Kraków is Poland’s most visited city and upon entering this Eastern European gem, it is easy to see why. Kraków has a wonderful historic centre, picturesque cobbled alleys and numerous cultural institutions. Here are some suggestions on how to spend a few days in Poland’s second largest city.
History and overview:
One of the oldest cities in Poland, Kraków has mutated from a stone age settlement into the second Polish metropolis and is continuing its rise to a great European city.
Kraków was already a trading post before the year 1000 and capital of the Kingdom of Poland for nearly 6 decades, from 1038 to 1569. It was moreover the capital city of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania from 1569 to 1795 and formed a Grand Duchy from 1846 to 1918. Unlike the modern Polish capital city of Warsaw, Krakow did not suffer as substantially during the Second World War and its architectural sweet spots remained mostly intact throughout the communist era.
Kraków is nowadays the second largest city in Poland and one of the tourism hubs in the country which is due to its wide array of sights and activities. Add to this relatively low prices for European standards and a vibrant party culture and you can see why Kraków attracts workers, students and travellers alike.
The city in fact benefits from one of the largest student populations in Europe which makes it an ideal place to interact with locals in one of the many nightlife locations.
The best area to stay is without a doubt the Old Town around the Main Square. From here, you will be in walking distance to most of the major sights and close to various food and nightlife options
Andel’s Hotel: A great upper-mid range hotel with all the required amenities right in the centre and close to all the sights.
Metropolitan Boutique Hotel Kraków: Our top pick when it comes to charming and stylish boutique hotels in Kraków. The Metropolitan has everything you need in a great location with lovely staff and a mouthwatering breakfast menu.
Budget option: Greg & Tom Beer House Hostel: A nice place to meet fellow travellers in a cozy atmosphere with a cool bar located inside the hostel
Cultural offer and activities:
Main square and Market Hall: The largest medieval square in Europe is a sight in itself and the market hall in the middle of the square is an ideal place to have a look at the goods that are produced by local Polish craftsmen
Old Town: The centrally located Old Town will sweep travellers off their feet with its ancient architectural gems and its many little cafés and bookstores.
Wawel Castle and the museums inside the castle: (Wawel 5) The large 14th century castle right on the edge of the Old Town holds no less than six different chambers which all contain temporary and permanent expositions related to Polish and international art, the history of the city and the cultural and historical specificities of the Kraków region.
Juliusz Slowacki Theatre: (plac Świętego Ducha 1) A beautiful theatre that will please theatre fans with its renowned shows and travellers with its sublime architectural traits.
Oskar Schindler’s Factory: (Lipowa 4) The historical factory in which world renowned World War 2 dissident Oskar Schindler employed Jews in order to save them from certain death at a concentration camp. The factory goes far beyond the Spielberg movie by showing the perilous and difficult endeavours of Schindler and more generally the history of the Jewish struggle in Kraków.
Museum of Contemporary Art – MOCAK: (Lipowa 4) Another great cultural institution in a post industrial setting. The museum is actually located on the old site of Oskar Schindler’s factory which makes it convenient to visit the two in the same afternoon.
Home Army Museum (Muzeum Armii Krajowej): (ul. Wita Stwosza 12) A fantastic compilation of Polish stories from the Second World War. The museum teaches you some important episodes of Kraków’s history by using interactive installations which certainly enhances the experience. The museum is moreover located in a former train station which gives it this unmistakable ‘industrial struggle’ flair, the modern glass rooftop on the other hand adds a touch of 21st century architecture to the formerly desolate building.
Oswiecim Concentration Camp (Auschwitz): For those who want to see the remnants of the horror of the largest Nazi death camp, the horrific Auschwitz site is located 66km west of Kraków. Trains run from Kraków Main Train Station.
Wine & Dine:
Polish cuisine is usually hearty and meat-based. Lots of Polish dishes include pork meat and potatoes. Make sure to try out their mouthwatering soups as well. Many great local and international restaurants can be found in the Old Town as well as Kazimierz, the former Jewish district.
Starka: (Józefa 14) A great place to taste Polish cuisine and to eat like a local.
Acqua e Vino: (Wislna 5/10) The international option: serves a wide range of international and Italian dishes which are lovingly prepared using high quality ingredients.
Kompania Kuflowa: (Świętej Gertrudy 26-29) A beautiful traditional beer house with lots of local specialities, large pints of beers and medieval costumes. The prices are very reasonable too, make sure to book in advance though, this restaurant is nearly always full.
Kraków’s nightlife options are sheer endless. Two recommendable districts are on the one hand the Old Town around the Main Square and on the other hand the former Jewish district (Kazimierz). Both offer great bars, pubs and clubs to enjoy a night out and both are characterized by a mixed clientele of locals and tourists.
Atelier (Pl Nowy, 7): Nice bar with a lovely terrace for warm summer evenings
Wodka Cafe Bar (Mikołajska 5) It would be a major sin not to visit a bar which specializes in one of Poland’s most popular exports. In this well know institution you can sample some of the finest Polish vodka in a hip and cosy setting.
Frantic Club: (Szewska 5) One of the top clubs in Kraków. Attracts pretty much everyone and the door policy can therefore be quite selective.
The former Jewish district (Kazimierz) & Alchemia Bar (ul Estery, 5): This area will delight party animals and bar lovers equally as it features a bit of everything. Alchemia is one of those laid back, ancient style bars that serve as a remnant of past times when the intellectuals of the city met in bars like these in the Jewish district
Kitsch – Push Club & Bar: (Grodzka 46) ‘Underground’ club with a more alternative concept, a bit further from the centre and therefore less touristy.
Shakers Club (Szewska 5) The ‘value for money’ option. Right next to Frantic in the same building, not as great a club as the former but less fancy and more down to earth.
Four Music Club: (Jagiellońska 6) Another great club hidden in the maze of cobbled streets in Kraków’s Old Town. The club has a great atmosphere and several rooms. The club’s layout becomes a bit difficult to navigate after you’ve enjoyed some of the club’s finest drinks, which the bartender occasionally prepares with a stunning fire show.
Final tips & verdict:
Kraków does suffer from mass tourism during certain periods of the year. The summer months can get very crowded and you may see a lot of ‘drink tourism’. The city moreover suffers from serious pollution during the months of November and December due to the huge amount of coal factories in the region. The ideal way to avoid those two scenarios is to plan a trip in between high season and winter. September and October as well as February to May are thereby the best months to visit. All in all, Kraków is a fantastic city and certainly Poland’s most enjoyable large city.