As the pride and joy of Poland, there are plenty of things to do in Krakow for tourists looking for beautiful architecture, great food, and a lovely, historical city to explore.
The cultural capital of the country has spared no expense in ensuring that tourists are able to learn as much as possible about the city while still having a great time.
Everywhere you go there are signs in a variety of languages, tourist information booths offering to help with guided tours or day-trips, and a vast variety of differing forms of architecture.
Before diving into my recommendations of things to do, I recommend considering a few other cities as well if you’re planning on visiting Poland.
Krakow is absolutely beautiful but the country itself has a lot more to offer that you’re definitely not going to want to miss.
To get a better idea of where to go and what to see I recommend checking out this 10-day Poland itinerary as a helpful guide on planning your trip.
The Best Things to Do in Krakow
Explore The Old Town
The Krakow Old Town, or Stare Miasto, is one of the most beautiful in all of Europe.
The entire area was chosen as one of the first sites for the UNESCO World Heritage List and in the very center you’ll find a lovely and unique medieval town square.
The town square, or Stary Rynek, is actually the largest Medieval one in all of Europe and it’s easy to get a feel of what life must have been like for the inhabitants of Krakow over the past couple hundred years.
Dwarfed by St. Mary’s Basilica, the Square is just one part of the Old Town that is interesting to walk through. Throughout the entire area are many different old buildings and incredible examples of architecture dating back over 1000 years.
If getting lost wandering along cobblestone streets and meandering past buildings dating back generations isn’t something you’re interested in then you might want to skip Krakow altogether.
Otherwise the Old Town holds many secrets and is a great place to discover something new and exciting about the city.
The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)
Directly in the center of the Old Town Square is the Cloth Hall.
This is basically one of the oldest shopping malls in the world and has operated as a market place selling cloth and other goods for more than 500 years.
Today, the interior is lined with 2 rows of stalls selling all sorts of different souvenirs and if you’re looking for something to bring home for your friends or family after your trip to Poland this is where you’re going to want to head.
Not only is it one of the most picturesque buildings in the city but there’s a museum on the top floor of the building and underneath the building is the Underground Museum that you can find out more about further down in this post.
Surrounding the exterior Cloth Hall are a variety of different bars and restaurants and these make for one of the best places to relax while grabbing a cold drink or a quick bite to eat right in the center of town.
Go On A Free Walking Tour
There are many different free walking tours offered in Krakow.
Whether you want to learn more about Jewish history in Kazimierz or you’re only in the city for a few hours and want to see all the important sights in the Old Town, a free walking tour is a great way to cover a lot of ground in very little time.
They typically run between 2 and 3 hours and you’ll be provided with a knowledgeable guide who will take you all over the city.
I personally don’t like free walking tours but I’ve gone on my fair share of them and find them to be super helpful for first time travelers or those who don’t want to plan their own sightseeing for the day.
The free walking tours in Krakow meet under the St. Mary’s Basilica or somewhere nearby in the Old Town (depending on which area you’re exploring) every day and are offered in English, German, Polish, and Spanish.
I say “free” because the tour itself doesn’t cost anything but you should really tip the guide at the end if you’re happy with their service.
Walk Through Kazimierz
Kazimierz, once a town separate from Krakow, is the Old Jewish Quarter and a trendy area of the city.
The center of Jewish culture and life for more than 500 years, Kazimierz is an ideal place to wander through for an entire day. It’s full of old synagogues, imposing architecture, and the second biggest square in Krakow.
Visitors will also be pleased to find countless Jewish bakeries, food trucks, and a wide variety of hip restaurants and eateries.
After World War 2 Kazimierz was in ruins and most of the Jewish population had been driven out, but since the 1990s, after Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List” was released, the area has seen a surge in popularity.
Tons of festivals and events are held in Kazimierz every year and the entire area is buzzing with young people and new life.
The Old Town is one thing but a trip to Krakow isn’t complete without walking around Kazimierz.
Relax Along The Vistula
As the longest and biggest river in Poland, the Vistula and its banks offer a variety of private, serene, and comfortable places to relax after a long day of walking around Krakow.
The river winds through the city and makes a sharp turn at the bottom of Wawel Castle, which is a great area to hang out and enjoy the view.
There are many benches and grassy slopes you can relax on so bring a blanket, some snacks, just sit for a few hours.
Along the river you’ll see many people cycling, running, walking, rollerblading, and generally enjoying themselves as the Vistula flows in the background.
On both sides you’ll be provided beautiful views of different parts of the city and if you want even more of an adventure you can hike or cycle along the river to Salwator, Podgorze, or even a few castles and monasteries further along.
Walk Up Krakus Mound
There are many different burial mounds in Krakow but if you want to visit one without having to pay anything then Krakus Mound is just what you’re looking for.
About a 30-minute walk from the center of the city, Krakus Mound stands tall at 271m high and provides an impressive view of the entire city of Krakow. On a clear day you’ll even be able to see the Tatra Mountains off in the distance.
There is not very much known about Krakus Mound, only that it’s quite old and full of ancient artifacts.
It’s located on the edge of the Podgorze neighborhood and while you can easily walk it’s a good idea to take a tram since you’ll have to do a lot more walking once you reach the mound itself.
An interesting fact about Krakus Mound is that every Easter a folk festival is held there and thousands of people from all over the city come dressed as characters from medieval times.
It’s quite a spectacle if you happen to be in the city during the Easter Holiday and definitely worth checking out.
Stroll Through Planty Park
Once upon a time there were walls surrounding the entire Old Town of Krakow but today in their place is an enormous city park that circles the area.
At nearly 5km the park offers a sanctuary from the busy crowds of the Old Town and provides a nice paved path for you to walk along and enjoy some of the lesser-known attractions.
The walkway is quite scenic, full of lakes, trees, and the constant chirping of birds.
Along your walk you’ll notice many different historical signs and patterns in the ground that reveal a building, fortification, or wall portion that once stood.
If you walk the entire length of Planty Park you’ll be provided with great views of Wawel Castle, The Barbakan, Florian’s Tower, and many other Medieval structures and modern examples of Polish architecture.
Visit the Krakow Underground Museum
The museum is literally located directly below the Old Town Market Square and provides insight into the construction and lifestyle of Krakow and its people over the past 1000 years or so.
Besides high-tech holograms and fog machines, at the Underground Museum you’ll be able to see many different examples of how Krakow looked over the years.
On the ground floor, a mere 25 meters from the current street level, are the tracks, bricks, and boards used to build the first Market Square over 700 years ago.
Even if you’re not into history you are sure to be impressed by this museum, which was built at a cost of nearly $15 million CAD.
Mingle in Podgorze
Podgorze, or the “new Kazimierz”, is Krakow’s fastest growing and trendiest neighborhood.
Many tourists actually never make it to the side of the Vistula that Podgorze is on but it’s a place you want to check out.
Schindler’s Factory and the Krakus Mound are located in this area but be sure to wander away from these sights after you’ve thoroughly explored them for a more in-depth look at Polish life.
I would argue that Podgorze is truly off the beaten path since when I was there I didn’t see a single other tourist.
The architecture is unique and the square in Podgorze is quite impressive as well.
From the Krakow Ghetto Wall to incredible examples of world-famous street art, Podgorze has quite a lot to offer newcomers and is a great place to spend a few hours walking around away from the busy tourist crowds.
People Watch in Plac Nowy
If you want the best Zapiekanki in Krakow you’ll want to visit Plac Nowy.
This is the cultural and personal hub of Kazimierz and is dominated by a rotunda in the very center.
It was originally a Jewish square where animals were slaughtered and sold but after World War 2 Plac Nowy was transformed into the bustling place it is today.
Each of the stalls in the rotunda sell various forms of Zapiekanki, which is a Krakow specialty made of a baguette, sauce, cheese, and meat.
The square is surrounded by trendy and chic restaurants and at all hours of the day you can expect to see a ton of young people mingling about.
Each day of the week offers something new since many people come to the market area in Plac Nowy and sells everything from used clothes and books to pigeons and other weird birds.
Stand in Awe of the Architecture in the Main Square
At the very center of the Krakow Old Town is the Main Square, or Stare Rynek.
As I previously mentioned this is one of the most beautiful town squares in all of Europe and it’s possible to spend a few hours walking around and enjoying the view.
The square is dominated by a few different structures such as St. Mary’s Basilica and the Market Hall.
Here you’ll also find the most well known sculpture in all of Krakow, the “Krakow Head”, or Eros Bendatos.
The Eros Bendatos sculpture is this enormous metal head laid on it’s side on one corner of the square.
It’s a great place to get some photos and the head makes an incredible focal point for some beautiful pictures of the Market Square and Old Town Hall Tower.
You’ll definitely make it here if you’re in the city but be sure to spend some time wandering around and truly taking it all in. There’s nothing else like it in all of Europe.
Hide From The Crowds in Some Beautiful Churches
Krakow is a highly religious city and you can’t walk very far without bumping into some form of religious building.
Churches, monasteries, and synagogues are abundant across the city and each one is completely different and unique in its own way.
However, their beauty isn’t just reserved for the exterior, the interior of all of these religious structures are impressive and beautiful as well.
If you want to beat the crowds or the heat by relaxing for a few minutes in one of the pews, or if you want to say a few words to whatever higher entity you believe in, the churches and religious buildings of Krakow offer peaceful sanctuary from the outside world.
It’s easy to stand in awe of the beauty of the interior of the churches, monasteries, and synagogues while easily losing track of time for a little while.
The majority of them are free to enter so don’t hesitate to push open the doors and check them out on your walk through the city.
Follow The Royal Route
Covering more than a kilometer of the city, the Krakow Royal Route (similar to the one in Warsaw) is a path through the city that royalty would have used to impress visitors to the city and was a route for many different parades and coronation events.
It’s very well marked but the Royal Route starts at St. Florian’s Church in Matejko Square and ends at Wawel Castle.
Along the way you’ll pass many medieval buildings such as the Barbakan, Florian’s Tower, St. Mary’s Basilica, and many other old buildings and religious structures.
Many of the best landmarks and attractions in Krakow are located along this route and if there’s only one thing you do during your visit this should be it.
Each location is well marked on a map and there is information provided on each sight in various languages.
It’s completely free and if you like history or you want to imagine yourself in an older and more medieval Poland then the Royal Route is perfect for you.
A Day Trip to Auschwitz
Less than an hour away from Krakow is the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, the camp is somewhere worth visiting if you’re interested in learning more about Polish history and the impact that the Nazis had in the area during World War II.
Auschwitz was originally built as a prison for Polish political prisoners and it eventually became a place where Jews from all over Central Europe were sent to become exterminated in accordance with the Nazis Final Solution plan.
Millions of people were killed here and it’s a very somber yet memorable place to visit as it acts as a window into a history that should never be repeated.
Visiting Auschwitz is quite easy and it’s possible to do so either on your own or through one of the many excursions available from Krakow.
Check out these excursions:
Catch A Glimpse Of A Fire Breathing Dragon
At the foot of Wawel Hill along the Vistula River pathway is a fire-breathing dragon.
Yes, I am being completely serious.
Standing nearly 4 meters tall is a metal dragon sculpture that breathes fire every 5 minutes or so. Legend has it that the caves below the Castle were once home to a fire-breathing dragon.
The legend dates back to the time when King Krakus ruled the area but today all that’s left is a wonderful statue.
Erected in the early 1970s, the dragon statue stands as a proud symbol of the people of Krakow and has become an interesting and unique tourist attraction.
Another interesting day trip from Krakow is a visit to the suburb of Nowa Huta.
It’s easy to reach this suburb by tram and if you’re going to be in the city for more than a few days it’s definitely worth heading to Nowa Huta and spending a few hours exploring.
You’ve probably never heard about it but Nowa Huta is one of only two of the completely pre-planned cities built in the world and is a result of the Socialist policies in Poland at the time.
The entire suburb was built in order to provide housing for the many thousands of Polish people flocking from the countryside and into the cities looking for work after the war.
The factories at the edge of town provided jobs and the Communist government controlled by Russia was more than happy to provide people to live and work in the suburb.
Today it’s quite a fascinating place to walk around and explore while checking out all of the unique and neatly organized rows of apartment blocks and intriguing examples of brutalist architecture.