City Guide to Krakow, Poland: Part 1 | Must See Attractions
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Many argue that no visit to Poland is complete without time spent in Krakow. It’s described as a magical, fairy tale city that’s not only beautiful but inexpensive and full of different kinds of food. For us, traveling first to Warsaw and then continuing south to Krakow, we wanted to see and experience one of Poland’s most visited cities, but we also knew Krakow to be the gateway to the concentration camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau.
With a week planned in Krakow we set off to explore the city, and if you know us at all, you’re well aware that we plan our trips out in advance.
We’re detailed in our research, curating a list of everything we want to do, from the tried and true tourist destinations, to local spots and always a few hidden gems that are off the beaten path.
So, to possibly make your research on sightseeing in Krakow (and other destinations) easier, we’ve kept our maps with all of the information we gathered (accurate at the time of our sightseeing).
Finding hours, prices, and general information can sometimes be challenging, so we’ve tried to include these details on our maps and provide appropriate links below.
NOTE: We used this sightseeing map for our personal sightseeing adventures, because of that, some notes may not make perfect sense, and some information could be outdated. Information on this map was valid at the time of creation. In general prices are shown in US dollars but are actually in Polish Zolty (local currency). That being said, feel free to save it to your Google account and use it as a starting point (or modify it accordingly) for planning out your personalized itinerary in Krakow.
Our favorite way to get to know a city is to explore it by foot. Walking in Krakow, if you’re physically able, is a fairly easy task, as it’s a small city. However, there’s no shame in taking public transportation, and buses and trams will get you just about anywhere within the city.
The most popular part of the city, the area that gives Krakow its reputation as a wondrous fairy tale, is Old Town. It’s extremely popular and very crowded, making it a great place to people watch.
Although, if you want to avoid crowds, do what we did and arrive first thing in the morning. We beat the crowds and were fortunate to have most of Old Town to ourselves when we started sightseeing on a Sunday morning at 7:30 am. It can be painful for people who aren’t accustomed to waking up early, however in our experience, it’s well worth the discomfort! It’s also an entirely different experience, as the city on a Sunday morning has a blanket of calm over it; locals are at home or in religious services, and tourists are probably still warm in their hotel bed.
The majority of your time will likely be spent exploring Old Town, however don’t take the outer areas of Krakow for granted. There’s plenty to see and there are less tourists to contend with in the rest of the city. We spent a fair amount of time exploring different parts of Krakow and felt we were able to see a side of the city that many visitors don’t get to experience, providing us additional depth and knowledge of the city. We highly recommend it!
Must See Attractions in Krakow
Wawel Royal Castle
It’s one of the largest castles in Poland and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Center of Krakow in 1978. Visiting the grounds of the castle is free of charge, but there’s plenty more to do and see at the castle that require entry tickets (it has five separate museums in total!). For us, we found that walking around the grounds of the castle was the perfect experience. If you wish to explore more, check current visitor information on their website.
Main Square (Rynek Główny)
Rynek Główny, the main square in Old Town dates back to the 13th century. It’s size took us by surprise and subsequently we spent a fair amount of time exploring it. We first arrived in the square in the early morning hours and enjoyed it nearly empty, sharing the space only with vendors and restaurant employees that were setting up for the day. However, the calm of the morning was long gone when we visited later in the day and found the square full of people! It’s two distinctively different experiences, and if you have the chance, you should do both.
Here are some of the different place you can find in Rynek Główny Square...
The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)
The Cloth Hall, dating back to the 13th century, is an indoor market set up with stalls for vendors. Today it makes for a fantastic place to find gifts (although, you’ll pay a ‘tourist tax’). Historically, it was known for the trade of textile and fabrics, but has also seen a variety of commodities pass through its stalls.
St. Mary's Basilica
Although set in a corner of Rynek Główny, you won’t likely miss this church. Its brick facade, two towers of different heights, and the hourly ‘hejnał’ (bugle call) make this church stand apart from its surroundings. Purchase tickets (separately) for a climb to the top of the tower and for entry to the front of the church.
Church of St. Wojciech (Kościół św. Wojciecha)
It’s the oldest church in Krakow, dating back to the 11th century. It may seem oddly situated in the main square, although, historically it was a place of worship for visiting merchants, which explains its location near Cloth Hall market.
Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa w Krakowie)
It’s the only remaining part of the town hall and to our surprise, its cellar was once the city prison and a torture chamber. Visitors can climb to the observation deck at the top of the tower for views of the surrounding city.
Eros Bendato (Eros Bound)
Also known as “The head”, this sculpture by Igor Mitoraj is very popular among tourists. If you don’t arrive before the crowds, you’ll find it’s hard to take a picture without people on top of it or climbing in it.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
This salt mine was opened in the 13th century and actively produced salt until 2007. It’s officially a National Historic Monument of Poland and is open to the public, but it’s a ways out of city center Krakow. You can only enter the mine by joining a tour, although there are a few tour (‘Route’) options to choose from. Take the Miners’ Route for a more hands-on tour, or the Tourist Route for a fast-paced walk through the mine (while 'fast-paced' it's still 90-120 minutes in length). We opted for the Tourist Route and found it well designed for visitors, with restroom breaks along the way and places to stop and get a snack or buy a souvenir. For our liking, we would have been satisfied with a tour about half the length. Additionally, we were disappointed that there wasn’t enough time to take photographs at each stop before being rushed along by the next tour group. Find up-to-date visiting information on their website.
Wawel Cathedral/ (królewska bazylika archikatedralna śś. Stanisława i Wacława na Wawelu)
While visiting, it didn’t take long before realizing that Pope John Paul II (formerly Karol Wojtyla) is widely celebrated throughout the city. Visit the 900 year old Wawel Cathedral to see where Pope John Paul II offered his first mass the day after his ordination in 1946. The cathedral is the coronation site of Polish Monarchs and is the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Krakow. Find visiting information on the cathedral website.
Planty Park consists of thirty smaller gardens that surround Old Town and can be found where the medieval city walls used to stand until the 19th century. Walk the four kilometers (two-and-a-half miles) around the park and you’ll enjoy scenic walkways, ponds, monuments, and fountains.
Kraków Barbican (barbakan krakowski) & St. Florian's Gate (Brama Floriańska)
Built in the mid-15th century, Krakow Barbican was a fortified outpost that connected the city walls and served as a gateway to Old Town through St. Florian's Gate.
Kościuszko Mound (kopiec Kościuszki)
This artificial mound was erected between 1820 and 1823, dedicated to Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish National Leader, and modeled after the prehistoric mounds in Krakow. Walk the serpentine path to the top for views of the city.
Collegium Maius (Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego)
Originally constructed to be the main building of the Jagiellonian University, the arched courtyard is worth a visit. Historically, professors lived and worked in the upper level and lectures took place on the ground level. As you take in the courtyard, you may be inspired to know that Nicolaus Copernicus attended the university in the late 15th century. See beyond the courtyard with a tour, of which more information can be found on the website.
St. Francis' Basilica (Klasztor i Bazylika Franciszkanów św. Franciszka z Asyżu)
Visit St. Francis' Basilica to see its beautiful and colorful Art Nouveau interior.
Located on the bank of Wisla River, the Manggha Center is the Center of Japanese Art and Technology that was inspired by the Oscar winning Polish film maker, Andrzej Wajda. When visiting, you’ll first notice that the contemporary building is designed in a traditional Japanese wave-shaped fashion, and inside, depending on when you visit, you’ll find a mixture of Japanese, Polish, and other international exhibitions.
Church of Saints Peter and Paul (Kościół ŚŚ Piotra i Pawła w Krakowie)
Built between 1597 and 1619, the Baroque style church is the largest historic church in Krakow when it comes to seating capacity. Before entering, you’ll likely notice the church’s most memorable feature, the 12 disciples that line the outer gate.
Sanctuary of Divine Mercy
This modern basilica was built between 1999 and 2002 and is located on site of the monastery complex of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. When visiting, you’ll be among three Popes and millions of pilgrims who’ve visited the site. Don’t miss a climb (or ride up the elevator) for a view of the city, which is free (accurate at the time of our visit).
St. Andrew's Church (Kościół św. Andrzeja)
Built in the 11th century, this church is a fascinating example of a European fortress church. The church was the only one in Krakow to survive the Mongol attack of 1241, and to this day you can still see the small openings of the defensive windows along the lower section of the building.
The Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski)
On the bank of the Wisla River is the Wawel Dragon. It’s quite popular among visitors, and children especially enjoy climbing on it. If you’re patient and keep your eyes on the sculpture, you’ll be rewarded with its fire breathing show!
Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory (Fabryka Emalia Oskara Schindlera)
The former metal factory is now the home of two museums, Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków MOCAK and Historical Museum of the City of Krakow. If Oskar Schindler sounds familiar, you may recall the name from Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. Today visitors can see the permanent exhibition ‘Kraków During Nazi Occupation 1939-1945’, it covers everyday life of Krakow inhabitants during Nazi occupation. Find visitor information on the official website.
Stary Kleparz Covered Market
Stary Kleparz Covered Market is an 800 year old local produce market that’s a fantastic place to see the ‘local’ side of Krakow.
Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau (Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu)
The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, memorial, and museum isn’t located in Krakow, but was a main reason for our visit. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Krakow but worth the visit for its historical significance and for a time of reflection.
Due to the significance of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we’ve written an individual post on our experience during our visit () and included tips to seeing the camps and memorial. We recommend reading it, not only for the experience, but also for tips on how to secure free tickets, as they are a bit tricky to obtain.
If you’re visiting Poland, Krakow’s probably on your destination list. We’re actually split on our take of the city, Sergio enjoyed Warsaw more, while Shannon preferred Krakow. Either way, the cities are a short distance from each other and are inexpensive to reach by either plane or bus, so we recommend adding both to your itinerary if time allows. Plus, while in Poland, don’t miss out on a traditional Communist Era Milk Bar experience!
And, we don't want to leave you without sharing just a few more of our favorite photos! We hope you enjoy them!