Krakow is full of history and has plenty of things to do while in the city. You will find many places that will cater to a variety of tastes. If you are planning a trip to Poland with family, friends, significant other, or maybe a solo traveller, there are many venues to entertain you while in the city. Here is a short list of some of the highlights.
What to See in Krakow
Wawel Castle and Cathedral
The glorious ensemble that is Wawel, perched on top of the hill of the same name immediately south of the Old Town, is by far the most important collection of buildings in Poland. A symbol of national pride, hope, self-rule and not least of all fierce patriotism, Wawel offers a uniquely Polish version of the British Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey rolled into one. A gorgeous assortment of predominantly Romanesque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture dating from around the 14th century onwards, Wawel is the crown jewel of Kraków's architectural treasures and required visiting for Poles and foreigners alike.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Kraków is without a doubt one of the most popular tourist cities in Central Europe, and as you’ve likely heard, one of its top tourist attractions is a salt mine actually located in Wieliczka—a small town about 15km to the southeast. An astounding 1.4 million people visit Wieliczka Salt Mine each year, and it’s hardly a recent phenomenon—people have been visiting the salt mine for centuries with notable guests including Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Fryderyk Chopin, Ignacy Paderewski, Pope John Paul II and former US president Bill Clinton. In fact, the first official tourist trail opened underground here way back in the mid-19th century. But it’s not only tourists who come to visit. So deep is the love of the locals for this place that in a recent survey, Cracovians voted Wieliczka Salt Mine as their number one favourite thing about Kraków; again, not bad for an attraction in another town 15 kilometres away.
For centuries the town of Oświęcim was a quiet backwater community, largely bypassed by world events. That changed with WWII when Oświęcim, known as ‘Auschwitz’ under German occupation, became the chosen site of the largest death camp in the Third Reich. Between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people were exterminated here, etching the name of Auschwitz forever into the history books and countless films, documentaries, books and survivor accounts have since burned it into the collective consciousness.
Kazimierz – the district south of the Old Town between the Wisła River and ul. Dietla (where a tributary of the Wisła once flowed) was the centre of Jewish life in Kraków for over 500 years, before it was systematically destroyed during World War II. Neglected during the communist era, Kazimierz became one of Kraków’s dodgiest districts before its rediscovery in the 1990s, thanks to the fall of the regime and worldwide exposure through the lens of Steven Spielberg, Kazimierz has since rebounded and is today arguably Kraków’s most exciting district – a bustling, bohemian neighbourhood packed with historical sites, atmospheric cafes and art galleries.
Krakow Rynek Underground
Opened in a blaze of publicity in September 2010, this hi-tech and highly popular museum takes visitors four metres under the surface of the market square to explore the recently excavated medieval merchant stalls that predate today’s Cloth Hall, and to experience the city’s entire history - from its first settlers right up to the death of Pope John Paul II – over the course of some 6,000 metres of multimedia exhibits.
The bastard child of a devastated post WWII Poland, the huge Socialist Realism suburb of Nowa Huta is the direct antithesis of everything cuddly Kraków is. Gargoyles and tourists? Not here. The Orwellian settlement of Nowa Huta is one of only two entirely pre-planned socialist realism cities ever built (the other being Magnitogorsk in Russia’s Ural Mountains), and one of the finest examples of deliberate social engineering in the world.
In 2010, the Oskar Schindler Enamelled Goods Factory (to give it its full name) re-opened to the public as a world-class museum. The story of Oskar Schindler and his employees is one which has been well-known since Steven Spielberg's film Schindler’s List (which was shot almost entirely in Kraków) brought it to audiences across the world in 1993, and while that story is covered in detail on the original site where many events took place, the museum actually casts the city of Kraków in the main role of its permanent exhibition titled, ‘Kraków During Nazi Occupation 1939-1945.’ Individual histories of Kraków’s wartime inhabitants guide visitors through the exhibit which covers the war of 1939, everyday life under occupation, the fate of the Jews, the city’s underground resistance and more, using vast archival documents, photos, radio and film recordings, period artefacts and dynamic multimedia installations.
What to Do in Krakow
Mocak, National, and Aviation Museums
Kraków is packed with more museums than any other city in Poland, and the last several years have seen literally dozens of new openings and re-openings. Recent investments have improved the quality of the city's museums immensely, most of which have been modernised and many of which feature multimedia exhibits that will even keep the kids engaged. There is no better place to learn about Polish history, culture and character than Kraków's museums, some of which should be on every tourist itinerary.
Obviously you can't come to (or leave) Poland without trying the local cuisine. Polish food has a bit of a divided rep, with some decrying it as bland and boring, while others hail its simplicity and 'slow food' sensibilities. We suggest you judge for yourself, and we've given you all the help you need in order to do so, including an explanation of essential Polish dishes you must try, and Polish menu translation help. Below you'll find our reviews of all of the Polish restaurants in Kraków, be they communist-era milk bars, medieval theme restaurants, or stylish, modern takes on Polish cuisine. Smacznego!
Pub and Vodka Tours
If you believe urban legend (like we do) Kraków has the highest density of bars in the world. Simply hundreds of bars can be found in cellars and courtyards stretching from the Old Town to Kazimierz and beyond. Keeping them open, of course, are the thousands of tourists that flock to Kraków every year.
There you have it, our shortlist of things to do and see in Krakow. This historic city has many more things to offer at any time of the year. To find out more about the city, visit our comprehensive collection of information at http://iyp.me/krakow. You can also purchase a print guide here on our shop and have it shipped to you worldwide.
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We cover Gdańsk (Sopot & Gdynia), Katowice, Kraków, Łódź, Poznań, Warsaw & Wrocław.