Krakow might be Poland’s second largest city, but in terms of culture, Krakow is very much the capital. There’s evidence that the city has been around since 20,000 BC, and there’s a delightful local myth that the city was built on the site where a dragon was slain.
As the political capital of Poland for 500 years, you can expect to see a city filled to the brim with castles, cobbled alleys and a unique mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. These buildings miraculously survived World War II. Considering much of the architecture and styles have had to be rebuilt in most cities in Eastern Europe, the fact that these buildings in Krakow are so well-preserved makes it not just unique to Poland, but to the whole of Europe.
This includes the UNESCO heritage site Old Town, which is punctuated with a series of huge medieval squares, some of the biggest in Europe. These ancient squares are generally full of locals sampling the hugely underrated Polish beer (just ask a Cracovian). And that’s where the nightlife begins! With a number of popular nightclubs and all-night bars - you’ll want to make sure you bring your dancing shoes to Krakow.
With cold winters and warm summers, you would think there would be a best time to visit, but the city looks so beautiful whether it’s marked with snow or has the sun filtering through the church steeples - this city is a must-see all year round.
So, if it’s museum hunting and castle touring you’re looking for, or perhaps you simply want to escape for a few nights of fun and immerse yourself in Polish culture, we think you’ll love Krakow. We do.
In District 1, on the left bank of the Vistula River is where you will find the historic Wawel district (pronounced ‘vah-vel’). It has been at the centre of Poland’s history since at least 400AD and is where most of the city’s main attractions are. The Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral are a must, but it might just be the view across the river you find the most impressive.
Old Town District
Also found in District 1 is the Old Town (or Stare Miasto). Look no further if you want to explore Krakow’s rich historic architecture and famous medieval squares. The most impressive of which is Rynek Glówny, the largest town square in Europe, which encompasses most of this district. But make sure not to miss St. Mary’s Basilica or the palatial Sukiennice Hall.
On the south-eastern side of the Old Town you’ll find the old Jewish Quarter. This part of Krakow was where Schindler’s List was filmed in 1993 and is filled with grand Jewish Synagogues. It is now also home to the trendier pubs and bars in Krakow, around the New Square (or Plac Nowy).
Cycle along the river
Renting a bicycle is easy to do in Krakow, and once you do, you should head to the Tyniec Abbey. About ten kilometres from the Old Town, this idyllic ride along the Vistula River will get you there in no time – and there are even restaurants along the way! With no steep hills and easy-to-spot bike paths, this can be either a solo journey or a family one.
At the journey’s end you’ll make it to the beautiful Abbey, set against the forested river’s edge, built into a jut of rock – and still filled with practicing monks!
Perched above the city, overlooking the Vistula River is the UNESCO World Heritage site, Wawel Castle. A 14th century complex, Wawel Castle has been completely preserved. One of the most important historical buildings in Poland, the Castle grounds include an array of fascinating architecture, from halls and churches to state apartments and grand courtyards. And you won’t want to miss the views of the city below.
Oskar Schindler’s Factory
Visit the original factory, which was not just the historical setting but also the actual location they filmed Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film, Schindler’s List. It hosts two not-to-be-missed museums, one about the Nazi occupation and one featuring the work of contemporary Polish and Eastern European artists.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Venture deep into a salt mine just outside of Krakow to enter a fascinating subterranean world. You’ll be able to explore its warren of tunnels dug out of the salt, spread out over nine levels. There’s plenty to see here, including haunting underground lakes and chapels carved into the salt. The crown jewel is the Chapel of St Kinga, adorned with salt chandeliers, altarpieces and monuments. It’s thought that the salt mine’s microclimate gives it health-giving properties, with some visitors staying overnight to reap the benefits. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is located just a few kilometres outside of the city centre, with minibuses shuttling visitors back and forth throughout the day.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau serves as a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. This concentration camp has been preserved, standing as a testament to the millions who died during this time by the Nazis. Many original brick buildings used during WWII are still intact, including the infamous gas chambers at Birkenau. You can join English-language tours throughout the day, which include the screening of a documentary film about the camp’s liberation in 1945. There’s also a visitor centre, with exhibitions explaining the sights held within the camp.
A unique museum that blends modern technology with medieval history, the Rynek Underground is a very popular attraction in Krakow. It only opened in 2010, allowing visitors to head four metres underneath the city’s market square. You can see the original medieval merchant stalls here, and learn more about the city’s history through futuristic exhibits. Holograms, automated puppets and walls made from smoke are just a few of the unique touches here. Many of the exhibits are interactive, involving touch screens and films to really bring the history to life. Audio guides in multiple languages are also on hand.
The best time to visit Krakow really does depend on what sort of weather you can handle. Although it’s mild between spring and autumn, with lots of long and dry days, the city gets pretty chilly during the winter when there’s snowfall. Hats and gloves are a must with freezing temperatures, which can fall to an incredible minus 5°C. But it’s the snow dusted buildings and streets that make Christmas and New Year’s Eve an ideal time to visit.
In the summer, the days get longer and you can make the most of the warmer climate when the temperature can range from 20°C upwards. Although at night it can chill off, to around 12°C, so it’s a good idea to pack a jacket, whatever time of year you are visiting Krakow.
Throughout the year Krakow puts on many weird and wonderful festivals and events, including the quirky International Shanty Festival. The pirate themed celebration runs from the 22nd - 25th February, and boasts lots of people in nautical fancy dress, along with workshops, exhibitions and presentations.
From July and August, Krakow becomes very popular with tourists and if you don’t mind the crowds, it’s a great chance to experience some of the summer music festivals. There’s the annual Summer Jazz Festival from the 18th June – 30th July in the courtyard of the Piwnica Pod Baranami as well as the Festival of Music in Old Cracow, which showcases classical music from 15th August – 31st August. If you want to see Krakow’s traditional side, then visit the Pierogi Festival, which celebrates the humble dumpling on 11th – 15th August.
For something completely different, don’t miss the buzz around the Krakow Honey Harvest on 29 – 30 August, a bee-keepers’ festival that tends to attract a sweet, yet niche crowd.
Krakow has a traditional Polish eating schedule, with a big breakfast in the morning, followed by a late lunch (around 3-4pm) and a light dinner (7-8pm), but don’t let that stop you trying as much of the cuisine as you can.
The most traditional dish you will find in Krakow is the obwarzanek, a delicious, round braided bread, somewhat similar to a bagel. Other traditional Polish foods to try are zurek, a sour and creamy soup, barszcz, a savoury beetroot soup, and of course pierogi, Polish dumplings, which come in all shapes and sizes. And if you get a chance, don’t miss the Pierogi Festival in September!
The restaurants in Krakow tend to serve some kind of variation on traditional Polish food, but often with some modern surprises for those willing to spend a little extra.
A visit to Krakow isn’t complete without sampling the street food zapiekanka, which is an open baguette with baked toppings, which you can get until the early hours of the morning if you need some late night sustenance to keep you going.
Krakow holidays are made for tourists from all walks of life, from party animals to families. With day trips into the Polish countryside as well as world-class spas, World War II museums and attractions, annual festivals, and of course the ever-thriving nightlife, this is a vibrant and beautiful place to visit year-round.
Booking your holiday to Krakow with easyJet holidays is the best way to get to this must-see destination hassle-free. Best of all, you can save on your holiday when you book your flight and hotel together with easyJet holidays.
Krakow not quite sealing the deal? Have a read of our other city break destination guides for further inspiration and temptation!