10 Best Things to Do in Krakow: Guide to Sights and Activities

Are you looking for things to do in Krakow? Krakow, as Poland’s most popular city, has sights and activities for every taste, age, interest, or itinerary. Whether you’re into art and history, down for tasting food and drink, want to explore Jewish Krakow, or are there for Polish cultural events, you’re bound to make memories like no other during your stay.

Let’s take a look at some of the best things to do in Krakow so you can start your travel planning.

Aerial view of church in Old Town Krakow
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Contents

1. Old Town Krakow

Old Town Krakow, or Stare Miasto, is the heart of the city and what most people think of when they think of Krakow.

Krakow’s old town is special in that it escaped destruction in WWII, unlike many Polish cities, and so what you see is largely in its original, pre-WWII form. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and on Poland’s national list of monuments under protection.

Aerial view of Main Market Square in Old Town Krakow
Photo 251049233 / Krakow © Emicristea | Dreamstime.com

Main Market Square

Main Market Square is undoubtedly the star attraction of Old Town Krakow. The largest medieval square in Europe, its focus is its large Cloth Hall, where vendors continue to sell wares much as they did when the Cloth Hall was constructed.

On one side of the Cloth Hall is the Adam Mickiewicz monument, commemorating the work and life of one of Poland’s favorite poets.

Also significant is St. Mary’s Basilica. This 14th-century Gothic-style church is a symbol of Krakow. Every hour, a trumpet sounds from one of the towers to remember the trumpeter from the 13th century who died while warning the city of attack from Mongols. You can view the interior of the church for a charge and go up into the two towers at additional cost – you’ll have a beautiful view of the Main Market Square from there.

Street-level view of St. Mary's Church
Photo 251049291 / Krakow © Emicristea | Dreamstime.com

The square is lined with plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating in the warm-weather months. For indoor dining, many of these restaurants have ancient cellars that take you back in time to medieval Krakow with stone walls and arched doorways.

The Rynek Underground Museum tells the story of Krakow’s history. Located beneath the Cloth Hall, it reveals the city’s cultural layers with the addition of multimedia exhibits that make it an exciting and memorable city museum. You’ll be immersed in the story of Krakow’s development and come away with an appreciation of its evolution and how it has been maintained today.

Royal Route

Old Town Krakow is big, so one of the best ways to see many sights in a short amount of time is by following the Royal Route, the coronation path of Polish kings.  

The Royal Route begins at St. Florian’s Church, where relics of St. Florian are held, and Matejko Square, on which has been placed the Grunwald Battle Monument. The monument recalls the Poles’ victory over the Teutonic Knights in 1410.

The route weaves around the Barbakan – a late 14th-century defensive structure – and through St. Florian’s Gate, the only remaining gate of Krakow’s medieval walls.

Barbikan defensive building at night, Krakow
Photo 246908474 / Krakow © Dudlajzov | Dreamstime.com

It follows Florianska Street into Main Market Square. After passing the Romanesque Church of St. Adelbert before exiting the square via Grodzka Street.  

It follows Grodzka Street to All Saints Square. On the square is the Gothic Church of St. Francis of Assisi with its masterpiece of stained glass. The Renaissance Wielopolski Palace is also on this square.

After you leave the square, on Grodzka Street, you’ll also encounter the Church of Saints Peter and Paul and the Romanesque Church of St. Andrew. Built in the 11th century, the Church of St. Andrew was also used for defensive purposes and withstood the Mongol invasion.

Before you hit Wawel Hill, you’ll want to turn down Kanonicza Street, famous for being where the church canons had their residences – these beautiful houses make for a charming photo opportunity.

2. Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle is one of the best things to do in Krakow in part because the grounds can be accessed for free. But it’s also an important site for Polish history. In addition to being the residence of kings, its cathedral is also where they were crowned.

Wawel Cathedral -- top things to do in Krakow
Photo 251049193 / Krakow © Emicristea | Dreamstime.com

Wawel Hill was used by prehistoric tribes, but the earliest stone buildings on Wawel Hill today date to the 10th century. Now, the Wawel Castle complex is a mishmash of different styles from various eras, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque.

In the 20th century, the hill underwent restoration – the names of those who donated funds are found on the bricks that make up the wall near one of the entry gates. Wawel Hill encapsulates centuries of Polish political and architectural history in a compact area, giving it an aura of agelessness.

Wawel Castle contains several exhibits, including the royal apartments, staterooms, and the treasury. Take a morning or afternoon to visit the castle’s various sections and learn what they tell you about Polish history while you enjoy the decadent interiors.

Note that entry to different parts of the castle require separate entry fees/tickets. Wawel Cathedral is an autonomous entity and you must buy a separate ticket to see its interior.

Wawel Dragon

At the base of Wawel Hill, a metal sculpture of a dragon blows fire at intervals. The original dragon, which – legend says – terrorized the countryside in the Middle Ages, was purportedly slain by Prince Krakus, founder of Krakow and builder of the original Wawel Castle.

3. Recommended Museums

If you love museums, Krakow has you covered. From art to history to culture, Krakow’s museum scene is rich and diverse. Visiting a museum is one of the best things to do in Krakow!

Historic interior of a university
Photo 246692500 / Krakow © Dudlajzov | Dreamstime.com
  • Rynek Underground: The Rynek Underground museum takes you beneath the current Main Market Square’s surface and into the subterranean cultural levels of the city, telling its history through archeology and interactive exhibits.
  • Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory: This museum tells the story of Krakow during WWII and is located in the factory Oskar Schindler used to save his Jewish staff from extermination by the Nazis.
  • Krakow Museum of Contemporary Art: Discover the exciting artists currently working in Poland and around the world in this sleek and modern exhibition space.
  • The Eagle Pharmacy: Learn about life in the Krakow ghetto and the Polish staff members of the pharmacy who sought to save lives and aid residents of the ghetto during WWII.
  • Krakow National Museum, Main Branch: Though many branches of the museum are located throughout Krakow, the main branch has plenty to offer. With most exhibits requiring a separate entry fee, you’ll be able to pick and choose from a wide range of art and artifacts grouped thematically or by historical period.
  • Wawel Castle: Visit one of the seats of Polish kings and see how they lived by viewing the interiors of the state rooms, lavishly bedecked in precious materials and artisanal furnishings.
  • Ethnographic Museum: If you’re interested in Polish folk culture, the Ethnographic Museum is one of the best places to visit. However, the Ethnographic Museum also dedicates space for exploring other cultures in various temporary exhibitions.
  • Nowa Huta Museum: Learn about Polish life under communism in this interesting museum, which includes underground nuclear fallout shelters and artifacts from everyday life.
  • Czartoryski Princes Museum: Many people head here to see Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine. However, the museum has other paintings by history’s heavy hitters and relics from some of Poland’s most important figures, such as Chopin’s death mask.
  • Collegium Maius: Pay tribute to Copernicus by visiting the very institution he studied at. With beautiful interiors and artifacts showing the development of the understanding of the world through science and knowledge, you’ll find your visit well worth the time spent.
  • Stara Synagoga: The Old Synagogue museum familiarizes visitors with Jewish culture and worship in a centuries-old synagogue.

4. Jewish Krakow

Krakow had a significant Jewish population, and its history lives on in museums, monuments, places of worship, food, and festivals. The following are only some of the Jewish sights of Krakow that are worth incorporating into your visit.

Vintage signs in Kazimierz, Krakow
Photo 243019867 / Kazimierz Krakow © Eva Pruchova | Dreamstime.com

Kazimierz

Today, Kazimierz is simply a neighborhood of Krakow. However, when it was first founded, it was a separate town, which was eventually absorbed into Krakow proper. Now it’s one of Krakow’s most colorful and interesting areas – but it also has plenty of history as the traditional Jewish Quarter of Krakow. Many people say Kazimierz, due to its particular atmosphere and culture, is one of the best things to do in Krakow.

The Old Synagogue

The Old Synagogue in Kazimierz is the oldest extant synagogue in Poland, dating back hundreds of years. It’s now a museum preserving the interior features of the synagogue as well as important religious and cultural items.

Old Synagogue building and museum, Krakow
Photo 246908247 / Kazimierz Krakow © Dudlajzov | Dreamstime.com

The Jewish Galicia Museum

The Jewish Galicia Museum was established in a former mill. The museum is dedicated to preserving the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and presenting regional Jewish culture and history.

Ghetto Heroes Square

Ghetto Heroes Square, located in the Podgorze neighborhood, gained its current look in 2005. It was a place for socializing – but it was also the site of mass deportations and executions. The memory of that time is preserved through the 70 metal chairs placed throughout the square to symbolize departure and absence.

The Eagle Pharmacy

The Eagle Pharmacy is located on Ghetto Heroes Square. This small museum is a branch of the Museum of Krakow. Owned by Pole Tadeusz Pankiewicz at the time the Jewish ghetto was established, it became a place of aid and information – Pankiewicz and his staff were allowed to continue to work there even though they were not themselves Jewish. They helped residents of the ghetto by accessing supplies and false documents. The museum shows visitors what life was like in the ghetto during this gruesome period in history.

Schindler’s Factory

Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory is also a branch of the Museum of Krakow. Many people know it from the movie Schindler’s List. Schindler made the factory important to the German military in WWII and employed a large staff of Jews, which he evacuated upon the approach of the German army.

The museum, established in the factory, requires at least a couple of hours to get through with the vast amount of information presented and the many photos, videos, and artifacts displayed. It describes war-time Krakow and is undoubtedly one of the most important things to do in Krakow.

Jewish Food

Be sure to check out restaurants serving Jewish specialties throughout Krakow. From traditional Eastern European Jewish fare to that more at home in the Middle East, you’ll enjoy eating your way through Jewish Krakow.

5. Mounds

Perhaps off the beaten path, perhaps a bit unusual, but climbing one of the city’s mounds may indeed be one of the best things to do in Krakow. They offer elevated views of the city (bring a camera) as well as an interesting lens through which to view aspects of Poland’s history that might otherwise go overlooked. Furthermore, getting outside of the tourist district will give you a perspective on Krakow that not all travelers have time to enjoy.

Memorial mound surrounded by fortress walls
Photo 186032769 / Krakow © Mariusz Prusaczyk | Dreamstime.com

Kościuszko Mound is named for Tadeusz Kościuszko, best known in the US for his participation in its fight for independence. However, Kościuszko returned home to Poland to apply what he learned and to stage an uprising for Polish freedom during a time when the country was being divvied up between European powers.

The mound mimics mounds of old built to honor ancient leaders in the early 19th century – later in the century, the Austrian military built a fortress around it, which exists today.

The mound is more than simply a lookout point with panoramic views of Krakow. It’s also got a museum about Kościuszko and places to get a bite to eat.

Krakus Mound is much older than Kościuszko Mound – in fact, it dates to prehistoric times. A pagan worship site, it has also been investigated by archeologists seeking to find if it was, indeed, the legendary burial place of King Krak. Unfortunately, no grave was found there. It remains one of the best things to do in Krakow for seeing the city from above.

6. Seasonal Events

Seasonal events are some of the best things to do in Krakow because they bring you up close and personal with Polish culture. Festivals and Polish holidays also add a memorable element to your trip, making it unlike a visit at any other time of year.

Christmas in Krakow

Christmas in Poland is especially well-celebrated in Krakow. And Krakow has some of Poland’s best Christmas markets! Head to Main Market Square for the best open-air festivities: a Christmas tree, booths selling food and souvenirs, and entertainment await. Or book dinner in advance for the holiday in one of Krakow’s restaurants and experience an authentic Polish Christmas feast.

Krakow’s nativity scenes are also an important aspect of the Christmas season. The nativity scene competition sees artisans try to outdo each other with the most beautiful nativity scene. These nativity scenes do not simply depict a holy family in a manger – these elaborate sculptures incorporate aspects of Krakow’s skyline and historical figures.

Easter in Krakow

Head to Krakow for Easter in Poland to see a colorful, enthusiastic display on Main Market Square. The Easter market allows locals and visitors to stock up for the holiday with elaborate Easter palms and other decorations. You may also see families taking the traditional Easter basket to church to be blessed.

Colorful Easter Palms in Krakow
Photo 113741186 / Krakow © Przemysław Reinfus | Dreamstime.com

St. Stanislaus’ Procession

The first Sunday after May 8, the St. Stanislaus procession, which bears the relics of the saint through the city streets, makes its way from Wawel Castle to the Skalka Sanctuary. Stanislaus is Poland’s patron saint and was a medieval bishop serving in Krakow.

The Skalka Sanctuary, a few minutes’ walk down the Vistula River, is the location where Stanislaus was put to death.

Juwenalia

Though celebrated all over Poland, Krakow’s Juwenalia festival is the oldest. Student festivals date back to the Middle Ages; the modern iteration of Juwenalia started in the 1960s. To this day, the mayor of Krakow gives university students the keys to the city. Various events are held for this May festival, ending in a huge parade of students.

Lajkonik Festival

The Lajkonik Festival is a quirky festival with a long history that embodies Krakow culture. It may have its origins in the Mongol invasion of the city in the 13th century – the main feature of the festival is a person dressed in Mongol attire (Lajkonik himself). Rather than a real horse, the actor’s horse is a part of his costume.

During the festival, the actor rides through the streets of Krakow to Main Market Square accompanied by people in traditional Polish folk costume as well as musicians and celebrants.

The procession ends at Main Market Square, where the mayor of Krakow greets Lajkonik with ransom money and a toast to wish Krakow well. Festivities continue after the procession.

Midsummer

Midsummer, or Wianki, is Poland’s ode to the summer solstice. Held on the Saturday nearest to June 24, it involves the pagan practice of making flower wreaths to float down the river. Ancient customs combine with modern entertainment as fireworks and concerts are a part of the day’s program of events.

Folk Art Fair

If you’re a fan of Polish folk art, this August market is for you. It’s held – where else? – on Main Market Square. Wood carvings, garments, pottery, and other handicrafts are sold at the fair by artisans dedicated to keeping traditional techniques alive.

Other Festivals

Be sure to consult events calendars for the time of your visit – many more festivals take place throughout the year. Music, Jewish culture, film, theater, and food are highlighted in Krakow’s annual festivals.

  • The Jewish Festival of Krakow: This June festival dates back to 1988 and last 10 days. Over 300 events showcase the best of Jewish culture from around the world.
  • Krakow Summer Jazz Festival: Another summertime festival, the Krakow Summer Jazz Festival runs the course of the summer with a diverse lineup of jazz musicians.
  • International Soup Festival: This May festival seeks to see who can create the tastiest soup creations, from local Polish favorites to soups that are enjoyed around the world.
  • Pierogi Festival: In August, chefs compete to devise the best pierogi recipe with inventive fillings, from traditional to surprising. Taste pierogi like you’ve never tasted before.
  • Krakow Film Festival: The Krakow Film Festival has only grown since its inaugural event in 1961. Documentaries, short films, and feature films from both Polish and international directors are shown during this June festival.
  • International Street Theater Festival: Theater troupes from Poland and around the world present their best outdoor productions in July.

7. Polish Food

Foodies can rejoice at the opportunities to sample Polish food in Krakow. Polish food is known for its hearty stews, generous main courses, and of course, pierogi, dumplings filled with such ingredients as mushrooms, cheese, cabbage, onions, or even fruit. Krakow’s restaurants serve up a range of Polish food, from old-timey manor house fare to updated versions of favorite dishes.

Polish soup in a bread bowl
Photo 250573549 / Krakow © Miro Stefanovic | Dreamstime.com

Restaurants

Traditional restaurants keep Polish cuisine from the past alive, whether fare for the commoner or dishes that only the nobility had access to.

Wierzynek is perhaps Krakow’s best-known restaurant. It dates to the mid-14th century and since then has been serving the crème de la crème, from princes and kings in the early days to presidents and actors more recently. Therefore, diners should prepare to be treated – and feast like – royalty. Located in prime real estate on Main Market Square.

Restaurants serving a modern take on Polish cuisine also abound in Krakow – these restaurants often have chic and airy interiors to match the modern style of their dining.

Food Tours

If you’d like a more educational experience, try a Polish food tour. One of the best options is that with a local private guide who can take you through Krakow and reveal the secrets of its best places to eat for certain dishes. If you’d like to stick to a smaller area of focus, a Kazimierz food tour will concentrate on this neighborhood of Krakow.

You can also enjoy vodka and beer tours as well as dinner in a private house cooked by a local.

Cooking Classes

Pierogi cooking classes are the most popular type of cooking class offered in Krakow. Master the art of this essential dish of Polish cuisine guided by an expert.

Cookbooks

A cookbook detailing the modes of preparation for authentic Polish cooking is an excellent souvenir or gift. Look for Polish cookbooks in souvenir shops or English-language sections of bookshops.

8. Shopping

Shopping in Krakow is a great opportunity to purchase souvenirs from Poland. You’ll find Baltic amber shops, shops selling Polish spirits, and individual vendors and boutiques specializing in handmade items and Polish folk art.

Of course, seasonal markets, such as those surrounding major holidays or festivals, make excellent sources for gifts and souvenirs. Talk directly with the artisans producing the goods and find unique, lovingly crafted items that represent generations’ worth of Polish culture, such as embroidery, woodwork, papercrafts, and decorated eggs.

Ships made of yellow amber
Photo 215111422 / Krakow © Agneskantaruk | Dreamstime.com

9. Tours

Taking a guided tour is one of the best things to do in Krakow, especially if you’ve never been there before. You’ll get the benefit of a knowledgeable guide who can answer questions and see parts of the city you may have otherwise missed. You can also choose a tour that suits your tastes and preferred mode of transport.

  • Boat Tour: See Krakow from boat on the Vistula River. This relaxing way to learn more about the city is best taken when you need a break from walking but not from sightseeing.
  • Guided City Tour: Never miss an important highlight with a guided city tour. You’ll see the most important sights and learn about the Krakow’s fascinating history.
  • Food and Drink Tours: You’ll love getting to know Krakow through its food and drink. Focus on the best dishes Polish cuisine has to offer or beer or vodka.
  • Museum Tour: Many museums, including the Rynek Underground, Wawel Castle, and Schindler’s Factory, are able to be seen with a guided tour. If museums tend to overwhelm you or you’d like more detail than you can pick up on your own, hiring a guide may be the way to go.
  • Jewish Quarter Tour: Learn about Jewish history and its notable figures, places, and events through a guided tour.
  • Bike, Golf Cart, or Scooter Tour: Zip around Krakow and give your feet a rest through tours that utilize various forms of transportation.
  • Ghost Tour: Learn about Krakow’s most haunted places with this spooky type of tour.
  • Excursions: If you’re in Krakow and don’t want to rent a car, taking an excursion to one of the city’s nearby attractions is a good option. These tours are popular and get you in and out of the city in a day.
Kakow old town in the distance at sunset
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10. Day Trips

No list of things to do in Krakow would be complete without mention of things to do outside of Krakow. In fact, day trips from Krakow are often as popular with tourists as the city itself.

  • Wieliczka Salt Mine: The Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the most interesting excursions you can take from Krakow. You’ll descend into the earth to a former salt mine that miners turned into an art gallery – sculptures of salt give the mine an otherworldly appeal.
  • Auschwitz Birkenau: This former death camp created by Nazis during WWII stands as a reminder of the horrors of that time and what can happen when power and hatred are left unchecked. A sad and somber – yet educational – day trip, it’s not for everyone. But those who go have a new understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and what its victims endured.
  • Zakopane: Zakopane is often where people escape during the cold months to enjoy winter sports, but during other times of year, its traditional architecture, thermal spas, and mountain views attract.
  • Częstochowa: Częstochowa and the Jasna Gora Monastery there is a pilgrimage site famous for its icon called the Black Madonna, a painting of the Virgin Mary revered as miraculous.
  • Warsaw: Some people do Warsaw in a day while maintaining a home base in Krakow, but if you have time, it’s recommended to spend more time in the Polish capital city. After all, there are so many things to do in Warsaw that you’ll need several days to see the best sights.
  • Other Cities and Towns: Poland is rich in historic cities, towns and villages, and many are close enough to Krakow to do in a day. For example, Tyniec is famous for its Benedictine Abbey and Zalipie is known for its beautifully painted folk art houses.
Abbey complex with flowering trees
Photo 250310098 / Krakow © Marekidowski | Dreamstime.com

How Many Days to Spend in Krakow

Given all the things to do in Krakow, you may be wondering how much time you should spend there.

At minimum, spend 3-4 days. But if you’d like to really get acquainted with the city and take some day trips, consider as long as a week.

If you’re only visiting for 1-2 days, choose what things to do in Krakow interest you the most and plan accordingly. However, it pays to have a contingency plan in case weather, unexpected closure, or other issue puts a snag in your schedule.

Where to Stay in Krakow

Where to stay in Krakow depends upon several factors, including your budget and your length of stay.

If you’ll only be in the city for a couple of days, it’s well worth it to stay near the old town so you can efficiently see Krakow’s main sights. Note that the closer to the old town you are, the more expensive accommodation options will be.

If your trip is more leisurely, you may want to consider staying a bit outside the center where the neighborhood is quieter.

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