Krakow has 1,000 years of history and is the former capital city of Poland. Located in southern Poland, by the Vistula River and 225 miles from Warsaw, Krakow has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. The Historic Center of Krakow still boasts of a 13th-century market square, palaces, and churches.
But there’s more to just the historic sites in Krakow. Krakow is the gateway for visits to Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp, located only 44 miles from the city center. And here are Travelmath’s five things to do in Krakow.
1. Visit Auschwitz
The top selling day tour out of Krakow is the Auschwitz-Birkenau day trip. The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was established by the German Nazi regime, the first, Auschwitz I in Oswiecim in April 1940, Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II in October 1941 when there was a need for more space, and Auschwitz III or Auschwitz-Monowitz in October 1942. Tours are conducted only in Auschwitz I and II.
The day trip takes about seven hours to visit the museum exhibits, watchtowers, railway ramps, gas chambers, barracks and crematoriums at the two camps – Auschwitz 1 in Oświęcim and Auschwitz-Birkenau in Brzezinka. Both within a 5-minute drive away.
This tour will surely leave you speechless and emotional. The original roads, fences, railway ramps and most buildings are well preserved in Auschwitz.
2. Join the Wieliczka Salt Mine tour
A visit to Wieliczka Salt Mine usually takes about two hours, not including traveling times from Krakow. You’ll take 380 steps down and start the tour through tunnels and passages to the underground world established over 700 years ago.
Wieliczka Salt Mine has an underground chapel known as The Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, statues, pictures, chandeliers, staircases, walls and floors – all made of salt.
There are 800 steps to take to the underground world in the entire tour. Fortunately, the only way up is by using the elevators.
3. Explore Kazimierz restaurants and cafés
For the best food in Krakow, head over to Kazimierz. Kazimierz, the Jewish District of Krakow offers an array of restaurants, pubs, and cafés serving traditional Polish dishes, Jewish food, and authentic Krakow and Italian cuisine. There are many to choose from in all price ranges.
Besides food, Kazimierz is rich in history and Jewish heritage. Established in 1495 as a Jewish town by King John Albert, Kazimierz had the largest Jewish community in Europe. Today, visitors can visit the synagogues, namely The Old Synagogue (the oldest in Poland), Remuh Synagogue, Izaak Synagogue, Wolf Popper Synagogue, Kupa Synagogue and High Synagogue.
4. Walk up to Wawel Hill
Wawel plays a significant role in Polish history. Strategically located in the middle of the city, on a limestone hill, the Wawel complexes include the Wawel Cathedral, the Royal Castle, and forts. Wawel was the political and religious center for the Piast Dynasty in the late 10th century. The first cathedral and castle were built in the 11th century.
Visit the Wawel Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral built in the 1300s when wars and fires destroyed the earlier ones. The current 14th-century cathedral has 19 Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque chapels, three steeple towers and five bells. Remember to check out Sigismund Bell on Sigismund Tower and the Sigismund Chapel (Jagiellonian Chapel).
The Royal Wawel Castle’s attractions are the Royal Private Apartments, the Crown Treasury, the Armoury, and the Oriental Art. Also, visit the Dragon’s Den and the John Paul II Cathedral Museum.
5. Explore Old Town
Krakow’s Main Market Square (Rynek Glowny) is the largest medieval market square in Europe since the 1200s. Surrounding the square are the Cloth Hall, Town Hall Tower, Adam Mickiewicz Monument, and St. Adalbert’s Church.
Just a few minutes away is the St. Mary’s Basilica (Mariacki Church), located in Mariacki Square. The cathedral’s masterpiece is the 15th-century Gothic altar by German sculptor, Viet Stoss. It features 200 gilded polychrome figures carved in soft wood. It has scenes of Mary surrounded by the 12 Apostles, the Assumption of Mary surrounded by angels and the Coronation of Mary.
The tower is open from April to the end of October. Tourists can take 239 steps to the top of the tower for a bird’s eye view of the city.
We suggest a stroll along Florianska Street and try out an obwarzanek krakowski – a braided ring-shaped bread from one of the many vendors.
Have you been to Krakow? What were your favorite things to do?