There are cities that steal the heart at the first stroke and Krakow had mine kidnapped 15 years ago. I lived in the city for a month when I was a young university student and I immediately felt at home. In those years Krakow was starting to emerge from the greyness of communism and today there is no trace of that past; Krakow has returned to its former glory as a former royal capital. It is a modern city that has been able to enhance its historical heritage, it is clean, super organized, lively, romantic and safe: a perfect destination for travelers. As with other cities in Poland, Krakow has a very compact and homogeneous historical center whose epicenter is the magnificent market square (Rynek Glowny), but the monuments and things to see are many and some are located outside the historic center or in the surrounding area. If you are going to Krakow for the first time, I recommend that you dedicate at least 4/5 days to it (it is no coincidence that it is the most touristic destination in all of Poland).
When to go to Krakow
May and June are the best months to visit Krakow. In this period it rains little and the temperatures are already summer (it is often hotter than in Spain). In winter it is cold and there is snow, while in the summer months it tends to rain a lot.
Health insurance is recommended
Being in Europe, as citizens we have the right to health care, but there are specific conditions and ceilings. My advice is to still take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip, even for Covid-19. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online (!!!). All travel insurances also cover medical assistance in the event of a coronavirus infection, including testing if necessary. There is also coverage for the extension of the stay in the hotel due to the quarantine. Likewise, the trip cancellation guarantee includes coverage for illness or death of the traveler or a family member due to COVID-19.
How much is spent
La Polonia it is still quite cheap for us. To sleep in a nice and central hotel you spend about 50/60 euros (for a double) and about 20 euros to eat well. The entrances to the monuments are very cheap (especially if you buy the Kracow Card, see paragraph below), as are the buses / trains to reach other cities.
Kracow Card: to visit many of the city's attractions and move freely by public transport it may be worth buying the Kracow Card online (it can be done for 2 or 3 days) which includes entry to the major tourist attractions and allows you to take any means local transport (bus and tram, including the bus to the Wielicza Mines). I found it very useful and convenient.
How to get to Krakow and how to get around
From / to the airport: to reach the city center from the airport you have two options, the cheapest and the most convenient. The most comfortable thing is to book a transfer from this site and have you brought directly to the hotel (the price varies from 21 euros for a 4-seater car up to 50 euros for a 13-seater minivan). The cheapest one is the local train which takes about 20-25 minutes to get to the central train / bus station (tickets can be bought directly on the train!). From here you can then take a taxi to reach the kazimierz or walk if your hotel is in the historic center. In general, taxis are quite inexpensive (5/10 euros for a few kilometers).
Where to sleep in Krakow
I highly recommend sleeping in the Kazimierz (as you will understand, this is my favorite area of Krakow!). It is the most authentic and lively neighborhood, especially in the evening. The choice is wide, without forgetting that here are the best restaurants in the city.
- The Secret Garden: this hostel has different types of rooms and different apartments located in the neighborhood. We had a beautiful apartment (close to the main square then) of at least 90 square meters with a fully equipped kitchen and terrace for us! We spent 60 euros a day. Absolutely recommended !!!
- Puro Krakow Kazimierz: this magnificent design hotel is part of a chain that I have used several times in Poland (also in Gdansk and Poznan) and I have always had a great time. The hotels are all beautiful and central, with beautiful furnishings and great value for money.
What to see in Krakow:
If you go to Krakow for the first time, I recommend that you do this free tour (in Spanish!) that will allow you to orient yourself immediately and get to know the first notions about the main attractions of the center (Stare Miasto, Barbacana, etc.). It lasts 2h30 'and you can book online up to 1h before the start if there is room. The heart of the historic center (UNESCO heritage since 1978) is the big one market Square (Old Town), the largest medieval square in Europe. You can't help but start your visit of the city from here! Entering the square from one of the pedestrian streets such as Florianska or Stradomska (luckily the old town is almost completely pedestrian!) The glance is incredible; surrounded by a rectangle of beautiful colored buildings there are the ancient fabric market, the Church of Sant'Anna, the Church of Santa Marta, and the Town Hall Tower arranged in a rather unusual but very harmonious order. The church of Santa Maria in my humble opinion is the most beautiful in the city (more than the Wawel cathedral). The façade is dominated by two towers of different shape and height and the interior has a blue star-tufted vault which is a sight, but the real highlight is the choir with the huge carved altarpiece that is opened all days at 11:50 o'clock and closed at 18pm. In summer you can also climb the tower to admire the view. Immediately behind Santa Maria, a little secluded, there is another small church (the church of Santa Barbara) which is worth a visit.
The old gothic market is instead occupied by a souvenir market, while in the basement there is the brand new interactive museum on Medieval Krakow. The installations are nice but, in hindsight, I wouldn't go back. Finally, on the opposite side of the square there is the Town Hall Tower (the only thing that remains of the Town Hall) on which you can climb in the summer months; the view is beautiful but there are no panoramic terraces, you can see everything through the windows. Near the entrance to the Tower there is a beautiful sculpture of Mitoraj.
2.College of May
Immediately behind the square is the ancient one Jagiellonian University, a Gothic building with a beautiful arcaded courtyard and a fine collection. To be able to visit it inside, you must participate in a guided tour (also in English) which lasts 30 minutes (and it is absolutely worth it). Copernicus he studied here and it is really exciting to see some of his manuscripts, the astronomical instruments, the oldest globe in the world that shows America as well as the classrooms still used today for important events.
3.Collina del Wawel
Going towards the castle along Stadomoska Street there is church of Saints Peter and Paul, inside it is nothing special but the facade with the 12 sculptures of the apostles is beautiful. At the end of the route you will arrive at the Wawel Hill with its castle fortified town overlooking the Vistula which was the seat of the Polish royalty for over 500 years. Hordes of Polish and non-Polish tourists flock there from the early hours of the morning. Inside the fortification there are the actual castle (the state rooms and the royal apartments can be visited with a guided tour), the treasury and the Armory of the Crown and the Cathedral with the royal tombs. All beautiful monuments but, in my opinion, the most beautiful part is the hill with its beautiful view of the river. If you want to have a different perspective you can do a boat ride at sunset; sailing on the Vistula you will see the Castle and its dragon sculpture and you will pass through some of the gods beautiful pier bridges in Krakow, As the Pilsudski or Dębnicki.
This neighborhood 15 years ago was almost forgotten and of no interest; today it is exactly the opposite! Kazimiriez (which also includes the Jewish quarter) is the liveliest and most interesting area of Krakow. I find it very curious that the rebirth of this area took place no less than thanks to Steven Spielberg who came to film here "Schindler List”: An American film changed the fortunes of an entire neighborhood, isn't that crazy? I loved getting lost in this neighborhood where, from the beginning, Jews and Christians lived together in peace until the shame of mass deportations. Today it is a beautiful mix of finely restored buildings with trendy clubs, shops and bars, and dilapidated buildings housing art galleries, bars, and arts activities. Don't miss the Jewish Museum (well set up inside the Old Synagogue), the Remuh Jewish cemetery Corpus Domini church and synagogue of Isaac. Also in this case there is a nice free tour (in Spanish) of 2h30 ′, which I recommend, where you can know everything about district Kazimierz and on ghetto of Podgorze. The Kazimiriez is also the hub of the city's nightlife, especially in the piazzas Plac Nowy e Szeroka and in the streets around where they all meet to drink and eat until late at night. The atmosphere is great and it is also the area of Krakow where the best restaurants in the city are found.
5.Podgorze (Schindler and MOCAK Factory)
This neighborhood on the other side of the river was the real Krakow ghetto and his own Plac Zgody it is sadly known for being the square where the Nazis gathered Jews before the deportation. Today the square is entirely covered by a monument made up of 70 empty chairs that want to represent the goods that the Jews left here before being deported. On one of the corners of the square, the small museum constituted by the Pharmacy under the Eagle (from the non-Jewish pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewics, who helped many Jews).
A 10-minute walk from the square is the Schindler's factory (just the one in the film, yes), which now houses a beautiful museum that clearly and didactically illustrates the Nazi occupation of Krakow during the Second World War. It is an experience that you absolutely must do!
Right next to the Schindler Factory is the brand new one Krakow Museum of Contemporary Art (the MOCAK) inaugurated in 2011. The exhibition space and the works are very beautiful, for me it was a great surprise.
Other interesting places in the city are certainly the working-class district of New Huta (especially if you are interested in Soviet-style construction) and the Museum of the Czartoryski Princes where the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci is exhibited "The Lady with an Ermine".
What to see around Krakow
To stay on topic, about 40 km from Krakow is the town of Oswiecim universally and dramatically known by the German name of Auschwitz. Many hotels and agencies in Krakow organize day tours, but I recommend that you buy a convenient package directly online from this site . Finally, you can also organize it yourself or by taking the bus from the main train station (there is at least 1 every hour and it takes about 1 hour and a half) which stops right in the parking lot in front of the entrance. Between April and October if you arrive between 10 and 15 you are obliged to participate in a guided tour lasting 4 hours (there are also in English).
The visit to concentration camp it was one of the strongest experiences of my life. I went there 15 years ago with my father (this time I didn't want to go back, it's one of those places that nobody likes to see again) and we left there so shaken that we couldn't talk to each other for hours. The camp was only partially destroyed by the fleeing Germans and many original buildings have been preserved to this day to offer us the testimony of one of the most atrocious pages of modern history. During the visit it is possible to see the documentary that the Russians shot during the liberation and I firmly believe that, after a certain age, everyone should see this document, it should be shown in schools. About 1 million Jews, 150000 Poles and 23000 Roma died between the two camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Just outside Krakow (13 km to the south) there is this unique place, a very deep salt mine and still active after 700 years with 300 km of tunnels spread over 9 floors. In 1978 it is also UNESCO heritage. The microclimate and the temperature of the mine (14 °) is very effective for the treatment of respiratory diseases, so much so that at 135 meters of depth a sanatorium has even been built where the chronically ill can be cured by staying there to sleep. We visit the 3 upper floors of the mine and the highlight is the Chapel of Santa Kinga, a real church carved out of salt. It is a super touristy place, the visit could certainly last less (going around for 2h in a caravan after a while bored), but it is such a special place that you cannot fail to go and see it.
The mines can be reached by minibus in front of the Krakow railway station; to visit them you must necessarily take part in a guided group tour that lasts about 2h (2 km of tunnels and caves are covered). Again, you can also buy a convenient package directly online from sito di of the city (I always have a great time!).
If you don't have much time you can visit both the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Wieliczka salt mines on the same day. The link to buy it is this.
Where to eat in Krakow
- Camelot coffee: a bistro with vintage furnishings in a very nice little square in the center. A historic place in Krakow (I went here even 15 years ago!) Where you can eat excellent pirogi with cabbage and mushrooms and delicious cakes.
- Plac Nowy 1: a nice large and modern restaurant which, as the name implies, is located right in the main square of the Kazimierz. The breakfast is really super !!! Apple fritters, pancakes, yogurt with muesli and much more.
- Stark restaurant: this restaurant located in the heart of Kazimierz is very cozy and good. The cuisine is traditional Polish and there is a very respectable vodkas menu (don't leave here without having tasted at least one!). There is often live music
- Introligatornia Smaku Restaurant: this restaurant is located a few steps from the Starka, also in Kazimierz. A modern restaurant offering a revisited excellent Polish cuisine. Reservation required!
- Bombonierka restaurant: typical restaurant near the main square of Kazimierz. Home cooking
- Once Upon a Time: This historic restaurant is located in the Kazimierz ghetto square. Atmosphere of great charm, soft lighting and vintage furniture make it special. Traditional Polish cuisine: definitely get the caramelized onion soup!
- Chimera: self service restaurant in an internal courtyard from the market square .. very nice!
If you want to try the local street food you can go to the main square of Kazimierz (Plac Nowy): they are open until late at night!
Where to go for a drink
- Alchemy: this historic place in the main square of Kazimierz is always very busy (you can recognize it from the crowd in front of the entrance). Great cocktails and live music
- Singer: this place is located on the opposite corner of the square from the Alchimia and is very special because the tables are those of the old Singer sewing machines. We eat and drink well.
- Terrace bar of the XNUMXth century Polish Painting Gallery: on the 1st floor of the market in the main square there is this museum and it has a bar on the terrace to have an aperitif with a view. It deserves!
In the summer it is very nice to go for an aperitif on the various boats moored along the Vistula under the castle which, for the occasion, are transformed into bars.
Other articles about Poland that you might be interested in:
- What to see in Gdansk in 3 days
- What to see in Poznan in a weekend
- What to see in Wroclaw in a weekend
- What to see in Warsaw in a weekend