Looking for a city trip destination that does not cost you an arm and a leg? Go to Krakow in southeast Poland! I have been to Poland many times and out of all Polish cities, Krakow is definitely my favorite. Especially the Old Town of Krakow is in my opinion one of Europe’s most beautiful places, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I hope this article will inspire you to discover charming Krakow. It will be cheap!
Rynek Główny, Krakow’s main market square, is surrounded by historic townhouses, restaurants and bars. St. Mary’s Basilica, the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), Town Hall Tower (Wieża Ratuszowa), Church of St. Adalbert are the most outstanding buildings on the square. In winter time Rynek Główny square is full of festive Christmas stalls.
Wawel Castle & Cathedral
You have not been to Krakow if you did not visit the gorgeous Wawel Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral, next to the Vistula River (Wisla). To most Polish, the Wawel is a sanctuary and every Polish person must at least make one pilgrimage to Wawel. The opulent Wawel Cathedral is the last resting place of at least twenty Polish Kings. The Renaissance courtyard is surrounded by tiered arcades. And don’t miss the dragon!
During the Second World War, Krakow suffered a lot, especially the large Jewish population, which was forced to live in a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto. The famous Schindler’s Factory has been transformed into an impressive museum. Or visit the Galicia Jewish Museum.
If I had to put a poster up for every seven Poles shot, the forests in Poland would not be sufficient to manufacture the paper – Hans Frank, Krakow, Feb 1940
Nowadays the Jewish quarter called Kazimierz is one of the highlights of the city, a must visit with a special atmosphere, good museums and restaurants. The small Remuh synagogue with its Wailing Wall made of broken gravestones.
Other places not to miss in Krakow
- Plac Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints Square)
- Brama Floriańska (St. Florian’s Gate)
- Barbakan Krakowski
- Czartoryski Museum
- Church of Saints Peter and Paul (Kościół Świętych Apostołów Piotra i Pawła)
- Kanonicza street and Gozdka street
- Planty (park around Old Town)
- Collegium Maius and Collegium Novum
- Lord’s Transfiguration Church
- Teatr im. Juliusza Slowackiego
- Plac Szczepański
- Lost Souls Alley
I keep discovering new places in Krakow, even after at least five visits.
On walking distance from Old Town
- Rakowicki Cementary
- Kościuszko Mound
- Botanical Garden Jagiellonian University
- Akademia Górniczo-Hutnicza
Should you want to go to Camaldolese Hermit Monastery, I’d suggest to take a taxi or Uber ride since the bus is irregular. For women the monastery is open only 12 days per year.
Local tour guides can show and tell you more than you would on your own. Check out these suggestions.
For those interested in World War II and not afraid to get confronted with the dark side of human history, a visit to concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau cannot be missed. Ironically, Auschwitz is only one hour drive west of Krakow. A visit you will never forget.
Every cell block has its own disgusting story. Chills run up and down my spine. How can people do this to each other?
For more details please read my earlier blog Visit Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland and value your freedom more. Many people combine a visit to Auschwitz with the Wieliczka Salt Mine on the same day, but personally I could not do this.
Coming back from Auschwitz, you may feel like getting a drink, to let it all sink in. The terraces of Rynek Główny can get pretty sunny already in March. Krakow’s underground cellar bars are cool places to visit as well. I also love sipping a warm cup of tea with a bonbon, to watch people from behind the window of Karmello on the corner at the tram stop.
Daytrips from Krakow
If you are staying longer in the Krakow area, the following places out of the city are worth a daytrip:
- Wolski forest (with zoo)
- Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
- National Park Ojcow
- National Park Pieninski
- Olympic ski village Zakopane and mountain Kasprowy Wierch
- Dunajec River Gorge (rafting)
On the way back to Krakow, make a pit-stop at Karczma Pod Wielka Sola, the restaurant that will make you understand where the connection in my memory between Poland and a grandma’s kitchen comes from. The ribs with mustard are to die for.
Where to eat & drink
There are lots of nice restaurants at Rynek Główny and the rest of Krakow’s Old Town. I like going for lunch at Charlotte near the main square. There are several excellent Polish restaurants in Krakow. Eat pierogi (Polish dumplings) and/or other Polish deliciousness at my top 8: The Black Duck, Pod Aniolami, Piwnica Pod Zlota Pipa, Miod Malina, Galicyjska, Pierozki u Vincenta, Kuchnia Polska Gaska and/or Piwnica Wolnica.
Krakow is a city where you can still have a decent dinner for two for less than EUR 25.
Israeli/Jewish restaurants in Kazimierz such as Chamjim Kohan, Ester, Hamsa and Ariel are definitely worth a visit, often including live music. Some of them have very cute old plates with flower print and red-white checkered curtains like your (great)grandmother may have.
Know that in Poland there are still restaurants that only accept cash payment (Zloty that is).
Where to stay
If you can afford it, try to stay within or on walking distance of Krakow’s Old Town since most attractions and restaurants are there. For those who prefer to stay in a hotel, I can personally recommend the following three hotels in Krakow, which I visited several times myself:
There are a few very nice, stylish renovated apartments in Krakow that can be booked for a very affordable price. My favorites are:
- OLD NEW – Szczepanska
- BC 29 Residence
- Antique Apartments Old Town
- HappyGuests Św. Tomasza Apartment
- Apartamenty Rudi
When to go
Obviously spring and summer offer the best weather for a sunny city trip. In March it can already be very pleasant, catching the first sunrays on a terrace. In winter it can snow a lot. If you plan to combine Krakow with a visit to Auschwitz, I would suggest to go between November and March to avoid the big crowds. In November and December there is a nice Christmas Market on Rynek Główny where you can buy handcrafted and local souvenirs, kitchen ware, jams, woolen house shoes, etc.
How to get there
Krakow is easy to visit by car from surrounding countries Czech Republic and Slovakia. Krakow can also be reached by train or bus from many other big cities in Eastern Europe, such as Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava.
If you plan to fly in, check prices to Krakow Balice Airport (KRK) at Skyscanner. From most western European airports such as London, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt this should not cost you more than EUR 150-200. If flying from smaller airports such as Eindhoven with Ryan Air, tickets will be usually cheaper, between EUR 30-120. Flights with Poland’s national airline LOT go via Warsaw.
Train or bus to/from Krakow
Some may decide to fly to Katowice or Warsaw instead of Krakow Airport and travel further over land. From Warsaw you can take the train to Krakow Central Station. From Katowice you can reach Krakow by bus. Count on EUR 8 from Katowice Airport and EUR 3-6 from Katowice bus station to Krakow Bus Station with Flixbus (duration app. 2 hours). Wizz Air also runs a coach service between the cities but it’s more expensive than Flixbus.
Alternatively you can take the bus from Katowice Airport to Katowice Train Station and then further to Krakow by train, however this is more expensive and inefficient. There for example are also direct connections by Flixbus between Berlin and Krakow.
In any ways, by public transport is much cheaper than by taxi. Uber costs between EUR 60-100, a regular taxi easily charges EUR 85-130 for a ride between Katowice and Krakow. Between Krakow and Auschwitz we did hire a private taxi, see my blog post specifically about Auschwitz.
Within Krakow centre you will mostly walk, or otherwise take the tram, a taxi or Uber.
Explore Central & Eastern Europe
Check out my other articles of Central & Eastern European destinations:
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Have you ever been to Krakow? Or planning to go there? Please let me know in a comment below if you find this article helpful, or post a question should you have any.
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