Krakow is Poland’s student city. Over 25% of the population here are students, which has led to Krakow becoming a hub for cheap food, cheap booze, and abundant bars and clubs.
But Krakow isn’t just one one-trick pony. It boasts beautiful medieval architecture, picturesque castles, and a handful of insightful (and sobering) museums and attractions.
And, while the city is very touristy, it’s still pretty, interesting, and worth a visit.
This travel guide to Krakow can help you figure out how to plan your trip here.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Krakow
1. Walk the entire Royal Road
2. Visit Auschwitz
3. Explore Wawel Castle
4. Tour Schindler’s Factory
5. Visit the Underground Museum
Other Things to See and Do in Krakow
1. Take a free walking tour
One of the best things you can do when you arrive in a new city is take a walking tour. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land and learn about the culture, people, and history of the destination. I always start my trips with one. Crakow Free Tours offers free tours in English with a variety of different focuses (such as the Jewish Quarter or Krakow at night). These tours provide much more insight than any guidebook. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
2. Explore the District of Kazimierz
South of the center of town is the former Jewish ghetto. It was forgotten for many years but is now the center of a vibrant artist and student population. You can visit the Jewish cemetery or take a walking tour of the neighborhood. While it’s a great place for a bite to eat, the real flavor of Kazimierz comes alive at night. Don’t miss the vodka bars for a guaranteed good time!
3. Visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine
This mine produced table salt and was first used in the 13th century. It became one of Krakow’s main industries and was in use until 2007. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can marvel over the cavernous chambers, statues, chapels, chandeliers, and cathedrals — all carved out of salt and stone by the miners! The mines reach depths of over 300 meters (984ft) and are also home to contemporary works of art. The mine is just 13km outside the city. Admission is 93 PLN.
4. Shop at the flea markets
Go shopping early on the weekend at the open-air flea markets at Plac Nowy in Kazimierz or in the Jewish Quarter. Expect an assortment of antiques, souvenirs, food, clothing, and more. It’s a fun way to do some people watching and get a feel for local life in the city.
5. See St. Mary’s Basilica
As the parish of Pope John Paul II, this iconic 13th-century church highlights the importance of religion in Polish society (93% of Poland identifies as Roman Catholic). The church itself is brick and designed in the Gothic style, looming over the Old Town. Every hour, a trumpeter plays from the tower in homage to a 13th-century trumpeter who was shot while sounding the alarm before a Mongol attack. If you enter, be sure you’ve dressed appropriately as it is a place of worship. Tours are available for 10 PLN (15 PLN for the bell tower).
6. Stroll through Nowa Huta
In the years following World War II, Nowa Huta was established by the Soviets as a separate town filled with industry workers and propaganda. 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. It was one of the largest examples of social engineering, built to be a “utopian” city example. Now, as a popular neighborhood outside the center, it’s interesting to see how much of the Soviet influence remains. Spend some time wandering about and take in just how different this area is from Krakow’s Old Town.
7. Visit the MOCAK
The Museum of Contemporary Art is one of Krakow’s most recent additions and has a vast and varied collection of contemporary art. Opened in 2011, it actually sits on a demolished section of Schindler’s factory. It focuses almost exclusively on modern art from the past couple of decades, and while modern art isn’t my favorite type of art, the museum is still worth a visit to get a sense of the Polish art scene. Check the website to see what rotating exhibits are on during your visit. Also, download their app for more information about the exhibitions on display. Admission is 14 PLN.
8. Visit Poland’s oldest university building
Located in Jagiellonian University, the Collegium Maius (Latin for “Great College”) has been a scientific hub for research and discovery for centuries. The building dates to the 14th century and taught many famous scientists, including Copernicus (the famous Polish astronomer who argued that Earth rotated around the sun and not vice versa). The museum has a vast collection of historic scientific instruments and artifacts, including maps, globes, tools, paintings, and more. Hour-long guided tours cost 12 PLN, though you can do a self-guided tour on Saturdays for free between 10am-2pm.
9. Walk around the Planty
Planty Park is a large park surrounding the Old Town. It was once the moat encircling the medieval city walls but is now a beautiful 4km park that spans just over 5 acres. It’s a great escape from the busy center and is home to one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Pod Wawalem (they serve up hearty Polish cuisine). In the summer, there are lots of stalls around the park where you can grab a snack or a drink as you lounge in the shade and lounge the day away.
10. Visit the Botanical Garden
Jagiellonian University’s Botanical Garden is an 18th-century garden near the Old Town. Spanning 24 acres, this is the oldest botanical garden in the country (it was founded in 1783). It’s home to over 5,000 species of trees, shrubs, orchids, and other flowers. The garden is only open from April-October and makes for a nice place to go for a summer stroll. Admission is 9 PLN.
11. Explore the Polish Aviation Museum
This museum has been consistently ranked as one of the best in the world. Opened in 1964, it’s situated at the former Kraków-Rakowice-Czyzyny Airport (which is no longer in operation). There are over 200 aircraft on display here, including 22 extremely rare planes that were evacuated from a museum in Germany during World War II (so they didn’t get bombed by the Allies). There are lots of interactive displays and insightful exhibits, making this a fun place for kids and adults alike. Admission is 15 PLN.
12. Have fun at Aquapark (Park Wodny)
Park Wodny is a water park in Krakow and a great place to go if you’re traveling with kids. There are water slides, paddling pools for kids, a lazy river, rock climbing walls, and a handful of jacuzzis. If you’re looking to relax or have a bit of fun, this is the place! One-hour tickets start at 39 PLN while a full-day pass costs 69 PLN.
Krakow Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorms with 8-10 beds cost 50-65 PLN per night. Private rooms costs at least 150 PLN. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also have self-catering facilities. Free breakfast is usually included as well.
Camping is possible outside the city (and there are plenty of campgrounds throughout the country as well). Expect to pay 40 PLN per night for a basic tent plot for two people without electricity.
Budget hotel prices – A two-star budget hotel with free Wi-Fi costs at least 220 PLN per night. Free breakfast is usually included as well as other basic amenities like a TV.
Airbnb is available in Krakow, with private rooms starting at 90 PLN per night (though they usually average double that). Entire homes/apartments cost at least 200 PLN.
Food – Polish meals are quite hearty, usually containing potatoes, meat (pork and chicken), and seasonal produce like beets or cabbage. Stews and soups (like borscht, a beet soup) are popular and can be found at most local restaurants. Pierogis are also a common staple and can be found everywhere for cheap. For some traditional Polish food, try beef tongue or pork knuckles. The country also has lots of traditional desserts too, like paczki (a Polish donut) and makowiec (poppy-seed cake).
Most cheap meals of traditional cuisine (served at local restaurants called “milk bars”) cost around 27 PLN. For a three-course meal with a drink and table service, expect to pay 75 PLN. Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs 20 PLN for a combo meal.
A large pizza costs around 25-30 PLN while Chinese food costs around 15-20 PLN.
Beer costs 10 PLN. A latte or cappuccino is around 11 PLN. Bottled water is 4.5 PLN.
If you buy your own groceries and cook your meals, expect to pay around 160 PLN per week for basic staples like pasta, rice, seasonal vegetables, and some meat.
Backpacking Krakow Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget of 145 PLN per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook all your meals, limit your drinking, take public transportation to get around, and do some cheap activities like free walking tours and visiting the free museums. If you plan on drinking, add 10-20 PLN to your budget per day.
On a mid-range budget of 280 PLN per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for all your meals at cheap milk bars, have a couple of drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like touring Auschwitz and the salt mine.
On a “luxury” budget of 550 PLN or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, take more taxis, and do whatever guided tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in PLN.
Krakow Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Krakow is a very affordable city so there aren’t too many tips out there to help you save. Since this city is such a hot spot for partying, most people blow their budget on drinks. If you limit that, you’ll be able to visit without worrying about your budget too much. Here are some other ways to save money while you visit Krakow:
- Eat at milk bars – You’ll get a taste of Krakow at a mleczny (milk bars). Hearty pierogis, homemade soups, plenty of meat, and a local beer usually cost around 30 PLN. While they are a no-frills choice, the food is tasty and filling!
- Get the KrakowCard – For 140 PLN, the three-day KrakowCard provides free public transportation and access to all of the city’s main attractions (40 different sites are included). It’s a great deal if you plan on seeing a lot and it also includes public transit. There is also a two-day pass for 120 PLN.
- Be sure to pre-game – Krakow is known for its partying, pub crawls, and long nights out. Start off by grabbing your favorite drinks from a grocery store first whenever possible. You’ll save 50% that way.
- Take a free walking tour – Free tours from companies like Cracow Free Tours are a great way to explore the city while learning about the history, culture, and architecture. Just be sure to tip!
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing is a great way to lower your accommodation costs. Not only will you save money by getting a free place to stay, but you’ll also be able to make a local friend and get insider knowledge about the city!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water in Krakow is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Krakow
Krakow has plenty of hostels and they’re all comfortable and sociable. These are my suggested and recommended places to stay in Krakow:
How to Get Around Krakow
Bus – Public buses and trams cost around 5 PLN for a one-way ride with a ticket that lasts one hour. 90-minute tickets are available for around 6 PLN while 20-minute tickets are 2.80 PLN.
Day passes cost 20 PLN and 7-day passes are 48 PLN. The city also offers a tourism card called the KrakowCard which, in addition to free activities, includes free public transportation around the city. It’s 160 PLN for a three-day pass and 135 PLN for a two-day pass.
From the Krakow Airport, you can take a city bus for 5 PLN. The journey takes just under an hour.
Taxi – Taxis in Krakow start at 7 PLN and going up 2.30 PLN per kilometer. Just make sure you use official taxis as there are often illegal taxis that try to take fares (and who will also overcharge you). Official taxis have the company logo and phone number on the car. They also use a meter.
To ensure you get a reputable company, have your hotel/hostel call a taxi before you go just to be safe.
Bicycle – Companies like KRK Bike Rental and Krakow Bike Tour, offer rentals for 50 PLN per day. For a guided bicycle tour that lasts a few hours, expect to pay closer to 90 PLN per person.
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Krakow and it’s the cheapest option if you need to get somewhere and don’t want to take public transit. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Car rental – You don’t need a car to get around Krakow, however, if you plan on exploring the region you can find rentals for under 75 PLN per day for a multi-day rental. Drivers must have had their license for at least one year and an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required for citizens of certain countries.
When to Go to Krakow
The best (and most popular) time to visit Krakow is during the summer (June to August). Temperatures are hot and rain is infrequent with daily highs around 23°C (75°F). These are also the busiest months of the year for tourism, though and you’ll only really notice it in the Old Town and at some of the larger attractions.
The shoulder seasons (late April-May and September-October) are great times to visit as well. You’ll beat the crowds while enjoying milder temperatures. You’ll get more rain in the spring but also blooming flowers while the fall offers stunning autumn colors.
Winter in Krakow can be quite cold, with temperatures dropping to 0°C (32°F) during the day and down to -5°C (23°F) overnight. Snow is common, which can affect conditions if you’re traveling by car. In short, I wouldn’t recommend a winter visit unless you plan on leaving the city to go skiing or take part in other winter activities. That said, the Christmas market here in December is popular and worth spending a day at if you visit in the winter.
How to Stay Safe in Krakow
Poland is consistently ranked one of the safest countries in the world. Of course, you’ll still want to take some precautions while you’re here. Theft and pickpocketing are rare but they can still occur so keep your valuables out of sight in busy tourist areas and while on crowded public transportation.
Taxi scams in Krakow are rare, but always make sure your driver is using the meter. If they aren’t, ask them to stop and find a taxi that will.
Solo travelers (including solo female travelers) will find the city quite safe. However, you’ll still want to make sure you take the standard precautions when you’re out exploring (don’t accept drinks from strangers, don’t walk home alone at night while intoxicated, etc.).
ATM skimming can occur here, so always make sure you use verified ATMs. If you can, go into the bank to withdraw your money (as opposed to using outdoor ATMs that are easier to tamper with).
if you rent a car, don’t leave any valuables in it at night. Break-ins are rare but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
There is no risk of any real natural disasters or terrorism in Krakow, so as long as you pay attention to your surroundings and follow the tips above you should be able to have a fun and safe trip!
If you experience an emergency, dial 112 for assistance.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Krakow Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Krakow. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, a great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Poland, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Krakow Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Krakow Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising , by Miron Bialoszewski
This is a poetic first-hand account of the Warsaw Uprising. It’s gripping and eye-opening, told from the view of Miron when he was just a young man. The book encapsulates the city, its people, and the urgency of the time. It’s considered one of the best books ever written about the Uprising and makes for a great place to start for anyone looking to dive into modern Polish history.
The Doll, by Boleslaw Prus
The Doll is considered one of the best — if not the best — Polish novel. Published in 1890, the book is set in the 1870s and is a grand literary panorama of social conflict and political intrigue set in a Poland under Russian Rule. Originally, the book was censored before it was published, however, the original translation can now be read as the author intended.
Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Rozewicz , by Tadeusz Rózewicz
Tadeusz Rozewicz is one of Poland’s most praised and important poets, part of the first-generation of artists born after Polish independence in 1918. He served in the resistance during World War II, where his brother (also a poet) was caught and executed by the Gestapo. His writing is sharp, reflective, and surprising. If you’re into poetry, this is a great book to read before your trip.
Medallions, by Zofia Nalkowska
Medallions is a short book — just 49 pages — but in those pages, are 8 powerful short stories from World War II that hit hard. Each story paints a vivid and sobering picture of what happens when we let brutality take the reins. It is a harrowing, gut-wrenching masterpiece that everyone visiting Poland needs to read.
The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass
Published in 1959, The Tin Drum is the first book in the Danzig Trilogy. Set in Gdansk (formerly Danzig), the story is narrated by a main character in an insane asylum, so his stories and thoughts are unreliable, making the reader always second guess each and every fact. In 1979, the book was adapted into a film that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Krakow Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Europe and continue planning your trip:
Photo credits: 6 – Jorge Láscar