Mirów and Bobolice.
15- Visit An Old Communist Neighbourhood
The old neighbourhood of Nowa Huta is one where you will see typical examples of Socialist Realist architecture.
You can explore in a Communist-era car.
There is a choice of vehicle, a Polish Fiat 126 model “Maluch,” Lada 2101, classic Nysa, Żuk, or even an old soviet army UAZ 452.
Your journey includes Aleja Róż (Avenue of Roses), where a statue of Lenin once stood.
There is true grandeur in Plac Centralny (Central Square).
As you travel, your guide will explain the neighbourhood’s history and Polish communism.
There are bomb shelters built in the event of World War III
16- Taste Local Craft Beer
Craft beer has reversed the trend of huge companies brewing beer for multiple outlets.
These beers are brewed on a smaller scale, yet they attract huge support.
In the case of Krakow, you can visit three different pubs on this tour while learning about the history of local brewing.
Every year, more and more micro-breweries are opening.
At the first pub, the word is “pilsner”, then on to taste a brew unique in style to Poland, Grodzisk, also called a champagne beer, with a recipe unchanged since the 13th century.
17- Drink On A Pub Crawl
You can begin a pub crawl in Market Square, a hugely impressive location in the heart of Krakow, meeting outside the Hard Rock Café next to St. Mary’s Basilica.
You are likely to make new friends as you head out for your first pub, one of three you visit with a free “shot” as you enter.
You have unlimited beer on this pub crawl, and you can also drink wines and spirits.
Drinking games are part of the evening, with a photographer there to record everything that goes on.
There are no queues on this trip which continues late into the night. Market Square is a wonderful night-time location with plenty of good bars and restaurants.
There are few better introductions to the city’s nightlife than heading out on this trip.
18- Relive The Nazi Horrors In Auschwitz
A day trip to the concentration camp of Auschwitz, the Nazi’s largest concentration camp that opened in 1940, is a sobering experience.
Millions of people died there, Jews as well as Poles in general, over a few years.
An experienced guide will provide the grim details as you walk around the site with its museum and memorials.
There is an eery silence for much of the time you are there.
A second camp at Birkenau also forms part of this day trip.
There are no happy stories on this day out from Krakow, with the experience likely to leave a lasting impression.
19- Head To The Polish Mountains
Even the route to Zakopane is interesting.
You will make the first stop at Chochołów; its wooden houses are fascinating and seemingly new, and then you have the chance to sample a local sheep’s cheese at Oscypek while seeing its preparation at the same time.
Your destination, however is Zakopane, from where you board a cable car to the top of Gubałówka to get a view of the Tatra Mountains.
The thermal pools in Białka Tatrzańska come just in time.
It’s a chance to soak in the warm thermal waters to complete a great day before your return to Krakow. Check out this tour.
20- Admire The Artistry In Salt
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Wieliczka Salt Mine is remarkable.
Ordinary salt miners have created an artistic masterpiece 135 metres (almost 450 feet) below ground.
You descend by stairs around half that distance, but there is an elevator to bring you back to the surface at the end of the tour.
This is a popular attraction, rock salt carved into a wide range of everyday things, furniture, mirrors, lighting etc.
You will find queues, so booking in advance is essential, even if it is for independent travel. Monuments, shrines and lakes are all part of the experience.
It is no longer a working mine, yet there is plenty to occupy miners to keep this wonderful attraction in good condition. Skip the line and book your tour here.