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13 of the Best Things to see in Kraków

Last updated on February 29th, 2024 at 11:19 am

Cobbled streets, beautiful architecture, large medieval market square, towering Basilica, hilltop Royal Castle, riverside location and long history – it is no wonder Poland’s southern city of Kraków is a popular destination throughout the year! I visited in December 2022 and in this post I’ve set out my list of 13 of the best things to see in Kraków.

If you are also planning to visit in December, then make sure you read my post Kraków Christmas Market – All You Need To Know.

Getting to Kraków

There are direct flights to Kraków from most major airports in the U.K. I flew from London Heathrow and travel time was about 2.5 hours. Flights from destinations outside of Europe may need to connect through Warsaw. Check Kiwi.com and Expedia.co.uk for flight options and prices.

Poland is a member of the European Union but has not adopted the Euro. Instead, it retains its own currency, the Polish Złoty, referred to in this post as PLN.

On arrival at Kraków airport (John Paul II International Airport – KRK) you will need to get transport to Kraków’s main station (Kraków Główny). Taxis are available but it is easy and cheaper to catch the train.

Follow the signs in the arrivals hall to the train platform (you’ll be taken up an escalator from arrivals and through a covered walkway to the station) where you will find machines to purchase tickets. Note too that you can buy tickets on the train. A single trip into the main station will cost PLN 17 and the trip will take about 20 minutes.

On arrival at Kraków Główny follow the signs for the Old Town (Stare Miasto). Although it may feel as though you have taken a wrong turn, you haven’t…you will be led through a large shopping centre! My advice at this point is to resist, try not to stop and spend all you money here but factor in some time to shop on the way back!

The bus is also an option and tickets can be bought from the machine in the arrivals hall. A single fare is cheaper than the train (starting at around PLN 4) but the trip is longer, upwards of 45 minutes. Personally, I caught the train without any issues.

Things to See

Here is my list of 13 of the best things to see in Kraków:

1. The Old Town (Stare Miasto)

The Old Town is the historic centre of Kraków and was the centre of Polish political life from 1038 until King Sigismund III moved the court to Warsaw in 1596. However, Kraków was believed to have been founded in about 950 by merchants who used it as a staging post.

Wander the streets, admire the architecture and soak up the atmosphere. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars to keep you refreshed!

The greenbelt area known as Planty Park surrounds the Old Town where the Medieval city walls used to stand. It’s a nice area to walk through and a respite from the crowds!

Many of Kraków’s most popular attractions are located in the Old Town.

2. Main Market Square (Rynek Główny)

At the heart of Kraków’s Old Town is the Main Market Square. At almost 10 acres, it is the largest Medieval town square in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Main Market Square dates from the 13th century and is surrounded by historic townhouses, including the House under the Painting which features a fresco of the Virgin Mary ascending into Heaven. Many of these houses are now home to restaurants and shops.

It is from the Main Market Square that you can take a carriage ride and it is here where the annual Christmas market takes place.

3. Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)

Dominating the Market Square is the Cloth Hall. A centre of commerce since the 1300’s, the current building dates from the 1500’s. Markets still operate from the ground floor with rooms on the upper floor housing art galleries. There is an entrance fee of PLN 32 (concessions available) to the galleries.

Apparently, the copper globes on the roof contained historical documents dating from the late 18th to early 19th centuries.

4. Town Hall Tower

The Town Hall Tower is all that remains following the demolition of the main town hall in 1820. Located on the Main Market Square, the Tower stands 70m tall and dates from the 14th century, although there are some 16th century additions.

The Town Hall Tower is part of the Museum of Kraków.

A large sculpture of a head known as Eros Bendato lies in front of the Tower. It is a popular meeting place and a great climbing frame for kids!

5. St. Mary’s Basilica

St. Mary’s Basilica is another dominant presence on the Main Market Square. Construction of the Basilica began in the late 1200’s and if you think the outside is impressive, wait until you see inside!

There are two entrances to the Basilica, one for regular worshippers (the main entrance) and one for tourists (at the rear). A ticket office is located opposite the tourist entrance and the entrance fee is PLN 15 (concessions are available). Check the Basilica’s official website for current opening times and visitor information.

The Viet Stoss Altar dominates the interior. Carved from oak wood (construction) and linden wood (sculptures), the Altar is the largest of its kind in Europe. It was created between 1477-1489.

The Basilica has two towers – the shorter tower is a bell tower and the taller one has a crown on the spire dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A trumpeter plays a short tune every hour on the hour from the taller tower and stops abruptly. This is in memory of the time the town was attacked by Tatars and the watchman, blowing his trumpet to warn the town, was hit in the throat with an arrow.

6. Rynek Underground Museum

The Rynek Underground Museum is located between the Cloth Hall and St. Mary’s Basilica. It houses 800 years of archaeology discovered in 2005 when the Main Market Square was undergoing renovations. A model of Medieval Kraków lies beneath the glass pyramid seen in the photo of St. Mary’s Basilica above.

Tickets cost PLN 32 (concessions are available). Note that the ticket office and the museum entry are not in the same place! The ticket office is on the opposite side of the Cloth Hall from the museum entrance which is through the doorway into the Cloth Hall opposite St. Mary’s Basilica. The number of people who can enter the museum is limited and entry is timed. You should therefore consider booking ahead. Check the museum website for current opening times and visitor information.

The museum traces the centuries of life in Kraków using many artefacts and displays, including graves. It is also uses technology effectively with 37 touch screens and numerous projectors, plasma & LCD screens, speakers, holograms and audio guides all in use.

7. St. Adalbert’s Church

Located in the southeastern corner of the Main Market Square is the small Church of St. Adalbert. It dates from the early 12th century and is one of the oldest stone churches in Poland.

8. Florian’s Gate and Barbican

Built in the 14th century, this is the only remaining gateway in the walls of the Old Town which once included 8 gates and 47 watchtowers. In the passageway is a small altar dating from the mid-19th century containing a gothic painting.

Close to Florian’s Gate is the Barbican. It was constructed in the 15th century to strengthen security at Florian’s Gate.

9. Jagiellonian University

This university is the oldest in Poland. There are numerous beautiful buildings and gardens to see including Collegium Novum. In 1939 the Nazis arrested 183 academics accused of plotting against the occupiers – many died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

The oldest university in Poland is amongst the best things to see in Krakow
Collegium Novum

10. Wawel Cathedral

The Royal Archcathedral of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus (aka Wawel Cathedral) is a Roman Catholic cathedral located at the top of Wawel Hill.

The cathedral was consecrated in 1364, although earlier cathedrals have been on this site – the first was built after the year 1000 and the second was consecrated in 1142. The High Altar of Wawel Cathedral was the coronation altar of Polish Kings for 400 years.

The cathedral is also the place where Rev. Karol Wojtyła celebrated his first Holy Mass….he was later to become Pope John Paul II.

An ornate interior with various chapels, altars and crypts, the cathedral is a fascinating place to visit. Tickets are available from the ticket office opposite the entrance and cost 22 PLN (concessions available). I would recommend spending an additional 12 PLN (concessions available) and getting the audio guide (note: a refundable deposit of 100 PLN is payable).

Check the official website for current opening times and visitor information.

A visit inside the cathedral will give you the chance to climb up to the Sigmund Bell within the Sigmund Tower. The walk up (and down!) is via very narrow, steep wooden steps but the views from the top are worth it.

11. Wawel Castle

The castle is also located on Wawel Hill and therefore you should allow several hours to enable a visit to both the castle and the cathedral.

Tickets are available from the ticket office opposite the castle entrance. Rather unusually (in my experience) it is necessary to buy a ticket to each of the exhibits you wish to visit – there is no one ticket covering it all. Entry is timed so consider booking in advance if there are several exhibits you wish to visit. There is a lot to see!

Ticket prices vary depending on what you want to visit but range for 15 PLN to 35 PLN (concessions available) and include an audio guide. Check the official site for current opening times and visitor information.

I visited the State Rooms and the Royal Private Apartments and recommend both.

The views of the Vistula River and a visit to the nearby Dragon Statue are free!

A famous dragon in Polish legend, the Wawel Dragon is said to have terrorised Kraków until it was killed after being fed sulphur filled animal carcasses!

12. Kazimierz

The Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz (once a city in its own right) is located outside the Old Town but getting there is easy, either on foot or using Kraków’s tram.

In Kazimierz, you can visit amongst other things:

  • a number of synagogues, including Poland’s oldest, the Old Synagogue. Ransacked during World War II, the synagogue was renovated in the 1950s and now houses a museum. Check the museum site for current opening times and visitor information.
  • the new Jewish cemetery
  • the Jewish Community Centre
  • Place Nowry where you can buy traditional Polish pizza, Zapiekanka

13. Podgórze

Podgórze is the site of the former Jewish Ghetto where 20,000 Jews from Kazimierz who had not already been deported to concentration camps were sent in 1941. From here, they were sent to Auschwitz or Plaszów. It is estimated that only 2,000 of the original Jewish population of 70,000 survived.

In Podgórze you can visit, amongst other things:

  • remnants of the ghetto walls – note the tombstone shape
  • Heroes of the Ghetto Square. Randomly scattered bronze chairs are a memorial to the liquidation of the ghetto in 1943 when only furniture remained. Some of the chairs face toward side streets in order to remember the children murdered there and one faces in the direct of Oscar Schindler’s Factory as a sign of hope
  • Oscar Schindler’s Factory – a fascinating museum telling the story of Kraków under Nazi occupation. Check the museum site for current opening times and visitor information. Advance booking is recommended

Kraków is a fascinating city to visit and with so much to see, I could easily have added extra nights to my 3 night stay! That said, my list of 13 of the best things to see in Kraków was more than achievable in that time – just don’t forget to pack comfortable walking shoes!

To help you further in planning your trip to Kraków, I have prepared a Resources page with links to companies I use for, amongst other things, flights, accommodation and tours. Check out my page here.

If you have time to travel outside of Kraków, do read my post on making a day trip to Auschwitz.

Disclaimer – Prices were correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting.

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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