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Krakow vs Warsaw – Which is better?

Follow your itchy feet to Poland and decide between two unique cities – Krakow or Warsaw. Unravel the culture as you explore these cities.

6 minutes
Krakow vs Warsaw which one is better
Old town in Warsaw.

It’s itchy feet time, and you’ve set your heart on visiting Poland. The million Zloty question is, Krakow or Warsaw? As the two most visited cities in Poland, the safe answer is both. Thanks for reading.

Yet, if you like to take things slowly and submerge yourself in a city’s culture, the answer is more complicated.

Warsaw is a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis with a contemporary personality, filled with the cultural lodestones you’d expect from Poland’s capital.

On the other hand, laidback Krakow was once the nation’s royal capital, where history and tradition sit comfortably alongside vibrant neighborhoods bursting with character.  

But the differences go much deeper if you’re into slow travel

History in Krakow and Warsaw

Krakow vs Warsaw which one is better
Panorama of the city of Warsaw.

For fans of historical architecture, the tale of the two Polish cities changed starkly during World War II. Whereas the historic center of Warsaw was significantly destroyed, Krakow was left intact.

The historic center of Warsaw has been painstakingly restored brick by brick, and the energetic capital has a more contemporary look and feel. Although, much of the city was also reshaped during the communist era, which will appeal to modern history buffs. Conversely, Krakow and the local region bristle with castles and landmarks that recall its glorious past as the royal capital. But there are also many stark reminders of 20th-century history, including Poland’s best-known monument, Auschwitz, and the Oscar Schindler’s Factory.

Polish heritage is much more than castles and the seismic events of the 20th century. But if you want to lose yourself down cobbled streets in the shadow of history, Krakow has the edge.

Krakow vs Warsaw which one is better
Krakow is a royal city indeed.

Art and Culture in Krakow and Warsaw

For cultural diversions, Krakow and Warsaw are almost impossible to separate.

As a bigger city, there are more museums, theaters, and art galleries in Warsaw, including several national exhibitions.

On the other hand, Krakow’s rich cultural past has birthed an intriguing medley of museums and offbeat attractions that contribute to its enduring role as Poland’s capital of culture. A status underlined when Krakow was named a European Capital of Culture at the turn of the millennium.

If you plan to fill your day with arts and culture, chances are that you’ll run out of time before you run out of options in either city.

Entertainment in Krakow vs Warsaw

When it comes to nightlife and restaurants, Warsaw’s cosmopolitan personality bubbles with energy. Trendy bars and flourishing live music venues are what the city is known for. Yet, you’ll find vestiges of Polish culture dotted around neighborhoods with unique personalities.   

Krakow balances old and new. Once smoky bars recall the past, funky cocktail venues ooze character, and countless traditional restaurants delight visitors.

In truth, both cities have an ever-evolving cultural scene that cannot be pigeonholed. But we’ll try; Warsaw is more dynamic and international, while Krakow has a more chilled and traditional milieu. But exceptions abound.  

Transportation in Krakow and Warsaw

One of many reasons why Krakow is a slow travel joy is that you can hit the cobbles and explore some of its most exciting neighborhoods by foot. Hire bikes, trains, and a solid bus network helps transport visitors further afield, and costs are low. Although for attractions beyond Krakow, a hire car is often the way to go (hire by the hour, if preferred).

The urban sprawl of Warsaw is well-serviced by a metro system, trams, and buses. Tickets are cheap compared to many European cities, as are taxis equipped with meters.

Travel costs in Krakow and Warsaw

In a nutshell, Krakow is cheaper than her big sister city. Prices rise and fall with the seasons, but overall, hotels and restaurants are slightly better value in the smaller city.

Don’t take our word for it. The ever-reliable Statista claims the average 2023 hotel cost in Warsaw is 481 zloty, compared to 429 zl in Krakow.

One certainty: both cities offer great value compared to Western European cities. You can still grab a drink in a typical bar for just a few zloty and enjoy an inexpensive meal, a win for every slow travel budget.

Living in Krakow vs Warsaw

Beyond the glossy brochures, quality of life can be a clue to what makes a slow travel destination.

There’s plenty to like about living in both cities, which have benefitted from Poland’s growing prosperity in the European Union. But for slow travel bliss, we give the garland to Krakow. But we love living here, so maybe a little impartial!

More objectively, life moves at a gentler pace in Krakow compared to the administrative and economic center that is Warsaw. The walkable city is less densely populated and easier to explore at your own pace, feeding into a more relaxing experience for cultural immersions.

What To Do In Krakow And The Local Region

Let’s get to the core of what makes a memorable vacation: what to do in each city?

We’ve previously gone into greater detail about what to do in Krakow and in the surrounding region. But here’s a pick of the highlights that give a flavor of the city:

  • Rynek Glowny – Europe’s largest market square, home to the towering St Mary’s Basilica and the heartbeat of the city for centuries
  • Kazimierz – the city’s historic Jewish quarter is dripping in character, hip bars, and cozy cafés made for slow travel escapades
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine – another World Heritage Site deep underground and one of the most extraordinary landmarks in Poland
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau – a heartbreaking and poignant reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust known the world over
  • Tatra Mountains – If you have time, stay in pretty Zakopane and explore the natural wonderland on Krakow’s doorstep.

What To See And Do In Warsaw

Comparing what to do in Warsaw vs Krakow is not an apples vs oranges scenario. There are similarities and differences between Poland’s most-visited cities that will hit differently for different travelers. Much like the two fruits, in fact.

Here’s a pick of the standout things to do in Warsaw:

  • Warsaw Old Town – rebuilt and restored to its former glory, but this World Heritage Site is another gem to explore and soak up Poland’s history
  • The Royal Way – it’s only 1.2 miles (2km) long, but this iconic street is full of diversions to fill an afternoon
  • Warsaw Uprising Museum – a fascinating insight into a proud yet ultimately tragic moment in Polish history
  • Copernicus Science Centre – one of Poland’s most celebrated sons changed our understanding of the earth’s orbit and this incredible museum is full of eye-opening exhibitions
  • Kampinos National Park – Poland’s second-largest national park contains an ancient forest and an abundance of protected species, including rare bison.

How Many Days to Visit Krakow vs Warsaw

Leaving no stone unturned, we’ve got a guide to help plan how long to spend in Krakow. For slow travelers, a weekend in Krakow rarely cuts it, especially if you want to explore beyond the city. A few days is essential for the city, but budget for 7 days to truly explore Krakow and the castle-filled landscape beyond.

It might be bigger, but the best of Warsaw can be visited in a few days. If you’re planning a longer trip to Poland, it pairs perfectly with Krakow.

Krakow is better for slow travelers

Hopefully, we’ve given you enough clues to help you decide between Krakow and Warsaw.

As slow travel advocates, we’ve got a lot of love for Poland’s capital. But if you picture a vacation packed with Polish traditions, historic landmarks, walkable streets, great food, and budget-friendly exploits, Krakow pips Warsaw every time.

It’s a big reason why Krakow has racked up annual awards for the best European city break. And we can’t disagree, it is one of the finest slow travel cities in Europe.