Krakow is Poland’s second city and, in my opinion, a very underrated city break destination. It has a lengthy and interesting history which dates back to King Krakus who slayed a dragon on the hill overlooking the town. However, in more recent history, Krakow’s Jewish population bore the brunt of the atrocities, alongside their neighbours in other polish cities, during the second world war.
Today, old town buildings stand next to bright, modern townhouses. Centuries-old buildings now house some of the newest names on the high street, and in the centre of it all stands Europe’s biggest medieval square.
There is so much to do, both within Krakow and in the surrounding towns, that, to see it all you would need a lot longer than a mere 72 hours. However, if you’re short on time, here is the ultimate itinerary for you:
Today you should start your day with a walking tour which will take you through the old town, through Wawel, and to the Jewish Quarter.
After taking advantage of your accommodation’s coffee/breakfast – or stopping at one of Krakow’s many bakeries – head on down to Florian’s Gate where most of the tours will start. Walking tours are a great way to get your bearings in a new city and are good for deciding where to spend some extra time. On this walking tour you will also learn a lot about Krakow’s interesting and abundant history. You will be in awe of the many churches and overcome with sadness when you learn about the history of the town’s Jewish residents.
A typical walking tour takes around 2 -3 hours so you’ll be hungry after all that walking. Head to Vegab for a huge vegan kebab and chips to fuel you for the rest of the day.
In the afternoon, why not head back to the Jewish quarter and into Schindler’s Factory? Make sure you have booked tickets in advance as tickets for the permanent exhibitions sell out fast.
If museums aren’t your thing why not spend the afternoon exploring Wawel castle and cathedral (as long as it’s not a Monday as they are closed on Mondays). You can enter the main part of the cathedral without a ticket – just make sure you are dressed appropriately. If you wish to see Sigismund Bell, The Royal Tombs or enter the Cathedral museum, you have to buy individual tickets for each one. After the cathedral, head left outside of the exit towards the castle courtyard and admire the architecture. Within the castle you can buy tickets to see the State Rooms, The Royal Apartments, The Crown Treasury and Armoury, Oriental Art and an exhibition on Lost Wawel. You have to purchase a ticket for each section and, currently, you can’t buy a ticket which includes all areas. There are seasonal exhibitions such as Dragon’s Den, The Tower and The Gardens, but these are only open during Spring/Summer.
After seeing the exhibitions make sure you take a stroll around the outside of the castle and admire the views. Don’t forget to head down towards the river and see the fire-breathing dragon!
Tonight it’s time to sample the nightlife and try traditional Polish food.
Your second day in Krakow is starting early for a trip to Auschwitz. You can do a self-guided tour to Auschwitz but I would recommend doing a tour. By doing a tour you get a knowledgeable guide who will tell you what you’re looking at in the museum and give you more harrowing facts that you haven’t learned at school. Not only that but, Auschwitz (or the village of Oswiecim) is around an hour and a half drive from Krakow, so a tour conveniently picks you up from outside your hotel and drops you off again, and shows you an introductory video onboard the bus which gives information on Auschwitz, the war and the holocaust. Trains are cheap but Auschwitz itself is about a 30 minute walk from Oswiecim train station. Tours will have to be booked in advance (but I booked mine the night before at my hostel reception).
Auschwitz 1 has been turned into a museum, with some of the old barracks now housing old documents and artefacts left behind. It doesn’t quite have the sombre atmosphere that I was expecting and feels quite touristy in a way. That being said there are some sections which nearly moved me to tears – especially the rooms housing clothes taken from child prisoners and a room full of two tonnes of human hair. Our guide also told us of some of the horrific things they did to the prisoners which left me in disbelief. Birkenau, or Auschwitz 2, was left pretty much as it was. We went into an old gas chamber and barracks and walked down the track to the memorial at the back, before heading back to the entrance and getting back on the bus.
There are some tours which do Auschwitz and the Salt Mines in one day but I’ve read many reviews from people saying this is too much. However, as three days is quite a short amount of time you may wish to do this.
Tonight you may find you would like a quieter night to help you process the day you’ve just had.
Start today with a bracing walking up Krakus Mound. It sits about a 30 minute walk away from the main square, not far from Schindler’s factory, and gives you a serious cardio workout. One of the ‘mysterious mounds of Krakow’, it is said to be the resting place of King Krakus (hence the name). The views at the top are stunning, and would be even more phenomenal at sunrise or sunset.
After your morning walk, head on back to the old town and explore the many churches. St Peter and St Paul’s church is lovely inside and free to enter. Make sure you head on down to the Pantheon via the steps near the alter. On certain nights the church becomes a concert hall. St Mary’s Basilica on the square is also a must-do. Entry costs 10 Zloty and is bought from the ticket office opposite the entrance. The roof is spectacular and the décor is one of the loveliest I’ve ever seen in a religious building (and that’s saying something!).
As you will have done a lot of walking over the last couple of days, it’s time to have a chilled out afternoon. Why not head to one of Krakow’s many bars and have a vodka (or two) or a local beer? There are also many coffees in which to wile away the hours and people watch on the square. Krakow is also great for shopping as it has an abundance of high street stores and independent boutiques. Just outside of the train station is Galeria Krakowska which is a huge shopping centre described as a ‘shopper’s paradise’.
As it’s your final night in this wonderful city, it’s only right that you treat yourself to a nice meal to mark the end of your trip. Head to one of the many restaurants on the main square and take advantage of their heated gardens.
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