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.
While the city can feel rather touristy, it’s still pretty, interesting, and worth spending a few days exploring — especially if you want to learn about the grim history of World War II.
This travel guide to Krakow can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your visit!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Krakow
1. Walk the entire Royal Road
The Royal Road (sometimes called the Royal Route) stretches from the Old Town to Wawel Castle. This was once the route Polish kings took as they made their way through the city center (coronations, parades, and receptions for foreign dignitaries also took this route). The route incorporates some of the most important historical landmarks in Krakow, making for a great place to start your visit as you admire the historic buildings.
2. Tour Auschwitz
Auschwitz-Birkenau is the site of a former concentration camp used by the Nazis during World War II. Approximately 1.3 million people were sent here and an astounding 1.1 million of them were killed. When the camp was liberated in 1945, there were just 7,000 people there, many of whom were incredibly ill or sick. A visit here is sobering but shouldn’t be missed. Admission is free, but the experience is much more meaningful with a guide who can provide context. Expect to pay around 550 PLN for a guide.
3. Explore Wawel Castle
Built in the 13th century, this site is home to an art museum featuring medieval tapestries, the former Polish crown jewels, and Ottoman empire treasures. It’s one of the biggest castles in the country and represents numerous architectural styles, including those of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Admission ranges from 5-46 PLN, depending on what you want to see. On Mondays in the summer, free tickets are available for the Crown Treasury and Armory. There are seasonal discounts from September to October as well for the Dragon’s Den, Sandomierska Tower, and the Church of St. Gereon.
4. Tour Schindler’s Factory
During World War II, German industrialist Oskar Schindler saved over 1,200 Jews during the war by employing them in his factory. His story was made famous by Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, Schindler’s List. Located in the actual factory itself, this museum offers a sobering trip through the history of World War II. Admission starts at 10 PLN and there are limited free tickets available on Mondays.
5. Visit 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.
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 (984 feet) and are also home to contemporary works of art. The mine is just 13 kilometers outside the city. Admission is 109 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. Visit the Underground Museum
This museum traces Krakow’s medieval past through well-preserved architectural foundations and artifacts from the city’s history. The museum incorporates 3D technology and videos to show how the city grew and changed over the centuries. Admission is 28 PLN and there are limited free tickets available Tuesdays.
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 20 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 15 PLN, though you can do a self-guided tour on Wednesdays for free between 1:30-4pm.
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 Wawelem (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. Enjoy 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 15 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 27 PLN and there is free entry on Tuesdays.
12. Get Your Game on at the Krakow Pinball Museum
For die-hard pinball fans, this interactive exhibition of over 80 restored retro pinball machines and 35 arcade games is a must. Tickets costs 40 PLN and all the machines are included. They even have a bar inside, which gives the place more of a hangout and less of a museum feel. It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind place for your old-school arcade favorites and an off-beat thing to do in the city.
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 42 PLN while a full-day pass costs 78 PLN.
For more information on other cities in Poland, check out these guides:
Krakow Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorms with 8-10 beds cost 45-65 PLN per night. Private rooms cost at least 150 PLN per night. 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 200-220 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 110 PLN per night (though they usually average double that). Entire homes/apartments cost at least 250 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 bar mleczny or “milk bars”) cost around 35 PLN. For a three-course meal with a drink and table service, expect to pay 90 PLN. Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs 25 PLN for a combo meal.
A large pizza costs around 25-30 PLN while Chinese food costs around 15-20 PLN. Zapiekanki, a popular Polish street snack that’s like a pizza baguette, costs 5-6 PLN.
Beer costs 13 PLN, while a glass of wine is a minimum of 12 PLN. A latte or cappuccino is around 12.50 PLN. Bottled water is 4-5 PLN.
If you buy your own groceries and cook your meals, expect to pay around 150 PLN per week for basic staples like milk, pasta, eggs, cheese, seasonal vegetables, and some meat. The cheapest grocery store is Biedronka, which you can find almost everywhere. Outdoor markets are also a great and cheap place to get fresh produce and other local products.
Backpacking Krakow Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget of 155 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 350 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 625 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!
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 35 PLN. While they are a no-frills choice, the food is tasty and filling!
- Get the KrakowCard – This card 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. It’s 265 PLN for a three-day pass and 240 PLN for a two-day pass.
- 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 a ton 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 your guide at the end!
- 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 places to stay:
How to Get Around Krakow
Public transportation – Public buses and trams cost around 6 PLN for a one-way ride with a ticket that lasts one hour. 90-minute tickets are available for around 8 PLN while 20-minute tickets are 4 PLN.
Day passes cost between 17-22 PLN depending on the number of zones and 7-day passes are 56-68 PLN. The city also offers a tourism card called the KrakowCard which, in addition to museums and activities, includes public transportation around the city. It’s 265 PLN for a three-day pass and 240 PLN for a two-day pass. You can also buy the two-day KrakowCard at a lower price without public transportation for 156 PLN.
From the Krakow Airport, there is a convenient airport train that goes to the main station for 14 PLN and runs every half hour. There is also a slightly cheaper city bus for 6 PLN (included in the KrakowCard). The journey takes just under an hour.
Taxi – In general, taxis in Krakow start at 7 PLN and go up by 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 50-60 PLN per day. For a guided bicycle tour that lasts a few hours, expect to pay closer to 90-115 PLN per person.
There are also scooter share programs like Hulaj that cost 2 PLN to start and then 0.55 PLN per minute after that.
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.
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 around 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.
For the best car rental prices, use Discover Cars.
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) should 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!
If you’re worried about getting ripped off, you can read about other common travel scams to avoid here.
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. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- 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.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- HostelPass – This new card gives you up to 20% off hostels throughout Europe. It’s a great way to save money. They’re constantly adding new hostels too. I’ve always wanted something like this and glad it finallt exists.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- Eurail – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, a free checked bag.
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
- Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way to travel than by bus or train!
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: