"Krakow is one of my favorite places on earth. It is a medieval city full of young people. A wonderful, striking combination."
- Jonathan Carroll
Krakow is the cultural heart of Poland, filled with rich history and historic districts that were left untouched by the war. At the same time it also has some of the best nightlife in Europe. After living there for over a year, here are my top 10 favorite things to do in Krakow, Poland.
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1. The Old Town
The city of Krakow is surprisingly small and most of its attractions are packed into one area, the old town. Encircled by a long park, few cars are allowed here, and the streets are packed with amazing food and killer bars. This should be the first stop on your trip because it gives you a good idea of what Krakow is all about. It's where you'll spend most of your time during your stay. Make sure to visit the Krakow square, which is the hub of this area (the closer you get to the square the more inflated the prices so be warned!).
Address: Rynek Główny, 31-000, Kraków
This will be the most depressing place you visit but an incredibly important one. Auschwitz is the location of the largest Nazi death camp during World War II, at which over 1.1 million people were systematically killed. It puts statistical numbers into reality as you walk through what was once hell for the 1.3 million people sent there. It was an awful time in history but helps give you a better understanding of the Polish psyche and what they endured to be here today.
I highly recommend taking a group tour so you can learn about its horrific history from someone more informed.
Price: 175PLN (~$45USD)
Address: There are various meeting points, check their website for booking info.
3. Lake Zakrzówek
A basin lake surrounded by massive cliffs complete with rock climbing and a diving center. During the summer students come here armed with alcohol, BBQ, games, and good vibes. So grab a spot, sit down and relax, and enjoy the gorgeous sunset at this local spot.
Address: Zakrzówek, Zalew Zakrzówek, 30-001 Kraków
Take tram 18 on Podwale for about 15min, then get off at Kapelanka. Cross the street and turn right just after the gas station. Follow that road for 2 minutes and you should see the path.
4. Zakopane Mountains
About two hours south of Krakow lies one of the most beautiful areas in Poland, the Zakopane mountains. The town itself lies at the food of the Tatra mountains which offer extensive opportunities for climbing, hiking, and during winter, skiing.
Its recommended to spend one night here and make it a two day trip, however it is possible to do in in one day provided you leave as early as possible.
Price: You can take a bus for about 25PLN (~$6.50USD)
Address: Zakopane, Poland
5. Wawel Castle
One of the largest castles in Poland, Wawel Castle incorporates architectural styles from every period of Europe's medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods. The castle is located along the river, and has some amazing sunset views over the city (for 5PLN you can climb the tower!).
Entrance to the courtyard, castle grounds, and the church, is free. However you need to purchase tickets to the exhibition areas. (Below the castle on the river walk way is a metal dragon statue that breathes fire every 5-10min!).
Price/hours: Castle is free, for interior ticket prices/times check their official website
Address: Wawel 5, 31-001 Kraków
6. The Jewish Quarter (Kasimierz)
A historical district in the city of Krakow, Kazimierz has always been an important center for trade and commerce. Unfortunately the Jewish community here was all but eradicated during World War II, and after the war little attention was paid to this area of Krakow. Over the years interest in the area returned and it has since has grown to what it is today, a place full of hipster cafes, quirky bars, and some of the best restaurants in town.
Address: Kazimierz, Krakow
7. Krakus Mound
There are four "mounds" in Krakow but this one stand out to me. This prehistoric mound overlooks all of Krakow and is the perfect place to come with some friends for a sunset BBQ. No one really knows the purpose or reason for the creation of the Krakus Mound. It is thought to have been built with astrology in mind, possibly by the Celts sometime between the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C.E..
if you follow the path to the bottom of the valley, you'll see a standalone metal structure that you are free to climb on (although its quite decrepit now so be careful!), as well as several abandoned warehouses. This actually used to be a Nazi prison camp that was left alone after the war.
Address: Krakus Mound, 30-543 Kraków
8. Museum of Contemporary Art/ National Museum
I'll group these two together because it's really based on your own personal taste. If you enjoy Modern Art (as I do!). The MOCAK will be a fascinating stop on your trip. A three story museum filled with both local and international artists, it's easy to spend 2-3 hours here. As an added bonus its next to Schindler's factory, but more on that later.
The National Museum isn't the largest you'll ever go to, but it will be one of the few that is home to a Da Vinci! It also has a diverse collection of Polish works that give you an insight into an important aspect of their culture, both historically and contemporary.
Price: MOCAK - 14PLN | National Museum - 10PLN
Tuesday - Sunday: 11 a.m - 7 p.m
Tuesday - Friday: 9 a.m - 5 p.m.
Monday - closed
Tuesday - Friday: 9 a.m - 5 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Address: MOCAK: 4 Lipowa St, 30-702 Krakow
National Museum: Al. 3 Maja 1, 30-062 Kraków
9. Schindler's Factory
The factory facility was used to produce various metals up until World War II after Nazi Occupation. Oskar Schindler joined the Nazi party in 1939 and arrived in Krakow collecting information for them. He was placed in charge of the factory which employed 1,750 people, 1,000 of which were Jewish. From then on he spent his entire fortune on bribing SS guards to keep his Jewish workers safe and save every one of them from almost certain death.
After the war he emerged penniless and had to rely on payments from the families he saved to continue living. He was buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, which to date, is the only Nazi party member to receive this honor.
Hours: April - October
Monday: 10am - 4pm
Tuesday - Sunday: 9am - 8pm
November - March
Monday: 10am - 2pm
Tuesday - Sunday: 10am - 6pm
Address: Lipowa 4, 30-702 Kraków
10. Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec
This famous monastery is located in the small village of Tyniec, along the river just at the end of Uroczysko Skotniki Park. My recommendation is to rent street bikes and casually make your way there, winding though Krakow.
The architecture of the Abbey is similar to Wawel Castle and has been destroyed and rebuilt a dozen times throughout its complicated history. The perfect place to get away from the general hustle and bustle of the rest of Krakow.
Address: Benedyktyńska 37, 30-398 Kraków
WHERE TO STAY?
The Old Town is really the only sensible place to stay in due to its location. Airbnb's surrounding the Old Town are totally fine if you want to go that route and they are all priced very affordably. For backpackers I recommend the Little Havana Party Hostel (yes, it's exactly what it sounds like). Good people, clean rooms, and great location make it an easy choice. They also run the best pub crawl in Krakow if that's your kinda thing.