What to visit in Krakow?
Crowned the most beautiful city in Poland. Krakow serves as a reminder of Poland’s turbulent and artistic past. Cobbled streets with horse-drawn carriages, square museums with mythical tales. Reason enough to visit the city if not only for the food. Let The Walking Parrot tell you what not to miss.
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What not to miss?
It is often said that a city’s beating heart lies in its market square. But for Krakow it feels like its soul belongs here. This 40,000 square meters medieval square is a hive of activity shaded by bright yellow umbrellas. At its centre lies the Sukiennice Cloth Hall, a landmark of trade and commerce, more about that later.
Aligned by café’s, clubs, pubs, music bars, hotels, and an underground museum, only to be accentuated by stunning architecture from the middle ages.
St. Mary’s Basilica
Saint Mary’s was built on the ruins of a Tartar raid in the 13th century. The basilica’s most recognizable feature is its uneven towers. The northern tower was actually raised to 80 meters high as a watchtower for the city.
A tradition not to miss is its infamous bugle call played every hour on the dot. The call gets cut off mid-melody in honour of the trumpeter who got shot in the neck while heroically warning the city of Mongol invaders.
Inside St. Mary’s Basilica is a huge wooden altarpiece and starred ceiling reflecting glass-blown art.
The altar is open to tourists from Monday to Sunday, times are dependent on liturgy.
Another reminder of its medieval past is the Barbican. The Barbican was built at the end of the 15th century to protect Krakow’s main entrance to the city. It’s connected to St Florian’s Gate through a drawbridge over a moat that surrounds the city. These days the Barbican is used to host many special events, which are mostly medieval themed. Topped by seven turrets and many mighty legends.
St Florian's Gate
Right across from the aforementioned Barbican stands the Florianska Gate. Posted in 1307, this gothic gateway is a medieval reminder of the city’s ancient defences which used to encircle the entire Old Town. St Florian’s Gate is in fact part of eight gates and was saved from demolition in the 19th century.
As it was over five centuries ago, St. Florian’s Gate still remains the primary entry point to the Old Town.
The fearless historic figure of Tadeusz Kosciuszko is forever remembered in Kosciuszko Mound. An age-old Polish honour, few members of history get a mound dedicated to them. In the 1850s the Austrian military added a bricked fortress around the mound, destroying the original chapel.
Atop Bronislawa Hill this monument stand 34 metres high and on a clear day the Tatra Mountains can be spotted in the distance.
What else to visit?
Another surviving reminder of ancient ruins is Florianska Street. Once the city’s primal commercial walkway, these days it is still steeped in history. Today it houses more contemporary features such as snack bars, dance clubs and currency agencies, but the façade of this street still holds age-old murals and inscriptions. Keep an eye out for the House of the Squirrel, the House of the Negro, and no. 14 Pod Roza. The latter still caries the inscription above: “May this building stand til an ant drinks the ocean, and a tortoise circles the earth".
The world’s oldest shopping mall dates back to 1555 and is central to Krakow’s Old Town. The interior features many not to miss food stalls and small shops. Terraces encircle the statue of Adam Mickiewicz.
The Jewish Quarter
In the south of Poland’s southern city, you can find the Jewish Quarter. Once a rich cultural beacon for about 64,000 Jewish people in Krakow, it still caries that legacy. The small population of Jews that returned to Krakow have revived their cultural identity within these city walls.
Kazimierz, as this part of the city is called, holds a unique atmosphere. Walk through Szeroka street and explore shops that look exactly the same as decades ago.
Be sure to stop at the oldest synagogue of Krakow, which holds over 500 years of tradition as well as the Jewish Galicia Museum with 140 moving and thought-provoking pictures. What was once the biggest open space in the Krakow Ghetto is now commemorated with 33 monumental chairs and 37 regular chairs to symbolize the tragic death and empty seats left behind.
The Dragon’s Den
Right outside the city walls of Krakow, you will find some extraordinary features of nature. Wawel Hill is filled with echoing caves and crawl spaces. As legend has it, the chambers beneath Wawel were once home to the Wawel Dragon or Smok Wawelski.
Brave knights tried to battle the dragon until a poor cobbler named Krak tricked Smok into eating a sulphur-stuffed sheep. As many tales before, Krak married the princess, became king and built his castle on the dragon’s lair and the consequent city Krakow was born.
So be sure to take a trip through these legendary caves and perhaps you might find a fire-breathing creature at the end of your tour.
Wieliczka Salt Mines
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are just a stones-throw away from Krakow and a hidden underground that harbours a wonderous world. This priceless Polish monument was struck 700 years ago and holds 26 different shafts. Once the biggest source of Polish salt, this unique underground structure is filled with unusual landscapes and chambers. As Polish tradition holds it, this mine would not be complete without its own underground tavern and church.
How to travel there?
Krakow is easily reached by air, rail, and road. The city has its own airport, namely John Paul II International Airport. Another way to get there is through the airport at Katowice, which is perhaps an interesting starting point to explore more of Poland.
The majority of flights to Krakow are budget airlines, so it’s quite easy to catch a cheap ticket when booking early enough. Check out our tips on how to snatch the best airplane tickets here.
Krakow Glowny is the city’s main train station, serving every Polish destination as well as many stops in neighbouring countries. With direct trains going to Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Bratislava, and Kiev.
Hitting the road is also an excellent affordable option, as many coaches arrive at Krakow’s Dworzec Autobusowy right next to the Old Town.
Poland has fixed its reputation of bad roads over the years, and renting a car is definitely the best way to explore the vast corners of this country.
When to travel there?
Freezing winters and blistering summers, make Krakow a great city escape in the shoulder season. As Krakow is a major tourist destination, attractions stay open year round. But you are best of in April, May, September, and October, when temperatures are mild and crowds are reduced.
Summers are jam-packed with activities and festivals, while snowy wintertime makes the city one of a kind.
Krakow might just be the best city trip destination on the European continent. It’s a place where you get real quality for your Zloty. It is a excellent choice for eating and drinking all the while marvelling at rich history.
Count on spending about 60 euros a night for an average hotel in the city. With food prices being the real winner here. Poland is well known for serving the best (huge portions), for the lowest price. A meal here shouldn’t set you back more than 10 euros.
Another great reason to visit Krakow and get the most out of your stay, is the entry fees for its many historic landmarks. The KrakowCard includes about 40 attractions and unlimited use of transportation for only 38 euros over the course of 3 days!
Where to eat?
Pod Wawelem might just be the most imposing visit when in Krakow. This restaurant serves up exuberant portions of meat alongside litres of beer. It’s a great place to try everything that the Polish love on their dinner table.
Hidden in the gothic cellars of a 13th century building Pod Aniolami lovingly prepares Polish delicacies.
Famed for its marinated meats, grilled over beech hardwood fire and other polish dishes.
The best traditional Polish restaurant in town is Morskie Oko. Looking like it came straight out of a Game of Thrones set, this old-world restaurant serves everything from pierogi to full beakers of beer. Morskie Oko is a folklore restaurant dedicated to Polish highlander culture and a 5-minute walk for the Old Market Square.
One of Poland’s oldest restaurants dating back to the 14th century is Wierzynek. The food and venue are a treat on its own. Would it surprise you if I said that this place has its own legend as well?
As Polish as pierogi, are Milk Bars. These communist canteens serve you the most delicious staples of polish cuisine at a very social price. One of the best ones in Krakow is Tomasza. The menu has all your Polish must-tries with a very budget-friendly pricetag. Just stroll through the communist enclave of Nowa Huta and you’ll find one on every corner.
For fine dining you need to be at Starka. A short walk from the stunning Corpus Christi Basilica you can find the classical restaurant serving a glamorous menu. A must try are its homemade flavoured vodkas and walnut cake.
One of many authentic restaurants in Krakow that stood the test of time is Stylowa. Located in the district of Nowa Huta, this restaurant serves up traditional dishes steeped in a long winding history.
Enjoy delicious dishes with an even more impressive view. Café Oranzeria features a large panoramic terrace overlooking the Old Town, Vistula River, and Wawel Castle.
Most importantly we would suggest you don’t forget to eat on the go while gazing at all the astounding architecture. Pick up a Zapiekanka at Plac Nowy, go vodka tasting in the Old Town, grab a cheap beer in the Jewish Quarter, and most importantly snatch up an Obwarzanek at a street cart.
Christmas Fair and Market
As every The Walking Parrot city guide will remind you, no European destination is complete without its Christmas market. One of Poland’s highlights during the festive season is in Krakow.
The main square gets transformed in to a twinkling Christmas fair, with rustic stalls selling folk art, ornaments, and sweets. All the while food vendors serve up delicious traditional bites and mulled wine that keeps you warm.
The Likeable Middle Ages
Every Sunday of the summer vacation, numerous cultural and educational events get held at the Barbican. Including knight tournaments, medieval concerts, and games celebrating the city’s many mythical stories.
Every year Krakow holds the Wianki (Wreath) festival celebrating the summer solstice with folk music and sound traditions. These days the festival mixes up age-old tradition with more contemporary alternative, electronica, and pop music. Certainly, a nice way to get to immerse yourself in the Polish music scene.
Great Dragon Parade
As mentioned many times, Krakow is the home of the dragon. On the first weekend of June The Old Town gets converted into a Dragon’s cave.
This spectacular celebration parades dragons through the streets and rivers, accompanied by music and light.
Krakow ticks all the boxes of a brilliant holiday destination. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet to visit, we certainly hope this blog post convinced you. Get more inspiration from places like Helsinki and Reykjavik. Stay updated through @thewalkingparrot.