Thinking of planning a city break to Poland’s most beautiful city? Then be sure to look at my great selection of tips. Get a feel for the neighbourhoods and enjoy some insider’s tips before you even step on the plane!
Many people will agree: Krakow is Poland’s most beautiful city. In fact you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Europe that offers such a wealth of beautiful architecture, fascinating history and a wonderful atmosphere that will have you under its charm in no time at all. The former capital of Poland is high on the list of many people looking for great city breaks to Europe – and with good reason too! If you were sat on the fence about whether or not to go, or if you just want to get inspired for your next visit, I’ve compiled some great tips, tricks and personal recommendations for your next city break to Krakow – you’re guaranteed an incredible time!
Getting to Krakow from Ireland is a piece of cake. The journey takes around three hours and there are two Irish airports that you can fly directly to Krakow from, those being Dublin and Shannon. Dublin has more flights with the route operating the entire week, whereas Shannon has 2 or 3 connections per week instead. However the prices are pretty similar no matter which airport you go from, so if you don’t fancy the trek up to Dublin beforehand, you’re in luck!
Getting from Krakow airport to the city is very easy. My personal recommendation for transport would be to take the train as there are services running every half an hour and the journey takes less than 20 minutes. Plus it’s cheap too, since it only costs around €2 each way (8 złoty)! While it is possible to take a taxi, they do tend to overcharge for the service, so I would hold on to your pennies instead and save them for something else.
Krakow’s Top Sights
Once you arrive in Krakow, you’ll quickly realise just how charming and architecturally diverse the city is. Krakow has luckily managed to avoid heavy destruction during the Second World War, which is why you’ll notice all sorts of styles such as Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque iHere are some of my personal recommendations that you just can’t afford to miss – it’ll give you a great insight into the city’s history and culture!
The beating heart of the city, the Rynek Główny(market square) is the focal point of everyday life in Krakow. When coming to the square to the first time, be sure to approach it via Saint Florian’s Gate (Brama Floriańska) towards the north of the square. It’s the sole surviving city gate that once constituted a whole system of city walls and defences and is one of the best examples of Polish Gothic architecture today. The rynek is lined with beautiful townhouses and landmarks, and there are lots of cafés and restaurants where you can sit in the terraces outside and let the beauty really sink in. One structure you’ll most definitely be drawn to is the St. Mary’s Basilica, a red-brick cathedral which overlooks the square and is one of the city’s most famous landmarks (the asymmetrical spires are easily recognisable!).
If you spend a bit longer in the square you’ll realise that there’s a trumpet fanfare plays on the hour. It’s not just a means of keeping time mind you; it’s a homage to a tower guard killed before he could finish his anthem when the Mongols besieged the city. That was all the way back in 1241 – another incredible example of living history here in Krakow.
Another major landmark is the famous Cloth Hall, or Sukiennicein Polish. It’s situated right in the heart of the square and its one of the most significant pieces of Renaissance architecture in Central Europe as well as being another one of the city’s iconic landmarks. Take the time to stroll along its beautiful arcade with vaulted arches, browse the souvenir shops and chill out in one of the cafés and watch the world by.
Guru Tip: Get stuck into a whole different world in the underground historical exhibition situated beneath the rynek. Make sure to reserve your tickets online in advance as visitor numbers are restricted to 30 visitors every 15 minutes
Wawel Castle is another must-see sight in Krakow. Perched on top of a hill overlooking the Vistula River, this beautiful residence served as the seat of Polish royalty. Along with the Old Town, Wawel Castle is part of Krakow’s UNESCO-protected world heritage sites. There’s an old legend that says a dragon used to live in Wawel Hill, slain by a man sent by King Krak – hence the name of the city! Or so the tale goes, anyway…
Wawel Castle has played a pivotal role throughout Poland’s history, having been the seat of Polish royalty and even the headquarters of the German occupation during the Second World War. Within the castle complex you’ll also find the Wawel Cathedral. Well, that’s the short name at least – the Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill was where Polish kings and queens were crowned and buried, with 16 monarchs, 2 saints and other notable Polish individuals resting in the crypts and tombs today. It’s well worth having a little look around both the castle and cathedral and let the atmosphere sink in.
The Kazimierz District
Easily my favourite part of the city besides the Old Town, this neighbourhood is where you can not only experience another side of the city, but also sense Krakow’s long history and vibrant mix of cultures. Kazimierz used to be the city’s Jewish district – yet despite the atrocious events of the Second World War, the local Jewish community survived and is still going strong today. Use your time here to get a sense of the local history here and visit cultural hubs such as the Judaica Foundation (which features a great rooftop terrace, live events and a café) or admire the many beautiful synagogues. Keep your eyes peeled while you’re walking along the street – you might find a Star of David in the façades of buildings or in old iron gates. See if you can time your visit to coincide with the Jewish Culture Festival!
The Jagiellonian University and Botanical Gardens
Did you know that Krakow is home to Europe’s second-oldest university in central Europe and the oldest university in Poland? Krakow is Poland’s centre of academia and research, and one of the most popular student cities in the country – over 100,000 students in the country live here! The Jagiellonian University is spread over 15 faculties and also boasts some famous alumni such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Pope John Paul II. But it’s not just the university’s stunning architecture that’s worth checking out. The fantastically-maintained Botanical Gardens are a real breath of fresh air and add some serious charm to the city.
If you’re looking to get a taste of Krakow’s fantastic nightlife, then you definitely should start your evening in the lively Old Town. You’ll find bar after bar, and it’s especially popular with students looking to party the night away or just have some chilled drinks with friends. However I also definitely recommend checking out the Kazimierz district too. You’ll often find a lot of locals going out here and it’s a super trendy part of town to be. You’ll also find a lot of pubs and bars in the cellars of townhouses which makes for a cosy experience, and the traditional Polish beers you’ll find here offer fantastic value for money.
The Plac Novy square in Kazimierz is a great place to start your nightlife tour of the area. The square might not be as pretty as the Rynek Główny, but you’ll find awesome alternative bars such as Eszeweria, Le Scandale and Singer. Other recommendations for heading out in the city are the Budda Bar, situated in the Rynek, which is fantastic for well-priced cocktails. Or how about sampling some fine vodkas or local beers over at the Wodka Café Bar? It’s just a few hundred metres from the Budda, so you’ve got two popular choices very close to each other.
If you want to really get a feel of Krakow’s top recommendations, then I recommend either having a look at Culture Trip or scrolling through top picks at inyourpocket.
Dining in Krakow
Trust me when I say that there’s one thing you have to do during any trip to Poland: try the local food! Seriously, Polish food warms the soul and it spans everything from hearty winter dishes to addictive sweet treats.
You’ll find most of Krakow’s restaurants in the Old Town. If you’re looking for some good places to try local specialities, then I can recommend the Cherubino restaurant, which serves Polish and Italian dishes. Kuchnia u Doroty is a great choice if you’re looking for the top marks when it comes to authenticity, whereas if you’re looking to keep the bill small, then The Point offers tasty grub for very reasonable prices. Don’t know which dish to go for? Then go to W Starej Kuchni, which offers a mixed Polish Platter where you can try several dishes.
Must-try Polish dishes:
Pierogi – dumplings with various fillings
Kielbasa – local sausages
Bigos – stew with cabbage and pork/kielbasa
Placki ziemniaczane – potato pancakes with sour cream
If you want to try something a little different, then why not go for one of the Jewish restaurants and cafés in Kazimierz? Places such as Kelzmer-Hois, Hamsa and Dawno Temu Na Kazimierzu are well worth a visit.
As well as the dishes and snacks I’ve mentioned in the side there, there’s also something you have to try if you need a little pick-me-up or you’re feeling a little bit peckish on a night out. The legendary zapiekankais pretty much a local institution – it’s a crispy half-baguette that’s got ketchup and melted cheese, plus a few extra toppings that you can pick. Sounds pretty moreish, and trust me – they can be a little addictive sometimes! If you want the best zapiekanka in town, then head to Endzior, a little take-away in Plac Nowy.
If you honestly haven’t been to Krakow yet, then start booking those flights and packing your bags! It’s seriously one of the most interesting cities in Europe. It doesn’t matter if you want to do a bit of sightseeing, get stuck into the history or just have a good old time partying – Krakow really does have something for everyone. I often spot great deals to Krakow, so just click on the link below to keep up to date with my deals. Maybe I’ll see you in Krakow! ;)
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