For me, arriving in Krakow was love at first sight. I wonder what it will be like for you?
I went there for the first time in 2009. After sitting out eight hours on an overnight train, I was so excited to see the city everyone was talking about. History classes had filled my head with the old town vibe I would find in Krakow… A city of small streets, historic buildings, wonderful architecture, amazing food and great nightlife.
Needless to say that I couldn’t resist returning to Krakow. From day trips to single tours, here are 13 things to do in Krakow next time you visit.
This is the largest medieval town square in Europe and dates back to the 13th century. At the centre of this square, you can souvenir shop until you drop at the Cloth Hall, which is also a National Museum. Or, listen to a bugle played every hour from the famous St. Mary’s Church.
The Main Square is a popular meeting point, especially under the monument of Adam Mickiewicz. From here, it’s easy to make your way to one of the cafes around the Market Ring or the nightclubs operating in the cellars.
St. Mary’s Basilica
This important church in Krakow is one of the most sacred buildings in Poland. It’s located on the Main Square and you can recognize it by its two unequally sized towers. Failing that, the bugle played every hour will get your attention. Once inside, you can see the largest Gothic altar in Europe, made by Wit Stworz.
Located on the Wawel Hill close to the river, this castle used to be a Renaissance royal residence and the seat of first Piasts. It has been expanded and renovated many times over the centuries. You can visit the castle’s royal chambers, private apartments and royal shrine, as well as perusing the many historical exhibits on display, too.
The three-nave Gothic basilica was the coronation site for the kings. Little surprise, then, that it’s the most sacred cathedral in Krakow. Surrounded by three impressive towers – Zygmuntowska, Zegarowa and Srebrnych Dzwonow and nineteen chapels – it’s also the resting place of kings and their families, Polish national heroes and great writers.
You’ll find the entrance to this limestone cave on the Wawel Hill. The cave itself is 81m long and 21m deep inside. At the end of the cave, you will see a Wawel dragon. This dragon harks back to the Polish legend about a mythical creature living underneath Wawel Hill that terrorized the inhabitants of the Royal City.
This Gothic building with seven turrets was once connected to the city walls. It’s one of the best examples of medieval military architecture in Europe. The circular section with an inner diameter of 24.4m and wall thickness of more than 3m will leave you marvelling. It was erected in 1499 to protect the northern section of the Krakow fortification.
Oscar Schindler’s Enamel Factory
This is a factory that produced enamel and tin, founded in 1937 before being leased and then taken on by German entrepreneur Oscar Schindler in 1939. He ran the factory until 1945 as a Deutche Emailwarenfabrik. It was the place where Schindler employed Jews threatened by the holocaust, who were later rescued. Now the factory is a museum.
This is a well known historic Jewish Quarter worldwide, having featured in many movies. You can still see many synagogues here, like the Old Synagogue or Tempel Synagogue.
This is the most popular mound of the five found in Krakow. It was built in honor of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a famous fighter for freedom in Poland and the USA, for the third anniversary of the General’s death. The mound is no small feat, boasting an 80m diameter and standing at 34m tall.
This street is the heart of Krakow. It’s the main street, the most popular and the most beautiful in all the city. Part of the Royal Road, it forms a route that led to the Royal Castle in Wawel.
Fancy an excursion that will take you out for the entire day? You’re in luck! There are several day trips that you can easily do from Krakow. I haven’t used the tours before, but if one of these piques your interest, why not give it a go?
Auschwitz – Birkenau
This Nazi concentration and death camp is located in Oswiecim, 1.5 hours away from Krakow. Established in 1940, Auschwitz became a place of extermination for 1.5 million people of 28 nationalities. It’s one of the most depressing and horrible places in the world. Walking through the camp, you will struggle to fathom how awful people were. The feeling of death hangs over the camp, and it will mark your memory so deeply that you’ll never forget it. While it’s not a day trip to enjoy, you can’t visit Krakow without also visiting Auschwitz. You don’t need me to tell you that it’s a part of Poland’s history.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Located just 10km away from the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site listed salt mine. Visit this labyrinth of tunnels, caves, chambers cut in salt, chapels and underground lakes and you’ll be amazed that the lowest part is 135m down!
This is the winter capital of Poland, although it is popular during summer too. You’ll find Zakopane near to the Tatras mountains, so expect to see the picturesque landscapes of the Tatra valleys and charming mountain lakes. You can walk on the famous promenade Krupowki, where you’ll find regional restaurants, shops and street artists. Why not also take the railway up to Gubalowka or Kasprowy Wierch if you have time? Hike in the mountains here during the summer months or ski during the winter snow.