If you haven’t been yet, put Krakow, Poland on your list! One of the most picturesque Polish cities, it’s known for its medieval buildings and vibrant nightlife. Krakow is also considered to be the cultural capital of Poland. There are many world class museums such as Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory. Here are some of the most interesting things to do in Krakow.
Interesting Things to Do in Krakow, Poland
When visiting Krakow, you won’t want to miss the historic city center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. However, there are lots of other fascinating attractions to see.
If you’re wondering where is Krakow, it is in South Poland, on the Vistula River. Close to the border with the Czech Republic, Krakow is the second largest city in Poland.
The city is relatively compact at 327 square kilometers and lends itself very well to a city break. You can get around by tram, bicycle or simply by walking. Start your visit in Krakow Old Town, Stare Miasto.
1. Main Market Square
Krakow Market Square, Rynek Głowny, is the largest European medieval town square. This huge space covers 3.79 hectares and measures 200 meters on each side.
Dating from the 13th century, this is the social center of Krakow. Many public events take place here, including the traditional Lajkonik parade with a wooden hobby horse in June and the nativity scene competition in December.
You’ll notice the famous monument to Adam Mickiewicz at the center of the square. This statue commemorates the poet and political activist, who never actually visited Krakow during his lifetime.
2. Cloth Hall
In the middle of Krakow’s Main Market Square, you will find Cloth Hall. A market place has stood on this site since the 13th century. In fact, the site is considered to be the oldest shopping mall in the world, at over 700 years old.
The current building dates from 1555 and is in Renaissance style. Market traders sold spices and textiles, giving the monument its name, Cloth Hall.
Known as Sukiennice in Polish, today the Cloth Hall has many stalls selling traditional Polish crafts. You can buy amber jewelry, wooden carvings, lace and other trinkets, or relax in one of the cafes.
Café Noworolski has an ornate Art Nouveau interior and a large terrace, while Cafe Szal is on the second floor and has great views of the square. Below Cloth Hall, don’t miss Rynek Underground, a fascinating museum showcasing Krakow’s medieval history.
3. St Mary’s Basilica
Another unmissable landmark on Main Market Square, St Mary’s Basilica is an impressive Gothic church. Dating from the 14th century, it is also known as the Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven.
Every hour, you can hear the trumpet bugle call playing from St Mary’s church tower. The tune always stops before the end, to honour a trumpeter who was shot while warning the townsfolk of enemy invaders. You can hear them up close by climbing the 235 steps to the top.
Inside, the Veit Stoss altar by Wit Stwosz is a Gothic masterpiece, and the stained glass windows are stunning. You can purchase a skip the line ticket if you’re worried about the basilica being crowded on the day of your visit.
4. Town Hall Tower
Did you know that Krakow has its very own version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa? The Town Hall Tower only leans by 55 centimeters and yet you’ll certainly notice the tilt. The 70 meter tower dates from the 14th century and the slant was caused by strong winds in 1703.
Visitors who climb the 100 steps can admire the views of Krakow from the windows, although the balconies aren’t visitable. There’s also a small exhibition of medieval Krakow history.
5. Eros Bendato
Nicknamed simply The Head, this imposing bronze statue by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj can also be found on Main Market Square. Eros Bendato means Eros Bound, and the statue has his eyes covered. That’s because love is blind!
You’ll often see children crawling inside the statue, which is open at the neck. It’s also a popular Krakow Instagram spot.
6. Wawel Hill
On the banks of Vistula river, Wawel Hill is home to the Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral. The latter is one of the top Catholic pilgrimage sites in Poland.
Standing at around 228 meters above sea level, Wawel Hill is a limestone rock dating from around 150 million years ago.
From the 11th century onwards, there has been a cathedral on this site. The present day cathedral opened in 1364.
There are 18 chapels and the tomb of St Stanislas, former bishop of Krakow inside. Climb the wooden stairs to see Sigismund Bell, weighing 12.6 tonnes. Book a skip the line ticket with audio guide beforehand to make the most of your time.
Wawel Royal Castle has been the residence of many Polish kings. During World War II, Wawel Castle was occupied by the Nazi governor general Hans Frank. He ordered Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man to be removed and the painting has still not been returned to Poland. Visitors can however admire Lady with an Ermine, by Leonardo da Vinci.
The State Rooms have a priceless collection of 16th century Flemish tapestries and stunning Renaissance wooden ceilings. The Crown Treasury and Armoury showcase the collection of Polish Crown Jewels and weaponry, including the coronation sword, Szczerbiec.
Take a guided tour of Wawel Castle to get the best insights.
7. Florianska Street
Also known as St Florian’s Street, this cobbled medieval walkway is pedestrianized. There are several interesting sights including the Pharmacy Museum and Jan Matejko House, where this popular Polish painter once lived.
The street lies just off Main Market Square and is part of the grid plan created for the Old Town in 1257. Don’t miss Jama Michalika cafe, which has a beautiful Art Nouveau decor, and St Florian’s Gate. This Gothic tower was built to protect the city from Tatar invaders.
8. Krakow Barbican
Built in the 15th century to defend the main entrance to Krakow, the Barbican is the best preserved fortified outpost in Europe. Originally connected to Florianska Gate, it has 7 turrets and 130 defensive slots.
The Barbican is nicknamed the saucepan or Rondel. A plaque commemorates Marcin Oracewicz, who according to legend in 1768 killed General Panin, leader of the Russian troops with his rifle, loaded only with his overcoat button.
9. Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory
Steven Spielberg immortalized the true story of Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, which was shot in Krakow. You can learn about him by visiting the enamel factory where he protected his Jewish workers from deportation.
Oskar Schindler’s Factory is now a museum detailing life in wartime Poland and the underground resistance movement. Buying tickets online is a good idea as numbers are limited, and groups of 15 or more are required to reserve in advance.
10. Jagiellonian University
The Jagiellonian University of Krakow is considered to be one of the oldest universities in the world. Collegium Maius dates from the 14th century and has a beautiful courtyard with a vaulted arcade. The astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus studied here in the 1490s.
You don’t have to be a university student to come and admire the courtyard. There’s also a charming cafe, Kawiarnia U Pęcherza where you can enjoy fresh juices.
The main building is Collegium Novum, built from 1873-1887. This red brick design by Feliks Księżarski is in Neo-Gothic style.
Almost a third of the population of Krakow are students. They come not just from Poland but from all over the world, via the Erasmus student exchange scheme.
Also in Krakow University District, St Anne’s Collegiate Church is an impressive sight. The largest Baroque church in Krakow, it dates from the 17th century.
The former Jewish District in Krakow, Kazimierz has a bohemian atmosphere with its cobbled streets. Founded in 1335 by King Casimir III (Kazimierz in Polish), the town of Kazimierz became an important centre for the Jewish community.
During the Second World War, the Jewish inhabitants were forced by the Nazis to leave Kazimierz for the Jewish ghetto of Podgorze. After the war, the area was restored.
Many scenes from the movie Schindler’s list were filmed here. Find out more about the area’s history at Galicia Jewish Museum, Isaac Synagogue, High Synagogue and the New Jewish Cemetery. Take a private guided tour on foot or by Segway to find out how the area has changed over time.
There are many great Jewish restaurants, as well as hipster bars and street food at Plac Nowy. Hevre is located in a former synagogue and has original frescoes and a mechitza balcony.
Singer is a quirky restaurant decorated with sewing machines, to commemorate the former sewing factory on the site. A Kazimierz food tour is the perfect way to see the area.
Tytano is a hipster quarter located in a former tobacco factory on the edge of the Old Town. Spread over 15,000 square meters, the area is home to a cultural center, art studios and work spaces.
There are several cool bars and beer gardens such as BonJour CaVa, Mashroom and Miedzymiastowa.
13. Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow MOCAK
Since its opening in 2011, MOCAK has become a great place to see contemporary Polish and international art in Krakow. The distinctive building was designed by Claudio Nardi and contains a cafe, library and bookstore as well as a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.
14. Eat Contemporary Polish Food
Krakow restaurants have come a long way in recent years. They’re still very affordable, but the variety of food options has increased significantly.
You can of course still find pierogi, the traditional Polish dumplings, zurek sour soup and bigos, a tasty hunter’s stew. For modern Polish cooking, head to the Hilton Garden Inn Krakow Restaurant.
They have some beautifully presented dishes and friendly waiting staff. After your meal, the adjacent Globe Cafe is the only Polish bar accredited by the International Bartender Association. As you’d expect, there’s a great choice of cocktails.
15. Tea in a Secret Rose Garden
One of the best hidden gems in Krakow, Meho Cafe is set in a beautiful rose garden. The interior of the cafe is small, and the real draw is the large orchard and garden.
The cafe is located behind Jozef Mehoffer House on ul. Krupnicza in the Old Town. Jozef Mehoffer was a talented stained glass artist and the house is well worth a visit too.
16. Wieliczka Salt Mine
One of the most unique tourist attractions in Poland, Wieliczka Salt Mine makes a great day trip from Krakow. Situated in the town of Wieliczka, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dating from the 13th century, the salt mine produced table salt until 2007. It was one of the oldest operating salt mines in the world.Over a million people visit this iconic Polish landmark every year.
There are 300 kilometers of chambers and tunnels to explore. Visitors can admire a salt lake in the Erazm Barącz Chamber and the Chapel of St Kinga, made entirely from salt.
There’s an underground restaurant, a health resort and even underground accommodation. Find out about the history of the mine with a half day guided tour by an expert.
You can also book a tour that includes private transfers to and from Krakow for an additional charge.
A tragic part of Polish history, the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau is now a memorial to the estimated 1.3 million people interred here by the Nazis. Of those, over 1.1 million lost their lives.
The Polish government founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in 1947. It is dedicated to the memory of those who were killed here.
18. Slowacki Theater
This ornate Baroque theater was built in 1893. Juliusz Słowacki Theater was designed by Jan Zawiejski and inspired by the Opera Garnier in Paris.
The building is named after the Polish poet Juliusz Słowacki. Inside, there’s a stunning painted opera curtain designed by Henryk Siemiradzki.
19. Vistula River
The largest river in Poland and the 9th longest river in Poland is a lovely place for a stroll. Vistula River, or Wisla in Polish, is also very popular for river cruises.
You can see many Krakow sights by boat, including Wawel Hill, the Church on the Rock and Kazimierz. The young at heart will enjoy a Krakow boat party, with an open bar, sound system and magician. If you’re looking for something more romantic, an evening river cruise is perfect.
20. Krakow Mounds
There’s a mysterious mounds in Krakow, dating from prehistoric times. Krakus Mound is the oldest structure in Krakow and the tallest point, at 16 meters high.
It is thought that the mound was built to commemorate the founder of Krakow, King Krakus, However, archaeological digs haven’t found a grave.
In the upmarket Krakow district of Salwator, lies another impressive mound. Kosciuszko Mound is a monument to Tadeusz Kościuszko, the Polish freedom fighter.
This mound was built in 1823 and is 34 meters high. At its base, you’ll see the fortifications built in the 1850s by the occupying Austrian troops.
21. Wawel Dragon
Fear not, this isn’t a real dragon but a statue of the legendary creature who terrorized Krakow during King Krakus’s reign. According to folklore, the king promised the hand of his daughter in marriage to any man who could defeat this mythical beast. A cobbler left lamb filled with sulphur for the dragon to eat, who became so thirsty that he drank water until he burst.
Known as Smok Wawelski in Polish, the statue was inagurated in 1972 at its current location. The dragon breathes fire that you can trigger via SMS text message!
22. Polish Aviation Museum
This fascinating museum has a great collection of airplanes, helicopters, uniforms and other aviation memorabilia. It is located on the site of the former Rakowice-Czyzyny airport one of the oldest airfields in the world.
A new exhibition hall was added in 2010. Although some of the exhibits are only in Polish, there are many interactive displays to enjoy. Admire the Louis Bleriot 11 aircraft from 1909 and the Sopwith F.1 Camel from 1917.
23. Father Bernatek Footbridge Sculptures
Connecting Kazimierz and Podgorze districts, Father Bernatek Footbridge spans 130 meters. Opened in 2010, it was designed by Krakow architect Andrzej Getter.
Although the bridge itself has an interesting design, it is the distinctive sculptures by Polish artist Jerzy Kędziora that really catch your eye. Nine acrobatic figures are deployed around the bridge, in a temporary exhibition that will hopefully become permanent.
24. Vodka and sledz
You have to try pickled herring in Krakow. Sledz, as it is known in Polish, goes very well with vodka. Ambasada Sledzia, which translates as the Embassy of Herring, started a trend for pairing the two together.
There’s also a smaller sister branch in Kazimierz.
25. Christmas Markets in Krakow
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Krakow before Christmas, don’t miss the festive markets. The main one is held on Krakow Market Square from the end of November onwards.
Pick up handmade souvenirs including lace, wood kitchen utensils, pottery and of course, Christmas decorations. There are also many carol performances at this time of year.
Where to Stay in Krakow
We can recommend The Hilton Garden Inn Krakow, which has spacious rooms with all mod cons. The restaurant and Globe Cafe are very good, and guests also have access to the Pavilion Pantry minimart, open 24/7 and a fitness center.
The hotel is a short cab ride from the old town and Kazimierz.
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