Krakow is one of Europe’s best city break destinations for a multitude of reasons. It’s only a couple of hours on the plane from the UK, it has fantastic nightlife, making it popular for stag and hen parties, and it’s extremely cheap, which means that it’s extremely accessible.
But what’s also great about Krakow is that whilst it is only a small city (it is only the continent’s 61st largest city by population), it has plenty of attractions and sites of immense cultural and historical significance, meaning a short break there will be packed to the rafters.
Having visited Krakow twice and heading back for a third time next month, I’ve decided to put together a list of the city’s must-do attractions so that you know where to go and what to see.
1. Wieliczka Salt Mine
Although it is one of the region’s top attractions, I feel like Wieliczka Salt Mine doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It lies approximately half an hour away by car and a trip to see this amazing underground maze of tunnels should definitely be on the itinerary of any Krakow visitor.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wieliczka Salt Mine consists of magnificent tunnels and chambers carved into rock salt. One of the most impressive parts of the mine is the chapel where weddings are frequently held, as well as Sunday mass. We did the salt mine on a day tour from the city, although you can get there via public transport. You will need to book onto a guided tour, though, as it is an operating mine and visitors can only go inside with a fully-trained guide.
2. Schindler’s Factory
Schindler’s Factory is a global icon, no thanks in small part to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Oscar-winning classic, Schindler’s List. The film follows businessman Oskar Schindler who saved the lives of more than 1,200 Jewish people during World War II by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories throughout occupied Poland.
The most famous of these can be found near the banks of the Vistula river. Now a museum dedicated to the five-year Nazi occupation of Krakow, I found it particularly helpful in finding out more about Poland during wartime, and it was really interesting to see what the people of Krakow had to live through and endure.
3. Rynek Underground
One of Krakow’s newest museums, Rynek Underground is highly popular with visitors and locals alike. This hi-tech museum takes visitors under the surface of the Main Square for a journey through the history of the city from its first settlers up until the death of Pope John Paul II. You can also discover the findings of a recent archaeological excavation of the immediate area, which unearthed the foundations of the Great Weigh House and Small Weigh House – public buildings in which trading good were once weighed.
Due to the museum’s popularity and capacity – it can only hold 300 people at once – it is a good idea to buy an advanced ticket for a specific slot. Tickets can be bought online from the museum’s official website.
4. Have a meal in Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter)
Food is a staple of any quality Krakow trip and one area that’s a hotspot for restaurants, bars and cafés is the Jewish Quarter, also known as Kazimierz. Whether you want a spot of breakfast, lunch or dinner, this is the place to go. Walk through art-lined streets and find eateries such as Hamsa, which brings together typical Israeli dishes with Middle Eastern fare, and Starka, which serves tasty Polish grub in an intimate, candlelit setting.
5. Go to a football game
Krakow is home to two teams in the top flight of Polish football – Wisła and Cracovia. Both are rivals and contest a derby known as “The Holy War,” but watching them play football is less intimidating than it sounds. Cracovia play at the Marshal Józef Piłsudski Stadium, while Wisla call Stadion Miejski home, with the stadia separated by just one kilometre of Błonia Park.
If you’re in Krakow from July to May, then there’s a good chance you’ll have the opportunity to watch one of these teams play. Tickets are cheap, and while attendances are rarely high, the atmosphere has all the raw energy and passion you’d expect from an eastern European crowd. Whether you’re alone, with your partner, away with the lads or have your family in tow, a football game in Krakow is a value-for-money afternoon out.
6. Auschwitz tour
One of the reasons that I believe Krakow to be one of the world’s best city breaks is because not only does it have great food and drink, it’s cheap, is a top nightlife destination and lies within a region of great historical significance. Around away by road lies the concentration camps of Auschwitz, where over a million people died at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War.
While it isn’t a fun day out and is definitely a sobering experience, an Auschwitz tour is something you must do on a trip to Krakow. I’d advise getting a door-to-door tour that takes you from your hotel to both Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau because it isn’t that expensive and it’s less hassle for you and your fellow travellers.
7. Get a steak at Pimiento
The first time I went to Krakow, we came across an Argentine steak house called Pimiento. It was fairly quiet – although I’m sure we went on a weekday – and very relaxed. Its wooden interior made it feel homely, their extensive wine collection and cellar demonstrated how posh the place was, and the attentive staff made it an enjoyable experience.
Then there was the food. Oh my GOD, there was the food. The starters were incredible – my girlfriend had these amazing stuffed peppers and I chose chorizo, then we had two of the best steaks either of us had ever eaten. It was topped off with some Jaffa Cake-inspired desert (it was a lot fancier than it sounded) and washed down with a healthy amount of Okocim beer.
Hands down, it was the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at, and while it has moved from its original location – the one we ate in – to three different locations across the city, I’m guessing the quality still remains. If you want a Krakow food recommendation, Pimiento is the one.
8. Enjoy some retail therapy
One thing I’d advise those visiting Poland to do is to only half-pack – that is to leave enough room in your suitcase to stock up on cheap goods. Clothing is something that tends to cost less in Poland – it’s something I found out a couple of years ago when me and my friend nabbed some bargains in Zara and H&M in a shopping mall in Wrocław – and if you’re travelling from an expensive country such as the UK, you may be able to save yourself some money.
While you’ll find some of your favourite stores dotted around the city, I’d recommend swinging by Galeria Krakowska, a large shopping centre located adjacent to the city’s main railway station, and Galeria Kazimierz which, in addition to over 160 stores, has a 10-screen cinema complex and fitness club.
It’s important to know that last year Poland implemented a Sunday trading ban, meaning if you want to go shopping, you’ll have to do it on a different day.
9. Karaoke at Coyote Bar
One of Krakow’s biggest draws is its stellar nightlife, which is the main reason why it’s extremely popular with stag and hen parties. There is no shortage of fantastic drinking venues across the city, but one of my favourites is Coyote Bar.
Just off Main Square down one of the side streets, this small bar is popular with young locals and students. One of the things I love about Coyote Bar is that it does karaoke, and one of my favourite travel memories is sitting with my girlfriend and a pint of Zywiec beer listening to Polish twentysomethings attempt to sing English language songs. They also had some Polish bangers, but classics such as Take On Me with Polish accents is a sight, or rather sound, to behold. It’s cheap, entertaining and one of my favourite places in the world to drink.