Nestled in the heart of Eastern Europe, this enchanting city is a treasure trove of history, culture, and unforgettable experiences just waiting to be discovered.
Whether you’re a history buff eager to delve into centuries-old tales of kings and castles, a foodie ready to devour some savoury pierogi and hearty soups, or an outdoor enthusiast itching to explore the beautiful Tatra Mountains, Krakow has something for everyone.
So, if you’re dreaming of your next getaway or considering adding Krakow to your travel bucket list, make sure to also check out my YouTube Vlog of our trip to the city.
Here are 12 things you must do during your visit to Krakow, Poland.
1. Visit Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle stands as a symbol of Poland’s rich history and cultural heritage. For first-time visitors to Krakow, exploring this majestic castle is essential to understanding the country’s royal past.
The castle’s architecture, ranging from Gothic to Renaissance styles, offers a captivating glimpse into Poland’s royal history, while the Wawel Cathedral housed within the complex contains centuries-old royal tombs and stunning works of art.
From the picturesque courtyard to the panoramic views of the Vistula River from the castle’s ramparts, Wawel Castle is steeped in both grandeur and historical significance, making it a must-visit destination for anyone exploring Krakow for the first time.
2. Stroll around the Old Town Market Square (Rynek Główny):
The Old Town Market Square is the beating heart of Krakow, bustling with energy and charm. For first-time visitors, taking a leisurely stroll through this vast medieval square offers a quintessential Krakow experience.
Surrounded by colourful townhouses, historic landmarks, and lively cafes, the square exudes a timeless atmosphere that transports visitors back in time. From admiring the iconic St. Mary’s Basilica with its stunning Gothic architecture to marvelling at the Cloth Hall, a centuries-old marketplace filled with artisanal crafts and souvenirs, every corner of the square tells a story of Krakow’s rich past.
Whether sipping coffee at a sidewalk cafe, listening to the melodies of street musicians, or simply people watching over a Polish beer, the Old Town Market Square offers a delightful introduction to the city’s culture, history, and architecture, making it an unmissable destination for first-time visitors to Krakow.
3. Explore the Wieliczka Salt Mine:
Descending into the depths of the Wieliczka Salt Mine is an unforgettable experience that showcases both the ingenuity of human craftsmanship and the natural wonders hidden beneath Krakow’s surface.
As one of the oldest salt mines in the world, this UNESCO World Heritage site offers a fascinating journey through underground chambers adorned with intricate salt sculptures, majestic chapels carved entirely out of salt, and even subterranean lakes.
For first-time visitors, exploring the salt mine provides a unique perspective on Krakow’s industrial heritage and the remarkable creativity of generations past. From witnessing the breathtaking beauty of the underground salt cathedral to learning about the centuries-old mining techniques, a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine promises an adventure that leaves a lasting impression.
4. Visit Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum:
While emotionally challenging, visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is an essential pilgrimage for first-time visitors to Krakow seeking to honour the memory of the millions who perished during the Holocaust.
As one of the most significant Nazi concentration camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau stands as a solemn reminder of the atrocities committed during World War II. Walking through the preserved barracks, gas chambers, and crematoria, visitors are confronted with the harsh realities of the Holocaust, gaining a deeper understanding of the human suffering and resilience that defined this dark chapter in history.
By bearing witness to the haunting remnants of the past and paying tribute to the victims, first-time visitors to Krakow can engage in a profound act of remembrance and reflection, reaffirming the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust for future generations.
5. Walk along Planty Park:
Planty Park, encircling Krakow’s Old Town, offers a tranquil escape from the bustling city streets. For first-time visitors, a leisurely stroll through this green oasis provides a serene retreat and a chance to admire the beauty of Krakow’s natural landscapes.
Lined with lush trees, flowerbeds, and scenic pathways, Planty Park invites visitors to unwind and soak in the peaceful ambiance while marvelling at historic monuments and charming bridges along the way.
Whether enjoying a leisurely picnic, taking in views of the city’s architectural gems, or simply savouring a moment of tranquility amidst nature, exploring Planty Park offers a delightful respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
6. Discover the Kazimierz District:
Steeped in centuries of Jewish heritage and culture, the Kazimierz District beckons first-time visitors with its blend of history, art, and vibrant street life. Exploring this eclectic neighbourhood offers a glimpse into Krakow’s multicultural past, from its well-preserved synagogues and Jewish cemeteries to its bustling market squares and atmospheric cafes.
For visitors seeking to immerse themselves in Krakow’s rich cultural tapestry, Kazimierz serves as a dynamic hub of creativity and community, where historical landmarks coexist with contemporary art galleries, trendy bars, and eclectic boutiques.
Whether delving into the district’s poignant Holocaust memorials, sampling traditional Jewish delicacies, or admiring the colourful street art adorning its walls, a visit to Kazimierz promises a captivating journey through Krakow’s storied past and vibrant present.
7. Climb the Krakus Mound:
Perched atop a hill overlooking Krakow, the Krakus Mound offers panoramic views of the cityscape and surrounding countryside, making it a must-visit destination for first-time visitors seeking breathtaking views.
Legend has it that the mound marks the resting place of Krakow’s legendary founder, Krakus, lending it a mystical allure and historical significance.
Whether enjoying a leisurely hike through lush greenery or simply wanting to see the scenery from the mound’s summit, a visit to Krakus Mound provides a memorable opportunity to connect with Krakow’s natural beauty and storied past.
8. Tour the Collegium Maius:
As the oldest building of Jagiellonian University, Collegium Maius offers a fascinating glimpse into Krakow’s academic legacy and intellectual heritage.
For first-time visitors, exploring this historic landmark provides a window into the prestigious university’s illustrious past, with its centuries-old architecture, ornate courtyards, and richly decorated interiors.
Whether admiring the intricacies of Renaissance architecture, attending a scholarly lecture, or simply basking in the ambiance of academia, a visit to Collegium Maius promises an enlightening and enriching experience for visitors of all ages.
9. Sample Polish cuisine:
Krakow’s culinary scene offers a diverse array of traditional Polish dishes and culinary delights waiting to be tried.
From hearty comfort foods like pierogi (dumplings) and żurek (sour rye soup) to mouthwatering treats such as obwarzanek (Krakow’s iconic pretzel) and oscypek (smoked cheese), the city offers an incredible taste of Poland’s rich gastronomic heritage.
Whether dining at cozy taverns, bustling markets, or fine-dining establishments, indulging in Polish cuisine provides a delicious opportunity to immerse yourself in the flavours, aromas, and traditions of Krakow’s culinary landscape.
With its emphasis on fresh, locally sourced ingredients and time-honoured recipes passed down through generations, Krakow’s food scene offers a true feast for the senses, inviting visitors to embark on a culinary journey that celebrates the richness and diversity of Polish culture.
10. Visit Schindler’s Factory Museum:
Housed in the former enamel factory of Oskar Schindler, the Schindler’s Factory Museum offers a poignant and thought-provoking exploration of Krakow’s wartime history and the experiences of its residents during the Nazi occupation.
For first-time visitors, a visit to the museum provides a powerful opportunity to learn about the complex realities of life under oppression and the remarkable acts of courage and resilience that emerged in the face of adversity.
Through immersive exhibitions, historical artefacts, and multimedia installations, the museum offers a deeply moving portrayal of Krakow’s wartime past, shedding light on the stories of those who lived through one of the darkest periods in human history.
Whether tracing the footsteps of Oskar Schindler and the individuals he saved or reflecting on the broader themes of human rights, justice, and remembrance, a visit to Schindler’s Factory Museum offers a sobering yet essential journey into Krakow’s collective memory and the enduring lessons of the Holocaust.
11. Take a day trip to Zakopane:
Nestled amidst the breathtaking scenery of the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane offers a captivating escape from the urban bustle of Krakow, making it an ideal day trip destination for first-time visitors seeking outdoor adventure and natural beauty.
Renowned for its stunning landscapes, Zakopane beckons with picturesque hiking trails, pristine alpine lakes, and panoramic vistas that showcase the splendour of Poland’s mountainous terrain.
Whether embarking on a scenic trek through the Tatra National Park, trying your hand at skiing or snowboarding in the winter months, or simply unwinding amidst the tranquility of nature, a day trip to Zakopane promises an exhilarating and rejuvenating experience for travellers of all interests and abilities.
12. Enjoy Polish folklore at a folk show:
Krakow’s rich cultural heritage comes to life through captivating folk shows that showcase the vibrant traditions, music, and dance of Poland’s diverse regions.
For first-time visitors, attending a Polish folklore performance offers a spirited celebration of the country’s cultural identity and a memorable opportunity to experience the warmth and hospitality of its people.
From lively polkas and traditional folk songs to colourful costumes and energetic performances, these dynamic shows provide an immersive introduction to Poland’s folk traditions and customs, inviting audiences to clap, sing, and dance along with the performers.