What to do in Krakow
Krakow is a European gem with plenty of options to entertain visitors. You can easily spend a week in Krakow and not run out of things to do and see.
As a UNESCO World Heritage City and Poland’s second-largest city, Krakow has emerged as one of the most popular destinations in Europe for millions of tourists. A big reason is because Krakow is bursting with so much culture, history and activities that it can keep just about everyone happy. But what exactly should you do while you’re in Krakow?
Well, there’s a lot — more than we could possibly mention in one article. But to help you out we’ve provided an overview of some of the absolute best things to do in the city. This article will cover popular attractions, nature spots, historic spots, arts and culture spots, tours, and even places to visit beyond the city centre. Let’s dig in!
Most popular things to do in Krakow
Let’s get you started by taking a high-level look at some of the most popular attractions for tourists to visit while in Krakow. While there are lots of options for what to see and do in Krakow, the following usually makes most Lists of Top Krakow Attractions.
Old Town (Stare Miasto) & Main Square (Rynek Główny)
Dating back to the mid-13th Century, Krakow’s Old Town is the beating heart of the city and is one of the best-maintained Old Towns in the world. As soon as you wander through the streets of the Stare Miasto (literally Polish for “Old Town”), you’ll get a full view of just how bursting-with-life Krakow can be.
Smack bang in the center of the Old Town is the Main Square, the perfect place for you to start your relationship with the city of Krakow. Here you’ll take in the beautiful architecture like St Mary’s Basilica and the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). Or sit down with a beer and watch the horsies clippity-cloppity by while the trumpeter from St. Mary’s tower plays his hourly call. (All with your phone on silent, of course.)
If you enjoy bohemian shops, indie galleries, niche local bars, and hip restaurants, then you’ll love Kazimierz. As Krakow’s historic Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz is naturally steeped in history. But the area has morphed in the 21st Century, becoming a social hub for artists, creatives, young folk, and everyone in between.
Despite the inevitable gentrification that comes with being a tourism magnet, Kazimierz happily retains its rustic charm even as it continues to pile up the Tags and Likes.
(Krakow has dozens of popular attractions, all of which we cover in greater detail in our Krakow Popular Attractions section.)
Krakow will forever be inextricably linked to the site of one of humanity’s most devastating atrocities: the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, located about 70 kilometers outside the city in the town of Oświęcim. Over 1.1 million people lost their lives in the camp during the World War II, and it serves as a reminder of the horrors and tragedies of that time.
Today, the site has been maintained as the historically commemorative Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and receives millions of visitors every year. A large majority of those who visit Krakow opt to take a half-day guided tour of the camp. Tours involve walking the grounds and hearing and seeing details of the horrific crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis. While a visit is recommended, it is a highly emotional event, so be prepared.
Wawel Castle & Cathedral
Epically perched upon a hill just south of the city’s Old Town, you’ll be captivated by Wawel Castle at first glance. The large and iconic landmark was the seat of Poland’s King from the 13th to 17th century, before the country’s capital moved to Warsaw.
Since the mid-20th century, Wawel Castle has been a national museum, showcasing Poland’s monarchical heritage and the riches once held by the country’s royal family. You can find treasures everywhere in this sprawling castle estate. The Roman and Baroque architectural style of the castle itself is astounding. As are the priceless artworks, tapestries and ornaments that adorn its walls.
You purchase tickets online to tour the interior of the Castle. Or, if you don’t want to go inside, you can simply visit the magnificent outer Courtyard. The Cathedral is also worth a visit.
Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist-cum-humanitarian who saved over 1,000 Jewish lives during World War II, started an enamelware factory in Krakow in 1939. In 2010, Krakow converted his former factory into a museum. Visitors can spend several hours in the museum — guided or unguided — learning about his incredible heroism as well as the broader history of Krakow under Nazi occupation.
Additionally, much of Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning 1993 film Schindler’s List was filmed in and around Krakow. Thus you can absorb both the literal history of Schindler and the current legacy of the film while visiting the city.
Encircling the Old Town of Krakow, Planty Park is an oasis of green within the buzz of the city centre. Delightful flower beds, people-watching benches, and tree-shaded strolls are a literal three-minute walk from the main square.
If you’re looking for a spot to get that Instragrammable tree-lined walkway pic, take a stroll here. (Bonus points if you’re there in autumn, where the foliage and fallen leaves paint the Planty in rusty watercolors.)
Pedestrian Bridge (Father Bernatek Footbridge)
The Pedestrian Bridge spans the Vistula River and links the local districts of Kazimierz and Podgórze. A popular photo spot, the bridge is loaded with “love locks” left by thousands of lovers wanting to mark their hopefully-eternal love to one another. The real draw though is the amazing acrobatic sculptures by Jerzy Kędziora. The flying figures look even better lit up at night awash in purple and pink shadows.
Ghetto Heroes Square
If you want to get an emotional insight into the chilling effects that World War II left on Krakow, make sure that you visit Ghetto Heroes Square. Located in Krakow’s Podgorze district, the Square one location where Nazis rounded up the Jewish citizens of the city before taking them to Auschwitz.
In the present day, the Square contains a powerful memorial to this tragedy in the form of 70 larger-than-life bronze chairs. These chairs are scattered throughout the Square and represent the loss of life and injustices visited about the Jewish population of Krakow. Visiting the Square can be a haunting but poignant occasion.
This 15th Century fortification was once used as an outpost to protect the Old Town from attack. Today, it remains a classic example of a mediaeval defensive barbican, with a complex network of turrets, slots and barriers. It’s great for families, too, with young kids being able to marvel at the design and battle stories. (As well as stock up on nightmare fuel in the torture chambers.)
You can purchase combined tickets which will allow you to visit the Barbican and explore Krakow’s outer defensive walls.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Located just outside of Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the area’s must-see attractions. The former salt mine (commercial mining was discontinued in 1996) features underground chambers accessible by journeying through miles of winding corridors.
It might surprise you, but in these chambers you’ll see incredible feats of architectural structural design. This includes the awe-inspiring St Kinga’s Chapel, as well as mind-blowing salt art. Plus, you will learn all about the history of how salt was once mined in the area. (It’s all more fascinating than it sounds!)
If you’re planning on visiting, be mindful that all tours are conducted by an experienced guide in large group tours.
(Krakow has dozens of popular attractions, all of which we cover in greater detail in our Krakow Popular Attractions section.)
What nature spots to visit in Krakow
Despite having a population of over three-quarters of a million people, Krakow has a surprising amount of excellent, quiet nature spots throughout the city. This will give you plenty of options if you want to unwind in the beauty of nature.
Las Wolski forest is the perfect place to visit if you feel like the city is getting a bit too much for you and you want to stroll around some wooded hills. You can enjoy some light hiking trails, stop by the Camaldolese Monastery, or head to the Kopiec Jozefa Piłsudskiego mound for a spectacular view of the city. All just a thirty-minute or less bike ride from Krakow.
Originally a limestone quarry, Zakrzówek became a reservoir in 1990. Today it has since emerged as a kind of beautiful, repurposed nature spot within the city. If you’re looking for a peaceful oasis or an outdoor leisure space within Krakow, you’ll likely fall in love with Zakrzówek at first glance.
This area is frequented by both locals and tourists alike, and you’re strongly encouraged to ramble through Zakrzówek’s nature trails. And thanks to a new formal swimming area, you can now swim or dive in the crystal clear water. Or if you’d rather chill, just sun-lounge in a peaceful setting.
The Mounds of Krakow
Unique, mysterious, and oddly beautiful, Krakow’s Mounds are part of what gives this wonderful city a distinctive personal charm. The Kościuszko and Piłsudski’s Mounds were constructed to commemorate Polish national heroes of the 19th century.
Meanwhile, the Wanda and Krakus Mounds have a more ancient history. In fact, its so ancient historians aren’t exactly sure of their origins. Though many speculate that they may be related to some ritualistic burial practices from Poland’s ancient past.
Most interesting historical spots in Krakow
While World War II devastated the city in many ways, it’s also a core part Krakow’s fascinating history. Beyond the headline-generating history of the 1940s, Poland has a rich and deep history stretching back nearly a millennium. That said, we’ll still highlight a few lesser new World War II historical spots below.
Płaszów Concentration Camp
Featuring some of the most poignant memorials to those who lost their lives during the Nazi occupation of Poland, Płaszów Concentration Camp is not to be overlooked. (It is especially worthwhile to visit if you are not going to Auschwitz.). This is the remains of the former concentration camp where Jewish prisoners were forced to labor in the nearby quarry. Several informative signs dot the grounds, but we recommend you book a guided tour to get the full picture.
The Ghetto Wall is a poignant reminder of the tragedies and suffering the Nazis inflicted upon Krakow’s Jewish community. This small stretch of concrete has become a pilgrimage of sorts for those who want to pay tribute to the horrors of the war and victims of the Holocaust. There are two extant pieces of the wall, one on a main road and the other tucked away in a small park next to a children’s playground.
Despite being located right beneath their feet in the Main Square, tourists often ironically overlook the Rynek Underground museum. An excavated archaeological site, the Underground gives you a glimpse into what Krakow was like during medieval times.
Here, you’ll find graves dating from the 11th Century, arrowheads from the Mongol Empire, and all manner of historical discoveries. The fact that you’ll find yourself walking amongst the archaeological site itself means that you feel like the city’s history is coming alive right in front of you.
(For our full guide on the best historical spots in Krakow, see here.)
Best of Krakow art & culture
Drawing from both eastern and western European traditions and heritages, Krakow has developed a unique standing when it comes to the arts. Thanks to this there is enough to satisfy you whether you’re a true art sophisticate or just a politely curious dilettante.
The Princes Czartoryski Museum
Poland’s oldest museum, the Czartoryski Museum, inexplicably gets ignored from many lists detailing the best places to visit in Krakow. Needless to say, this is a great shame, considering that the Princes Czartoryski Museum offers a vast range of Polish art, dating from the 13th Century right to the 18th Century.
Most notably the collection includes such iconic works as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and Rembrandt’s “Landscape with the Good Samaritan.” The facility itself is gorgeous, as back in 2019 the Museum underwent a massive renovation and finally reopened its doors after a 10-year hiatus.
Museum of the Jagiellonian University – Collegium Maius
Founded in the 1300s, Collegium Maius is Poland’s oldest university building and once the center of study for the mathematician and astronomer Copernicus. You can tour the university and even explore a room with instruments from the era in which he studied there.
The Manggha Center for Japanese Art & Technology is an architecturally beautiful museum with an attached restaurant patio sporting one of the best views in Krakow. At the Center, you can explore current exhibitions, drink award-winning tea on the patio, attend concerts or functions, or just enjoy the beautiful view of the Vistula River and Wawel Castle in the backdrop.
The Polish Aviation Museum
A bit outside the city center, this indoor-outdoor museum often finds itself ranked as one of the best aviation museums in the world. The Polish Aviation Museum features multimedia exhibitions, unique interactive experiences, and over 200 aircraft, vehicles, and machines. You’ll see everything from MiG fighter jets to rescue helicopters.
Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK)
At the MOCAK, you’ll find contemporary art which is designed to challenge, confront, and showcase the best in 20th & 21st century Polish art. In a city famed for its rich history, the MOCAK is an enjoyable way of experiencing art in the present — as well as giving an insight into Poland’s future artistic and cultural prospects.
You can take a peek at their current exhibitions here. On top of that, you can view their permanent World War II exhibition which includes some fascinating works.
(For our full guide on the best art and cultural spots in Krakow, see here.)
Best tours and activities to do in Krakow
Krakow is jampacked with expertly-guided tours, complete with local and international tour guides who are primed and ready to provide invaluable insight into the city and answer any questions you might have.
Here are some of the best ways to experience Krakow:
Renting a bike is a great day activity as the city is mostly flat and bike-friendly. As a bonus, there are many lesser-visited but immensely beautiful areas surrounding the city that are easily reached by bike. That’s why we always recommend visitors and rent a bike while you’re here.
Monty’s favorite bike path
Top of your list should be taking a trip along the bike path south of the Wisla/Vistula river, where you’ll leave the bustle of the city and feel like you’re out in the untouched, Polish countryside. You can cycle all the way to Tyniec Abby, a sublimely-preserved Benedictine monastery situated in the picturesque village of Tyniec. Here, manmade history meets breathtaking natural landscapes, and you can take in the Abbey’s marvellous towers as they sweep down from a clifftop to the gorgeous waters of the Vistula River.
Electric cart tours
If you want to get a crash course in Krakow’s history, culture, architecture, scenic spots to visit, and local haunts to dine or drink in, your best bet is to take an electric car tour as soon as you arrive in the city. These tours, which take roughly an hour, are a great way to get a general overview of the city and orient yourself as soon as you arrive.
They tend to be a little on the pricey side and charge per person, so while it’s a good solo or couples option, families or groups might look elsewhere.
Nowa Huta tours
Krakow, like the rest of Poland, was under Communist rule throughout much of the latter half of the 20th Century. The clearest physical mark of the Communist era is in the district of Nowa Huta, one of the largest planned settlements ever built and a showpiece for Stalinism.
Today, you can learn more about Krakow’s Communist history by taking a driven tour through Nowa Huta. We recommend a tour with Crazy Guides, where you’ll be guided around in a funky, vintage car, by an affably eccentric and entertaining tour guide who will give you a glimpse into this truly unique part of our city.
Hot air balloon rides
Hot air balloon tours are very much a thing in Krakow and offer you a way of taking in the stunning panoramas of the city from high up in the sky. The Krakow Hot Air Balloon team offer some of the best experiences out there, with their hot air balloon rides being perfect for touring groups, families, or couples looking for a romantic date.
Their sunset tour is a particular highlight. Although Krakow’s weather can be unpredictable at times, witnessing the sunset from a hot air balloon over the city is truly a life-affirming experience.
(For our full guide on the best bike tours, walking tours, and other tours in Krakow, see here.)
What to do beyond Krakow
If you’re planning a day trip beyond Krakow, there are some incredible places to visit in the surrounding areas of southern Poland. Here are a few to check out.
A two-hour drive from Krakow, Zakopane is noted as one of Europe’s most popular mountain resort north of the Alps, and is your ready-made gateway to the Tatra Mountains.
The town is about as far from the hubbub of Krakow city as you can get, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to experience. In the wintertime, the town is alive with all manner of winter sports, while in the summer, it’s a popular destination for hikers and climbers. Whatever the season, the mountain views from this town will always be breathtaking.
We want to make sure you get a glimpse of true, authentic Poland while you’re visiting Krakow, so we highly recommend taking the 40-minute journey out to the charming town of Lankorona. Many of the small homes and cottages are postcard-perfect and the town is dripping with tradition. It’s also something of an artistic hub, with lots of creativity workshops and a popular annual festival called ‘Angel of the Town’.
If you want a true escape, head to Ojcowski National Park. Ojcow is teeming with nature, with over 1,000 species of flowering plants, 500 species of butterflies, dozens of opportunities for bird spotting, and any number of hiking trails that will take you through sweeping valleys, dark caves, dense forests, deep ravines, and stunning hillscapes.
If you want a workout, you can travel the 19km from Krakow to Ojcowski by bike It might sound tough, but you’ll be rewarded with great views along the way.
Ogrodzieniec is a bit further out than the others, but still very much worth a visit if you want to see the eerie majesty of a ruined medieval Castle. The Castle is at the highest point of the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland and offers stunning vistas of the surrounding areas.
(For our full guide on the locations to visit beyond Krakow, see here.)
We couldn’t possibly list every single thing there is to do in Krakow (as much as we’d like to). But as you can see, even with this brief list, there is more than enough to do for a full week, so how people choose to only visit Krakow for two or three days we have no idea!
The sheer amount of activities, attractions, sites and adventures to be found here means that the Krakow you’ll visit will always offer you a unique experience no matter who you are. In fact, part of the joy of Krakow is being able to stumble across a hidden gem location or find a niche activity without even looking for it.
If you plan to visit and would like to talk to someone in person about Krakow, just go ahead and book a toll-free Q&A Call with the Monty Team. We’ll be happy to spend 30 minutes with you explaining the city along with what it is we might be able to do to help with one of our travel packages like the Monty Experience or Soft Landing.
We look forward to seeing you in our city very soon! Do widzenia!