Warsaw may be Poland’s capital, but Kraków is the cool little sister you NEED to add to your bucket list. Despite its increasing popularity, it’s still one of the cheapest cities in Europe and an amazing place to visit if you love fairy-tale architecture, insane desserts, stunning countryside and a rich history.
To help you make the most of your trip, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Krakow featuring a chandelier-covered salt mine, unicorn ice creams and mind-blowing art. Don’t worry if you don’t manage to pack it all into one trip; you’ll be planning your next visit on the plane home!
1. Visit The Incredible Kazimierz Neighbourhood
Krakow’s Kazimierz neighbour has SO much character ?@trgbv.m
Hummus & happiness? Say no more! ?@lc9425
You know a neighbourhood’s going to be good when the whole thing has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re only here for the weekend, then Kazimierz is probably the best neighbourhood in Krakow to start your adventures. This historic Jewish district is now a buzzing, creative centre full of colourful street art, great coffee, cool art galleries, pretty bars, interesting museums and more.
Despite its tragic role during WW2, the rich Jewish culture that has thrived here for hundreds of years is still very much alive and well; you’ll find numerous synagogues, a huge annual Jewish Culture Festival, the Galicia Jewish Museum and more. The neighbourhood was one of the main settings for Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, so don’t be surprised if it feels a little familiar.
2. Fall In Love With The Colourful St Francis’ Basilica
This colourful, Art Nouveau beauty is a must-see ?@heyhollybear
St Francis’ Basilica is a stunning Art Nouveau church that is guaranteed to brighten up your Instagram feed. Built in the 13th century, it was the only brick building in Krakow when it was erected, and is steeped in history. The famous stained glass windows are the work of Polish artist Stanisław Wyspiański, and standing before them is a spiritual experience no matter what your religious beliefs.
3. Brutalism+ Ice Cream In Nowa Huta
The brutalist beauty of Plac Centralny in Nowa Hut ?@thetinz
The brutalist Nowa Huta district is very different to the rest of Krakow’s pretty historic centre. But don’t let that put you off: this is easily one of the most interesting neighbourhoods in Krakow. Built by the Soviets after WW2, it’s home to some amazing architecture such as the Tadeusz Sendzimir Steelworks and Plac Centralny. But that’s not all. If you have a sweet tooth, Nowa Hut is a goldmine for great ice cream. We love Lody Tradycyjne, Lody Na Starowiślnej, and Good Lood.
4. Get Your Urbex On At St Benedict’s Fort
Built in the 19th century, this incredible redbrick monolith was named after the nearby St. Benedict’s Church. After a failed attempt to turn it into luxury apartments in the ’50s, the fortress now lies abandoned. That is, unless you count the intrepid urbexers looking for off-the-beaten-track things to do in Krakow. If you’re not feeling tresspass-y, it’s still an absolute stunner from the outside.
5. Art + Vintage Cafe Vibes At Bunkier Sztuki
The gallery’s quirky cafe is worth a visit in its own right ?@f.zuzanna
Awesome contemporary art and chilled out vibes at Bunkier Sztuki ?@filip_sliwa
If you love unusual and thought-provoking contemporary art, then you’ll love Bunkier Sztuki. Make sure to visit on a Tuesday, when it’s totally free to enter. Not only is this an awesome gallery, it’s also home to one of the best cafes in Krakow. Housed in a quirky greenhouse with vintage vibes, and surrounded by the tranquil Planty Gardens, you’ll find excellent coffee, unpasteurised draught beer and delicious food – we love the giant Polish breakfast bagels.
6. Walk Krakow’s Colourful Street Art
The Kazimierz neighbourhood is home to some amazing street art ?@birksu19
Krakow is increasingly becoming a creative hotspot for both local and international talent to spray their colourful creations. Some of the best works include the huge ‘Ding Dong Dumb’; ‘Judah’; ‘Robot’ by iconic Polish science fiction writer Stanisław Lem; and the ‘Barcelona murals’.
Head towards the graffiti-covered Józefa Street or Plac Bawół, if you don’t want to follow a plan. Or if you’d like to know more about the meaning and artist behind each work, there are walking tours, maps and even a free app.
7. Be Inspired At Oskar Schindler’s Former Factory
Outside Oskar Schindler’s former factory ?@cat_the_flying_potato_
If you don’t already know the incredible story of Oskar Schindler and his bravery during WW2, then you need to watch Schindler’s List, the famous film by Steven Spielberg. In a nutshell, Schindler managed to save the lives of over a thousand persecuted Jews, at great risk to himself and his family, by employing them in his factory. The factory is now home to the Oskar Schindler Museum dedicated to his story, as well as Krakow’s role in WW2.
To get here, take the tram from the centre and book your tickets online in advance as there is a daily cap on the number of visitors. Money-saving tip: admission is free on the first Monday of each month.
8. Get Your Culture-Fix At Wawel Castle
Perhaps one of the most famous attractions in Krakow, this royal castle is now an excellent museum and is considered one of the most important cultural sites in Poland. Must-see exhibit: Leonard da Vinci’s The Lady with an Ermine.
9. Get Away From It All In The Tatra Mountains
The pretty little town of Zakopane at the foot of the Tatra Mountains ?@bugajna
Also known as the ‘Polish Alps’, the Tatra Mountains lie south of Krakow and make for a great day trip if you need to get away from it all. Head towards the delightfully kitschy town of Zakopane, which lies at the foot of the mountains. You can get here in under two hours from Krakow; the easiest way is to rent a car (ask around at your hostel for road trip buddies to bring the cost down).
10. Climb The Kościuszko Mound
A climb to the top of Kościuszko Mound ?@darryl.wandless
This unusual-looking hill was built to commemorate Tadeusz Kościuszko, the leader of an uprising against foreign rule in Poland. Standing at 34 metres high, it’s quite a climb to the top, but the amazing panoramic views are worth it.
11. Step Into A Fairy-Tale In Krakow’s Old Town
Wondering what to do in Krakow? You can’t go wrong with a leisurely stroll through the historic centre of the city. Krakow’s Old Town is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and it’s not hard to see why: oodles of culture, cobbled streets, architecture straight out of a fairy-tale, cool bars and pretty cafes. It contains the one of the largest medieval market squares in Europe, and it’s a great place to just lose yourself and people-watch the day away.
12. Learn About The Holocaust In Auschwitz
It sounds odd to say this is one of the best things to do in Krakow, but it really is. Everybody we know who’s visited Auschwitz says how moving and unforgettable the experience was. As hard as it can be, it’s important to be informed about the terrible atrocities that took place during WW2 and the site is also a memorial to the millions of people who lost their lives here. To get here, take the bus from the centre of Krakow.
13. Improve Your Health In The Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Wieliczka Salt Mine will blow your mind ?@na_koun
Loving the decor! ?@kellyharperphotography
Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this former salt mine on the outskirts of Krakow has to be seen to be believed. Hundreds of metres below ground, the cavernous mine is decorated with elaborate statues, chandeliers and even an underground lake. Due to the uniquely salty and damp micro-climate, a trip to the mines is even believed to be good for your health.
14. World-Class Contemporary Art At MOCAK
For fans of contemporary art, MOCAK is a must see. Modernistic and innovative, this gallery showcases famous works from both local and international artists. Some of the best include the ‘Surrogate City Bike Station’ by Leopold Kessler, ‘A Gift to Krakow from Gdańsk’ by Dorota Nieznalska and ‘Berlin-Birkenau’ by Łukasz Surowiec.
15. Take A Selfie In Front Of St Joseph’s Church
The imposingly beautiful St Joseph’s Church ?@jejeslee
Don’t judge us… but this fairy-tale church in the Podgórze neighbourhood makes for a pretty epic selfie backdrop. So don’t fight it, this is the place to unleash your inner tourist!
Where to stay in Krakow
Great views overlooking the city from Cracow Hostel ?@zzalevskaya
There are so many incredible Krakow hostels, you’ll be spoilt for choice. If you’re looking for more of a party atmosphere, our travel community recommends Little Havana Party Hostel or Greg & Tom Party Hostel. When it comes to amazing views and location, it’s hard to beat Cracow Hostel, located in Krakow’s Old Town overlooking the main square.
About the author
Jules Bukovsky is an independent traveller living in Poland, passionate about budget travelling, art and hiking. You can find her work at Discover Krakow where she is a guest blogger or follow her on Twitter.
Why not pin this article for later? ?