A former royal capital, crammed with history and splendour, Kraków is one of the most beautiful – and interesting – cities in Eastern Europe. It’s also a fantastic destination for food, drink, and many, many other activities. Read on for our overview of what to expect from your first trip to this great Polish city
Why Kraków? What Is So Special About Kraków?
Kraków’s beauty is self-evident. Both the medieval old town and Wieliczka salt mines were added to the original UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978. There’s a thousand years of living history, much of it in remarkably good shape. The intimate encounter with Leonardo da Vinci’s sublime Lady with an Ermine was worth my first trip alone.
Poland’s pivotal role in 20th century European history is starkly represented by the former Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, located 68km outside Kraków, and the excellent Schindler’s Factory museum, which tells the story of Kraków under the Nazi invasion and how industrialist Oskar Schindler helped save the lives of 1200 Jewish employees. In this century, Kraków has continued to develop first-class museums such as Rynek Underground, built beneath the main market square.
However, many love Kraków just for the nightlife, the restaurants and bars. It’s a great city for people who like to party or for those who want to explore the food of Eastern Europe. Most other cuisines are also well-represented. It’s a fine destination for vegans.
By any reckoning, Kraków offers outstanding value for money.
How Much Time Should I Spend In Kraków?
Kraków’s medieval old town is the historic heart of the city and where most tourists spend much of their time. It’s fairly compact and you can simply walk between many attractions, soaking up the atmosphere as you do so.
There are plenty of outdoor activities outside of the city, if you’re planning on more than a week. Zakopane, for example, has some stunning mountains, lakes and thermal baths, but there are also castles and winter sports. Tours offered through Get Your Guide can take care of everything for you.
Kinga, Wieliczka Saltmines – image © Ayesha Cantrell
What Should I See In Kraków? What Are Kraków’s Must-See Attractions?
What you see will depend very much on your personal interests and how much time you have available. I would definitely consider Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Cathedral and Royal Apartments on Wawel Hill, Wieliczka salt mines, Schindler’s Factory, and da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine.
However, this is really just scratching the surface of Kraków’s cultural treasures and we have plenty more recommendations for sightseeing in Kraków. It’s worth noting that the KrakowCard gives access to many of the city’s main museums, and unlimited travel on Kraków’s buses and trams. Find out more on our KrakowCard page.
Is Kraków Expensive? What Is A Reasonable Kraków Budget?
By European standards, Poland is a relatively cheap country and, for the world-class attractions you’ll receive in Kraków, the value for money is astounding. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that standards are below par. I have found the general quality of service, food, and accommodation to be as high as any other modern, European city I’ve been. This surely puts Kraków into the Top 10 of European destinations?
Sample Daily Kraków Budgets (Per Person)
Budget Kraków Trip Pricing
- Budget hotel accommodation (per room): 90zł
- Two simple restaurant meals: 40zł
- Public transport: 15zł
- Entrance fee to one average attraction: 20zł
- Sundry purchases: 40zł
- Total: 205zł (about US$54, €46, £42)
Mid-Range Kraków Trip Pricing
- Mid-range hotel accommodation (per room): 225zł
- Two moderate restaurant meals: 100zł
- Public transport plus one taxi ride: 35zł
- Entrance fee to one average attraction, plus Auschwitz: 60zł
- Sundry purchases: 80zł
- Total: 500zł (about US$131, €112, £102)
Luxury Kraków Trip Pricing
- Luxury hotel accommodation (per room): 350zł
- Two expensive restaurant meals: 150zł
- Public transport plus two taxi rides: 55zł
- Entrance fee to one average attraction, plus Auschwitz and Wieliczka salt mines: 139zł
- Sundry purchases: 120zł
- Total: 814zł (about US$216, €182, £165)
The rooftop view from Hotel Copernicus
Where Should I Stay In Kraków?
Kraków has a huge range of affordable accommodation for tourists and excellent standards across the board. If you don’t mind splashing out, you should stay within the Old Town itself. If you’re looking for a faster pace of life and some of Kraków’s best bars, consider the historical Jewish quarter Kazimierz. Everyone else will be happy with the options to the north and west of the Old Town.
Each of these areas are close to Kraków’s medieval old town, where most of the main attractions are located, which means you won’t have to spend time travelling around on public transport.
Finding somewhere to stay in Kraków is very easy through Booking.com. You can see everything available, with information and user reviews to help you find the ideal place. It’s often possible to reserve a room with no upfront payment and pay when you check out. Most hotels offer the option for cancellations, in case you need to cancel your trip.
When’s The Best Time Of Year To Visit Kraków?
Kraków has a narrow temperature range which makes it reasonably comfortable all-year round. It does get hot in the summer and cold mid-winter, but rarely excessively so. Consequently, it’s a beautiful city for eating and drinking outdoors and walking through parks between the many attractions. It’s a good destination for some early Christmas shopping.
However, such temperate conditions bring a constant threat of rain and showers are common. Luckily, most restaurants, cafes and bars with outside seating are prepared for this. And you are never far from a museum or glorious church to explore.
Spring and Autumn offer the best of both worlds, especially if you time it just before or after peak season. Plan around the main public holidays, particularly Easter, when the city fills up and flights can be hard to come by.
Is It Easy To Get Around Kraków?
When it comes to the central attractions, Kraków is an extremely walkable city and you often won’t need any transport at all. Much of the Old Town is pedestrianised, so you can wander around without danger of being run over.
There is also a comprehensive network of trams and buses to get you everywhere else, and taxis are reasonably priced. See Getting Around in Kraków for more details.
If you expect to use a lot of public transport, consider buying a KrakowCard. This gives unlimited travel on the buses and trams, as well as entry to many attractions. Find out more on our KrakowCard page.
What Should I Pack For A Trip To Kraków?
For a comprehensive overview of what to bring on a trip, see our Packing List For Krakow page. This includes advice for different seasons, as well as suggestions for what you can leave at home. We’ve also packed the guide with tips and tricks for making travel more comfortable.
Is It Easy To Get Money Out Of ATMs In Kraków?
Many travellers are surpised to find that Poland has retained the złoty as currency, rather than the Euro like most other EU countries. All the same, Poland is a financially advanced country and getting cash is as easy as any other European country. Nearly everywhere accepts international debit and credit cards, and ATMs can be found outside banks all over Kraków. If you have Barclaycard or Mastercard branded plastic, you should have no problems making a withdrawal.
Just make sure your card is unlocked for international transactions before you arrive in Poland and check to make sure you are not being charged outrageous commission whenever you use an ATM.
Our page on Polish currency has some practical advice about finances in Kraków, and links to more specific questions you may have.
The view from Kanonicza Street
Should I Have A Tour Guide For Kraków?
You’ll have a great time in Kraków without a guide and you certainly won’t need one for hotels, bars, or restaurants. English is widely spoken. However, hiring a guide to show you around different parts of the city or taking part in a tour for specific attractions will enhance your experience in a way no guide book can. The best guides have historical knowledge and can really bring their subject to life. What’s more, you can take a tour to match your specific interests.
I have taken part in a number of tours offered through Get Your Guide and can personally recommend them. Check the ratings and user feedback before booking to make sure you’re getting what you want.
Is Kraków Safe For Travellers?
Kraków is, by and large, very safe for travellers, including women (or men) visiting alone and for people with children. Crime rates appear low, although we advise the usual self-awareness and commonsense – don’t wave your wallet around when drunk, for example.
Unfortunately, in recent years, LGBT people have found themselves the target of a toxic culture war in Poland, promoted by current the government itself. Despite the anti-LGBT rhetoric, Kraków feels like a cosmopolitan city and examples of abuse or violence appear to be rare.
Travel Insurance Is Vital For Kraków
All travellers should make sure they have travel insurance. It’s vital to protect yourself against accidents or sudden illness, or losing vital items like passports. It’s quick and easy to book travel insurance online. See Why You Need Travel Insurance For Poland for more info.
So How Do I Get To Kraków?
Kraków is served by two airports but John Paul II International Airport is the most convenient. We have a full guide for what to expect in our Kraków Airport Guide.
You can check available flights, timings and prices for your chosen dates with one search.
The airport is a pleasure to navigate and offers many ways to reach the city centre, usually in less than an hour. Getting From Kraków Airport To Kraków City Centre is our comprehensive guide to these different modes of transport.
With a private transfer, you can pay upfront for a reasonable, fixed cost, to have somebody pick you up from Arrivals then whisk you directly to your accommodation, with the minimum fuss.
You can also reach Kraków by road and rail, if you’re already in Poland or the EU. See How To Get To Kraków for more details.
EU citizens, Americans, Australians, Canadians, and residents of many other countries do NOT need a visa for up to 90-day trips to Poland. See this official list for nationalities which do. These citizens should buy a Short-Stay Schengen visa for €60, granting visitors a kind of temporary EU status.