Krakow is the best place to visit in Poland. It’s obviously good to see places like Zakopane, the seaside (Gdansk, Gdynia, Sopot), Wroclaw, Poznan too, but if you are planning a short visit to Poland, stick to Krakow, as it has everything you are looking for – the people, the views and the spirit.
Super short history & orientation
Krakow used to be the capital of Poland until the end of XVIth century. It’s one of not many cities in Eastern European that preserved it’s architecture and wasn’t destroyed during the Second World War. That is why you will see it’s prominent castle and old city walls still present and accessible by the public. It has a dragon which is important from the cultural aspect as it’s the most famous Polish urban legend. It happens to also be a home to very well preserved Jewish Quarter with XIIth century Szeroka Street, a home to synagogues and Jewish restaurants and cafes. There are three main universities and heaps of private schools which makes it a great place for going out as it’s full of students – both Polish and international.
It is probably the most cosmopolitan city in Poland and you will hear plenty of Ukrainian, Spanish, French and Italian in the streets.
Best times to visit Krakow
Late April till October. That guarantees you a pretty much great weather. Obviously all depends on global warming. Temperatures are around 20 degrees in April, May and Sept/ Oct and 30 or more in the summertime.
That’s the time when all the outdoor bars are open with their lovely cosy beer gardens.
Best way to get to Krakow
Depending where you are flying from there are heaps of airlines flying to Balice, including EasyJet, Ryanair, German Wings and more. If you are on a budget you might also consider flying to Katowice instead (Ryanair & Wizzair) and taking a shuttle for circa £7/one way and it oftentimes is the cheapest option.
From the airport you can pull an Uber (circa 40 PLN depending on traffic and surcharges), local taxis (watch out as they might rip you off; 50-70 PLN), a train that will take you to the city centre for 3 PLN or a bus 208 and 252 and a night one: 902 (4 PLN).
I would recommend avoiding trains as Polish track lines are rubbish, trains are often old and with no A/C and it will take you forever. Not the safest place to be either. A real experience if that’s something you are after though.
Try to stay as close to city centre as possible and walk around the town. Have a look around Main Square, Kazimierz and in-between areas. That way everything will be in a walking distance for you. Tram/bus tickets cost around 2.80 PLN, taxis within 5-10 mins from central up to 20 PLN – make sure you take the corporate taxis (lots of colourful stickers on) as private ones might rip you off.
Places to stay
I would recommend a company I use every time I go called Old City Apartments – great centrally-located apartments, very pocket-friendly prices and always impeccable service.
Best areas to stay – Anywhere within the old city walls/Main Sq area, Maly Rynek, Krupnicza, Karmelicka & Krowoderska St, Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter area).
What to see
As for the places worth seeing apart from Main Sq and Sukiennice, Castle, Wisla (Vistula) riverside, Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter) and Cemetery also include:
- Muzeum Schindlera
- Rynek Underground (literally the undergrounds of the Main Sq)
- Kladka Bernatka (New bridge, locals love it)
Kopiec Kosciuszki is worth checking out too although it’s a bit far from the centre. So is Zakrzowek, which in essence is a man-made water reservoir made from an old canyon. It is currently used by the local diving school as well as locals who go there to swim, legally or not.
The must-sees that can be done on your own or as a one day combined tour or two tours are Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz (free to visit, you only pay for the guide if you want to) which is a significant place in world history.
If you want to act like a local and get some sun, head out to Kryspinow which is a local lake, it is very very much local and kept on a budget.
Food in Poland is lovely! It’s heavy though and often isn’t vegetarian (let alone vegan!) friendly! The typical Polish dishes are usually based on pork, potatoes, bread and cottage cheese. Some of the local (or Polish) specialities include:
- Obwarzanek – Polish pretzel – can be bought from any granny with a trolley around the main square
- Pierogi – Polish dumplings; served Russian style (no idea why it’s called that way but they are with potato and cottage cheese filling, spinach, cabbage with mushrooms and meat (mixed mince meat); often with a bacon fat or fried onion on top;
- Barszcz – sour beetroot soup
- Oscypek – smoked mountain cheese
- Kielbasa z kapusta – BBQ sausage with sauerkraut on the side (best to be tried from NIEBIESKA NYSKA, available only late at night)
- Zapiekanka – no trip to Krakow can be completed without a zapiekanka. An absolute must-have. It’s a huge ciabatta bread with mushrooms, onions and cheese on top as well as other toppings of your choice + ketchup or sauces. It’s gigantic so you will be fine sharing one with someone else. Best one is at Endzior in New Sq in Jewish Quarter.
- Flaczki – Polish meaty soup
- Kaczka – roasted duck
- Rolada z ziemniakami – beef or veil;
- Kaszanka – blood sausage
- Bigos – sauerkraut with cabbage and pork
- Zurek – fermented rye soup served in bread (it’s yum!)
- Wawel Chocolates – they are available all around Poland and they have chocolate cafes
As for food, typical Polish food is served at:
- Kuchnia u Babci Maliny (Centre, multiple locations; in Szpitalna St for example) – typical Polish interior and only Polish dishes – some of them do self-service which means you need to order and pay at the till and they will bring the food to your table.
- Chlopskie jadlo (Centre, multiple locations) – A bit more posh than the above, great selection of Polish dishes
- Pod Aniolami (off Main Sq) – a very old Polish restaurant, one of the oldest in Krakow; a very typical though. Serves Polish wines.
- Polskie jadlo (Centre)- As above
- Miod Malina – Polish Italian restaurant (off Main Sq)
- Dawno temu na Kazimierzu (Jewish Quarter) – A very old school Polish restaurant
- Introligatornia Smaku (Jewish Quarter) – fusion of international and Polish cuisine
- Miedzymiastowa (Dolnych Mlynow St, Jewish Quarter) – combines international cuisines, including inspirations from LA, Mexico City, NYC, Barcelona, Berlin, Stockholm, Tel Aviv and Tokyo.
- Nolio (Jewish Quarter) – Italian restaurant
- Amarylis (Main Sq) – a fusion of cuisines
- Manzana (after Jewish Quarter) – Mexican restaurant, apparently the best in Krakow
- Emaila (Zablocie by Schindler’s Factory) – great fusion cuisine
- Orzo (Zablocie by Schindler’s Factory) – this was my recent discovery and I loved it. A very much Williamsburg (NYC) style restaurant with great selection of dishes catering for vegans too!
- For pizza lovers, try: Fabryka Pizzy in Szewska/ off Main Sq or 3 Papryczki.
- Chaczapuri – cheap and tasty Georgian food
Also note from a friend: Pick up a pot of pierogi to go at Tomasza Milk Bar, situated just off the Main Square. And take it over to the castle complex, here you can sit by the river and enjoy the views of the castle grounds, you might even meet Smok (the Dragon).
Vegetarians & vegans:
For best places check out happy cow website. My favourites include Dynia, Veganik, Krowarzywa and places that cater for me like Orzo or Zanit
- Charlotte (Szczepanski Sq)- great French style breakfasts
- Zenit (Jewish Quarter) – awesome new spot, perfect for brunching (and has vegan options and oat milk!)
- Alchemia od Kuchni (Jewish Quarter)- A new venture by Alchemia, serves hummus so I am sold!
- Nova (Jewish Quarter) – great food selection; all day and night
- Veganik (Dolnych Mlynow, ex cigarette factory)- great new vegetarian & vegan place
- Dynia (Krupnicza St) – vegetarian restaurant
Drinking & partying
Krakow is constantly changing when it comes to the night scene, I am not regular there anymore, however according to my friends few places are definitely worth a visit
If the weather is nice, chill during the day in the Main square with a pint of beer (like 12 PLN). there are plenty beer gardens. Great spot for people watching. Another good outdoor spot is Forum Przestrzenie in Krakow – a man made beach with bars, restaurants, cafe and a swimming pool!
Try pre-drinking in the cheap bars that serve shots, beers and drinks for an equivalent of £1-2!
- Bania Luka is the top one these days and it’s awesome (and it’s close to Teatro Cubano)
- Ambasada Sledzia new cheap drinks place, everything (shots/beers) cost around 4PLN, its a place made on budget (like super budget) very cool place to visit before heading for a proper night out
- Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa – similar to the place mentioned above, based in Mark st
- Bomba – same as above, Plac Szczepanski
- Weźże Krafta – microbrewery
- Bars in Dolnych Mlynow – an ex cigarette factory turned into a complex of bars, restaurants and a club
- Mercy Brown – cocktail bar
- Pauza 2 in Florianska St and Lodz Kaliska in Florianska as well
- Przychodnia Bar where people dance on the tables
Pubs in Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter) – lots of pubs around Plac Nowy, Alchemia is the most famous one and the oldest one, watch out for the holes in the floor, also Café Nova, Tajemniczy Ogrod and many others. Piekny Pies is a late night place Drukarnia – based close to Jewish Quarter too and very popular
Pub in Forum (hotel) by the river, new fancy place opened by ex bartenders in Pauza. Based by the rivers with a sitting area outside by the river
As for clubs, they all play either house/electro music or R’n’B music…or mixed music.
Plaza (beach club by the riverside) – right next to Forum hotel, fancy open bar with mini beach and outdoor and indoor partying area
Teatro Cubano – this is the new hit place and everyone goes there; plays a lot of Latin music and gets incredibly busy so queues take forever if you arrive late.
More posh places are Taawa in Kazimierz (people 25+), Frantic (used to be cool, not sure about now) and Shakers above that, then few other places like Baccarat, Prozak, Rdza.
I’d also suggest checking out Krawl Through Krakow which is the most famous Krakow pub crawl and it’s awesome (they sometimes do tram parties too)!
- Main Sq – a lot of boutique shops and street sellers sell their local produce or not-so-mainstream goods
- Galeria Krakowska is a place everyone goes to
- Galeria Kazimierz is another shopping mall people check out
- For an alternative shopping there are plenty of second hand shops in Krakow almost everywhere (Ul. Dluga for example) and Sunday Flea Market in Plac Nowy (Kazimierz)
You can find these on a handy map here.