Kraków is an amazing city in so many ways; for starters, the architecture, a blend of Gothic and Renaissance is truly stunning. Walking through the city is a complete delight via the old cobbled streets and the beautiful Planty Park that encircles the Old Town. I really enjoyed my time there and I think a 4 day itinerary for Kraków is the perfect length to ensure you get a good feel of the city, but do not run around like a headless chicken and end up more exhausted on your flight home than when you arrived.
For this reason, this itinerary is what I would regard a healthy mix of culture, but still taking some time to relax and enjoy some of Kraków’s superb places to eat and drink.
We went Monday to Friday in the middle of September and it was like a breath of fresh air from the popular tourist cities of Europe; it was lively, as you would expect of any city, but not exhaustingly packed, which makes it one of my top reasons for making a visit to Poland. There was a noticeable increase in tourists on the Friday though, ready for the weekend!
Planning a Trip to Kraków
I did a lot of research before we went (I like research), but there were things I would have changed if I were to do it again.
The first one is the order in which we did things, I have rejigged it in the 4 day itinerary here to cluster things together based on location. This will minimise walking time (trust me, you will do loads of this anyway) and leave you more time for drinking wine in one of the beautiful street cafés.
The second thing is that I should have pre-booked all of our activities before we went! I was trying to be more flexible and “go with the flow”, but this approach backfired on this trip and just wasted valuable time. This unfortunately resulted in us not being able to see everything we wanted to.
Several of the sites we wanted to visit had queues to buy tickets and then were either completely sold out, or didn’t have the time slots that would have worked best for us. For what we did manage to book, we ended up making several trips to different ends of town to see things due to the remaining time slots available.
For the places I did not manage to visit, I have advised as such and have just included information that I hope will be helpful for you and not my personal opinion.
Many of the museums in Kraków offer free entry one day of the week or at certain times, so check their website before you book. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t need reserve your place though, you definitely do, you just won’t need to pay anything.
Virtually all of the main attractions operate different opening hours and/or days of the week dependant on when you book, so again, double check. You can book entrance tickets online through third party websites most of the time, but I have noticed that they sometimes appear to sell tickets even if the attraction is not open or it’s a free entry day, so always check the official website before you book.
Be aware that most of the attractions also require printed tickets if you do buy them in advance and appear to follow the rule pretty strictly. I would therefore advise printing before you arrive or ask your hotel to do it for you. The ticket office will also oblige, but you will have to join the queue with everyone trying to book their tickets.
You could buy a Kraków Tourist Card over 2 days for £25 ish or 3 days for £29 ish, however I am not convinced it’s good value, particularly as it doesn’t include Wawel Castle. Entrance is generally very reasonable and places like St Mary’s Basilica start from around £3, so you would have to pack a lot in for this to pay for itself. You also have to go and collect it when in Kraków, there is no digital option.
It does include Avis Car Rental discount, unlimited public transport (including to and from the airport and Wieliczka Salt Mine) and restaurant discounts, although mostly for chains such as Starbucks and Subway.
Getting Around Kraków
Everything within the main city is easily walkable. We only used transport (taxi) for airport transfers and the day trip to Auschwitz (coach). Kraków does, however, have electric scooters as part of their drive to reduce emissions. You can download the Bird App and hire them for 0.69zł per minute (£0.15 ish). I wasn’t exactly a natural , but they are good fun and go pretty fast!
Day 1: Main Square in Old Town Kraków
Kraków’s Rynek Główny, also referred to as the Main, Market or Central Square, is just that, the centre point and main event! At 40,000 sqft, it is supposedly the largest medieval market square in Europe and is at the heart of Kraków Old Town.
There is so much to see and do in and around the square, that I recommend you spend your first day doing just that, it’s a lovely introduction to Kraków!
The Cloth Hall or Sukiennice
The Cloth Hall (or Sukiennice in Polish) is the long building smack bang in the middle of the Main Square. It has existed in one form or another as a trading hall since the 13th century, although has been extended, rebuilt and remodelled several times over the years.
On the rooftop is a café with a stunning view, you can read all about it (along with some other fantastic cafés) in my post the Best Cafés in Kraków.
Wander through and look at the various stalls on the ground floor of the Cloth Hall, it is the most organised market I’ve ever been to! You can pick up a wide range of souvenirs here, from little music boxes to amber, the native gemstone of Poland. The location means it’s more for the tourists and the prices reflect that, however if you’re looking for a few quick and easy gifts or souvenirs, it’s the place to go.
Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art
Rynek Underground Museum
There is a second museum at the Cloth Hall that may escape your attention at first, as it is underground! Rynek Underground Museum takes you 4 metres below the surface to the sites of the original market stalls that were excavated between 2005 and 2010. The museum displays the history of Kraków and it’s people via traditional artefacts and more modern multimedia displays and holograms. Towards the end of the exhibition, there are various mini cinemas showing different documentaries covering the history of Kraków through the ages. For kids, there is an automated puppet show in the middle of the displays, giving a slightly more fun take on Kraków’s history!
There is only one bit of daylight in the museum, when you find it, look up and you are underneath the water fountain in the square!
I’m sorry, I warn you now, I will sound like a broken record when it comes to advising you to pre-book on this trip, but it is essential for you to see what you want to, when you want to. We turned up here on the first day of our trip to book tickets and there was no availability until our last day.
This is one of the few attractions you can book via the official website for 21zł (£4.50 ish) and you will need to select an entry time. If you want to go to the Town Hall Tower as well, you may want to buy a combined ticket as explained below.
The Town Hall Tower
Just next to the Cloth Hall, the 70 metre tall Tower is all that remains of the 14th century town hall. It also leans slightly (apparently due to some strong winds in 1703?!), so is sometimes referred to as Kraków’s answer to the leaning tower of Pisa.
Inside there is some information on it’s history and then lots of stairs to get to the top. We decided to skip it after we heard from a few sources that the views are quite obstructed (you can’t go out on the balconies).
I couldn’t find individual tickets online to just the Town Hall Tower, so you can either roll the dice and book with their ticket office for 10zł per person (£2 ish) when you get there, or book a combined ticket online that also gets you entry to Rynek Underground Museum. This costs a couple of pounds extra than if you were to buy the tickets individually, as this ticket also includes entry to Krzysztofory Palace.
St Mary’s Basilica
You cannot miss this one; a beautiful 14th century Gothic building, it’s the star of the square. The taller of the two towers was originally designed to be a watch tower and it is from here that the famous hourly bugle is sounded consecutively from each of the 4 windows. The tune cuts off rather abruptly, allegedly in tribute to a bugler that got an arrow to the neck while alerting the city to impending invasion in the 13th century (the basilica was rebuilt in Gothic style after the original church was destroyed).
We made an error here (again) by not pre-booking and unfortunately were not able to go inside. If the interior is half as stunning as the exterior (and I hear it is), you will want to take a peek though.
The main entrance at the front of the Basilica is only for worshippers. Tourists enter via a side entrance on the right of the building, directly opposite the ticket office (the address is Plac Mariacki 7). If you buy from the ticket office, be prepared to queue. They will also issue you with a timed ticket for whichever day you choose (availability dependant).
You can buy a ticket online in advance here for 15zł per person (£3 ish).
You can also pay for an additional ticket to tour the Bugle Tower. These, however, are only sold from the ticket office and are only available on the day (get there early!). Only 10 people are allowed in at a time and the visit lasts 30 minutes, children under 7 aren’t allowed for safety reasons. The cost is another 15zł (£3 ish).
Walk behind St Mary’s Basilica and there is an open air market that you will smell before you will see. They serve some yummy, mostly Polish street food food; Zapiekanka (basically pizza on a baguette), traditional Polish sheep’s cheese, Oszczypek, and the not so Polish (but super awesome) rotisserie chicken!
They also sell lots of other goodies like Polish pottery (which my Mum has an entire dining set of) and the most gorgeous shearling coats (which I almost bought).
Day 2: Day Trip to Auschwitz or Wieliczka Salt Mines
We did Auschwitz only, however I have decided that my personal experience of it isn’t something I want to share in detail, so I have just included booking instructions and associated information.
Auschwitz – Birkenau
It’s a weird thing to describe, Auschwitz is the only place I have never wanted to go as such, but always intended to. I have never forgotten learning about Auschwitz at school, it is something that really stays with you.
Auschwitz is located a 1.5 hour drive from Kraków and door to door this tour will take you around 8 hours. All tickets include entry to both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau, which are 2 kilometres apart. There are 3 options for visiting Auschwitz (in order of cost, cheapest first):
1. Independant Museum Entry and Transport
For this, you will need to book a “Tour for Individuals without an Educator” ticket, which are essentially unguided tours and free of charge. You will then need to arrange your own transport to and from Auschwitz.
These tickets are extremely limited and are only available at certain times of day. During the summer, this means entry before 9am or after 5pm. The Auschwitz website explains availability for these kinds of tickets here.
Before I went to Auschwitz, I think I would have considered this kind of tour if they had had the availability, but having been now, I realise just how invaluable the guide was. We were really taken on a journey and provided information and stories that aren’t on the information boards, the latter only being present in Auschwitz I. If you don’t have a guide, you will walk around Auschwitz II with no context as there is no information there at all.
2. Guided Museum Entry and Independent Transport
Guided museum entry is again booked directly via the Auschwitz website. The tickets are 60zł (£12 ish) or 55zł (£11 ish) if you are a student under the age of 26. They are offered in 7 different languages and again, relatively limited at decent times, so book early.
3. Full Service Tour with a Tour Operator
I generally stay away from this kind of tour in favour of private ones, as I find them more relaxed and customisable. However, Auschwitz is different as it isn’t customisable (the museum sets a strict schedule and everyone sticks to it) and no one goes to there to have a “great day out”, it’s a different kind of experience. This and the fact that visiting Auschwitz can be a bit logistically challenging (see the need to know section below), means that this is the option I wholeheartedly recommend.
We had a guide on the coach itself who made sure we were where we needed to be and when and that we had all the information needed. She accompanied us everywhere except in the museum itself where she handed us over to the museum guide and was waiting for us when we finished.
The only thing to watch out for is when they offer door to door pick up service. It can add an hour onto your journey on the outbound and return legs if you are one of the last stops, as they will drive round several hotels in Kraków. Get around this by checking where you are on the pick up and drop off schedule or meet them at their main departure point, as often they transfer you from a shuttle bus to a coach there.
This option should cost you between 140zł and 200 zł (£28 to £40) per person, including guided museum entry passes (which the tour operator sorts for you) and return transport via coach.
Need to Know
This is full on day trip with lots of restrictions and things you need to know.
- Bring your own food with you, which most organised tour operators do advise you to do. I thought this was because there was no food available, but it is actually because you have such small slots for breaks (the longest one is 10 minutes), you wouldn’t have time to queue and eat your food before you need to move on. The range of food on offer looked quite limited as well. Food and drink is not allowed in the museums themselves, with the exception of water.
- There are toilets at both sites that cost 2zł (£0.40 ish) per entry, so bring some coins. They will change them for you, but it will take extra time.
- You cannot bring a bag bigger than a A4 sheet of paper (30x20x10cm). By the time your lunch is in there, you won’t have space for anything else. There is a luggage room on site that costs 4zł per item (£0.80 ish).
- There are airport style security gates to go through into the museum and they are very strict about said bag size.
- The 2 sites are 2 kilometres apart and there is a shuttle bus operated by the museum that runs in between them every half an hour. If you have booked via a tour operator, they will move you between the sites at a set time via the coach they used to bring you there.
- As Auschwitz has been preserved as close to it’s original form as possible, the ground is extremely uneven and there are a lot of narrow and worn staircases, some with not great lighting. We had a lady in our group with mobility challenges and there were some bits she was not able to see. This was in part due to the strict schedule of the tour; we were back to back with other groups and there was no room between us, so it would be difficult to keep up if you just required a bit of extra time.
- Be aware that the museum does not recommend that children under the age of 14 visit, however it is at the parent’s discretion. We saw a lot of teenagers on school trips, but no children on our visit.
- You are allowed to take photos in most locations, the ones you aren’t are clearly marked.
- I know I have banged on about booking in advance already, but if you take my advice on just one, please book in advance for Auschwitz! I started looking 6 weeks prior to travelling and struggled with availability, bearing in mind I visited on a Wednesday in the middle of September. If you leave it until you are there, you are likely to pay a higher price and you will get stuck going at some weird times, like 2:15pm! Unless you’re a party animal, you do not want to be arriving back into Kraków at 10:30pm having not had any dinner.
- Finally, and I know this probably goes without saying, but everyone is a bit more emotional and sensitive at Auschwitz. Things that would have minorly irritated or amused me anywhere else just appeared plain offensive and disrespectful here. I read this guide on “How Not to Be a Dick at Auschwitz” before I went and thought it was a little over the top, but it’s actually bang on. We had 2 people on our tour that behaved so inappropriately, at one point our guide had to have a word (which didn’t work) and it bothered me much more than it would have elsewhere.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
An alternative (and shorter) day trip is Wieliczka Salt Mine, which we did not visit. It was one of the world’s longest operating salt mines, with commercial production operating there from the 13th century until 1996. The mines consist of over 300 kilometres of tunnels and chambers at a depth of up to 327 metres. Both historic and modern day artists have carved formations from the salt resulting in some pretty amazing looking chapels and sculptures.
The stunner is supposed to be the Chapel of St. Kinga, with everything from the altar to the chandeliers carved from the salt. Concerts are also held here due to some good acoustics, which I imagine would be a fantastic experience!
All tours are guided and the standard and most popular tour is the Tourist Route, where you will walk around 2 kilometres with lots of stairs! It is a steady 14°C underground there all year round, so be prepared to wrap up or strip off dependant on when you are visiting.
Tickets also include entry to the Kraków Saltworks Museum located in one of the chambers which you can visit (unguided) at the end of the tour. If you’re still not ready for the saltiness to end, there is also an underground restaurant.
Wieliczka is only 8 miles from Old Town in Kraków and can be reached in under half an hour. You can either book an entrance ticket (£20 ish per person) and take your own transport to and from there, or you can book a package via a tour operator for them to sort both transport and entrance tickets (£38 ish per person).
Day 3: Wawel Hill, Planty Park & Tytano
On your third day, you’re back to exploring Kraków, this time in the south and moving onto the west of Old Town.
On the southernmost point of Old Town, overlooking the Vistula River, lies Wawel Hill, home to both the Castle and Cathedral of the same name. Built in the 13th century and once the residency of Polish Kings, it is now a museum for all to visit.
This is the most popular attraction in Kraków and they have restricted visitor numbers, so book in advance where possible, snap up the early tickets and get here for when it opens. The ticket queues were a bit daunting so we just spent a very pleasant hour wandering round the grounds and taking in the views.
It would take you days to go around everything, so pick a couple and just spend the morning here. If you are doing one of the exhibitions in the Castle, I would do this first, it is the busiest and the tickets hardest to get. Read the last FAQ here which gives indicative times to tour each exhibit so you can plan your day.
The Castle houses 5 permanent exhibitions; the State Rooms, the Royal Private Apartments, the Crown Treasury & Armoury, the Lost Wawel and Oriental Art. All are self guided except the Royal Private Apartments.
There are then 2 seasonal exhibitions, the first of which is the Dragon’s Den; 270 metres of cave in the side of the hill. The other is Sandomierska Tower, one of three built to help defend the castle against attack. Ascend the tower to see where noble prisoners were held after it ceased being a watchtower and for beautiful views over Kraków and the Vistula River.
Booking Wawel Castle
Like most of the attractions in Kraków, it’s not the most straightforward! You can’t buy a ticket for the whole castle, only individual exhibitions. Interestingly, I was only able to find tickets online that give you access to the State Room. If you want to go to any of the other permanent exhibits, you have one of the 3 options below:
- Download the reservation form, complete and email to email@example.com at least 14 days before your visit (no, I’m not joking).
- Call +48 12 422 1697 at least a week before your visit.
- Go to the ticket office at Wawel Castle and buy in person. Go on your first morning in Kraków as soon as it opens, when we were there about an hour afterwards, it was manic.
For the Dragon’s Den and Sandomierska Tower, each have ticket machines outside their respective entrances, so buy here before you enter (you can’t buy these tickets online). Both ticket machines had no queue while we were there, so if you aren’t already going to the Wawel Castle ticket office (which will have queues), buy here. Bring coins (the machines don’t provide change) and each ticket costs 5zł per person (£1 ish).
The coronation site of almost all the Polish kings and queens over the ages, Wawel Cathedral is an important part of Polish history. Like almost every building I have mentioned in this article, it was built in the 14th century (all the main attractions seem to be built then, they had a busy 100 years!), although there were previous Cathedrals on the site going back as far as 1020.
The Cathedral is huge, consisting of 18 chapels and still adorned with may of the original features. Below ground is the Royal Crypts, where members of the monarchy and more recently, national heroes were entombed. You can climb the tower to see the massive Sigisumnd Bell which is still rung on special occasions.
There is also the John Paul II Cathedral Museum, a collection of some of the most valuable art and artefacts in Poland.
Booking Wawel Cathedral
Entry to the Cathedral itself is free, or you can buy a ticket for 12zł per person (£2.50 ish) that also gives you access to the John Paul II Cathedral Museum, the Royal Crypts and Sigisumnd Bell Tower. If you would like an audio guide, it is an extra 7zł.
If you wish to select the option for the audio guide, you can book a ticket in advance via a third party, but it will cost an extra 5zł. The alternative is going to Wawel Cathedral ticket office, as there is no facility to book directly online.
If you do end up trying to buy in person, be aware that the Castle and Cathedral have separate ticket offices, so make sure you queue at the right one.
The Grounds of Wawel Castle and Cathedral
Don’t spend so much time inside that you don’t appreciate the outside, which is truly stunning. Take a wander around yourself (entry to the grounds is free) or you can book a guided tour of Wawel Architecture and Gardens (sorry, same booking procedure as the 3 options for the Castle, I haven’t found a third party you can book through).
Walk around Planty Park
No beautiful city is complete without a leafy park and Planty Park delivers this in Kraków. Encircling Old Town, Planty Park is where the Medieval walls of the city once stood and a very peaceful way to while away a couple of hours. If you wanted to try out the electric scooters I talked about earlier, here is your place to do it, there is more space and the paved path through the middle is a lot easier to ride on than over the cobbles!
If you join Planty Park from Wawel Castle, walk clockwise if you want a shorter walk and anti clockwise for a longer one. We opted for the shorter one (again, getting your steps in is never a challenge on a city break). On the west side of Planty Park is Kraków’s Jagiellonion University, rated as the best in Poland. Opened in the 14th century, it is one of the oldest universities in the world.
Carry on walking and then stop at Zalipianki by Eva Wachowicz for lunch or a coffee, it’s a beautiful restaurant with the comfiest sofas overlooking the park. Get a table in the indoor/outdoor style terrace, it has huge windows that slide back, perfect for enjoying a summer’s day! The menu is very elegant (the website is in Polish, but click through onto the menu which is also in English), including some Polish dishes with a modern twist.
Ok, it’s time to venture outside the safe haven cocooned within Planty Park! Head west out of Old Town and the architecture and vibe becomes a bit more gritty and industrial. A 10 minute walk will take you to the Tytano Complex, a collection of bars and restaurants housed within and around a former tobacco factory.
Tytano appears to be the current place to be in Kraków; it’s edgy, offbeat and as it’s a bit off the beaten track, has more locals than tourists. It has a really great vibe and you could while away an afternoon eating and drinking here.
Unfortunately, while we did visit the complex, we didn’t make it to dinner there, but having done some research, it would have been a very difficult choice between Cargo Grill & Deli, Tao Restaurant & Club or Międzymiastowa. Honestly though, looking round, every place looked enticing, most with great summer gardens and some rather superb looking cocktail lists. If you go, please let me know how it was!
Day 4: Kazimierz, Podgórze & Vistula River
Start your day with a great breakfast at Mak Bread & Coffee at Hotel Puro on the edge of the Kazimierz District (the Jewish Quarter). Head back to the main road Starowiślna and cross the bridge to the other side of the Vistula River to the Podgórze District, which is where Oskar Schindler’s Factory is located.
Oskar Schindler’s Enamelled Goods Factory
Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party who, along with his wife Emilie, saved the lives of around 1,200 Jews during the Second World War by employing them in his factory and providing them with food, medical care and shelter. He was able to achieve this mostly through bribery and his connections from his previous military service in Nazi Germany.
As well as giving information on Oskar Schindler and how he protected his workers, the exhibit also give an in depth view of Kraków during the Nazi occupation of the Second World War.
I really wanted to go here, but guess what, I didn’t pre book! You know the end to this story…..! To prepare for your trip, watch the movie Schindler’s List if you haven’t already, most of which is filmed in Kraków.
Guess what, you can book tickets online in advance for Schindler’s factory! I know, shocker! The cost is 24zł (£5 ish) and is self-guided. You will also need to select a timed entry slot. Booking in advance is essential, for maximum availability I’d do it a month before as their visitor numbers are tightly controlled.
Walk Along the Vistula River
After Schindler’s Factory, walk west along the banks of the Vistula River (it should be on your right with Old Town on the opposite side of the river). It is a very easy walk, flat and pathed and you get some really beautiful views of Kraków, particular of Wawel Hill looking like a fairytale castle.
Walk up the steps onto Nadwiślańska Road as you pass Cricoteka Museum, there are some great shops and bars. There is a branch of local ice cream shop Good Lood there as well, they have 3 classic flavours (the salted caramel is to die for) and they have 2 additional flavours each day.
Further down the river, stop at Café Manggha located in the Museum of Japanese Art & Technology. It has a beautiful outdoor terrace with fantastic views of the river and Wawel Castle. They serve some excellent Japanese cuisine (no sushi unfortunately, which is my favourite food of all time) and an exceptionally extensive tea menu. I went with wine…..
When suitably refreshed, carry on walking and cross back over the river at the Dębnicki Bridge, turn right towards Wawel Castle and carry on walking east until you reach to Kazimierz District.
Kazimierz is the old Jewish Quarter and perfect for a wander around, with lots of excellent cafés, vintage shops and restaurants. It’s very indie and quirky and much less polished and pretty than Old Town, but with a great vibe of it’s own.
Plac Nowy is the square at the centre of the district and has been a marketplace since the 19th century. The market stalls now mostly sell Polish street food; their Zapiekanka is supposed to be the best in all of Kraków. If I’m completely honest, I found the square a little underwhelming! However, I loved all the bars and cafés surrounding it, you have to go to Alchemia, café by day, bar by night and is home to some of Kraków’s best concerts down in the cellar.
There is also a superb little rooftop café, Ogródek Na Dachi Kazimierza, just off Plac Nowy on top of the Centre for Jewish Culture. Keep walking up those stairs to get there, it’s eerily quiet and feels bizarrely like you’re trespassing, but eventually you will find yourself come out onto a beautiful rooftop with lots of plants and greenery. There are only 3 tables and it feels more like someone’s house than a café, it’s just lovely. When you want to order, just call down on the telephone on the wall to save walking up and down the stairs again!
We spent the afternoon just wandering around the Kazimierz district, looking in the shops and stopping for regular “breaks” in cafés, perfect for a relaxed afternoon and in my opinion, the best way to explore this district.
Kraków is infinitely more beautiful than I expected and a very well preserved old city. It’s compactness along with it’s excellent value and relative quietness in terms of tourist numbers compared to other European countries make it a very attractive option for a long weekend.
It also isn’t as overrun with stag parties as expected, we didn’t actually see any until our final day!
One final practical tip, ladies, don’t wear heels. Cobbles EVERYWHERE. Not even a block heel. Trust me, just don’t, leave them at home.
I hope this 4 day itinerary is helpful for you and you benefit from the learnings from my trip to make yours perfect!