The beautiful Barbican building in Krakow. One of the oldest and best preserved fortresses in Europe
Destinations,  Europe,  Poland

The BEST Things To Do In Krakow (2024)

Known as the former royal capital of Poland, Krakow is one of the best places to visit in Europe. Having spent a few days there, I instantly fell in love with its stunning architecture, magnificent museums, and charming streets.

There are so many things to do in Krakow that are sure to satisfy every taste, whether you are a history buff, a foodie, or an art lover!

A Little Bit Of History

The Dragon statue located near the Wawel Castle in Krakow. It spits fire every few minutes.

Krakow is one of the oldest cities in Poland, dating back to the 7th century. According to the legend, it was established by a mythical ruler named Krakus. He built it on top of a cave inhabited by a ferocious dragon. Krakus defeated the dragon by giving it a poisoned lamb to eat.

The city was the seat of Polish kings and queens who ruled from Wawel Castle. Throughout the 10th century and beyond, Krakow became a prominent center for trade, culture, and commerce. In 1038, it became the capital of Poland, a status it held until 1596.

Krakow’s golden age came in the 15th and 16th centuries during the Polish Renaissance. The city became a famous European center of arts, culture, and learning, hosting the Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world.

However, the city’s prosperity was disrupted by the Swedish invasions in the 17th century, which led to economic decline. In the late 18th century, the partitions of Poland resulted in Krakow coming under Austrian rule.

Despite the foreign rule, Krakow continued to be a stronghold of Polish national identity and culture. The 19th century saw the revival of the city as a center of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life.

During World War II, Krakow was occupied by Nazi Germany and was the capital of Germany’s General Government. The city’s Jewish population was forced into the Krakow Ghetto, and many were sent to extermination camps like Auschwitz.

After the war, Krakow underwent a period of Soviet influence under the communist regime.

Today, Krakow is a city that beautifully blends its rich history and modernity. It is Poland’s second-largest city, and one of the most visited cities in Europe.

Is Krakow safe to visit?

Krakow enjoys a reputation as a very safe destination for travelers, with a relatively low crime rate compared to other European cities. However, like any popular tourist destination, it’s still important to stay aware of your surroundings and use common sense to keep your belongings secure.

One of the first things that should come to your mind when planning a trip is travel insurance.

Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance is one of the best options available out there. With a maximum coverage of 365 days, they are a great option whether you are a Nomad or not!

They offer very low rates, but excellent coverage and immediate support (in a few minutes!). The best part? Nomad Insurance can be purchased even if you have left your home country already.

Lastly, they also cover extreme sports, something that can come in very handy if you are an adventurous soul.

Safetywing Button

I can recall walking along the streets of the Old Town, feeling quite at ease even late into the evening. While it’s important to stay cautious, don’t let worry overshadow your experience – the warm hospitality of the locals will take all your worries away.

Furthermore, emergency services in the city are generally responsive, and the presence of police in touristy areas can also add to your sense of safety. Most locals, especially in the city center, speak English and are always willing to help should you need assistance.

Moving Around

Moving around is among the easiest things to do in krakow. The city center, in particular, is very walkable with many of the main attractions such as the Main Market Square and Wawel Castle within easy reach. 

While some attractions like the Wieliczka Salt mines are located a bit further away, don’t get dissapointed! Krakow also has an extensive network of trams and buses that cover the entire city and its outskirts. Tickets can be bought from kiosks, onboard, or via the mobile app ‘Jakdojade’. The public transportation operates from early morning till late at night, something I found very helpful during my trip there.

Alternatively, taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber are widely available in Krakow. They offer a convenient (but a bit more expensive) way to get around, especially if you’re traveling with luggage or in a group. 

If you plan to visit places outside the city center, like the Salt Mines in Wieliczka or the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, consider renting a car or joining a guided tour. Many tour companies provide transportation, making it easier to reach these sites.

The BEST Things To Do In Krakow

1. Walk Around The Old Town And Beyond

Have a full breakfast (you can find more in my separate Krakow food guide) and get ready for a long day of walking. There are things to do everywhere in the city. Every corner has something unique to offer. The Jewish district, including the Old Synagogue and Schindler’s Factory, are some of the most notable places to visit during your walk.

2. The Main Market Square

What if I told you that the largest medieval square in Europe is in the center of old Kraków? Full of shops, restaurants, and bars, this place can satisfy everyone. How can it get even better? During the Christmas period, the main square is full of Christmas markets, creating a lovely atmosphere.

Two of the main things to do in Krakow are the majestic Basilica of St. Mary and the Town Hall Tower. One of the city’s newest museums, ”Rynek Underground,” sits directly beneath the main square. I wasn’t aware of this when we visited; however, I decided to include it in this guide. It is the foundation of the old city, and only 300 people can enter at a time.

I cannot even count the times we were wandering lost around this vast place, searching for a bar or spot we had seen some time earlier.

3. The Wawel Castle

Me in the Wawel Castle, a very beautiful fortress in Krakow, Poland

No guide to things to do in Krakow could be complete without this one. Right on top of Wawel Hill, the castle looks like it came out of a fairytale. Many consider it the most important sight all around the country, so it’s definitely among the best things to do in Krakow!

There are so many different exhibitions to see there with limited entries, so one day may not be enough at all. We visited the Royal private apartments, and the armory, which were all worth it. The state rooms, the Treasury, and the Lost Wavel are also well-known and critically acclaimed exhibitions. The hill’s cathedral is also a well-known sight. Don’t forget to enjoy the great views of the surrounding area.

A must-visit is also the Wavel dragon statue, right down the hill. The dragon is a reference to an urban legend, and the statue launches fire every few minutes. Worth a visit!

4. The Barbican

Right outside the old city lands this former part of Krakow’s walls. The Barbican is the best-preserved fortified outpost in Europe. Only two others of its kind remain on the continent!

Legend has it that a wealthy Krakowian, during the defense against the Russian invasion, managed to kill the Russian colonel by using his coat button instead of a bullet. There is a plaque commemorating this story. Among the most interesting things to do in Krakow, if you asked me.

5. The Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Lake inside the Wieliczka Salt mine, one of the best places to visit in Krakow, Poland

This place defied all expectations! Not even once before visiting did I think that it would be such a wonderful experience. The history of the mine starts thousands of years ago.

During Medieval times, when salt was a luxurious product, working there was a prestigious job. While all production belonged to the royal family, workers would own and sell a small part of it, enabling them to make a small fortune.

In the centuries that followed, the mine continued to be the greater area’s economic center. Workers, in their free time, would create sculptures and other artifacts out of salt. Maybe the most imposing one would be the catholic church! They constructed it entirely of salt, and weddings can still be arranged to this date!

I could talk about this place forever, but I will leave the rest for when you visit. We had an amazing guide from Britain who was very funny, informative, and entertaining. The entrance costs 79zł, and it is worth every bit of it! The tour is 3,5km long, and you will reach a maximum depth of 135 m. Make sure to bring warm clothes, as it can get very cold inside.

The mines are accessible through public transportation. Please ensure you already have a bus ticket, because not all buses include ticket machines.

Pro tip: Lick the walls. Just do it. No germs can survive in these conditions, so it is a safe and funny thing to do. Never in my wildest dreams, when I was searching for things to do in Krakow, would I expect to find this.

6. Auschwitz-Birkenau

An alley inside the memorial site of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Fences can be seen on each side, and some old buildings too.

As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by WWII history. There is something about it that I simply find intriguing. So, having decided to travel to Krakow, a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was on the plans from the beginning.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest and one of the deadliest concentration and extermination camps established by Nazi Germany during World War II. It is estimated that around 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered there between 1940 and 1945. It now serves as a museum, a live example of the atrocities the human race is capable of committing. 

It is our duty, as kids and grandkids of the people who suffered or died under the Nazi rule, to learn about those times and voice our opinions. We are responsible for ensuring that Nazism remains solely a matter of history and never resurfaces in reality.

Getting to the site

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is located in the town of Oświęcim, which is approximately 50 kilometers West of Krakow. As this article is part of my Krakow travel guide, here you will find the ways you can reach the site directly from Krakow.

By Bus:

There are several bus companies that operate the route from Krakow to Oświęcim:

1.PKS: This is the national bus operator in Poland, and they offer regular services between Krakow and Oświęcim. The busses numbered 142 or 141 should do the job.

You can check their website for the latest schedules and ticket prices.

2.Flixbus: Flixbus is a popular European bus company that offers services from Krakow to Oświęcim. You can check their website for the latest schedules and ticket prices.

3.Leo Express: Leo Express is a Czech bus company that operates services from Krakow to Oświęcim. You can check their website for the latest schedules and ticket prices.

4.PolskiBus: PolskiBus is a Polish bus company that offers services from Krakow to Oświęcim. You can check their website for the latest schedules and ticket prices.

The bus journey from Krakow to Oświęcim takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. The ticket prices also vary depending on the bus company and the time of travel, but they generally start from around 10 PLN.

Please note that these bus numbers may change, and it’s always a good idea to check the latest schedules and routes on the bus company’s website or app before your day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau.


Polish State Railways (PKP) operate a number of daily trips that run between Krakow and Oświęcim. The train number that goes from Krakow to Oświęcim is usually IC Kossak or TLK Silesia.

IC Kossak 

Departure times from Kraków Główny: 06:01, 08:01, 11:01, 15:01, 18:01, 20:01

Journey time: approximately 1 hour

TLK Silesia

Departure times from Kraków Główny: 05:50, 08:50, 11:50, 14:50, 17:50, 19:50

Journey time: approximately 1 hour

You can check the current train schedule and book tickets on the PKP website or through the mobile app. The website is also available in English.


Every ticket gives you access to both Auschwitz I, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The distance between the camps is 3.5km long and a free bus runs every hour. While it is walkable, the free bus makes it really convenient. There are two types of tickets:

1. Individual, not guided tour

Individual visitors can enter the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum site on a day trip without a guide free of charge. However, you are required to obtain a free entry pass in advance, either online or in person at the site (subject to availability). The free pass allows visitors to explore the site on their own, but I am not sure if the experience will be as informative. Please note that the free pass is available at certain time frames only.

January 2nd to March 14th and November 15th to December 31st: Entry is free for individual visitors without a guide from 7:30am to 12:00pm, and from 3:00pm until the site’s closing time.

March 15th to April 30th and September 16th to November 14th: entry is free for individual visitors without a guide from 7:30am to 2:00pm, and from 4:00pm until the site’s closing time.

May 1st to September 15th: entry is free for individual visitors without a guide from 7:30am to 4:00pm, and from 5:00pm until the site’s closing time.

2. Guided tour

The guided tour should be the tour of your choice. It is the best one if you want to learn more about the horrors that took place on this site. The experienced guides will be there to provide more information, and answer any questions. Tickets can be found online or be bought directly at the site. We were able to find tickets there, but I am not sure if we were just lucky. My suggestion would be to buy the tickets a few weeks in advance in order to be safe.

Final thoughts

Let me tell you, no matter how much I travel, the city of Krakow always has a special place in my heart. While I was expecting a typical central European city, I was completely fachinated with its intoxicating blend of history, culture, and a unique rhythm of life. It defied all my expectations, and I cannot wait to be back!

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