Kraków, a former royal capital with very richhistory, is one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe. Krakow city offers lot of different experiences for travellers, making it an exciting destination for first-time visitors keen on exploring Polish culture, history, cuisine, and architecture.
From architectural gems such as the Wawel Castle and St. Mary’s Basilica to the poignant Holocaust remembrance sites of Auschwitz and Schindler’s Factory, Kraków provides a rich cultural experience for those keen to delve into its storied past.
Moreover, first-time visitors to Kraków will discover a lively culinary scene, with authentic Polish dishes such as pierogi (dumplings) and kielbasa (sausage) readily available throughout the city.
With its blend of historical monuments, vibrant atmosphere, and inviting gastronomy, Krakow promises a memorable and enriching experience for all who choose to explore its charms.
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Getting to and Around Krakow
Arriving at John Paul II International Airport
John Paul II International Airport, also known as Kraków-Balice Airport, is the main airport serving the city.
Upon arrival, travellers can easily purchase a local SIM card for their mobile device from the numerous kiosks available.
To reach the city centre, several transportation options are available:
- Train: A direct train service connects the airport to the main railway station, Kraków Główny, in just 20 minutes. The tickets can be bought at the ticket machines or on the train and cost approximately £4.
- Bus: Buses number 208 and 252 run frequently from the airport to the city centre, with tickets priced at around £1.
- Taxis and Uber: Both traditional taxi services and Uber operate at the airport, providing convenient and affordable options to reach your destination in Kraków.
Train and Bus Connections
Kraków boasts a well-connected train and bus network, making it easy for travellers to arrive from other cities in Poland and neighbouring countries.
The main railway and bus stations, Kraków Główny, are located within walking distance of each other and offer easy access to the city centre.
Public Transport and Taxis
Public transport in Kraków consists mainly of trams and buses, covering the entire city centre (Zone 1). A 20-minute ticket, which is often sufficient for most journeys within the city, costs just over 50p.
For unlimited use of buses and trams, consider purchasing a City Pass Krakow Card, which also grants access to various museums and attractions.
For more details read article Guide to Krakow Public Transportation System
Taxis are available throughout the city, but Uber or Bolt is also a popular choice due to its competitive pricing and convenience.
Walking and Bike Rentals
Kraków is very pedestrian-friendly city, with many of its attractions located within walking distance from the Old Town.
Additionally, bike rentals are widely available, providing an enjoyable and environmentally friendly way to explore the city.
Accommodation in Krakow
Hotels and Hostels
Krakow offers a variety of accommodation options to suit everyone’s needs. Hotels are the most popular choice, with many well-rated establishments available at different price points and locations.
Some top-rated hotels include Hotel Pod Wawelem, providing classy and cozy accommodation with a rooftop terrace overlooking the Castle and river in Nowy Świat.
Hostels provide a more budget-friendly option for travellers, with shared accommodation options and a social atmosphere.
These establishments can be found all around the city, offering comfortable and affordable stays for those looking to save on accommodation costs.
Budget and Luxury Options
No matter your budget, Krakow has accommodation options to suit your needs.
For those looking for a budget option, numerous hostels and affordable hotels can be found around the city.
On the other hand, if you’re seeking a luxury experience, there are several high-end hotels and boutique establishments offering top-class amenities and services. Read also article Michelin Restaurants in Krakow
Families visiting Krakow can find a variety of family-friendly accommodation options, ranging from spacious apartments to hotels with dedicated family rooms.
It’s essential to look for accommodations that cater to children’s needs, including options for kid-friendly menus, connecting rooms and entertainment facilities. Read also article Visiting Krakow with kids
Staying Near Key Attractions
To make the most of your visit to Krakow, consider staying in areas close to the city’s key attractions.
Some of the best neighbourhoods to stay in for a first-time visitor are the Old Town, Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter), Kleparz, Podgorze, Grzegórzki, and Ludwinow.
By choosing accommodation in these popular neighbourhoods, you’ll have the luxury of exploring Krakow’s best attractions with ease.
Krakow’s Main Attractions
Old Town and Main Market Square
Krakow’s Old Town, or Stare Miasto, is the heart of the city and home to Rynek Główny, the Main Market Square.
This historic square, filled with beautiful architecture, is a must-see for any visitor.
Within the square, one can find the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), a restored medieval hall that now hosts a lively market.
Nearby, St. Mary’s Basilica stands tall with its stunning Gothic design, offering visitors a chance to enjoy the sightseeing and rich history it holds.
Wawel Castle and Cathedral
Another major attraction in Krakow is Wawel Castle, which stands magnificently on a hill overlooking the city. This impressive fortress symbolises Poland’s rich heritage and showcases a mix of architectural styles.
Within the castle complex, visitors can explore the Royal Apartments and the Wawel Cathedral, an important site for Polish ceremonies and coronations.
In addition to its magnificent appearance, the castle offers stunning views of the Vistula River and surrounding areas. Check Krakow: Wawel Royal Hill Guided Tour
Kazimierz – Jewish Quarter
Just a short walk from the Old Town lies Kazimierz, Krakow’s historic Jewish Quarter.
This district, with its narrow streets and old buildings, has a unique atmosphere that reflects its centuries-old heritage.
There are numerous synagogues and Jewish museums, such as the Old Synagogue and the Galicia Jewish Museum, which provide an insight into the rich culture and turbulent history of the Jews in Poland.
Additionally, the district is filled with charming cafes, art galleries, and vintage shops, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in its vibrant atmosphere.
Oskar Schindler’s Factory
For those interested in World War II history, a visit to Oskar Schindler’s Factory is essential. This former enamelware factory, now a museum, details the life and actions of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved over a thousand Jewish lives during the Holocaust by employing them in his factory.
The museum also provides a broader context for Krakow’s experiences during World War II.
The permanent exhibition titled “Kraków under Nazi Occupation 1939–1945” gives a gripping insight into the city’s wartime history.
Make the most of your first trip to Krakow by exploring these incredible attractions, and don’t miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the city’s rich history, culture, and architectural splendour.
Must-See Museums and Art
Krakow is a city steeped in history and culture, offering a wide range of museums and art galleries to explore.
The Rynek Underground is a fascinating subterranean museum located beneath Krakow’s Main Market Square.
It offers an intriguing glimpse into the city’s storied past, with archaeological ruins dating back to the Middle Ages.
Visitors can explore interactive exhibitions showcasing artefacts and multimedia displays, highlighting the city’s history through the ages.
The National Museum in Krakow is home to an extensive collection of Polish art, ranging from ancient artefacts to modern masterpieces.
The museum has various branches, including the 19th Century Polish Art Gallery located within the historic Cloth Hall. Here, visitors can appreciate the grandeur of the exhibits, transporting them 150 years into the past.
Some notable artworks at the National Museum include:
- Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine: A masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, this painting is one of only four female portraits by da Vinci and a must-see for art enthusiasts visiting Krakow.
- Stanisław Wyspiański’s stained-glass windows: Revered Polish artist Stanisław Wyspiański created stunning stained-glass windows for various churches in Krakow, including the famous ‘God the Father’ window in St. Francis Basilica.
The Czartoryski Museum features a remarkable collection of European art, including works by renowned painters such as Rembrandt, Canaletto, and Hans Memling.
Founded by Princess Izabela Czartoryska in 1796, it is one of the oldest museums in Poland.
The museum also houses an extensive collection of decorative arts, armour, and historical artefacts, providing a comprehensive insight into Poland’s rich cultural heritage.
Historical Day Trips
Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, located just 14km outside of Krakow, is a unique and fascinating destination for a day trip.
This UNESCO World Heritage site has been continuously producing table salt since the 13th century and features an underground labyrinth of chambers, chapels, and sculptures made entirely of salt.
Visitors can explore the mine on guided tours, admiring the intricate salt carvings and learning about the history of salt mining in the region.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp
A visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, 68km from Krakow, is a sobering and essential experience for understanding the history of the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation of Poland.
The site consists of two main camps, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
During the guided tours, visitors can see the preserved barracks, gas chambers, and crematoriums, as well as learn about the personal stories of some of the 1.1 million people who perished at the hands of the Nazis.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, on-site, further details the historical context and events surrounding this dark chapter in European history.
Zakopane and Tatra Mountains
For those looking for a day trip that combines natural beauty with cultural charm, Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains are the perfect destinations.
Just a two-hour drive from Krakow, Zakopane is a picturesque mountain town that offers a glimpse into traditional Polish highlander culture. The town itself is known for its wooden architecture, local handicrafts, and delicious regional cuisine.
The nearby Tatra Mountains provide opportunities for hiking, skiing, and mountaineering, allowing travellers to appreciate the stunning landscape and escape the city life.
Nowa Huta, situated in the eastern part of Krakow, is an intriguing destination for a day trip due to its historical significance as a prime example of socialist urban planning.
Established in 1949, this district was designed to accommodate steelworkers and their families and stands as a testament to communist-era Poland.
Visitors can take guided tours to learn about the socialist architecture, politics, and lifestyle of the time, while also exploring the remnants of Nowa Huta’s older history, such as the 13th-century Cistercian Abbey and the medieval Wanda Mound.
Krakow’s Food and Nightlife
Traditional Polish Dishes
Krakow offers a rich variety of traditional Polish dishes for visitors to enjoy.
Some popular options include pierogi (dumplings often stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables), placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes), and żurek (a sour rye soup).
Bigos, or “hunter’s stew,” is another local favourite, made from sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, and various types of meat.
Popular Restaurants and Cafes
Ristorante Sant’Antioco is an excellent choice for Italian food, featuring a menu based on authentic Sardinian recipes.
In the Kazimierz district, the former Jewish part of town, you’ll find a diverse range of dining options, including traditional Jewish dishes and modern fusion cuisine.
Bars, Pubs and Clubs
Krakow’s nightlife caters to a broad range of tastes, from relaxed bars to lively clubs. Wódka Cafe Bar on ul. Mikołajska 5 offers an excellent introduction to the world of Polish vodka. When you’re visiting Krakow, be sure to try an authentic experience like a Polish vodka tasting tour.
The atmospheric venue is open from Monday to Sunday, with varying hours of operation.
For those looking to explore the club scene, the Kazimierz district is a convenient 15-minute walk from the Old Town and features a vibrant selection of clubs and bars. This area is particularly popular among those seeking to avoid the bachelor party or stag do crowds.
Remember to enjoy Krakow’s food and nightlife responsibly, and be respectful of the local culture.
Visiting in Spring and Summer
Krakow is a delightful destination to visit during the spring and summer months.
From March to May, the city experiences pleasant weather and vibrant bursts of colour as flowers bloom along its tree-lined streets and boulevards.
Mild May days make it an ideal time for outdoor lunches on the banks of the Vistula River or picnics at Planty Park.
Summertime, particularly from June to August, is the peak tourist season in Krakow. Temperatures are high and parks become lush and green, attracting locals and visitors alike to enjoy barbecues and picnics along the banks of the Vistula River.
However, this popularity also means that the city can be crowded during these months.
To avoid the throngs of tourists, it is advisable to plan your visit either before or after the peak season if possible.
Exploring in Autumn and Winter
Autumn is another lovely time to visit Krakow, especially between September and November. The weather remains pleasant, and the city starts to embrace the golden hues of fall.
During this shoulder season, you’ll have a more authentic experience of Krakow, as fewer tourists are present.
Winter brings its own charm to the city, with snow-covered rooftops and crisp air, making it a magical destination for festive-season trips.
Although temperatures drop significantly, visitors can still enjoy indoor attractions such as museums and art galleries. It’s also a great time to explore Krakow’s bustling Christmas markets and cosy up in local cafes with a warm beverage in hand.
Bear in mind that while the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn offer the best sightseeing experiences in Krakow without the crowds, each season has its own unique appeal, making it worthwhile to visit this charming Polish city at any time of year.
Practical Krakow Tips and Information
Language and Communication
In Krakow, the official language is Polish. However, English is widely spoken, especially in tourist-friendly areas such as hotels, restaurants, and popular attractions.
It is useful to learn a few essential Polish phrases, such as “Tak” (yes), “Nie” (no), and “Dziękuję” (thank you).
While most people will be helpful when approached in English, making an effort to communicate in the local language is always appreciated.
More articles with practical information abut Krakow:
Currency and Prices
The currency in Poland is the Polish złoty (PLN). It is essential to be aware of the exchange rates and carry local currency, as some establishments may not accept payment by credit card or foreign currencies.
To give you an idea of Krakow’s prices, here are a few approximate costs in złoty:
- A meal at an inexpensive restaurant: 25 – 40 PLN
- A cup of coffee: 8 – 12 PLN
- Public transport ticket (single journey): 4 PLN
Keep in mind that tipping is customary in Poland, typically around 10% of the total bill. It is recommended to tip in cash.
Safety and Health
Krakow is generally regarded as a safe city for travellers. However, like in any urban area, it is essential to remain vigilant, avoid poorly lit streets at night, and secure personal belongings. In case of emergency, dial 112 for assistance.
Public tap water in Krakow is considered safe to drink. However, if you have a sensitive stomach or prefer bottled water, it is easily available at shops and kiosks.
As a first-time visitor to Krakow, it is advisable to carry travel health insurance and have a basic first-aid kit handy. Pharmacies are widely available, and staff can provide medical advice and assistance if needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
What to visit in Krakow?
Krakow is a city rich in history and culture. Some must-visit sites include the Wawel Castle, St. Mary’s Basilica, and the Main Market Square in the Old Town.
The Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz, is also worth exploring for its historic synagogues and lively atmosphere.
Don’t miss the Oskar Schindler’s Factory museum, which tells the story of the Holocaust in Krakow.
Krakow offers a range of accommodation options, from budget hostels to luxury hotels.
For first-time visitors, staying in the Old Town or Kazimierz areas is recommended, as they are close to most attractions. Mid-range hotel accommodation per room usually costs around 225zł.
Ideal activities for couples?
Couples visiting Krakow can enjoy a romantic walk along the Vistula River, a traditional horse-drawn carriage ride through the Main Market Square, or a candlelit dinner in one of the many charming restaurants in the city. They might also enjoy attending a classical music concert or exploring the city’s many art galleries.
Top tourist attractions?
Some of the top tourist attractions in Krakow include the Wawel Castle, St. Mary’s Basilica, Main Market Square, and the historic synagogues in Kazimierz.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the Wieliczka Salt Mines are also just a short distance from the city and are not to be missed.
How many days to spend?
To fully immerse yourself in Krakow’s rich history and culture, it is suggested to spend at least 4-5 days exploring the city, its museums, and surrounding attractions like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Wieliczka Salt Mines.
Best time to visit Krakow?
The best time to visit Krakow is during the spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) months when the weather is pleasant and there are fewer tourists in the city.
In the summer months (June-August), the city can be more crowded but offers a lively atmosphere with many outdoor events and festivals taking place.