I fell in love with Krakow the moment I walked past the old wall, lit up against the black night sky. I was late arriving to my hostel, but it was too picture perfect to not stop and take a photo. And then a couple more. By the time I finally reached my hostel I had nearly 20 photos, all from a less than ten minute walk. I could only imagine how many more photos I would take with my 3 days in Krakow.
Krakow is a city full of history and legends, stunning architecture and moving memorials. A medieval gem that has a lot to offer its visitors, and will no doubt leave you wishing you had time for more. However for those who, like me, only have a short amount of time, here is how to best spend 3 days in Krakow.
Getting to Krakow
Located in southern Poland, Krakow is located on the Vistula River. It has its own train station and a major bus station located within walking distance of old town. Trains and busses are frequent from neighbouring countries, and for longer distances night-travel is a popular option. Krakow also has its own airport, although it is quite small. City busses are available outside of terminal 1 and tickets can be purchased on board. It takes about 40 minutes or so to get to the city centre stop.
Getting Around Krakow
Krakow is generally a very walkable city, especially the old town and Wawel Hill areas. The Jewish Quarter and Ghetto, however, are farther out. If walking longer distances is a problem, or the weather isn’t co-operating, the city has an excellent tram system where you can purchase your tickets on board. Or, you can take one of the Krakow hop on hop off buses which go to the main areas of interest.
Where to Stay in Krakow
Like most places, I would recommend staying close to Old Town as that is where the majority of sites and restaurants are located. There are plenty of accommodations just outside the city walls that are cheaper than staying within the walls themselves. If you are looking for an affordable hostel I highly recommend Mosquito Hostel– the location is perfect and the staff are absolutely fantastic.
Not a hostel person? Don’t worry, there’s lots of great hotels within Old Town too. Plus, Krakow is a relatively inexpensive travel destination by European standards, so you may even want to splurge a bit. Try the Boneroswski Palace hotel or the Grand Hotel Krakow.
3 Days in Krakow: What To See and Do
St. Mary’s Basilica
St. Mary’s is an impressive cathedral on the edge of the Main Square. One of the most obvious features of this beautiful building is the two towers of differing heights. There are numerous tales surrounding these towers, including the story of two brothers in a contest of who could build the tallest, but in a fit of jealously one killed the other. In one version, the murderous brother commits suicide by throwing himself out the tower, while another version says he went on the build the higher tower of the two. The knife that was used in the murder can be found today hanging in the Cloth Hall.
Another tale of the towers tells of a brave knight who was killed by an arrow as he sounded the trumpet from the highest tower to warn to the people of an invasion. Today the same tune (the Hejnal) is played every hour from all corners of the highest tower.
The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)
Located in the centre of the main square in Old Town, the Cloth Hall is an iconic structure in the city of Krakow. Originally an international trade centre, today the Cloth Hall hosts numerous stalls from which artists and vendors sell their wares. Anything from souvenir t-shirts and shot glasses, to jewelry, to glassware can be found here. Despite its popularity and central location, the prices here are reasonable.
Overlooking Old Town and the Vistula River, Wawel castle is one of the most important historic and culturally significant places in Poland. Today the castle is a national museum, made of up numerous structures surrounding the central courtyard. It houses a variety of significant treasures including the crown jewels, coronation sword, amongst other priceless artifacts. Entrance to the castle grounds is free of charge; however a ticket is needed to enter the museums. A must see while at Wawel castle is the Cathedral, outside of which hang the bones of the Krakow dragon.
The Krakow Dragon
According to legend, the city of Krakow was once plagued by a monstrous dragon. Although that dragon is no longer here today, thanks to the heroic antics of a cobbler’s apprentice, (read the full story here) a statue in acknowledgement of this local tale, and the supposed dragon’s cave, can be found at the base of Wawel Castle by the Vistula River. Be patient when taking pictures, because like any proper dragon this one breathes fire!
Kazimierz (The Jewish Quarter)
One of the more popular areas of Krakow today, Kazimierz is full of traditional restaurants and is a local hotspot for night life. The numerous mosques are a draw for tourists, as is the area itself since it was a major filming location for the movie Schindler’s List. As you walk through the area you will notice that many of the buildings have been restored, but amongst the nicer buildings you will notice a few that look like they still belong in the Nazi occupation times. That’s because no one knows who they belonged to and no one ever came back to claim them, so they stay abandoned; a reminder of the horrors that occurred.
Schindler’s Factory Museum
If you only have time to visit one museum during your stay- this is the one. Schindler’s factory, has been transformed today into a museum where visitors can learn about the Nazi Occupation in Krakow from 1939-1956. You will need a couple of hours to fully appreciate everything the museum has to offer. Admission is free on Mondays but only a certain number are given out so it’s best to go early. The museum is located in the Ghetto, about a 35 minute walk from old town.
Krakow Ghetto Memorial
This incredibly powerful memorial is located by the tram tracks in the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow. Consisting of numerous iron chairs (some of which are sized for children) this monument pays tribute to the thousands of Polish Jews who lost their lives during the Nazi regime. The chairs are meant to represent the luggage and personal belongings that the people were forced to leave behind as they were packed away and sent to concentration camps where the majority of them were murdered. The memorial is made up of 33 steel and cast iron chairs representative of the belongings that the Jews were forced to leave behind
What to Eat and Drink in Krakow
There are probably a couple of things that come to mind when you think of polish food and drink. For me it was pierogis and vodka- and trust me when I tell you I have my fill of both! Pierogis are traditional polish dumplings and come in an assortment of flavours ranging from meat filled to fruit filled, and can be found anywhere serving polish food. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be eating plenty of pierogis during your 3 days in Krakow. They are SO good.
As for the vodka, well it comes in nearly every flavour imaginable! My personal favorites were lime, black current, and as my Polish friends recommended, hazelnut with a drop of milk. My advice is to try as many flavours as you can before falling under the table!
Another popular Polish food (and perfect snack after a vodka-filled evening) is Zapiekanka. Zapiekanka is half a baguette covered with mushrooms and cheese and toasted until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown. Traditionally the Zapiekanka is also served with a generous drizzle of ketchup. Other variations offer different toppings including meat options. Zapiekanka is a street food and commonly found throughout the city, but the most popular place to get one is the food stall in the centre of the Jewish Quarter.
What To Buy in Krakow
Krakow is a great place to pick up some souvenirs the most popular being; silver, amber, and of course, Polish vodka.
Old Town is lined with jewelry vendors, but some of the most reasonably priced items are actually in the Cloth Hall. Stay away from the shops along the road by the main entrance though the wall- this area is the most expensive.
Vodka can be purchased in numerous places throughout the city including grocery stores and specialty vodka shops. For a neat experience head to Szambelan, a shop located on the corner of Bracka and Golebia in Old Town. Here you can sample the different types of vodka then pick a bottle and have them fill it with your choice of vodka right in front of you. They will kindly wrap it in bubble wrap for you if you plan to travel with it.
Popular Day Trips from Krakow
Krakow offers a lot to see and do but it’s also a great base for some fantastic day trips. Even if you only have 3 days in Krakow, you can still fit one in. Here are two of the most popular options.
- Auschwitz/Birkenau Concentration Camps: Probably the most well-known concentration camps in the world, this is a must-see on any visit to Krakow. You can take a tour from Krakow city or you can take a local bus on your own. Visiting the camps, however, must be done as part of a group. It’s a depressing visit, but I’m very glad I went. You can read about my experience here.
- Wielczka Salt Mine: One of the oldest salt mines in the world, the Wielczka salt mine is a popular attraction for tourists because of it’s statues, three chapels, and an entire cathedral carved out of the salt rock. To enter the mine you need to descend nearly 400 steps, then walk about 3km to see the attractions before returning to the surface by elevator. Again, this is an easy half day trip from Krakow.
Three days in Krakow is enough to give you a tast of this beautiul European city with a fascinating history, stunning architecture and great food.
For more interesting and fun Krakow facts be sure to check out this article from the (awesome) Polish travel blogging couple, Karolina and Patryk.