City Guide to Krakow, Poland: Part 1 | Must See Attractions
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 history! Read on to see all of the must see attractions, so that you can make your own perfect itinerary for Krakow, Poland!
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Krakow, Poland City Guides
We explored Krakow from top to bottom and couldn’t fit it all in just one article. Be sure to read the rest of our Krakow, Poland City Guides!
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Visiting Krakow, Poland
Our travel plans were to first go to Warsaw and then continue south to Krakow. We were excited to see and experience one of Poland’s most visited cities. We also knew Krakow to be the gateway to the concentration camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the historical sites.
Krakow Sightseeing Tips
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, for longer distances, or just a break from walking, consider taking public transportation. Krakow buses and trams will get you just about anywhere within the city!
Old Town, Krakow
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 and be swept up in the bustle of the city.
How To Avoid Crowds in Krakow
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 beds.
Sightseeing Beyond Krakow’s Old Town
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!
Krakow Must See Attractions and Map
So, 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.
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Must See Attractions in Krakow
Wawel Royal Castle
Wawel Royal Castle is 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 so we subsequently 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, just know 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 St. Mary’s Basilica! Along with its size, the 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)
Church of St. Wojciech is 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)
Town Hall Tower is 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”, the Eros Bendato 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
The Wieliczka 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, and to customize your experience 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 easily been satisfied with a tour about half the length. Unfortunately, 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.
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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.
While in Krakow, be sure to 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. If you get the chance to visit and walk along the paths within Plany Park, keep in mind that the park is on the grounds of 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)
Kościuszko Mound is an artificial mound that was erected between 1820 and 1823. It was dedicated to Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish National Leader, and modeled after the prehistoric mounds in Krakow.
When visiting be sure to walk the serpentine path all the way to the top for views of the city!
Collegium Maius (Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego)
The Collegium Maius was originally constructed to be the main building of the Jagiellonian University. Today, it may no longer be the main building of the univeristy but the arched courtyard is definitely worth a visit!
When you visit, you’ll notice that there are two levels of the building surrounding the courtyard. 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, a mathematician and astronomer who formulated a model that put the Sun rather than the Earth at the center of the universe, 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, Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology 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.
For visiting and exhibit information, visit the Manggha Museum website.
Church of Saints Peter and Paul (Kościół ŚŚ Piotra i Pawła w Krakowie)
Built between 1597 and 1619, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul is a Baroque style church. In fact, it’s the largest historic church in Krakow (determined by seating capacity)!
Before entering, be sure to take a moment to admire the outer gate. Here, you’ll notice the church’s most memorable feature, sculptures of the 12 disciples that decorate outer gate.
Sanctuary of Divine Mercy
The Sanctuary of Divine Mercy is a modern basilica that was built between 1999 and 2002. It’s 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!
The basilica is located outside of Old Town Krakow, however because of the location you’ll be treated to a view of the city! So, don’t for get your camera when you climb (or ride up the elevator) to the top of the tower (It was free at the time of our visit).
St. Andrew's Church (Kościół św. Andrzeja)
Built in the 11th century, St. Andrew's 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. 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 for family it’s a great sightseeing stop for children!
If you’re patient and keep your eyes on the sculpture, you’ll be rewarded with a fire breathing show!
Just beyond the Wawel Dragon is a walk of stars. As you stroll along the river, enjoying the views all around you, be sure to look down and see the stars!
Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory (Fabryka Emalia Oskara Schindlera)
Once a metal factory, Oskar Schindler’s Enamel 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.
If you plan on visiting try to arrive early, as entry lines quickly grow and wrap around the building by mid-day.
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.
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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 it was a large reason for our visit to the area. 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.
We recommend reading it, not only for the experience, but also for tips on how to secure free tickets, as they were a bit tricky to obtain on our visit.
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!