12 must-see things to do in Krakow

Ville de Cracovie

Visiting Krakow: what are the best things to do and see in Poland’s cultural capital? Focus on the 12 must-sees!

The country’s cultural, traditional and scientific center, Krakow is Poland’s second largest city and its former capital. Thanks to its rich history, Krakow boasts an exceptional historical, cultural and architectural heritage. Krakow’s historic center is even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A visit to Krakow will take you back in time to the history of Central Europe and the thousand-year-old traditions of Poland. In addition to historic monuments and buildings, Krakow offers historical frescoes, an exceptional culinary tradition and a pleasant festive atmosphere.

If you’re wondering what to do in Krakow during your stay, here’s the answer with 12 must-see things to do in Krakow!

1. The former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Not far from Krakow lies the formerAuschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. A visit here will give you a sense of the horrors suffered by Jews and other minorities under Nazi control during the Second World War.

The memorial and museum are an hour’s drive from the city center. Numerous tours are available to this place of remembrance.

2. Wawel Castle

Château de Wawel à Cracovie

Photo credit: Flickr – smif

Situated on the hill of the same name, Wawel Castle overlooks the Old Town and the Vistula River below. It’s a magnificent complex of buildings, fortifications and churches, a blend of Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque and even Rococo styles! Once home to the kings and queens of Poland, a visit to the castle will give you a glimpse of Krakow’s past glory.

At the foot of the castle, on the banks of the Vistula, you can also admire the legendary Wawel Dragon, or at least its statue, which even spits fire: an amazing attraction to visit in Krakow.

3. The Jewish quarter of Kazimierz

Quartier juif à Cracovie

Photo credit: Flickr – Jan Kraus

Before the Second World War, a third of Krakow’s population was Jewish. At that time, Kazimierz was the city’s Jewish quarter, located south of the Old Town. Today, many efforts are being made to preserve the district’s Jewish heritage. Many historic buildings and synagogues can be seen during your visit.

Despite the disasters of the past, today the district is very much alive and kicking, with typical and charming restaurants, street art and art galleries. The local community is determined to bring Kazimierz back to life, and it’s working! It’s a unique place and a must-see if you want to visit Krakow. For a quick bite to eat in the neighborhood, head to Plac Nowy, around Okrąglak (the Rotunda), for a Zapiekanka, a local specialty. It’s half a baguette cut lengthwise, topped with butter or olive oil. On top, you can choose what to put: mushrooms, tomatoes, ham, chicken, onions… The whole thing is sprinkled with cheese and baked in the oven.

4. Kościuszko mound

The Kościuszko Mound was erected by the people of Krakow in 1823 to honor the national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko. The monument was inspired by other prehistoric mounds overlooking the city: the Krak and Wanda mounds, also worth a visit in Krakow. From the top, visitors enjoy a magnificent panoramic view of the city. On sunny days, you can even admire the Tatra Mountains to the south!

If you want to get some height and breathe cleaner air in Krakow, you can also head for the Kopiec Krakusa, the route to which is detailed in this article. You can get there on foot after crossing the Kladka Bernatka bridge, or by taking streetcars 3 and 24 to the « Powstańców Wielkopolskich » stop.

5. Old Town Market Square

Place du marché

In the heart of Krakow’s picturesque Old Town, you’ll find the huge and beautiful Market Square, also known as Le Rynek! It’s split in two by the Cloth Hall, which also houses a folk art museum.

On the east side, you can admire the fabulous Basilica Sainte-Marie, whose two spires soar skyward. A blend of Baroque, Gothic and Nouveau art, the basilica is one of the historic city’s most emblematic and sumptuous monuments!

On the other side, you can admire the Town Hall Tower, another magnificent building in the Old Town. Market Square is an excellent starting point for visiting Krakow.

6. Wieliczka salt mines

Mines de sel de Wieliczka

Photo credit: Flickr – Mihai Lucîț

It would be a shame to visit Krakow without exploring the Wieliczka Salt Mines! Open since the Middle Ages, these mines are one of Poland’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites. On the agenda: underground staircases, crystal chambers, marvellous salt monuments and fabulous lakes in the depths. A visit to the Wieliczka salt mines is a real journey to the center of the Earth, lasting over two hours!

7. Parc de Planty

Planty krakowskie

Photo credit: Flickr – Xavi

Surrounding the Old Town, Planty Park is absolutely sublime. If you’re visiting Krakow, we invite you to tour it and enjoy a delightful stroll around the historic city. Take the opportunity to relax on one of the many benches, and watch the bustle of local life!

8. Wawel Cathedral

La Cathédrale du Wawel

Also known as the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslas in Krakow, this monument has been destroyed and rebuilt three times. It is one of Poland’s most important historical monuments. Like Krakow’s historic center, the Cathedral has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. A true national shrine, many Polish kings, queens and poets are buried here. When you go to Wawel Castle, you can visit the Cathedral independently by booking your ticket online.

9. Oskar Schindler’s factory

L'usine d'Oskar Schindler

Photo credit: Wikimedia- Dennis Jarvis

As well as appearing in the film Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler’s factory is one of Krakow’s most popular landmarks. A visit to this must-see site will enable you to discover how this Nazi industrialist saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. The permanent exhibition « Krakow under Nazi Occupation, 1939-1945 » plunges you into the history of Krakow and the Jewish ghetto during the Second World War. You can also take a guided tour of Oskar Schindler’s factory.

10. The Barbican

La barbacane

Photo credit: Wikimedia- Own work

Built in the 15th century to protect the city from the Ottoman threat, this fortress is a must-see in Krakow! A true marvel of medieval military architecture, it is one of the best-preserved barbicans in Europe.

11. The Old Synagogue (Stara Boznica)

Stara Boznica krakow

Photo credit: Flickr – Fred Romero

The Old Synagogue is one of Poland’s oldest synagogues. Its interior may seem disappointing, given that it was ransacked by the Nazis, destroyed and reformed many times, but that doesn’t detract from the historical value of the place. You can learn more about the history of the Jews in Krakow from the liturgical elements and ancient documents housed here.

12. Other sights in and around Krakow

Tyniec

If you’re still wondering what to do in Krakow, here are more attractions to visit and activities to enjoy in and around the city:

  • Dinner in the picturesque, traditional Pod Wawelem restaurant, with its typical Polish atmosphere and dishes!
  • Discover the St. Florian Gate, north of the Old Town, a vestige of the fortifications surrounding Krakow.
  • Enjoy a cruise on the Vistula. You can also take a stroll along the river’s green banks, which come alive in summer when they host musical and festive events.
  • Admire the sublime Church of St. Joseph, south of the Jewish Quarter, one of Poland’s most magnificent neo-Gothic buildings.
  • Not far from Krakow is the Ojcow National Park, one of the most beautiful in the country, home to cliffs, ravines, dense forests and numerous small caves – a wonderful introduction to Polish nature and landscapes!
  • Visit the historic Polish village of Tyniec and its abbey, some 15 km from Krakow city center.
  • Visit Zakopane, about a two-hour drive from Krakow, Poland’s winter sports capital!

How to get to Krakow

You can visit Krakow by plane, train or car, depending on your point of departure. Krakow has its own airport: Krakow-John Paul II Airport, the second largest in the country. The low-cost airlines Ryanair and easyjet serve Krakow airport. It’s also worth checking out flights to Katowice, around 1 hour’s drive from Krakow. You’ll need to book a transfer between Katowice airport and Krakow. To find cheap flights to Krakow airport, you can consult the website of our partner Ulysses.

Where to stay in Krakow

If you’d like to visit Krakow, there are plenty of accommodation options. To make the most of the cultural and tourist attractions, we recommend the historic center or the former Jewish district of Kazimierz. The latter is undergoing a major transformation and is certainly Krakow’s most authentic district. These are among the best areas to stay in Krakow!

To find a hotel at the best price, take a look at this hotel comparison site. And if you’re looking for more unusual accommodation, you can turn to the Airbnb rental platform.

Now you know what to do in and around Krakow during your traditional and cultural stay in Poland!

Map of hotels and accommodation – Malopolskie