Here is my list of things to do in Krakow, an amazing beautiful city in Poland, very popular with travellers as the city is also near the Auschwitz memorial. The city itself is full of polish culture, a rich history, charming architecture and a thriving cafe, restaurant and bar scene.
An interesting, and easily observable fact about Krakow is that it has one of the highest concentrations of drinking establishments, both per square kilometre and per capita in the world!!
Many of the attractions are free, and Poland offers travellers good value when considering accommodation, meals and transport costs compared with other European countries.
Getting to Krakow
I arrived on the Polski bus from Wroclaw and had previously taken a Polski bus from Prague to Wroclaw.
I can highly recommend the company, as they offer the cheapest tickets for journeys, drop off and pick up at major bus stations, were always on time and the buses are fitted with WiFi and power points (something I find so great after travelling so much on Asian buses!).
Things to See and Do in Krakow
This castle is one of the main attractions and sits atop a hill overlooking the city. It is free to enter the courtyard area of the castle and lookout points. It is also free to enter on Mondays (April to October) free on Sundays (November to March).
Head to Market Square for a lively hub bustling with tourist pedestrians, street performers, sidewalks lined with outdoor dining restaurants, flower stalls, and all surrounded by such beautiful architecture. Here you can find polish snack foods from small stores, souvenir shops, tourist information and travel booking companies, as well as a huge range of restaurants offering a host of international cuisine.
Saint Mary's Basilica
This beautiful building is a main feature of the Market Square area and looks down on surrounding buildings. It was built in the 1200s. Entry is free. Keep a lookout for the girl dressed as a bronze angel statue standing very still at the front of the Basilica. She looks almost like a real statue!
Stroll Along the Wisla Boulevards
The Wisla river is so relaxing and such a beautiful aspect of the city. The boulevards are lined with paths, bike tracks, seating and shade. Also on offer are large boats that you can board for scenic rides. Wawel Castle looks over the river, and from the top of Wawel Hill, you gain a beautiful view of the river.
Plac Nowy Flea Markets
If you like to experience to the local lifestyle and observe polish communities and events, then Plac Nowy will be an interesting place for you. I visited the area on a Sunday, where I found a huge amount of local private stallholders selling a huge range of clothing, shoes, accessories, as well as other homes, kitchen and general goods.
If you are looking to purchase vintage clothing and have space in your suitcase then you will love these markets! Just a warning, the markets and stalls are both very messy, cluttered and do not have a lot of space.
Visit Some Museums
Here are some of the museums that offer FREE admission on certain days!
Rynek Underground Museum – free on Tuesdays (except the first Tuesday of the month).
Wawel Castle – free on Mondays (April to October) and free on Sundays (November to March).
Museum Archeologiczne – This is the archaeology museum – free on Sundays
Schindler Factory Museum – free on Mondays (except the first Monday of the month). Made famous in the movie Schindler's List.
Stroll the Jewish Quarter Kazimierz
The Jewish Quarter Kazimierz feels like you are in a completely different city. The streets are different. The stores are different. The architecture is completely different. It is in this area you can find the Old Synagogue, Plac Nowy flea markets, as well as many bars, cafes, and restaurants.
Wander and Photograph the Beautiful Architecture
The buildings, churches, laneways, parks, statues and monuments are beautiful and in a way romantic. Most of the oldest buildings are in and around Market Square and within the old city. Take a walk, stop at a restaurant or cafe, or take a picnic in one of the many parks surrounding the old city.
This ‘lane' is a small market area set up to replicate a traditional Polish market for tourism purposes. The area is filled with meats cooking, polish dishes and snack foods, many bread stalls as well as a handful of souvenir stalls. (Worth a look if you are not vegan, if you are, then skip it).
I really gained a lot of knowledge and perspective from my visit to the Auschwitz memorial. Both sites, Auschwitz and Birkenau, are accessible to the public and tickets are free of charge.
To join a tour guide (offered in many languages) it costs 40zl, and you receive headphones (to hear your guide easily) and get taken through both camps and told a huge range of facts, figures and stories about life at the camp, the people, the war.
The guides really are such a valuable source of information and really really make the experience so educational. I highly recommend joining a guide.
Auschwitz I is set up almost like a museum, with many information plaques, photos and articles on display. Birkenau does not have information such as Auschwitz I.
There is a free shuttle bus between the two camps. To get to Auschwitz from Krakow, walk to the major railway and bus station. You can take a bus from the downstairs platform. The bus costs 12zl for a one-way ticket. You can choose from a minibus or large coach (I went on both, the large coach is so much more comfortable and less crowded. The buses take about 1.5 hours from Krakow to the camps.
For more information, details and many photos on my visit to Auschwitz you can read my article here.
I hope this article was helpful for those thinking of travelling to Poland or planning a European trip but unsure of cities to visit. In my experience, I would travel to Krakow over Wroclaw (as Krakow has a lot to see and do as well as Auschwitz nearby, however, Wroclaw is more of an economic and university city, so it does not offer much to travellers.
If you have any questions about my visit to Krakow or Auschwitz, or need to clarify something please don't hesitate to leave a comment, or ask me on social media.