Krakow has retained strong links with its often tumultuous past, evidenced in the many historical landmarks and places of interest to be found here.
It was Poland’s accession to the European Union back in 2004 that marked a pivotal moment in the history of Krakow and a key step in its development into a major tourism hub. Despite the ambivalence of some locals, the city’s service and hospitality industries boomed, with cosy cafes, hip bars and fancy restaurants now dotted across the city. Nevertheless, it’s Krakow’s rich history that continues to burn most brightly here. We’ve selected some of the most unique things to see and do when visiting.
Visit a 13th-century castle
Perched on top of a scenic hill to the south of Krakow’s Old Town, Wawel Castle was for centuries the residence of kings and the symbol of Polish statehood, but today is one of the country’s premier art museums. A beguiling hotchpotch of architectural styles including Medieval, Romanesque, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque, the castle features an inner courtyard dotted with delightful colonnades, while the treasures contained within do much to contribute to Krakow’s status as a truly world-class city.
Wawel 5 / Weds-Sun 9.30am-5pm Mon 9.30am-1pm Tues 9.30am-2pm
Join a walking tour of the Old Town
Krakow’s UNESCO-listed Old Town is the city’s oldest and most atmospheric district and one of the best ways to explore it is on foot. This 3-hour guided walking tour checks off all of the area’s main highlights, including the medieval St. Mary’s Basilica and 17th-century St Peter and Paul’s Church; the historic Cloth Hall; and the grand medieval buildings that line Floriańska, Grodzka, and Kanonicza Streets. As you walk, your expert guide will regale you with fascinating facts and tales about Krakow’s history and heritage.
Attend a show at a magnificent theatre
Modelled on the grand Paris Opera, the opulent Juliusz Słowacki Theatre has existed in the city in its current form since the turn of the 20th century, when it staged important productions by some of the world’s foremost playwrights of the era. The theatre hosts a packed annual programme of performances, so be sure to check local schedules if you’re here as there’s bound to be something on. As well as theatre shows, the venue also doubles as Krakow’s official opera house as well as being used for occasional conferences.
Plac Świętego Ducha 1
Take a stroll around the Jewish Quarter
The historic Jewish Quarter of Krakow was once a separate city in its own right, founded in the 15th century, and considered a model Jewish community. In 1941, on the orders of occupying German authorities, Jews were forcibly moved to a ghetto enclosed by barbed-wire fences and, in places, a stone wall, shutting them off from the rest of the city. Today, the district retains a unique vibe with its crumbling tenement blocks, impressive synagogues and funky bohemian beer joints, making it one of the city’s most fascinating areas to explore.
Discover an underground metropolis
You’ll be in good company if you choose to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine during your stay in Krakow – it attracts more than one million tourists each year, hailing from across the globe. A veritable underground metropolis, it tells the story of the many hundreds of years during which salt mining was integral to Poland’s self-sustainability, featuring a number of UNESCO-protected monuments throughout. The venue also hosts regular underground concerts, exhibitions and theatre shows, as well as being a popular site for film shoots.
Daniłowicza 10 / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Taste your way around the city
Krakow’s food scene is rooted in Polish culture and visitors keen to discover it for themselves can do so by joining a guided food tour. Over 3 hours, you’ll feast your senses on the culinary delights of Krakow as part of a group of fellow tourists. You’ll visit several local favourite eateries to sample a host of traditional foods, as well as authentic Polish vodka and craft beer, while learning about the food heritage of the city from your guide. Included in the tour price are 11-13 food items and one local soft drink, vodka and beer.
Walk along Krakow’s most picture-postcard street
There’s a very good explanation for why most postcards you can buy in Krakow’s numerous souvenir shops feature Ulica Kanonicza as their centrepiece attraction. The cobbled alley offers what many consider to be the most picturesque views to be found anywhere in the city. Flanked with impressive examples of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, along with colourful and creative murals and tranquil courtyards, a gentle amble through this area is an absolute delight.
Learn about Krakow during wartime
In a city awash with historic landmarks, the Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory is one of the most resonant. The famous tale of Oskar Schindler is widely known, and it is here that his factory, and the fate of its Jewish workforce, played out in dramatic and heart-rending fashion. Today the factory has been transformed into a museum devoted to the wartime experiences in Krakow under the Nazi occupation, featuring a wide range of exhibits that tell one of the most powerful and enduring stories of that tumultuous period in history.
Lipowa 4 / Tues-Sun 10am-6pm Mon 10am-2pm
Rynek Underground Permanent Exhibition
The highly unusual state-of-the-art Rynek Underground Museum rests four metres under the surface of Krakow’s market square where medieval merchant stall-holders once plied their trade. Now the excavated site, which limits visitor numbers to just 300 at a time, takes you on a journey back in time through high-tech features such as touch-screens and hologram exhibits. There are also plenty of conventional real-life artefacts including coins, clothing and other earthly remains.
Rynek Główny 1 / Fri-Sun 10am-8pm Mon 9am-7pm Tues 10am-2pm Weds-Thurs 10am07pm
Peruse a collection of historic aircraft
Considered home to one of Europe’s finest collections of aircraft, artefacts and exhibits related to the world of aviation, the Polish Aviation Museum is well worth a visit. In recent times, the venue has been augmented with a range of high-tech features, including a cinema and an interactive space for children, although the numerous original hangars and out-buildings packed with old photographs, engines, uniforms and more help keep the imagination rooted firmly in the past.
Al. Jana Pawła II 39 / Tues-Sun 9am-5pm Closed Mon
Dine out in style
Still going strong after more than two centuries of serving up the very finest of fine food, if you’re looking for an extravagant gastronomic experience in Krakow, you won’t find anywhere better than Restauracja Wentzl. Situated in an impressive 15th-century building on the city’s main market square, this regal restaurant offers diners some of the best views in Krakow, in addition to superb cuisine and a level of impeccable service befitting the venue’s distinguished past.
Rynek Główny 19 / Mon-Sun 1pm-11pm
Escape the city hubbub at a local park
A picturesque expanse of greenery encircling the centre of Krakow’s Old Town, Planty Park is the ideal antidote after a long day’s sightseeing. It is one of the city’s most charming spots, perfect for picnics, ball games with kids, or simply a leisurely stroll with a loved one. It is home to some three kilometres of public parks and gardens filled with trees, flowers, benches and historic monuments, while street musicians and entertainers often pitch up here to add character and ambience to the scenic setting.