Kraków, Poland’s culture capital, is a vibrant city that truly has something for everyone. Here connect a lot of history, beautiful architecture, interesting museums, amazing food and cheap drinks. The last reason may be why Kraków is so popular among students and young people from all over Europe and the world. Still, with so much history and gorgeous sights it should be on everyone’s bucket list. What truly makes Krakow stand out is its energy and the carefree and fun atmosphere you can feel on the streets.
I visited Kraków on a weekend and had a little more than 48 hours to enjoy its beauty. In this post I’m sharing with you places I chose to visit during my trip as well as a few sights I didn’t have time to visit this time, but I am definitely putting on my to do list for the next time I visit Krakow. Bon voyage!
Morning: Polish breakfast and Old Town
For a great beginning of your Polish adventure head out to a famous Bar mleczny to grab good, but cheap breakfast. During the Communist era Bar mleczny or Polish Milk Bars were affordable cafeterias where the masses enjoyed milk (hence the name) and dairy based meals. Today, they are cafeteria styled restaurants which serve traditional Polish cuisine and are very popular amongst students and pensioners, because of the small prices and not so small portions.
After you’ve had a taste of Poland, I suggest you take a stroll through the historic Old Town. With majestic architecture, beautiful churches, historic monuments and horse carriages all around you, you will find yourself wondering whether you’ve entered a fairytale. There’s plenty to see in the Old Town, so I suggest you follow the Royal Route, the coronation path of the Polish kings when Kraków was the capital of the country. This way you will see Krakow major sights that lie along the route from the Florianska Gate to Wawel Castle via the market square Rynek, including the prettiest churches of Krakow and one of the oldest shopping malls in the world – the Cloth Hall.
If the weather is nice, you can also take a stroll through the most famous park in Kraków – Planty Park which encircles the Old Town.
Afternoon: Wawel Castle and Vistula River
By the end of the Royal Route you will have reached Wawel Castle, often said to be the most historically and culturally significant site in the country.
Before you start exploring the Castle, you can grab lunch at a great restaurant Pod Wawelem which literally means Under Wawel. Besides really good food and many Polish dishes, here you can also enjoy a 1l beer. This is a huge restaurant on Sw. Gertrudy Street, not to confuse it with a really small restaurant near the castle that has the same name.
After this, you can go on to exploring the magnificent Wawel Castle. You can roam around the grounds and the courtyard of the Castle for free. If you are a history buff you’d probably enjoy visiting some of the exhibitions inside the castle such as the Crown Treasury or Royal Private Apartments. Apart from that, you can also visit the Cathedral of the castle which has a great view of the city.
After you’re done exploring the castle, head down to the Vistula River and take a stroll along the edge of the water. If the weather is warm, you can also have a picnic near water and enjoy the view.
Evening: Kraków Dinner and Drinks
What better way to finish the day than with more good food and drinks?
There are many great restaurants on the main square where you can enjoy great food and some of them provide a stunning view of the square. Whichever one you choose, make sure you use the opportunity to try some amazing Polish food, such as pierogi – dumplings with cheese and potato, meat or vegetables, zurek – a soup boiled eggs and smoked sausage or bigos – a meat stew with cabbage, sauerkraut, meat and sausages.
If there’s still room after all the food, you can head to one of Krakow’s famous bars and end the night with Polish vodka or beer. Some of the most popular places among students are Pijalnia and Bania Luka which have some of the cheapest drinks in Kraków. However, be aware that most of the bars in Kraków get full really early on the weekends so prepare yourself for a hunt for free tables.
Morning: A trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau (or Wieliczka Salt Mines)
Although, there is a plenty to see in Kraków, I would still recommend not to miss the opportunity to visit one of these sites unique to the area of Kraków.
The first option is to visit the memorial and museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, a former Nazi concentration camp. This is one of the most horrible places on Earth and is definitely not something that is pleasant to visit. However, it is an important part of history that we as humans should learn from. The largest Nazi concentration camp is now a memorial and museum dedicated to those persecuted and murdered by the Nazi. It shows the terrible journey of the Jewish people and other minorities who were at Auschwitz at some point. As a part of a tour you will visit two sections of the former camp and with the help of your tour guide better understand postwar Europe and the World. If you are given an opportunity, I would advise you to visit this place.
The second option is the Wieliczka Salt Mines, one of the most valuable material and spiritual monuments in Poland which is a UNESCO World List of Cultural and Natural Heritage. Inside the Salt Mine there are many statues and four chapels carved out of the rock salt by generations of miners. Wieliczka is definitely on my agenda for the next time I visit Krakow since this time I went with the first option.
Both of these sites are an hour or less away from Kraków.
Afternoon: Visit the Old Jewish Quarter
After your day trip head to the old Jewish quarter of the city Kazimierz. Kazimierz used to be the centre of Jewish life in Kraków until World War Two. Today, it is one of the coolest places in the city, an energetic part of town with numerous hip cafes and restaurants, but also quite a few historic sites. Kazimierz is where Schindler’s Factory is located and where some scenes of the Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List were created. It is also home to many synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.
Before you start exploring the quarter, you can grab a late lunch at one of the hip cafes and restaurants or buy a typical Polish street food Zapiekanki (an open face sandwich with various toppings) at Plac Nowy.
After that roam around Plac Nowy, which is the centre of Kazimierz, and small streets around it, visit the a synagogue or two and a Jewish cemetary. You can also join a free walking tour to learn more about the synagogues and history of Kazimierz. If you have time pay a visit to Oskar Schindler’s Factory, something I plan to do next time I come to Poland.
Evening: Grab a beer and make friends with the locals
By this time you will have learned to find your way in Kraków. For your last moments in the city I always like to go back to whatever my favorite part of the city was and finish my sightseeing there. I loved evening walks in the Old Town, because it seems even more magical at night. You can, of course, repeat the going out routine from Day one if you want to finish the trip with a bang.
Still, I want to suggest one more thing we did that made this trip unique. Meet a local! Create a Couchsurfing profile and ask locals to grab a drink with you. We made three Polish friends who took us to a great bar to try Polish beer and who we have had awesome conversations with. They also helped us with our Kraków itinerary and told us what the must sees were from a local’s point of view. It was a wonderful experience and I plan to try to meet a local at any place I go to from now on.
This marks the end of my Kraków agenda.
I recommend you pay a visit to Kraków, because it is a lively college city, full of history and fun things to do. Also, you don’t need a lot of time to see the places you find the most interesting and it is cheaper than most European cities.
Hope you get a chance to visit Krakow soon! What would you add to this list?