Krakow was the first stop of our month-long trip through Poland and what a great city to kick things off! Our visit to Krakow was filled with delicious platefuls of pierogi, trendy neighbourhoods covered in street art, relaxed afternoons on the banks of the Vistula River, stunning architecture around every corner, and lots and lots of ice cream. For years friends and fellow travellers had been urging us to visit Krakow, and now we understand why; the city is pretty magical but it also has a cool edge. In this post I’m going to share my mini-guide to what I think are some of the best things to do in Krakow:
THINGS TO DO IN KRAKOW
Spend a few hours wandering around Kazimierz
Kazimierz is Krakow’s Old Jewish Quarter and it lies directly south of the Old Town. The neighbourhood was mostly destroyed during the Second World War and then fell into further disrepair during the Communist period, but today it’s one of the city’s hotspots.
Kazimierz’s streets are covered in art, its sidewalks are dotted with bars and restaurants, and you can find art galleries, boutique shops, and vintage stores all in the same block. It draws a youthful crowd – both young by years and young at heart.
But if you really want to see Kazimierz come to life, you have to wait till evening. This neighbourhood is renowned for its nightlife, and you don’t realise how many watering holes there truly are until the sun goes down and revellers emerge en masse.
Some of the most popular bars in the area include:
Singer – Instead of tables, you sit around old Singer sewing machines.
Alchemia – Set in an old tenement building, with interiors that will make you think you’ve travelled back in time.
Propaganda – Covered in old posters and knick-knacks from the Soviet era.
You can find a bigger selection of trendy bars in Kazimierz here.
Taste the best ice cream of your life
Oh, my goodness Polish ice cream is good!
After a few days in Krakow, I had only managed to learn one Polish word: lody. This may sound like a bit of a faux pas – surely, please and thank you should have come first – but when those four letters spell out ice cream, you can understand why.
There’s one place you need to try and that’s Emil Kręci Lody. I visited that ice cream shop more times than I care to admit and it was pure magic every time. The flavours were natural, slightly understated at first bite, but you could taste each and every ingredient. It was better than any other ice cream I’ve ever had.
My favourite combination was the waffle cone with three scoops of mango, coconut and strawberry sorbet.
Trust me, the ice cream is worth the trek across the bridge.
Sample pierogies with different fillings
Speaking of food in Krakow(surely, ice cream qualifies as some form of food!), I also had some of the best pierogi of my life in this city.
It all went down at Pierogarnia Słowiańska Uczta (Krakowska 44) where I had lunch on my first day thinking I would just have a plate of pretty average pierogi. My interest was piqued when I saw they had a pretty interesting menu with experimental fillings. I went with one order of the classic pierogi ruskie, which is stuffed with potato and cottage cheese, but feeling adventurous then I also ordered pierogi pieczarkami, serem i orzechami, which turned out to be mushrooms, cheese and walnuts.
Oh, boy! Of course, this turned out to be my best meal in the city!
The mushrooms were the perfect filling I never knew existed. They were rich and earthy, and the chopped walnuts added the perfect texture. A plate of 10 was beyond filling, but if you had put a second plate in front of me, I would have gone at it, because a meal like that is just irresistible. Needless to say, I went back to this place again and ordered the same thing. As you do!
It’s a small place and they only have about 6 tables in there, so if you can swing by outside of lunch hours, you’re more likely to get a table, but check the hours because they don’t stay open late.
Feel like a queen (or king!) at Wawel Castle
Krakow’s crowning jewel is Wawel Castle, which for centuries, was the residence of the kings of Poland. This is one of the largest castles in Poland (though not quite as large as Malbork Castle, which takes the title of largest castle in the world by land area!), and it’s hard to miss given its size.
We unknowingly happened to visit on a day when there was a special function taking place, so many of the areas were off limits, but even standing in the courtyard and seeing the mix of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque architecture was pretty cool.
You can get information on admission and hours here. For conservation reasons, there are daily limits on the number of visitors who can enter Wawel Castle, so you’ll want to plan ahead.
For some stellar views of Wawel Castle, I would recommend going for a walk along the Vistula River at sunset. There’s a nice path that comes to life with bikers, rollerbladers, dog walkers, and sunset lovers, plus you also have a big stretch of grass directly underneath the castle, where you can sit down, relax, and enjoy the last bits of sun.
Enjoy the summer vibes along the Vistula
And speaking of the Vistula River, if you’re visiting during the summer months, one of the most popular things to do in Krakow is to go on a sunset river cruise. We opted for a small sightseeing cruise, but there were larger and livelier boats blasting tunes and keeping the booze flowing – these seemed especially popular with bachelorette parties.
Aside from cruises, you can rent kayaks, or if you’re not really in the mood for exercise, you can hop aboard one of the many boat restaurants where you can have a drink or dinner.
Tour Schindler’s Factory
Oskar Schindler is responsible for saving the lives of over 1,200 Polish Jews during the Holocaust by employing them at his factory, and this same factory now hosts a museum, so we went to visit.
I thought the museum would be a bit more about Schindler, his workers, and their combined story, but the museum takes on a different shape. The former factory now hosts two museums: the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków, which is located in the former workshops, and a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków, which is located in what would have been the administrative building of the factory.
We visited the latter, which is home to a permanent exhibition titled Kraków under Nazi Occupation 1939–1945. This is honestly one of the best museums I have been to in a long time, and it really pulls you in with its narrative, telling you the history of Krakow’s inhabitants – both Jews and non-Jews – and the events that unfolded once the Nazis occupied the city. If you only have time for one museum in the city, I’d pick this one.
Take the Royal Route through the Old Town
I can’t believe I’ve made it this far without mentioning Krakow’s Old Town, but this city just has so much good stuff on offer.
So another thing you can’t miss in Krakow is going to the Old Town and walking the Royal Route, which was the historic coronation path of Polish kings. The route starts in the north end of the Old Town at St. Florian’s Church, goes past the Barbican and through St. Florian’s Gate, straight down Florianska, past the Main Square and St. Mary’s Basilica, down Grodzka, and up Wawel Castle.
Another reason to visit Krakow’s Old Town is that it has the largest medieval town square in Europe. We were there on a weekend so it was very lively; there were lots of street performers, the cafes were packed with people enjoying sunset drinks, kids were chasing giant bubbles floating across the square, and there also happened to be a jazz festival featuring some overseas talent.
Look up inside St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow
Travelling in Europe means you set foot inside a lot of cathedrals, and if there’s one I think you shouldn’t miss, it’s St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow’s Old Town.
You do have to pay an admission fee to enter, but I think it’s worth it. St. Mary’s Basilica is home to the Altar of Veit Stoss, which is the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world and also one of Poland’s national treasures. The piece was carved by Veit Stoss, a German sculptor, between 1477 and 1484, and it’s a massive triptych carved out of different types of food. The amount of detail that went into this piece is amazing.
Another reason to visit St. Mary’s is the ceiling, which is painted to resemble the midnight sky. It’s hard to pull your eyes away.
They have a really up-to-date website that lists different events like choirs, organ concerts, and mass.
Where to stay in Krakow
We found one of my favourite AirBnBs to date here in Krakow! This two-story attic apartment was located in Podgorze, which is a funky district with a local vibe just south of the Old Town on the shores of Wisla River. The apartment had arched windows to boot and it was so nice waking up in the morning with natural light streaming in. I especially enjoyed lounging in the living area and observing people come and go.
There are also lots of hotels, B&Bs and hostels to fit every budget. You can get a better idea of rates and availability here.
Have you visited the city?
What are some of your favourite things to do in Krakow?