13 reasons to visit Krakow
While everyone else is emptying their pockets in Paris and London, make your way somewhere unexpected: visit the fairy-tale city of Krakow!
What Krakow lacks in international fame, it more than makes up for with intriguing attractions, storied cultural history, reasonable prices, moderate crowds, tasty cuisine, and friendly people. We’re not exaggerating, Krakow truly is one of the best cities to visit in Europe.
Don’t believe us? Keep reading below to learn why Krakow, Poland is an unmissable stop on your next European holiday.
1. Krakow has the most beautiful market square in Europe
Krakow’s 13th-century Main Market Square (Rynek Główny) is actually the largest medieval square in Europe — and with its horse-drawn carriages, fountains, and umbrella-filled terraces, it’s one of the prettiest. Lose yourself in the marketplace stalls of the 14th-century Cloth Hall, located in the center of the square, then grab a bite at one of the many scenic cafes sprinkled throughout the square.
Every hour, a bugle call known as the Hejnał Mariacki (St. Mary’s Trumpet Call) sounds from the highest tower of the beautiful Saint Mary’s Basilica. Legends abound about this centuries-old call, but most believe it to be a reminder of when a watchman would sound the alarm to warn residents of approaching danger. Take a look below at the Monty Team’s private visit with one of the trumpeters. (Ask nicely and we might even be able to get you your own private visit with our Monty Experience package!)
Surrounded by a number of picturesque streets, lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops, the market square is the perfect place to relax with a coffee or beer while you watch the world go by.
2. There is plenty to see & do in Krakow
So you might be wondering: what are some of the best attractions to visit in Krakow? Visitors and locals alike are spoiled for choice. Here are just a few of the most popular things to do in Krakow:
- Tour Wawel Castle and Cathedral
- Stroll around the Main Market Square
- Immerse yourself in a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz)
- Embark on a boat trip on the Vistula River
- Climb the stairs to the top of St. Mary’s Basilica for views over the Main Market Square
- Visit Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory Museum
- Take a bus to Auschwitz-Birkenau to pay respects to the tragic victims of WW2 Holocaust. Guided tours are available, and it’s definitely worth visiting.
- Take a trip to the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine. Plunge to a depth of 327 meters (1,073 ft) to stroll through a unreal chapel with intricate designs and statues carved directly from the salt in the mine’s walls. A completely unique aesthetic experience.
You can easily spend a week in Krakow and not run out of things to see and do. In fact, it’s hard to find another overlooked city in Europe this small and cozy that would merit a stay this long.
3. Krakow is full of history
Poland’s Original Capital City
Krakow is one of the largest and oldest cities in Poland. Founded by King Bolesław I Chrobry in the early 11th Century, it was the country’s original capital until 1596 when that honor moved (and stayed) to Warsaw.
Krakow remained an important center of European culture throughout the Middle Ages and its storybook historic city center is one of the largest in Europe, with almost 12 square kilometers. With jaw-dropping architecture exemplifying the Baroque, Renaissance, and Gothic eras, it’s no wonder that Krakow is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Krakow During World War II
Sadly, Krakow was the site of horrific atrocities during World War II and the scars are still visible. The Nazis started making plans to expel the prominent Jewish population in Krakow immediately after invading Poland in 1939, officially creating the ghetto in 1941.
Between 1942 and 1944, most of the ghetto’s residents were sent to work — and tragically, for far too many, to ultimately perish — at the nearby concentration and extermination camps of Bełżec, Sobibor, Płaszów, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Because the Nazis planned to make Krakow the seat of their puppet government after their World War II “victory”, Krakow’s historic center survived the war relatively unscathed. As a result, unlike many other European cities, Krakow’s centuries-old Gothic churches, Renaissance palaces, and Baroque townhouses have been beautifully preserved.
In the 1993 film Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg told the astounding true story of Oskar Schindler’s selfless actions in saving the lives of more than a thousand Jewish workers. Partially filmed on location in Krakow, you can visit the factory where Schindler’s workers were employed, along with the Krakow ghetto and Płaszów concentration camp. When you walk through places where atrocities were committed, a better understanding of the cost of war and apathy is understood.
4. Krakow is great for families
Kids will love riding in a horse-drawn carriage around the Main Market Square or taking a tour of Wawel Castle. There are also a number of parks and playgrounds in Krakow, plus axe-throwing if you’re feeling daring.
And if you’re looking for some family-friendly activities outside of the city, there are plenty of options nearby, including the Ojcowski National Park and Zakopane.
5. Krakow is a very affordable destination
Krakow is one of the most affordable cities in Europe. You can easily find a 4-star boutique hotel room for under $100 per night or a 2-bedroom B&B for even less. Even better, you’ll never go hungry in Poland, with very reasonably priced restaurants serving stuffed pierogis and hearty soups that leave you full.
Additionally, coffee and beer are very inexpensive, so feel free to order another pint. And if you’re looking for even cheaper options, there are plenty of street food vendors selling Polish staples like zapiekanka (a long open-faced sandwich) and kielbasa.
As of today, the exchange rate remains pretty favorable for visitors from the US and UK, making your wallet stretch further. Use the widget below to check out the current exchange rate in your currency.
Check Polish currency conversion rate
6. Polish food is shockingly good
Most visitors don’t expect much from Polish food, and yet almost all leave constantly astonished by the uniquely delicious taste of the local dishes.
That’s because the food isn’t bland, heavy, or starchy like visitors might experience in nearby Eastern European countries. Trust us, we really know how to make a soup and a sausage taste amazing.
Can’t miss Polish foods!
- Obwarzanek — The circular bread rings are the unofficial symbol of Krakow
- Pierogi — Tender, aromatic dumplings typically filled with potato and cheese, sauerkraut, ground meat, mushrooms, or fruit
- Kielbasa — Polish spiced sausage. Best eaten
- Zurek soup — Sour rye flour soup usually containing boiled egg, kind of like a savory porridge
- Kiszone — Polish dill pickle, they’re super tangy!
- Bigos — A spiced hunter’s stew, made with all types of different shredded meat and sauerkraut and cabbages
7. Krakow is a walkable city
The public transportation is excellent and very cheap. A ten-kilometer taxi ride will only cost you around $9-14 USD. The tram line is also great for getting around the city center and a standard 20-minute ticket costs about $1 USD.
And because the city center is so compact, it’s so easy to walk from one attraction to another. You can walk from the Old Town and cross over the south of the Vistula river in just about 20 minutes.
If your legs are already knackered after getting in your 10K steps, you can also easily rent bikes or scooters to zip around the town. For longer distances, ride-sharing apps like Uber and Bolt are easy to manage and generally cost less than taxis.
8. Krakow pairs well with another European city
If you’re spending two or three weeks in Europe, Krakow represents the perfect city for you to pair up with another week-long European city trip.
Given its central European location, you are only a short and usually inexpensive flight away from several cultural destination cities like Oslo, Paris, Milan, Athens, London, Split, Barcelona, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Munich, or Berlin. Or just take a bus or train to the capital city of Warsaw!
Perfect cities to pair with Krakow
9. Krakow is not too crowded
If you’ve ever visited any major European city, you have experienced the rush of overwhelming crowds and never-ending lines. It’s a different world in Krakow, much to every traveler’s great relief.
Krakow inhabits that rare Goldilocks zone for mid-size European cities where it never feels overly crowded but there’s still enough activity going on where you feel ready to take on the day.
Of course, there are certain times when the city can feel a bit more crowded, like during events in the Main Market Square or on weekends and holidays when tourists descend upon the city. But for the most part, Krakow never feels too crowded or too empty — it’s just right.
10. Most of the people in Krakow speak English
Another big plus for visitors to Krakow is that most people in the city speak English. This is especially helpful when it comes to ordering food or asking for directions. Ask the bartender if they have a favorite vodka or dessert, they will always be happy to tell you!
Of course, there are always going to be exceptions and you’ll occasionally meet someone who doesn’t speak English. Even then, you’ll find that people in Krakow are very friendly and helpful, despite not speaking your language.
11. Krakow is clean and safe
Not only is it an incredibly safe city, but Krakow is often ranked as one of the safest cities in Europe. The city center has a regular presence of law enforcement and is well-lit. Petty crime like pickpocketing and the occasional scammer trying to part tourists with their money does happen. However, the violent crime rate is very low, and if you remain aware of your surroundings, walking around the city center at night is relatively safe.
The city is also very clean with minimal litter, so try to keep it that way during your next visit!
12. Krakow is a tolerant city
Despite the headlines generated by the conservative Polish government, Krakow itself is a fairly liberal and tolerant city. Even with anti-LBGT rhetoric from the central government, the people of Krakow are far from intolerant.
Plus, Krakow has many colleges, meaning the average age is quite young, which contributes to the city’s vibrant atmosphere and general open-mindedness.
Regardless of your personal politics or opinions, you will be welcomed in Krakow and won’t be likely to run into any political extremists from either side of the spectrum. The people here are down-to-earth and won’t bother you about current affairs.
13. Krakow has great nature spots nearby to visit
Nature lovers have a lot of day trips to choose from when visiting Krakow. Even though there is more than enough to do in the city, if you’re here for an extended stay, try disconnecting with nearby nature visit. You’ll have plenty of options to choose from.
The Tatra Mountains
These mountains create a natural border between southern Poland and Slovakia. They offer a respite from the city with hiking trails, mountain lakes, and plenty of fresh air. Krakow is the perfect base for exploring the Tatras.
This is the largest town in the Tatras and it’s a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding in the winter. In the summer, you can still enjoy the mountain air and take cable cars up to the top of Kasprowy Wierch for some incredible views.
Ojcow National Park
This national park is located just outside Krakow and it’s an excellent place for hiking, picnicking, and exploring breathtaking caves. Listen to our Goodtime Monty Hour show below for some insider tips on how to spend a perfect day in this arboreal wonderland.
This is a haunting ruined medieval castle located just over an hour from Krakow. The castle is perched on a hilltop and offers sweeping views of the surrounding area.
Dunajec river rafting
This is a popular activity in Krakow and it’s perfect for those who want to get outside and enjoy the scenery. You can raft down the Dunjiec River and take in the peaceful landscapes of southern Poland.
BONUS: Why you shouldn’t visit Krakow
Okay, but let’s be real, we are a little biased in trying to convince you that Krakow is a wonderful place to visit. After all, we want to help you plan and live out your perfect holiday here.
But we know every destination isn’t the perfect fit for every traveler, so you might still find a few reasons not to visit Krakow. So here are a few of the potential downsides to visiting Krakow:
- Winter can be very cold
The winters in Krakow get pretty chilly, we won’t lie. If you are not a fan of the cold, then Krakow might not be the best place for you to visit in the winter months. However, hot wine (grazia) cocktails and even hot beer are served at most bars to keep you as toasty as possible.
Krakow has a bit of a pollution problem. This is especially true in the winter when people are burning coal to heat their homes. However, the city is working on improving this and it’s not as bad as it used to be.
- Political climate
Depending on your personal point of view, the prevailing attitudes and policies of the ruling conservative party can be something you just have to ignore. Generally though, like in most places in the world, the ultra-conservative nationalistic attitudes are mostly confined to the rural areas while the city of Krakow is far more tolerant of alternative lifestyles and views.
- Highly homogenous
Krakow is not exactly a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. The city is over 90% Polish with a smattering of other Central and Eastern European nationalities making up the rest. So if you are looking for a truly international city experience, Krakow might not be the best place for you.
- Bachelor and bachelorette parties
Krakow is very popular with young Brits for what they refer to as stag and hen do’s. These bacchanal events can be a bit rowdy so if you’re looking for a quiet and relaxing holiday you’ll want to avoid the streets of the Old Town on weekend nights.
Planning to visit Krakow yet?
Have we convinced you yet that Krakow might be the most underrated city in Europe? There’s still time to take in the romantic atmosphere in Krakow before it becomes the next Instagram destination and the crowds come in droves.
So if you are looking for quintessentially European architecture, affordable nights out, storybook old towns, warm and friendly people, easy travel connections, and a multitude of day trips catering to every type of traveler, then you might have just found your new favorite city.
Slow travelers can use our Backpocket Guide to Krakow and our Monty Experience travel package to plan their next visit to Krakow without any stress. We know the top places in Poland to visit, where you should stay in style, and the tastiest places to stop for a bite. If you’d like to learn, just give us a holler.