How to spend one day in Krakow, Poland
One day itinerary for Krakow
History, heaps of culture, good food and a warm, friendly atmosphere; a day in Krakow promises all this and more! The city is set on the shimmering Vistula river (Poland’s largest) with the main sites located inside its medieval boundaries in a rough circle shape.
1. Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter is a quaint muddle of historic buildings, cobbled streets, cafes and shops. I followed my own route through it all, but there are daily walking tours if you want to learn more about the area’s history and some of its notable residents (Roman Polanski being one).
I planned on starting a little south of the Jewish Quarter at one of Krakow’s most famous museums, Oscar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, whose story is told in Oscar-winning Schindler’s List. I hadn’t realised at the time, but tickets are free every Monday on a first come first served basis. Having over done it on the snooze button, I arrived at around 10.30am and just missed out on the last ticket.
Plan B was to stop off at the Eagle Pharmacy on Pl. Bohaterów Getta square, which also has free entry on Mondays. The pharmacy is on the site of a former Jewish ghetto and provided life-saving medical care for its residents during WW2. Carefully restored to its original state, the building is now a tiny, interactive museum with touching human stories. The square itself has the Empty Chair Memorial; 80 chairs to represent those lost. As you can imagine, a poignant and moving atmosphere.
2. Wawal Castle
A walk North of the Jewish Quarter takes you to one of Krakow’s landmark sites: Wawal Royal Castle. Here you’ll find a whole complex of municipal buildings and fortes, formed into an almost Disney-like fairy tale of turrets and balconies. After the short, steep walk up to the castle, I was rewarded with great views of the river and across the city. I checked out the stately-home style State Rooms but, time permitting, there are other exhibitions to see as well. Or, you can just take in the incredible view from the grounds outside.
3. Old Town and Market Square
Next stop was the Old Town, home to some of Krakow’s most picturesque and beautiful architecture. At its heart is the Market Square, home to the grand Cloth Hall and ornate towers of St Mary’s Basilica (unsurprisingly these feature heavily on postcards!). The Square bustles with market vendors, tourists and horse and carriages. Come summer, I’m told the bars spill over with people (and stag dos) from day to night. In and around the Square are the city’s main shopping streets, so plenty of opportunities for wandering. I loved the little market inside Cloth Hall packed with handicrafts, souvenirs and trinkets.
4. Check out an art gallery
One thing I hadn’t anticipated before coming to Krakow was its buzzy modern art scene. After a quick Google I’d found about four or five galleries. I ended up checking out the nearest, Bunkier Sztuki; a concrete-fronted, edgy art space showcasing local artists. Otherwise, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAK) looked great but was closed on Mondays – next time!
5. Pierogi and vodka
After a day of sightseeing in Krakow, it’s time to fill up on some local food. You can’t go past a plate of a Polish classic, Pierogi. These are steaming, glutenous potato dumplings, typically with a meat or cheese filling. They’re cheap, warming and hearty – perfect after a day out in the cold.
Of course, my trip wouldn’t have been complete without sampling some vodka! I got my fix at a tasting experience with Taste Vodka (tastevodka.pl). The city is proud of its vodka-making tradition; in between sampling 7 varieties (gulp) I learned about the long history and origins of Poland’s most famous export. Even if you’re not a drinker, it’s worth checking out one of the many vodka bars in the Old Town, where there really is a flavour for everyone – like grapefruit and even horseradish, available at Wodka bar.
Where to eat in Krakow
Krakow has plenty of food options and the (seriously) cheap prices mean no holding back on courses and sides.
I had a couple of days in Krakow and both started out with breakfast at much celebrated Charlotte’s. This is a Parisian-style, artesian café whose homemade breads, pastries and white chocolate spread have put it on the map. Lofty ceilings and lovely big sharing tables make it a good option for groups.
For coffee, I headed to Singer in the hip Kazimierz district of the Jewish Quarter. Named after the iconic sewing machine, and in a former sewing factory, this café-come-bar has a kitsch, vintage interior complete with Singers on the tables. I heard it’s good for cocktails by night.
My dinner (Pierogi) in the Old Town was at a cosy wood-clad, rustic restaurant: W Starej Kuchni. For any foodies reading, I think you can also find some bargain Michelin starred restaurants in Krakow.
After dinner, I ventured away from the vodka bars to Re. Klub, an indie cellar bar with one of its wall carved from a rock face. The entrance is through a big tree-lined walled garden – perfect for summer! For a cocktail back in the Jewish Quarter, I’d seriously recommend the dark and brooding Sababa attic bar – think black walls, concrete features and low velvet seating – it reminded me of a New York speakeasy!
Transport in Krakow
As the main sites to see in Krakow city are in a fairly compact area, I found that it was easy to see everything on foot. There are also local trams and buses (though as I didn’t take these, I’m not sure how convenient they are). I used Uber when I needed to save time getting from one side of town to the other, and a local taxi from the airport.
How much I spent in a day in Krakow
Ghetto Museum: free (normally £3)
Entry to Wawal castle + souvenirs: £6
Vodka tasting: £21
Dinner + drinks: £12
One day total: £48
Make a weekend of it
On day two I headed to explore Krakow’s very own, 700-year old salt mine, a UNESCO world heritage site. I did the two-hour English speaking tour which sees you wind down 60 flights of wooden stairs (to 135m at the deepest point). You head through a series of chambers, each with their own story of the mine’s long history. There’s even a fully functioning underground chapel carved into the salt (and if you can’t wait for the gift shop you can taste a bit straight from the walls!).
The tour may not be for everyone: while it is a bit different, it takes a long time to get through it and the chambers are very similar. I’d also avoid the Salt Mines if you’re claustrophobic or not keen on rickety-lifts, the only way out! I took a taxi to the Salt Mine, which takes about 20 minutes. There is a ticket office and coffee kiosk at the sight and lots of tour times available.
Of course, one of the other key day trips from Krakow is Auschwitz. For me, it wasn’t for this trip when time was limited (and it didn’t feel right to rush there and back) but there are a range of tours if you did want to make it part of your time in Krakow.
How much I spent in a weekend in Krakow
Day one: £48
Accommodation (Airbnb, 6 sharing): £45
Salt mine tour: £14
Entry to gallery + postcard: £3
Airport transfers: £12
Weekend total: £132
My trip highlights
On a previous trip to Poland (Warsaw), I found it to be quite bleak and gritty. I’m glad I gave the country a second chance! The arty and cosmopolitan side of Krakow genuinely surprised me. For the price, it’s a great way to get a history and culture fix with delicious food and fun independent night spots.
A particular plus was that every area of the city had a cosy andor cool pit stop to warm up and refuel – particularly the hip Kazimierz district. If I had more time I would have checked out some of the Middle Eastern influenced restaurants and cafes there.
I was in Krakow at the end of January, and stayed to the North, about a ten minute walk from the main square. The daytime temperature ranged from -2C to 6C, so layers were essential! If you’re visiting in Winter as well, I would definitely recommend a neck buff, as the wind can get up.
The combination of varied culture, architecture, cheap eats and ease of getting around make Karkow a great all-rounder for a weekend break.