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Krakow travel guide - everything you need to know

view of Krackow Poland

So you are headed to the amazing city of Krakow and you are now overwhelmed with the planning and logistics of everything. I am here to help. In this Krakow travel guide, we will go over everything you need to know about visiting this remarkable city.

Krakow was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596. Because of this, it has many historical and beautiful buildings. It is interesting to note that while other Polish cities such as Warsaw were heavily damaged during WWII, Krakow was almost completely untouched. 

This Krakow itinerary is part of a larger Poland itinerary that takes you through Warsaw, Wroclaw, Gdansk and more!

Just a quick personal story that I love about Krakow.  My husband lived in Poland for 2 years. For 25 years he has been telling me about a food stand that he would go to every evening on his way back to his apartment. It was only there at night. He would get a big roll and kielbasa with the best mustard dipping sauce. When we went back, he went on a walk one evening and he found the same guy, on the same corner selling the same food. It was so fun for him. The man said that he had been there every night for the past 40 years. 

Kiabasa in Krakow Poland

Krakow pronunciation

I am not usually very good at foreign pronunciation but because my husband lived there and learned the language, I have an advantage on this one. Most English speakers pronounce Krakow just how it is spelled with an "ow" at the end. In Polish it is pronounced with an "oov" at the end. Either way you say it, this is a remarkable city.

Is Krakow safe?

Krakow is a safe city. It has a relatively low crime rate and travel safety is rated higher that Stockholm and other Scandinavian cities. I have always felt safe in Krakow. That being said, you always need to be aware of your surroundings and belongings.

church in Krakow Poland

Getting there

Ok, on to planning your trip. First things first, let's talk about how to get to Krakow.

Krakow airport

If you're coming from abroad, the easiest way to reach Krakow is by flying into the John Paul II International Airport, located west of the city center. Once you've arrived, there are several options to get into the city center. It will, of course, depend on where your hotel is. The most convenient way to Old town, is by taking the SKA 1 train, which departs directly from the airport terminal and will have you in Krakow's main train station, Krakow Glowny, in just 20 minutes. You can also take the 300 bus. Taxis and ride-sharing services are also readily available, are reasonable priced and fast.

Krakow train station

If you are coming from another city in Poland like Warsaw or Wroclaw, there are plenty of trains available. You will arrive at the Krakow main station. From there it is a 20

min walk to Old town or you can get a taxi, bus, tram or uber to your hotel. 

Wawel castle Krakow

Getting around

Krakow has an extensive public transportation network. If you are staying in the city center, however, you can mostly walk to everything you will want to see with maybe just a couple rides on public transportation. There are two main zones. Strefa 1 and Strefa II. Most of the main tourist attractions are in Strefa 1. The salt mine is in Strefa II. There are reduced ticket prices for students. Those under 7 or over 70 are free. You can buy single or double fare tickets or tickets for a certain time frame. The timed tickets are 20, 40 or 60 minutes or 24h, 48h, 72 h up to a week. You can buy the tickets at the bigger bus or tram stops or on the buses or trams there will be a ticket kiosk. You can use either cash or card. There are also mobile apps you can use. Skycash or MoBILET. There is also a Krakow card that you can buy online or in the tourist information offices. It includes public transportation and entrance to over 30 museums. You just need to price it out to see if it a good value for you depending on what you are visiting. 

church in Krakow

What to do 

Now that you've made it to Krakow, let's dive into the must-see attractions and experiences this city has to offer. I will give you an itinerary for 1,2,3 or 4 days.

1 Day in Krakow

One of the first stops on your itinerary should be the historic Old Town, or Stare Miastro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site brimming with charm and character. Old town is centered around the Rynek Glowny square. Of course, this square is a great place to hang out, people watch and go to a cafe or grab lunch, but there are also a few places you will want to make sure you hit.

St. Mary's basilica Krakow Poland

Cloth hall (Sukiennice), the building right in the middle of the town square. It was built in the 13th century but given an update during the Renaissance. It was built as a large shopping hall and was a major center for international trade with merchants coming to trade and barter. It has also been used through the years for opulent balls and receptions. The ground floor is still used as a shopping hall. There are dozens of stalls where you can find all sorts of wonderful crafts and souvenirs. There are wood carvings, amber jewelry, lacework and more. This lower level is usually open from 10:00- 8:00. The upper floor holds a division of the National museum. It houses the largest permanent exhibit of 19th century Polish paintings and sculpture. The museum is closed on Mondays and free on Tuesdays, It is open from 10:00 to 6:00. There are audio guides and guided tours available as well. 

cloth hall Krakow, Poland

St. Mary’s basilica is the main church in the square. It is open to the public every day between 11:30 and 6:00. There are numerous masses held if you are interested in attending one of those, as well as concerts. Construction of this church was started in the late 13th century. This is a brick Gothic church and is famous for its carved wooden alter piece. Every hour, on the hour a trumpet call is played from the towers but it is cut off in the middle of it in remembrance of a 13th century trumpeter who was hit in the throat by an arrow as he was giving the call of an attack. In the 18th century the interior was rebuilt in the baroque style with beautiful blue and gold. You do need a ticket to get in but you can just buy one when you get there.

interior of St. Mary's basilica Krakow

Florianska Street is a main street leading from the main square to Florianska gate (the main gate to the city in the middle ages. This street  is full of shops and restaurants and is a great place to explore. 

Florianska street and Florianska gate Krakow

A 10 minute walk from the square is Wawel castle and cathedral. The castle is part of a fortified complex containing multiple buildings. The current castle was  erected in the 14th century and was the residence of Polish monarchs for centuries. Today it houses an art museum, the royal apartments, an armory, the crown treasury and an archaeological exhibit that features the remains of the royal kitchens and a 10th century rotunda.  It is free to walk around the hill but if you want to go into any exhibits, you will need a ticket. The museum hours change through the year so check before you go but they are generally around  open from 9:30 to 5. Mondays are free and the opening times are different. You can get tickets online or at the castle information center. Tickets are timed and there is a limited number. Tickets go on sale two weeks before the date you are looking for. You can’t get the free tickets online, you have to go to the information center. There are different options for tickets. You can get one that covers everything or you can pick and choose what you want to see so I would suggest going on their website to help decide. 

Wawel cathedral Krakow, Poland

The Wawel dragon is a statue on the lower slopes of Wawel hill by the river. It sits by its lair, or a limestone cave. Legend has it that the dragon terrorized the people until it was slain by Krakus who was a polish prince. He then built his palace above the dragon’s den and founded the city of Krakow. The statue breathes fire and is a fun stop to make. 

Wawel Cathedral - This is formally called the Cathedral of Saint Stanislaus and Saint Wenceslaus. This cathedral is the coronation site of Polish rulers. Construction of the current church began in the 14th century.  It has an eclectic appearance with elements of Romanesque, Gothic, renaissance, baroque, neoclassical and neogothic design. Entrance to the church is free but if you want to see the crypt or Sigismund bell you will have to pay.

Sigismund bell Krakow Poland

2 days in Krakow

With a 2nd day, begin at the Oskar Schindler enamel factory. Oskar Schindler was a German who is credited with saving over 1000 Jews by employing them in his factory. Originally enamelware was produced there but Schindler eventually started making mess kits and ammunitions for the Germans because he wanted to ensure that the factory was deemed necessary by the Nazi’s so it would stay open. It is a 30 minute walk from old town or you can take the #20 tram from old town but it will take you the same amount of time. The factory holds a permanent exhibit called Krakow under Nazi occupation. It tells the history of the inhabitants and the Jews who were forced to live in the ghetto. The museum set up is interesting. Each room is designed to represent a specific place like a hair salon or a railway station. There are 45 different rooms like this. There are guided tours that last an hour and a half or you can visit on your own. The museum is free on Mondays but the number is limited. You can book online for days other than Monday. The tickets are timed. Opening times vary depending on the season. If you are traveling with children you will need to decide if this is something suitable for them. It tells of a sad story and so you need to go in knowing that. 

Expert tip: Last admission is 90 minutes before closing so be aware of that. The first Tuesday of the month is closed. There are audio files on the website that you can download and listen to.

street in Kazimierz Krakow

Kazimierz is Krakow’s historic Jewish quarter. Before WWII Poland had around 3 million Jews. Today that is around 9500. Krakow itself had about 64000. During the war the ghetto was walled off and segregated from the rest of the city. Many died of starvation. If they survived many were killed during the liquidation of the ghetto or sent to concentration camps. Today Kazimierz is a jumble of indie shops, and trendy restaurants. This neighborhood is just a 15-20 min walk from Old town square. Heroes square (Plac Bohaterów Getta) is worth a visit. It was the largest open space in the ghetto. It was also the site of beatings, deportations and executions. Today it is filled with iron chairs representing the seats left empty by those deported or killed.  Another interesting thing to do when you are in the area is listen to some Klezmer music. A great place to do this is at Klezmer-Hous an old Jewish bathhouse. It is a restaurant with live Klezmer music.

Heroes square Krakow

3 days in Krakow

There are a couple of must see day trips from Krakow, Of course, the first one is Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which was a Nazi concentration camp and the largest extermination camp. 1.3 million people were sent here, 1.1 million of whom died. Just like the Schindler museum, if traveling with children you will need to decide if this is suitable for them. We took our four children. The youngest was 10. We were nervous about taking them but we are so glad we did. They will need to be able to act appropriately though for the whole time they are there. You will also need to dress appropriately and be respectful when taking pictures. To get there, it is an hour drive or about 2 h on SKA2 train. There are also organized tours from Krakow if this is of interest to you.

Auschwitz gate, Poland

You will need to get your tickets online as they are timed and can sell out. There are guided tours or you can go on your own. There are only a few slots in a day to go on your own and they are usually at the end of the day, but these self guided tours are free. The guided tours take about 3 ½ hours. There are tours in different languages so make sure you sign up for the correct one.

Expert tip: You will need ID to get in. Also, make sure to arrive 30 minutes early to get through security.   

shoes at Auschwitz, Poland

4 days in Krakow

Visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow is a fascinating and unique experience. This salt mine was in use from the 13th century up until the 90s. This is not like any other mine. It has 4 chapels, statues, carvings, a lake and exhibits on the history of the mine.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is located about 10 kilometers southeast of Krakow's city center.

 If you have a rental car, you can easily reach the salt mine by following signs from Krakow. There is parking available near the entrance. It is about a 25 min drive. You can take a local bus or train from Krakow to Wieliczka. Buses depart from the Krakow Główny bus station, while trains depart from Krakow Główny train station. Both options are affordable and convenient. You would take the 304 bus or the SKA1 train. 

Wieliczka salt mine Poland

Tickets for the Wieliczka Salt Mine can be purchased online in advance or at the ticket office on-site. It's recommended to book your tickets in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure your preferred time slot. The most common way to explore the salt mine is through a guided tour led by knowledgeable guides. These tours typically last about 2-3 hours and cover the main attractions and chambers of the mine. The salt mine offers various specialized tours focusing on specific themes or areas of interest, such as the Miners' Route Tour, the Pilgrim's Route Tour, and the Mysteries of the Wieliczka Mine Tour. These tours provide a deeper insight into different aspects of the mine's history and operation.

Expert tip: Bring a light jacket or sweater as it can be cooler underground.

Krakow salt mine

Zakopane day trip from Krakow

With even more time, consider a day trip to Zakopane. This is a mountain resort town with wonderful outdoor adventures and interesting architecture. Some things to do in Zakopane include the Gobalowka funicular, Bukovina thermal baths, shopping on Krupowki street and hiking in the Summer and skiing in the Winter. Zakopane is about a 2h drive from Krakow. There are direct buses from the main bus terminal in Krakow as well as trains from the main Krakow train station. There are many organized tours as well to choose from if you prefer not to worry about anything.

Zakopane, Poland

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