Krakow, Poland’s student city, is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country. Everyone comes here for the beautiful medieval architecture, castles, good food and cheap booze! This city is beautiful, inexpensive, and is filled with plenty to do. I personally like Warsaw better simply because it’s less of a “tourist scene” but you can’t deny Krakow is one truly amazing city (and far more beautiful). No visit to the country would be complete without a visit to this city.
Hostel prices – Expect to pay around 25-50 PLN for a standard 6-8 bed dorm room and 125 PLN for a double private room. Free WiFi is standard, and a few hostels also include free breakfast. Most of the hostels in the city have self-catering facilities, which means you will be able to cook your own meals if you’re on a budget. My favorite places to stay in the city are Greg and Tom’s Hostel and Flamingo. They arrange great “Polish parties” each week with plenty of free food and drink. For those traveling with a tent, there are a few campsite outside the city. Expect to pay around 30 PLN for a basic plot.
Budget hotel prices – Your budget will stretch quite far in Krakow, with basic hotel rooms beginning at 120 PLN per night for a twin or double. These generally include WiFi, but not always. For a hotel with WiFi and free breakfast, expect to pay closer to 180 PLN per night. Airbnb is available in the city, with shared accommodation costing around 95 PLN per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay closer to 220 PLN per night.
Average cost of food – If you want to try Polish cuisine for outstanding prices, then find a ‘Bar Mleczny’ (or Milk Bar) where a big lunch for one person is under 20 PLN. Expect cafeteria-style options from pierogies and meat to homemade soups and pickled salads. For a casual meal, expect to pay 20-30 PLN. For a midrange meal with table service, expect to pay closer to 50 PLN. Fast food (think McDonald’s) can be found for around 18 PLN. If you plan on cooking your own food, a week’s worth of groceries will cost between 80-100 PLN.
Transportation costs – You can see the whole of the city center without needing any transport — the walk across town takes 15 minutes. To get somewhere in a pinch, the tram is the way to go. One of the oldest tram lines in Europe, a one-way ticket costs less than 4 PLN, and the system is easy to navigate as the tracks encircle the city center. Grab your ticket at the tobacco stand or on the machine on board with change. Taxis are cheap enough during the day, with prices starting at 6 PLN. Expect prices to rise late at night and if you want to head to the suburbs. For inter-city travel, trains are a cheap, fast option. A ticket to Warsaw can be found for as little as 45 PLN, while a ticket to Gdansk can be found for around 75 PLN.
Suggested daily budget – 120 – 180 PLN (30-45 USD) (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, limiting your adventure activities, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. Remember, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect your budget to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Visit the Kielbasa Van – Two gruff Polish men set up a fire grill outside their van each night from 8PM-3AM while parked in front of the market east of the Old Town near the train bridge and grill kielbasa. For 10 PLN, you get a sausage, roll, and a squirt of mustard. Stand at the perch nearby and chow down with the locals in-the-know. There are plenty of cheap eats around town though — a zapiekanke pizza flatbread from Plac Nowy, Pizzeria Pronto on Grodska for a calzone, or 24-hour pierogies for 10 PLN at Zapiecek are just the beginning.
- Take the free walking tour – There are a couple of companies that offer free walking tours (like Free Walking Tours Poland) in Krakow and gather each morning at St. Mary’s church for an Old Town tour, then again in the afternoon for a Jewish Quarter walk. These are a wonderful way to get to know the sights and history of the city with great local guides. Just be sure to tip!
- Eat and drink for free – Many hostels offer free breakfast or dinner as well as free nightly drinks. Take advantage of these. Not only is this a great way to save money, it’s a perfect opportunity to meet and interact with new people!
- Bundle Tours – If you’re interested in visiting Auschwitz/Birkenau and the Salt Mines it’s a good idea to book both with the same company to save some cash. See Krakow is a great option with English guides and transfer to and from your accommodation.
- Use ridesharing apps – Ridesharing apps (like BlaBlaCar) are a great way to get around the country for cheap. Simply download the app, find someone looking for passengers, and go! Everyone is rated and verified, and it’s usually more convenient (and cheaper) than other forms of transportation.
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing is a great way to lower your accommodation costs in Poland. It’s a great way to save money on accommodation, and you’ll be able to get detailed insight into the country from a local.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Things to Do
- Pay your respects at Auschwitz – Just about an hour bus ride outside Krakow is the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp from WWII. A so-called “factory of death”, it was here that the Nazis carried out Hitler’s Final Solution — the eradication of the Jews. Now preserved as a museum, a visit to the camps takes the greater part of a day and is a hallowing, but unforgettable experience. While you can get there by public transportation and entry is free, there are many companies that will transport you from your hostel/hotel and include a private guide that will make the history come to life through their stories and information.
- Explore Wawel Castle – Wawel Castle was constructed under the reign of Casimir III the Great during the 14th century. It takes up an impressive spot atop a hill and was home to Polish monarchs from centuries. You can tour a number of rooms, which contain a fine collection of art and furniture. Admission is free on Mondays from April to the end of October, and on Sundays during the rest of the year. Basic admission is 4 PLN per person, though some of the exhibits will cost extra.
- Walk the entire Royal Road – The Royal Road stretches from St. Florian’s Gate down Florianska, across the Rynek Glówny, and down Grodzka to the Wawel Castle. While these roads won’t mean much until you’re in town, you can’t miss this thoroughfare that cuts through town to the castle. Historically, this was once the route for processions and parades as they made their way through the city center and it incorporates some of the most important historical landmarks in Krakow, as well as many tourist shops and restaurants.
- Walk around the Planty – The Planty is a large park that surrounds the entire Old Town. It was once the moat encircling the medieval city walls but now a beautiful 4km park! It’s a great escape from the busy center, and home to the location of one of our favorite restaurants, Pod Wawalem, serving up hearty, boisterous Polish cuisine.
- Visit the Underground Museum – One of the more interesting spots in Krakow is actual right under your feet in the main Market Square. Archeologists have created an expansive Underground Museum. The museum traces Krakow’s medieval past through well-preserved foundations, artifacts and city history. It incorporates 3D technology, videos and simulations for a more interactive experience. Honestly, it was my favorite thing in the entire city and gives you an incredible overview of how the city “grew up.”
- Visit the Salt Mines – The Wieliczka Salt Mines have been used since the Middle Ages to produce table salt, one of the city’s largest industries, but has been maintained as a museum since 2007. It’s pretty amazing down there as miners created statues, chandeliers, cathedrals and chapels carved from salt! Admission is 84 PLN for foreign visitors, with discounts available for families. A four-hour guided tour will cost in the neighborhood of 200 PLN with transportation to and from Krakow, as well as English speaking guide.
- Visit the District of Kazimierz – South of the center of town is the former Jewish ghetto. It was forgotten for many years but now is the center of a vibrant artist and student population. You can vist the Jewish cemetery or go on a free walking tours of the neighborhood. While it’s a great place for a bite to eat, the real flavor of Kazimierz comes alive at night — check out the 4zl/8zl vodka bar or Alchemia around Plac Nowy for a guaranteed good time.
- Tour Schindler’s Factory – Oskar Schindler’s story was made famous by Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, Schindler’s List. Located in the actual factory itself, this museum is an incredibly thorough trip through the history of WWII with only a small portion chronicling the years the factory existed. Make reservations online ahead of time.
- Shop at the flea markets – Go shopping early on Sundays at the open-air flea markets at Plac Nowy in Kazimierz or in the Jewish Quarter. If you go there on Saturday, expect an assortment of antiques. On Sunday there are mostly clothes for sale.
- Participate in mass in St. Mary’s Church – As the home parish of Pope John Paul II, this is a landmark of Krakow and the faith of believers here will give you a renewed understanding of the importance of the religion in Polish society.
- Stroll through Nowa Huta – Lose yourself in the forgotten communist era apartment blocks as you try to imagine what would have been if this Soviet town experiment had succeeded. In the years following the war, Nowa Huta was established as a separate town filled with industry workers and propaganda. Now, as an undeveloped neighborhood outside the center, it’s interesting to see how much of the socialist influence remains.
- Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow “MOCAK” – This museum is one of Krakow’s most recent additions and has a collection of contemporary art. Admission is 14 PLN per person, with discounts available for students and seniors.
- Visit Poland’s oldest university building – Located in Jagiellonian University, the Collegium Maius has been a scientific hub for research and discovery for centuries. Copernicus was a student here and the museum has a vast collection of scientific instruments from the 16th century. Admission is free on Tuesdays between 3-6pm, otherwise, a single-entry ticket is 12 PLN.