Discover Krakow: 10 things to do in European fairytale city

Spectacular Krakow is the closest thing the European continent has to a town straight out of a fairy tale. Its charms are irresistible.

From the well-preserved medieval city centre to one of the most striking urban castles on the globe, from the history-filled atmospheric streets of the Jewish district of Kazimierz to non-stop energetic nightlife, from elegant boutique hotels to affordable hostels, Krakow knows how to hold a person’s attention.

It’s a global city filled with architectural, historic, and culinary revelations everywhere you go. Yet it always feels very homey and warm.

Here are ten wonderful things to see and do in Krakow right now.


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Stroll through Krakow’s Old Town

If you compare panoramas of Krakow’s Market Square as depicted on 19th-century postcards with present-day views, you’ll be surprised to find that this beautiful public space doesn’t seem to have changed a bit.

St. Mary’s Basilica, a stunning medieval Gothic-style red-brick structure, dominates the cityscape. To keep the atmosphere of magic alive, a trumpeter (called hejnał in Polish) plays a five-note melody in four directions every hour.

Horse carriages at the Krakow Market Square

Step inside the basilica to find a breathtaking interior and the 15th-century wooden altar carved by renowned German sculptor Veit Stoss. Beauty surrounds you everywhere you go in this city.

At the very centre of Market Square stands the arcaded Cloth Hall, which is another feat of medieval engineering and an original urban market where merchants displayed their products from all around the world.

St. Mary’s Basilica and the arcaded Cloth Hall at the Krakow Market Square

Photo source: Unsplash

Other highlights of the square include the Old Town Hall Tower, the picturesque Church of St. Adalbert, and rows of colourful townhouses.

The Old Town Hall Tower from the 14th-century Gothic style

Photo source: Pixabay

Don’t miss the Rynek Underground Museum, which takes visitors into the hidden passages under the square and features interactive exhibits.


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Marvel at the splendour of Krakow’s castle

Warsaw may be the capital of Poland, but it will always be jealous of Krakow. One of the reasons is the spectacular, imposing Wawel Castle.

Occupying a hill above the Vistula River and towering over the Old Town, it’s an epic sight.

Wawel Castle is located on the hill above the Vistula River and towering over the Old Town

Photo source: Unsplash

As the last resting place of Polish kings and national heroes, Wawel is among the most revered and significant heritage sites in Poland.

It’s also a magnificent collection of architectural styles, masterfully blending Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque elements.

The Planet Room in Krakow's Wawel Castle

Photo source: Wawel Castle

In other words, visiting Wawel is among the top things to do in Krakow.

Make sure to also enter the Wawel Cathedral, which, with its intricate interiors, crypt, and viewing platform at the top of the bell tower, is yet another example of the superb mastery of medieval architects.

Sigismund Tower - originally a defence tower, it was reconstructed as a bell tower in the 15th century

Photo source: Unsplash

Tour the castle’s halls to get a glimpse of how Polish royals lived, and admire the views of the Vistula River from the defensive walls.


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Discover Krakow’s rich Jewish heritage

Time seems to stand still in the Kazimierz district. Once a separate city, this district lives and breathes history, often tragic. That’s because it used to be one of the largest and most prominent Jewish neighbourhoods in Europe.

Entrance to the Wręga restaurant in the Kazimierz district, a Jewish quarter in Krakow

Photo source: Visit Krakow

Here you’ll stroll past old synagogues, pass ancient Jewish cemeteries, and uncover heartbreaking stories of the Holocaust.

Be sure to see the striking Moorish Revival interior of Tempel Synagogue, enter the picturesque courtyard of the Drezner family (a filming location for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List), and explore the Galicia Jewish Museum for a glimpse into the history of this district.

Old Jewish Quarter in Kraków, also a filming location for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List

Photo source: Unsplash

But Kazimierz is also a story of revitalisation and post-socialist transformation. Today, the district is full of hip bars, cosy courtyard terraces, third-wave coffee shops, and unmissable street food.

Have an inspired coffee in the inner garden of Karma, try a popular Polish zapiekanka (a toasted baguette sandwich with various toppings) at Plac Nowy (usually referred to as Okrąglak by locals for its rounded form), and enjoy the buzz of long-standing thematic pubs such as Alchemia and Singer.

A popular Polish dish - zapiekanka, a toasted baguette sandwich with various toppings

Photo source: Tripadvisor


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Tour the local museums

Krakow’s museums are in a league of their own. While they can’t compete with, say, their Parisian or London counterparts, it’s the originality and charm that lures in visitors here. That being said, the city proudly boasts some heavy hitters, too.

An impressive light-filled atrium in the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow

Photo source: Tripadvisor

Start your tour by admiring the Lady with an Ermine painting by Leonardo da Vinci and the Landscape with the Good Samaritan by Rembrandt at the Czartoryski Museum.

Set in a renovated historical building in the Old Town and boasting a photogenic atrium, this is a must. To immerse yourself deeper in Polish art, head to the National Museum in Krakow.

The Lady with an Ermine painting by Leonardo da Vinci you can admire at the Czartoryski Museum

Photo source: Visit Krakow

If you’re into historical interiors, Jagiellonian University Museum is a delightful place featuring a magnificent medieval courtyard and a series of old study halls.

Then proceed to Schindler’s Factory for a sombre look at the Nazi occupation of Krakow and the tale of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved more than a thousand Jews during the Holocaust.

Inner courtyard of the Jagiellonian University Museum in Krakow

Photo source: Unsplash

But Krakow is also known for its quirky side. The Museum of Illusions is a fun-filled visit with countless Instagram opportunities; the Museum of Municipal Engineering lets you touch and interact with many objects showcasing the urbanist aspects of living in the city; and the Pinball Museum features more than 80 arcades.

One of the optical illusion rooms in the Krakow's Museum of Illusions

Photo source: Tripadvisor


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Feast at Krakow’s best restaurants

You will eat well in Krakow, that’s a promise. This city excels on the culinary front.

Start on the street by sampling the obwarzanek, Krakow’s yummy answer to the New York bagel and German pretzel topped with poppy or sesame seeds. You’ll see vendors selling them from blue carts all over the Old Town.

Obwarzanek is a Krakow's pretzel topped with poppy or sesame seeds and salt

Photo source: Tripadvisor

Then come pierogi, the Polish comfort-food staple. These filled dumplings are addictive and you may end up having several portions per day.

Pierogi ruskie (filled with a mix of potatoes and cottage cheese) are the ones to start with. But don’t miss the chance to try other varieties, such as those with mixed meat, duck, or even plum and strawberry fillings.

Pierogi is the Polish comfort-food - filled dumplings

Photo source: Tripadvisor

If you’re a soup person, pomidorowa (tomato puree soup) and żurek (soured rye flour soup) are your first choices in Krakow.

To get meaty, order a schabowy (the Polish take on Schnitzel) or bigos (a stew with sauerkraut and meat).

Pomidorowa is a Polish tomato puree soup

Photo source: Tripadvisor

The best, and also most affordable, place for a pleasant introduction to Polish cuisine is a traditional bar mleczny – a self-service cafeteria-like canteen.

The best ones are Tradycyjne Polskie Smaki, Milkbar Tomasza, and Rest-Cafe Akademia.


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Explore Krakow’s salt mines

One impressive site in Krakow is actually located a bit outside of the city. The UNESCO-protected Wieliczka Salt Mine is an awe-inspiring attraction and an ultimate Central European bucket-list destination.

With nine underground levels and 245 kilometres of labyrinthine passages reaching down to a depth of 327 metres, it’s a one-of-a-kind place to see.

The UNESCO-protected Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow

Photo source: Tripadvisor

Two thematic routes (Tourist and Miners) take visitors on a subterranean journey through a salt mine that has been in operation since the 13th century and where active mining ceased only in 1996.

The centrepiece of Wieliczka is the glorious underground St. Kinga Chapel with altars carved from salt and an 11-metre-high ceiling.

St. Kinga Chapel at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Photo source: Tripadvisor

The Bochnia salt mine is smaller but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Krakow that boasts a chapel of its own and a unique ferry crossing a flooded underground chamber.

The Bochnia Salt Mine is the greatest treasure of the Bochnia region

Photo source: Bochnia salt mine

Both attractions can be reached by direct regional trains from the Krakow Główny train station.


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Dive into Krakow’s eclectic nightlife

During the day, Szewska Street next to the Main Square is a picturesque corner of the Old Town with quaint restaurants, souvenir stores, and pretty cafés.

But come here after 10 p.m., and you’ll understand why the nightlife in Krakow is considered one of Europe’s best.

Nightlife at the lively Krakow street

Photo source: Tripadvisor

Crowds fill the shots-serving BaniaLuka and Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa.

Crazy karaoke nights await at Klub Kulturalny set in medieval-era cellars, Multi Qlti Tap Bar has a cool second-floor area for socialising with craft beer in hand, and Mr. Black serves some of the best cocktails in town.

Then comes the dancing. The Latin fiesta flame burns daily at Teatro Cubano, and you can always expect a packed dance floor to the reggaeton beats.

Bittersweet berry-flavoured cocktail from the Mr. Black bar in Krakow

Photo source: Tripadvisor

Go to the other side of Market Square for more nighttime entertainment. Szpitalna 1 is a local techno temple; La Bodega del Ron is an underground bar-meets-nightclub with a mix of Latin, pop, and electro; and Prozak 2.0 is the closest thing Krakow has to Berlin’s raucous multistage clubs.

Visit Club Mojitos in Krakow for a classier Latin dance floor experience

Photo source: Tripadvisor

For something fancier and more dressed-up, try Shine on the outer fringes of the Old Town and Mojitos for a classier Latin dance floor experience.

Harris Piano Jazz Bar is the place for atmospheric jazz-filled late nights.


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Indulge in shopping

Krakow knows a thing or two about shopping. Apart from history, food, and nightlife, it’s also a city of shopping centres, cosy vintage boutiques, showrooms, and quirky artisanal stores.

Everything starts at Galeria Krakowska, a mall linked to the main train station that welcomes all with a superb selection of well-known brands, a big Carrefour supermarket, and a diverse food court.

If you want more shopping centres, head to Galeria Kazimierz close to the eponymous district, or go mega with Centrum Handlowe Bonarka, which is among the city’s biggest malls.

Centrum Handlowe Bonarka is one of the biggest shopping malls in Krakow

Photo source: Tripadvisor

Jozefa Street in Kazimierz is your go-to place for more down-to-earth, smaller-scale local shopping. There you’ll find the highest concentration of art galleries, poster stores, vintage clothing boutiques, and vinyl shops.

In the Kazimierz district in Krakow, you'll find the highest concentration of small-scale local shops

Photo source: Unsplash

The Empik chain reigns supreme among the book stores, and the American Bookstore offers a great selection of English-language literature.


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Enjoy an unforgettable sunset

There’s one thing that you’ll only find in Krakow: the mounds. Called kopce in Polish, these ancient, artificial memorial hills surround the city.

Their exact origins are still shrouded in mystery, but scholars believe that the hills may have had symbolic and astrological significance to prehistoric peoples. Five mounds lie near the city, but if you only have time to visit one, we recommend the Krakus Mound.

The nearest artificial memorial hill to Krakow city - Krakus Mound

Photo source: Unsplash

Start at the gorgeous Neo-Gothic-style St. Joseph’s Church in Krakow’s Podgórze district and take Dembowskiego Avenue to the mythical mound that locals call Kopiec Kraka.

According to legend, it’s the burial site of King Krakus, an ancient ruler of the city. Today the mound also provides one of the most magical viewpoints of the city and is ideal for greeting the sunset… or sunrise, if you’re an early-morning person.

From here you can admire the whole Old Town and the mighty silhouette of Wawel Castle. With clear skies, you can even see the distant peaks of the High Tatra Mountains.

View of Krakow city from the Krakus Mound

Photo source: Tripadvisor


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Go on a day trip

Krakow is located in Lesser Poland voivodship, which is a land filled with natural wonders and prominent historical sites. Travelling around the region is very easy, affordable, and straightforward.

You’ll also find all the major car rental businesses at Krakow Airport, including Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, and Sixt, which makes it easy to get around.

People having a picnic on a sunny day with a view of Krakow city

Photo source: Unsplash

As for destinations, you’ve got a wide range to choose from. The former Auschwitz concentration camp lies just 70 kilometres from Krakow and is an essential visit to learn more about the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War.

Then there are the breathtaking landscapes of the Tatra Mountains. For example, the mountain resort town of Zakopane is just two and a half hours away by car.

Breathtaking view of Tatra mountains and wooden houses

Photo source: Unsplash

Another great idea for lots of fresh air is Ojców National Park, which lies just 20 kilometres from Krakow’s city centre and is filled with unique rock formations.

A man walking at the Ojców National Park, which is filled with unique rock formations

Photo source: Unsplash

If you’re into cycling, Krakow has a scenic riverside trail that starts near Wawel Castle and leads all the way to the striking Benedictine Abbey perched on a cliff in Tyniec.


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Text by Pavlo Fedykovych

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