Towering castles, blue skies, and medieval architecture aren’t the only reasons why Krakow is one of the most underrated travel destinations in Central Europe. Hiding deep beneath its enchanting landmarks is a perfect blend of history, arts, and culture. Here, you can be a backpacker, a cultural explorer, a regular weekender, or a mix of all three and more.
A city that keeps on giving, Krakow is now becoming a hot tourist spot for backpackers for reasons bigger than its massive establishments. So if you’re planning to book a trip to this breathtaking Polish city, here are some of the dos, don’ts, and must-see top attractions in Krakow.
What to Expect When You Travel to Krakow
Currency: Polish zloty (zł)
Language: Polish is the main language here, but since the city is now rising as a top European destination, many of its locals–particularly the students and the younger generations–can fluently speak in English.
Transportation: If you plan to get around the Main Market Square, you can easily do so on foot. To explore the outlying areas, you can book a tram or a train ride. Pro tip: download an app where you can see bus and tram routes so you can easily navigate around Krakow. If you plan to visit top attractions in Krakow that are further from the main city, the best way to go is via an inter-city bus.
Time Zone: Central European Standard Time (GMT+1)
Socket: Type C and Type E
Weather: Poland has a continental climate, which means that it experiences the coldest winter months, which fall from December to February. During so, the temperature can drop to -5℃ or less. Winter in this city is dry, windy, and freezing. The summer months, on the other hand, fall from June to August. The temperature during these months ranges from 11℃ to 24℃. It’s generally partly-cloudy on this side of Central Europe almost all-year-round, so it’s wise to pack for the weather.
Best Travel Times: Clearly, the best time to travel to Krakow is during the summer season, when you can stay in its parks and experience most of the city’s festivities. The city is packed during summer, but the weather allows you to engage in a wide range of activities. If traveling in summer isn’t in your cards, choose between May to October. The bottom line: just avoid traveling here in winter and you’re good to go.
Traveling to Krakow on a Budget–Is it Possible?
Krakow has everything in its corners. Classic meets modern in its cobblestone pavements and street art. On its roads, you can spot a mix of cars and horse-drawn wagons that can take your tour to the next level. As if the top attractions in Krakow aren’t enough to draw tourists to the city, you’d also be surprised how inexpensive it is to travel around this beautiful city.
To get it straight, traveling to Krakow on a budget is possible, but the city isn’t dirt cheap. If you’re a backpacker, your travel expenses per day can range between $30 to $40. Spend over $100 per day and you’re already in for a luxurious treat. To give you more travel insights, here’s a breakdown of the typical food and accommodation costs in Krakow:
- Krakow Hotels and Hostels: Traveling to Krakow on a budget starts with looking past the five-star Krakow hotels on your list. Depending on which part of the city you decide to stay in, Krakow budget hostels can go as low as $12 to $15 per night. Luxury Krakow hotels, on the other hand, can offer rates at around $80 per night (or more).
- Food: Backpackers in Krakow have one go-to food station in the city: Milk Bars. These are cafeteria-style food hubs that can offer a decent meal for only $6. You can also grab bagels, zapiekanka, or kielbasa on some of Krakow’s street food lanes. But if you want to experience dining in mid to high-end Polish restaurants, prepare to spend around $10 and up per meal.
Money-Saving Tips When in Krakow
Food and Drinks: Traveling to Krakow on a budget shouldn’t be a challenge considering that food and accommodation here are generally cheap. But if you’re a heavy drinker (or a party-goer), your expenses per day can significantly balloon. So before hitting its local pubs, make sure to load up on food and drinks that you can easily grab at one of its convenience stores.
Transportation: Equally-important in traveling to Krakow on a budget is cutting on transport costs. If you plan to visit all the top attractions in Krakow, investing in a KrakowCard is a wise move. For only about $35, this travel pass gets you access to around 40 sites for a three-day vacation. Alternatively, you can get a two-day pass for $30 and travel freestyle on some of your remaining days.
If you need to take a taxi for some of your trips, it’s best to book a cab via Uber since their rates are quite cheaper than local cabs. You can also download ride-sharing apps that help you travel around the city with ease and cost-efficiency.
With street food, diverse transportation options, and free walking tours on some of its main attractions, traveling to Krakow on a budget is not a difficult feat. Plan ahead, book your tickets in advance, and you can fully explore this electrifying city without breaking the bank.
Where to Stay in Krakow
Unlike many European countries, enjoying an overnight stay in the heart of Krakow isn’t impossible, budget-wise. The Old Town, which bridges you to the top attractions in Krakow, is home to affordable shared apartments and hostels. Even better, many mid-range Krakow hotels here also offer amazing deals.
Want to stay away from the crowd? Choose hostels that are just a 15-minute walk away from Old Town so you won’t have to spend too much time traveling. Kazimierz is a great spot to start hostel hunting. Popularly known as the city’s historic Jewish quarter, Kazimierz has diverse accommodation types in its alleys. Here, you can find vintage shops, galleries, and bars, so you won’t run out of activities if you want to extend your night stroll.
Top Attractions in Krakow
More than scoring amazing deals, what draws tourists to Krakow is its cultural and architectural landmarks. Look anywhere and you’ll find different discoveries. Here are some of the must-see top attractions in Krakow:
The Old Town (Stare Miasto)
The Old Town, or Stare Miasto, as locals call it, is the center of Krakow’s activities. Packed with tourists during peak season, the Old Town is anything but monotonous. Quaint antique shops and delish Polish restaurants give this side of Poland a straight-out-of-a-fairytale vibe. Its electrifying energy and rich history can give every traveler a unique sense of adventure. It’s hard to skip on some of its sites, but if you had to choose, below are some of the landmarks you shouldn’t miss out on:
Wawel Royal Castle
Opening hours: 9.30 AM – 5 PM (all days except Monday); 9.30 AM to 1 PM – Monday
Location: Wawel 5, 31-001 Kraków, Poland
Wawel Royal Castle, the world’s first-ever UNESCO Heritage site, is one of Old Town’s major highlights. Perched on a hilltop when it was built in the 11th century, this once Gothic-style castle has seen many transformations. After centuries of remodeling, it now embodies a perfect mix of Gothic, Early Baroque, Romanesque, and Renaissance-style architecture that greatly reflect the past. A wonderland for architecture enthusiasts, the Wawel Royal Castle effortlessly puts Poland’s rich history at the pedestal.
There are many interesting points within the castle’s massive complex. Note that admission rates vary depending on the part of the castle you wish to visit, and operating hours are not the same for all areas. But generally, the castle is open from 9.30 AM. If you want to explore most of Wawel Royal Castle, start your tour early to make sure you’d get access to its top highlights.
St. Mary’s Basilica
Opening hours: 11.30 AM to 6 PM, except on special days
Location: plac Mariacki 5, 31-042 Kraków, Poland
Myths, legends, and history have never been so neatly embroidered until you see St. Mary’s Basilica. Standing tall at the Old Town’s Main Square, this brick Gothic-style basilica is a vision of perfection. Its heavily-ornamented interior is rare to see even in other famous European cathedrals. Painted, tiled, frescoed, draped–name it and its altar probably has every type of embellishment there is.
But aside from feasting on its glorious beauty, the most unforgettable part of visiting St. Mary’s Basilica is “hejnal mariacki,” a five-note melody played by a lone trumpeter on the church tower every hour. You can also get spectacular views of Krakow and the Old Town if you climb atop one of its towers.
Pro tip: attend a mass to get a glimpse of the immaculate 15th-century-old polyptych altar and stained glass windows. Its Sunday mass starts at 8 am, and it usually runs by the hour.
Sukiennice (The Cloth Hall)
Opening hours: 10 AM to 12.30 PM; 2 PM to 4.30 PM (closed on Mondays)
Location: Rynek Główny 1/3, 31-042 Kraków, Poland
Be it arts or history, Sukiennice, also called Krakow Cloth Hall, was formerly the main trade center of Krakow. Built back in the mid-13th century, this architectural landmark was a host of exported and imported goods back when Krakow was still Poland’s capital city. Some historians consider Sukiennice as the oldest shopping center in the world.
At the turn of every century, Sukiennice’s architecture evolved along with its purpose. Today, it is now a haven for art enthusiasts who are looking for 19th-century Polish scriptures, paintings, and artworks. One look at its exteriors and you’d see a subtle touch of Romanesque, Rococo, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture beaming on its corners. A glorious representation of the past, Sukiennice is one of the most impressive buildings in Poland.
Opening hours: 10 AM to 5 PM
Location: Basztowa, 30-547 Kraków, Poland
The royal outpost often portrayed in fairy tales extends beyond the movie screen–and in this case, it’s in Old Town. Barbican, which was built as a fortified outpost back in the 15th century, is not just a witness to Polish history. It is a huge part of it.
This Gothic-style, seven-spiked turret architecture served as a defensive barrier to Krakow’s gateway. It has 130 slots that were used by riflemen and archers to protect Krakow against intruders in the early centuries. Today, it is one of the three remaining fortified outposts in Europe, and it is also the most well-preserved–all the more reasons to take a quick trip to this historical structure.
Museum of Krakow
Opening hours: Monday – 10 AM to 2 PM; Tuesday to Sunday – 9 AM to 6 PM (closed every 1st Tuesday of the month)
With a rich Polish history that dates back to the 10th century, Krakow is one of the few European cities that have not just survived WWII. It also managed to maintain most of its century-old character, explaining why many of the top attractions in Krakow lie in its museums. From kid-friendly establishments to homes of cultural jewels, Krakow proudly boasts its history in these enchanting art galleries.
And when it boils down to a complete historical and cultural adventure, it’s hard to top the Museum of Krakow, which was built in the late 19th century. A paradise for art connoisseurs and history enthusiasts, this museum houses a mix of old and contemporary artworks from renowned artists. Serving as the city’s center of knowledge, the Museum of Krakow is a cultural heirloom that allows you to immerse into Poland’s history.
St. Florian’s Gate
Opening hours: 8 AM to 6 PM (closed on Sundays)
Location: 30-001 Kraków, Poland
A royal gate that once welcomed kings after their victorious battles, the Florian Gate, also called the Gate of Glory, was built along Krakow’s defensive walls back in 1300. It is linked to the Barbican and it was used as a defense ground for enemies coming from the north. As the name suggests, the Florian’s Gate was constructed as an entryway to the city.
But aside from being an integral part of the city’s defensive walls, the Florian Gate also served a variety of purposes. Bearing witness to funerals and royal coronations, the gate’s bricked walls continue to be one of Krakow’s strong symbolism. Although the tower has seen transformations, it retained much of its former structure, making it an important historical piece.
If you’re visiting Barbican, you can easily spot St. Florian’s Gate’s tower from afar since they are connected. Don’t forget to walk past the gate’s arch to find century-old architecture and works of art. You may also view beautiful churches as you explore this side of Krakow.
Location: 31-041 Kraków, Poland
Taking day-long tours can be quite overwhelming, so don’t forget to pause, breathe, and take a walk at Planty Park. Once a moat surrounding Krakow’s walls in the early century, this four-kilometer land has been transformed into a picturesque park. You can also spot top local restaurants and stalls that offer delish Polish cuisine here, making it a great spot to eat and people watch.
Old Town’s overflowing architecture, arts, and history are already enthralling, to say the least. But the beauty of Krakow doesn’t stop there. Whether you’re traveling to Krakow on a budget or you want to go all out on the shopping and the night scene, Kazimierz won’t disappoint. A more laid back corner of Krakow, this little town has everything for all types of traveler, and here’s why:
Vintage Market at Plac Nowy
The go-to of antique and coffee lovers, Plac Nowy is an artistic corner filled with craft and vintage shops. It was first inaugurated as a commercial hub back in the ‘90s, and it hasn’t changed since then. Visit its market over the weekend and you’d be able to catch fresh finds from local farmers. It’s also nice to just grab a latte and people-watch while you take a shopping break in this quaint little side of Kazimierz.
Taking a short stroll down the Vistula River banks is a complete daydream. Here, you’ll see the peaceful river that connects the southern and western part of Kazimierz. Plus, you also get to view Wawel Castle from afar as you grab a pint of Al Fresco beer. The boat bars are a romantic spot during summer. Come winter, this spectacular view is replaced by a magnificent display of icy lawns–which, to us, is still equally-beautiful.
Polish Food Hubs on Every Corner
From street food to fine dining to beer lounges, Kazimierz has everything that can satisfy your cravings. Take a quick bite of zapiekanka (Polish baguette sandwich) at New Square, grab a delectable middle-eastern dish at Hamsa Hummus & Happiness, and try out Polish brews and Czech beers at Alchemia–a visit to these stations can cap off your week-long trip. These, along with other top-rated local restaurants and bars in the town, can make your trip extra memorable.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Opening hours: 8 AM to 5 PM
It’s not every day that you see historic chapels, labyrinthine passageways, and statues in a salt mine. So if you’re in Krakow, make sure to hop on a bus to Wieliczka, which is just around 15 km away from Old Town.
Wieliczka’s salt mine tunnel is more than 300-meter-deep under the ground, making it an attractive site for thrill-seekers and history enthusiasts. Aside from rock salt carvings made by early miners, the tunnel also houses a salt lake, along with sculptures made by modern artists.
The tours typically run from two to three hours, so it’s best that you start your day early. The view of the church inside the mine is so stunning that you won’t even notice that you’re touring underground!
Opening hours: 9.30 AM to 4 PM
If you don’t mind a bit of hiking and you love taking pictures, a visit to Kościuszko Mound will complete your Polish trip. An artificial burial mound at the top of Bronisława Hill, this important landmark was built to commemorate Tadeusz Kościuszko, a great Polish national leader and a legendary freedom-fighter.
Climbing all the way to the peak is not for the faint of heart. But the reward is priceless: a scenic panoramic view of Krakow. You can also find a chapel, a restaurant, a cafe, and a Neo-Gothic chapel here. But if you don’t have the time (and the energy) to spare, you can skip Kościuszko and visit Krakus mound, which is closer to Old Town.
Travel Etiquette: What You Need to Know When Traveling to Krakow
- Drinking in Public is Prohibited: Poland implements strict rules and regulations on public drinking. While it may seem normal (and tempting) to drink on its parks, take your vodka at home. Or better yet, experience Krakow’s amazing bars. By doing so, you’ll get twice the fun without violating any of the country’s laws.
Also, in case you rented a car, don’t even think about drinking and driving. The Polish police can ask you to pull over even when you’re not violating any road rules. Once you fail the breathalyzer exam, you’ll spend a night in prison.
- Tipping Etiquette: Just like in other countries, tipping in Poland is not mandatory, but it is appreciated. When paying your bill, saying “thank you” is as good as saying “keep the change”. So make sure you already got your change before tipping (in case you will).
Overall, Krakow is a conservative Polish city that is rich in history, culture, and character. Respect its customs, travel with the right mindset, and you’d surely see why Krakow isn’t just love at first sight–it’s love even at the 100th sight.