8 things to do on a weekend break in Krakow
Set on the banks of the Vistula River, Krakow has it all: Incredible architecture, a rich history, oodles of culture, and fabulous food. Oh, and it’s one of the cheapest cities in Europe.
Intrigued? Start planning your weekend city break in Krakow with these top things to do:
1. Get lost in the Old Town
Krakow’s Old Town, with its pretty cobbled streets, historic buildings, and huge medieval market square (Rynek Główny) is the nerve centre of the city. Home to six thousand historic sites, two million works of art and more restaurants and bars than you can shake a stick at, the UNESCO-attested neighbourhood is buzzing day and night.
The best way to take in the sights of Krakow’s Old Town is by walking the ‘Royal Route’, which is the ceremonial route Polish kings took when the city was Poland’s capital. Starting at St. Florian’s Gate, it passes key Old Town landmarks such as the Cloth Hall, (the world’s oldest shopping centre), the Town Hall Tower, and stunning St. Mary’s Basilica, before ending at the iconic Wawel Castle.
The Old Town is a hotspot for foodies, and one of the best places to eat is Szara. With its fabulous location in the main square, and generous portions of duck, veal, and beef, lavished with fruit sauces, you’ll want seconds. Of everything. But that’s fine, as a meal here won’t break the bank.
Bar Szara next door is a great spot for a post-dinner cocktail, too.
Another top restaurant is Michelin-recommended Cyrano de Bergerac, which serves some of the finest French food in the city at a modest price. Think wild boar with plum, sunflower, and red pine mushrooms.
2. Relive history at Wawel Castle and Cathedral
With its mix of Gothic, Renaissance, Rococo, and Romanesque architecture, Wawel Castle is like something out of a fairy tale. Perched on Wawel Hill overlooking the Vistula River, it’s one of Poland’s most treasured landmarks.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the opulent State Rooms, the Crown Treasury and Armoury, and Leonardo da Vinci’s famous ‘Lady with an Ermine’ painting. It’s been housed in the castle since 2012.
You should spend some time exploring Wawel Cathedral, while on your Krakow city break, too. Based in the castle grounds, no fewer than 36 Polish kings and queens were crowned here. And the crypt below is where members of Polish royalty, and other important historical figures, are buried. You’ll want a good few hours to look around it all, so head there early.
After marvelling at Wawel Castle, enjoy a tasty lunch at La Campana Trattoria. This Michelin-recommended restaurant on Kanonicza Street has a gorgeous, flower-filled courtyard setting, and the food is first-class. The Risotto con asparagi is a dream.
3. Explore the Jewish Quarter
Krakow’s Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, was once a vibrant place with a flourishing community. It perished at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, but the historic buildings, synagogues, and indomitable Jewish spirit lives on.
Needless to say, Kazimierz and the neighbouring Podgórze, where the Jewish Ghetto was located during the Second World War, have a dark history. One of the best ways to take it all in is on a guided tour of the Jewish Quarter, Schindler’s Factory & Former Ghetto.
That said, if you want to explore The Jewish Quarter at your own pace while on your Krakow city break, your first stop should be the Old Synagogue. The oldest surviving example of Jewish religious architecture in Poland, it’s home to a series of exhibits that showcase the history and traditions of Polish Judaism.
For a sobering lesson in Jewish history, visit the world-famous Galicia Jewish Museum, which commemorates Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Then move on to the New Jewish Cemetery, which is the final resting place of many of them.
There’s a lot to see in Krakow’s Jewish Quarter, so if you don’t have time to stop for a proper lunch, make sure to head back to Kazimierz for dinner. There are loads of top places to grab a bite in this neighbourhood, but for some mouthwatering Polish cuisine, we recommend Starka.
Offering fantastic value for money, they specialise in traditional Polish ‘pierogi’. If you like the sound of dumplings filled with cheese and potato, you’ll be in food heaven.
Head here on a Wednesday or Friday for live music, but book in advance, as it gets busy.
4. See salt in a new light at the Wieliczka Salt Mine
Although not technically in the city, no list of things to do in Krakow is complete without Wieliczka Salt Mine. Located in the suburb of Wieliczka, about 16km from the city, it’s more than worth a trip to see.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the main attraction is not the salt itself, but what the miners have done with it. For centuries, they’ve been carving out spectacular subterranean chapels, tunnels and sculptures of the country’s most beloved figures. You’ll be blown away by the Chapel of St. Kinga and the 36-metre-high Stanislaw Staszic Chamber.
The walls are even covered with religious artwork, including a replica of Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’. You’ll never look at salt in the same way again.
5. Learn about the Holocaust at Auschwitz
Krakow lies in the shadow of one of the most fearsome sites of the Holocaust, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. The UNESCO World Heritage site is known the world over for the horrors and atrocities of the Nazis, who exterminated over 1.1 million people there during WWII.
A trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau is harrowing, but with only about an hour and a half by train or bus to the memorial and museum at the camp, it’s not far to go to pay your respects.
For the full experience, book a tour to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum and learn about the Holocaust from a local expert. Visit the ruins of the gas chambers, original barracks, and the unloading railway platform.
It’s one of the most moving experiences you’ll ever have.
6. See medieval Krakow at Rynek Underground
When excavating the Main Market Square in the early 21st century, archaeologists uncovered remnants of centuries-old merchant stalls, thoroughfares, aqueducts, and an 11th-century cemetery where many of the corpses were buried with bricks in their mouths or stabbed through the heart to prevent them coming back as vampires. Yes, seriously.
The experience at Rynek Underground Museum is enhanced by holograms, touchscreens, and audiovisual wizardry, which all help recreate life in medieval Krakow. A haven for architects and history buffs, this is one museum not to be missed.
7. Get back to nature at Ojców National Park
Want to escape the city for the day? Make a beeline for Ojców National Park. A mere 24 kilometres from Krakow, it’s an ideal destination for a day trip.
This postcard-worthy park may be the smallest in Poland, but it ranks with the best of them, packing two castles, 400 caves, several fantastic rock formations, and numerous hiking trails into its 21.5 sq km.
With more than 1,000 species of flowering plants growing within its boundaries, it wins the prize for fauna.
If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, be sure to add this to your Krakow city break itinerary.
8. Enjoy some R&R at Verde Spa
Looking for a place to relax after a hard day’s walking around the Old Town? Or heading to Krakow on a getaway with the girls? Treat your feet to a warm paraffin bath at Verde Spa. Just off the Main Square, it’s an oasis of tranquility right in the city centre.
They offer a full range of treatments, from hot stone massages to hydrating facials. You can even book a couple’s massage by candlelight if you’re in the mood for romance.
It’s not one of the most obvious things to do in Krakow, but Verde Spa is a popular place to go for some Polish-style pampering. Just make sure to book in advance!
Visit Krakow, earn CashPoints
These are just some of the many things to do in Krakow, as this wonderful city has loads to offer. But don’t take our word for it. Find out for yourself.