I don’t know if it’s the history, the architecture or the people, but there really is just something about Kraków. Every area of the city tells a story. The old town offers all the charm of any old European city and more. Boasting one of the largest medieval town squares, you could spend a day in the centre alone. We have visited Krakow twice now, both in the winter and with hopes for a summertime return. It is easily one of my favourite places to wander with its bohemian atmosphere and amazing food. Here is everything you need to know for your first visit, whether you’re planning a trip in person or after a virtual fix to your wanderlust!
Where to stay and how to get there
Flights into Krakow can be pretty cheap, especially if you are coming from a major airport. I think our last flights were around £30 but we have also made savings when travelling from nearby countries. Eastern Europe is a wonderful place to explore by train too, so consider combining with a visit to nearby Prague or Budapest if you have more time! It also makes a great romantic getaway to celebrate a special occasion!
The airport is about 30 mins from the centre by car. Pre-book a transfer, use apps like Uber or grab a licenced taxi. You can also get a train, shared minivan or bus. Depending on which you choose, it will cost between £3 and £20.
As for where to stay, I highly recommend staying in Kazimierz, Kraków’s Jewish Quarter. Easily my favourite area of the city, with both a tragic and inspiring history. It is relatively quiet but filled will opportunities to eat, drink and explore. While there are plenty of hotels and places to stay towards the main square, look for homes in Kazimierz. We stayed in the Game of Thrones-themed apartment which was tiny but perfect for our needs at the time. It may be more novelty than practicality inside but these apartment buildings house mostly locals and with evidence of the War still visible on the outer walls, it gives a sense of the real Kraków.
We have also stayed in Hotel Kazimierz which has several hotels in the area. Basic but comfortable, breakfast was buffet-style and the decor was old in a not-quite-cool-again-yet way, but very clean.
What to see and do in Kraków
The Game Tour
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll probably already know that I like to wander. A huge believer in wandering new places to just see what you see. That said, I also love certain types of tours. Game Tour Kraków is literally the best idea. All the freedom of a casual wander but without having to miss anything or keep checking google maps! It also includes stickers, fun facts, puzzles, souvenirs and free cake. Which is basically a list of my other favourite things.
Honestly, I am in no way affiliated with the game tour, I just think everyone should do it.
You can collect your Kraków bag and game pack from several tourist info points, including the Cloth Hall. Inside are lots of goodies including a Map and a booklet of questions, the front pocket of the bag will be locked and the aim of the game is to learn the code that will unlock it. Got it?
Following the booklet’s instructions and using Kraków as the game board, you will have to answer questions. Solve riddles and spot details around the main monuments of Kraków in order to know which stickers to use in the booklet. At the end you are left with spares, their numbers will give you the combination! On your walk around the city, you will learn about all the major sites, find perfect photo opportunities, read legends of the city and even stop off for free tea and cake! And at the end is a lovely little surprise for completing it!
I recommend starting the tour midmorning at the latest and expect to take around 3 hours, depending on how quickly you move through the questions. Of course, the beauty of the game is that you can stop for as long as you like in each location and even carry it on to the next day.
The bag is 99zł (about £20) and only 1 is needed per group. Check the website for discount codes before you buy, they may even do buy one get one free! If you plan on doing this tour then make sure to do it before exploring on your own or double-check where it will take you first – saves doubling up and spoiling the surprises!
Tours can be arranged from Krakow to the mines where you can explore the history and techniques of the miners, wonder at the artwork they created and even do some salt mining yourself! I have a whole post about them here.
Townhall Tower & St. Mary’s Basilica
Built around the 1400s in the classic medieval style often seen in Europe (like this one in Verona) this tower is hard to miss! Once apart of the town hall, the tower is all that remains. Opening times vary but are generally 10.30 am – 5 pm, Monday-Sunday with later openings in the winter months. Expect to pay around 10PLN to see inside and view the city from the top of the tower. Its basement was once a torture chamber but is now used for stage performances!
St. Mary’s Basilica is a beautiful gothic building and famous landmark for the city. You can attend services here or take a tour starting from 5PLN per person. Listen out for the Bugle call! The bell rings four times, on the hour and on the 4th a trumpeter opens window facing marys square to play a 5 note polish anthem. This tradition dates back to medieval times and the midday one is broadcast on Polish radio each day!
This is definitely somewhere you want to think long and hard about before going. It is not simply a tourist attraction and photography is not encouraged. I personally did not feel right about taking photos, so other than one of the entrance, I have none at all. Trust me, the images are preserved in your mind without it! For anyone hoping to connect with history or pay their respects, I would recommend the tour. I am sure you have a knowledge of what went on in concentration camps and have probably seen various programs, films and read books about it. Being in the actual place these atrocities happened is not the same. For a start, just comprehending what happened in those grounds, while you stand in them, is impossible. I also felt that the speed of the tour and the number of people there made it hard to really take in and digest what you were seeing and hearing before moving on to the next place. Of course, not everyone will have the same experience but that was mine.
There are various options to visit either by yourself or with a guide. I would always recommend doing an organised tour that will collect you from Krakòw and include transport and a guide once you arrive. Having a tour with free time included will give you more time to take everything in and revisit particular areas if you want to. Some tours offer visits to the salt mines and other places on the same day but unless you are really pushed for time and desperate to see it all I would not advise this. Take a full day for Aushwitz, we set off early in the morning and were back in the city in the afternoon but it was nice to just go for coffee and chat about what we had experienced, rather than rushing to the next place.
Well worth a visit and interactive enough to hold both children and adults attention. Small cards can be collected and stamped at various points throughout the museum as you walk through the history of Krakow between 1939 and 1945. A mixture of historical items, sounds and videos create an immersive experience you will not forget. Discover the real story of Shindler and his factory but also what life was like for the whole city in WW2.
This was the first-ever UNESCO world heritage site and showcases various architectural styles from throughout European history. An important part of Poland’s story and home to various pieces of artwork, tapestries and suits of armour!
OR take the virtual tour here (make sure your sound is on for some very atmospheric music!)
The only thing prettier than a European city’s old town is a Europen city’s old town at Christmas! Krakow has a beautiful Christmas market set up in the market square next to the Cloth Hall. You can expect to find everything from handcrafted gifts and festive decorations to mulled wine and sweet treats. Keep an eye out for the famous blue and white Bolesławiec Pottery and pick up some pricey but pretty gifts for friends and family. Markets usually run from November to January but vary from year to year, while it does get very busy it is definitely worth it!
Food, glorious food!
Chimera- If you like eating good food and saving money (erm, who doesn’t!?) then this is the place for you! One of my fave discoveries in eastern Europe is the amount of buffet-style pay-per-plate places they have. Chimera is one of these places. Candlelit and set in a 14th-century building, Chimera specialises in typically Polish food with piles of veggies, salads, meats and potato dishes to chose from. Ideal for veggies and vegans too and priced around £4 a plate. They also have a more formal restaurant area and the various rooms and corners are filled with artwork, hanging plants and quirky furniture.
Vegab- If you want a realistic meat alternative, then this is it. Tasty, cheap and chatty staff. Well worth a try, even if just for the novelty!
Hamsa – Hummus & Happiness- Situated in the main square of Kazimierz, Hamsa serves up delicious Israeli dishes with plenty of hummus. Lots of veggie options and perfect for sharing multiple dishes. In the same building in a Jewish bookstore and across the square, in a charmingly decorated building, is Ariel, an old Jewish restaurant.
Mihiderka – This one is a chain and can be found in various places in Krakow and beyond. I had the most amazing soup from here but it was tough to choose with so many delicious options. Mostly plant-based and all the colours of the rainbow – the BBQ burgers are great too! A meal and drinks for two came to less than a tenner.
Keep your eyes peeled for the chocolate factory cafe – the hot chocolates are amazing on a cold winters day!
If you’re after a truly unique experience and want to eat some authentic polish food, then try eataway. It’s like Airbnb for meals! Connect with a local and pay to have dinner with them in their home!
So that’s it for now! Get planning your next city break and don’t make the same mistake as us! Or settle in with a polish beer and some hearty food and enjoy the virtual tours! Stay safe!
If you have questions or would like to share your own recommendations for Krakow then get in touch on Facebook or Instagram and lets chat! I’d love to hear what you think! Don’t forget to keep an eye on Pinterest for inspiration too!