Krakow exudes old-world charm – no wonder it’s one of Poland’s top destinations to visit. Deep in the south of the country, a city frozen in time awaits, with cobbled streets, candlelit cafes and centuries-old buildings. It managed to cling to its roots after World War II, with traces of its Middle Ages heritage to be seen everywhere you look.
And while its history is an important part of the city’s soul, there’s a youthful buzz about Krakow thanks to the thriving local university and arts scene.
What to do first in this enchanting destination? Here are the top things to do in Krakow during a city break.
- Old Town
- Wieliczka Salt Mine
- Wawel Royal Castle
- Auschwitz day trip
- Wawel Cathedral
- Rynek Glowny
- St Mary's Basilica
- Schindler's Factory
- Rynek Underground
- Krakow Zoo
1. Old Town
Krakow’s signature attraction is its medieval Old Town. Encased by leafy Planty Park, this UNESCO-protected part of the city is where the real magic lies. Ambling through the warren of cobbled streets is the perfect way to spend an afternoon – beautiful churches, monuments and squares are always just around the corner. And as day turns to night, there are plenty of cosy drinking dens to escape from the cold.
2. Wieliczka Salt Mine
One of the best day trips from Krakow is to the UNESCO-listed Wieliczka Salt Mine. This underground maze of tunnels and chambers extends 300km, reaches 327 metres deep and has been active since the 13th century. It’s pretty impressive!
Carved out of salt rock, a series of statues and edifices are quite the sight, as are the chapels and lakes. Don’t forget to wear a pair of comfy shoes – you’ll need to descend 800 steps to reach the subterranean site!
3. Wawel Royal Castle
Head to Wawel Hill to discover Krakow’s magnificent castle looming high above the city. This incredible royal residence is a piece of Renaissance art, where Polish kings ruled from for more than 500 years. The complex has since been transformed into an intriguing museum, where you can peer into a throne room, gaze at art from Da Vinci and stroll around gorgeous grounds.
4. Auschwitz day trip
Embark on an Auschwitz tour from Krakow. The notorious concentration camp, where around one million people lost their lives during World War II at the hands of the Nazis, is around an hour’s drive from the city.
It’s a harrowing visit that’ll really open your eyes to the atrocities that took place here between 1940 and 1945. See the prisoner barracks, moving displays of artefacts and what’s left of the horrifying gas chambers.
5. Wawel Cathedral
It’s not hard to miss the city’s most important church – it neighbours Krakow Castle on Wawel Hill. Wawel Cathedral plays an important part in the country’s history, having long been the site where Polish royalty have been crowned.
What you see before you is the cathedral’s third guise - the two that stood before it previously both burned down. Its current form dates back to the 14th century but has been added to over the years. Explore the 18 chapels concealed within the cathedral’s walls and see tombs of Polish royalty.
6. Rynek Glowny
Rynek Glowny is the city’s main square and the largest of its kind in Europe. Without doubt it’s one of Krakow’s top attractions - fringed by glorious architecture, it’s the true heart of the city.
Feast on a slab of homemade cake and a fresh coffee as you people-watch from one of the pavement cafes or simply sit back and admire the Gothic spires and facades. Look out for Cloth Hall, the Renaissance-style trading hub that sits proudly in the centre of Rynek Glowny (and has done since the 14th century!).
7. St Mary's Basilica
This twin-towered church has stood in Krakow’s main square for seven centuries, witnessing the plights of the Nazis, among others, during its tenure. Marvel at its gothic spires before heading inside to see the 14th century stained glass windows, celestial-embellished nave and breathtaking altar of the Dormition of the Mother of God. From April to October, you can also tour the bell tower and enjoy sweeping views of the city below.
8. Schindler's Factory
One of Krakow’s top museums, Schindler’s Factory will tug at your heartstrings. The former enamelled goods factory was transformed into a world-class museum in 2010 and it’s here you can discover more about the tale of Oskar Schindler, the famous industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jewish members of his workforce. Another eye-opening exhibit narrates the Nazi occupation in the city between 1939-1945 – don’t miss it.
9. Rynek Underground
A subterranean adventure awaits at Rynek Underground. Underneath the city’s central square is a labyrinth of tunnels that moonlight as a museum. Glass walkways take you around the site, exhibiting a centuries-old market place. Touchscreen technology allows you to gauge a deeper understanding of the history of this fascinating complex.
10. Krakow Zoo
Since opening its doors in 1929, Krakow Zoo has grown to offer visitors a diverse experience, with everything from giraffes to zebras to see. It’s the perfect place to while away a morning if you’re in the city with little ones in tow. Work your way around the outdoor exhibits, watch the penguin feeding and make the most of the petting zoo.
After finding out about the best things to do in Krakow, are you ready to book a getaway to the city? You can do just that with Jet2CityBreaks.
Posted: 9th Jan 2019.