A city full of hope, love, and life, Krakow is a peaceful break from the busy life that we are often used to in our daily lives. From its initial establishment in the 1300s, Krakow contains a very complex and powerful history that is worth your time to explore and understand. Every corner of the city holds historic significance from the times of the kings of Poland to the Nazi regime to today's modern culture. It is also a beautiful, small and underrated city, making it a perfect weekend getaway for travelers of all ages.
Here's my ultimate guide to exploring Krakow in 2 days.
In Poland, they use the polish Zloty (zt). At the time, the exchange rate was approximately 4 zt to 0.90 euro or $1.00 USD.
When exchanging money, I don't recommend exchanging in the airport or in the Old City. Your money will go further here and you can get around very easily only using your credit card. But, should you need some cash, I recommend exchanging in the Jewish Quarter. I found the best rates on smaller streets that were not always packed with tourists.
Navigating the City
Getting around Krakow is relatively easy. You can easily explore Krakow in 1 day, but I recommend an extra day so that you don't rush anything and take in the beautiful city during the day and at night. But, if you want to make a long weekend out of it, by all means, go for it!
From the Airport - If you are flying into Krakow, I recommend taking Bus# 208. It leaves the airport every hour, 20 minutes past the hour. It cost me 4 zt for a 45-minute bus ride (depending on traffic). This is super cheap if you have the flexibility in your itinerary to travel by bus. (Because I flew in from Copenhagen, I had to double-check the exchange rate twice because I couldn't believe how cheap everything was in Krakow compared to Copenhagen!)
Walking - In my opinion, the best way to explore the city is on foot. The Old Town has limited access for cars and is mostly a pedestrian zone. Thankfully, the town is not very large so you can cross end to end in approximately 35 minutes.
Every day, there are free walking tours that will take you through the Old City. I highly recommend you take advantage and pick up a morning tour between 10 and 11 am at the Barbakan (the historic gateway to the Old City). Plus, this is a great way to meet people! And if you don't want a tour and you just want to wander, go for it! I am all about getting lost and finding those hidden gems that only the locals know about!
Carriage Ride - For an extra cost, you can also tour the Old Town by a horse-drawn carriage. The carriages will take you throughout the main areas of the city and the coach drivers will provide you with the history of the city and fun facts about Polish food and traditions.
Train, Bus & Tram - There are numerous routes that service the greater Krakow area should you want to escape the city for a little bit. The main transportation center - Glowny Railway Station - is less than a 5-minute walk from the Old Town. It is connected to a huge shopping center and provides train, bus, and tram access to travel around Krakow, Poland, and Europe.
Car hire - Uber or the European version, Bolt, are great ways to get around the city quick. They are not as cheap as the bus or tram but will definitely beat the taxi prices. These car hire companies offer great convenience when you need to get somewhere quick or to get to the airport in comfort.
Where You Should Stay
Staying inside of the Old Town will obviously be more expensive because of location and there are only a handful of hotels actually located within the Old Town. However, there are many great hotels and hostels located outside of the center with better access to transportation and centrally located between both the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter.
While visiting Krakow, I stayed at Shishkin Art Hostel. It was a quaint hostel with a beautiful view of the city and natural areas. What was even better was its location in the city. It was a 5-minute walk to both the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter, and about a 10-minute walk to the central station. I could easily access the city and explore as much as I wanted, and when I wanted to take a nap from all my walking, my hostel was not too far away. It was great!
Should you want an extended stay in Krakow, I recommend booking your stay using Airbnb. This will allow you to get to know the locals and also give you access to a kitchen and other amenities.
Booking My Accommodations - I love finding deals on places to stay while I travel. Here are my two favorite sites that have never steered me wrong and continue to find me affordable and great places to stay!
Agoda - Agoda is hands-down my favorite app to use when booking my hostel stays. I have yet to find a site that beats their prices and provides cashback and discounts after accumulating. If you are looking for the next place to stay, try this app!
Airbnb - Airbnb is a great site to find local rooms and houses to meet the locals and gives you access to more amenities than a hotel or hostel offers. Looking to book your first Airbnb stay?? Use this link to save up to $40 on your stay
Things To Do - Attractions and Experiences
I have mentioned the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter quite a lot already in this post, but I have not told you what is in the city worth seeing (There's quite a bit!). So, without further ado, here's what you should do and see in Krakow!
Barbakan - This fortified structure used to be the gateway to the Old City. Krakow was a medieval city built in the 13th century and was once the capital city of Poland. And at the northern tip of the city stood this outpost that protected the city from invasion. Once upon a time, it was connected with the city walls and surrounded by a moat to prevent intruders and protect the people. Today, the Barbakan is one of the most well-preserved outposts across Europe. The Barbakan is also used for special events and is used as an outdoor museum for visitors to learn about the history of this medieval fortification.
The Main Square - Europe's biggest market square is not one to be missed, and it's actually very hard to miss it when exploring the Old City. You will find many stalls and carts selling flowers and trinkets, the streets are lined with horse-drawn carriages, and numerous cafes offering cold drinks, coffee, and light snacks. It's a great place to stop, take in the view, and even go people-watching.
St. May's Basilica - On the northeast side of the main square, it is hard to miss St. Mary's Basilica. Every hour on the hour, a trumpeter passes through each window in the towers and plays a song but cuts off after the 4th repetition. Why? This song commemorates the trumpeter who alarmed the people that the Mongols were invading the city in the 13th century. Unfortunately, his signal was cut short when the Mongols shot an arrow into his throat. This commemoration is a favorite among the locals and travelers.
Sukiennice or Cloth Hall - Just across the square from St. Mary's Basilica, stands the covered market. Within the complex, you will also find a museum and the Town Hall Tower, the remnants of Krakow's town hall. The market is beautiful to walk through any time of the day and in the evening.
Wawel Royal Castle & Cathedral - You can step through time and walk through the Castle to experience what life was like back in the 1300s. Legend has it that a young prince defeated the dragon and built the castle on top of the dragon's lair. To this day, there are still "dragon" bones outside of the entrance of the castle and cathedral to ward off evil.
Inside the Cathedral, you will find the alters where the kings of Poland were crowned. It is also where many of the kings of the Polish State are buried, including Wladyslaw I the Elbow-High, named so because of his unusually short height. Admission to admire the paintings, windows and alters is free. However, if you would like to visit the Royal Tombs and museum it will cost you 12 zt pp.
Kazimierz or the Jewish Quarter - Now, if you walk about 10-15 minutes southeast of the Old Town, you will run into the Jewish Quarter. This district is filled with so much history and life, in my opinion, even more so than the Old Town. It sits along the Wisla river and is a popular place for daytime and evening activities.
Before WWII, Kazimierz was a predominantly Jewish district where many Jewish people work and lived. Unfortunately, when the Old Town was taken over by the Nazi regime and became the capital of the German Central Government, over 90% of the Jewish people were displaced or deported to concentration camps.
During a time of fear and hate, there was still hope because of Oskar Schindler and his enamelware factory. The museum was unfortunately closed when I was exploring the city, but it is one more reason for me to return!
Where To Eat
Krakow is a great place to try Polish cuisine and to try something new. Every restaurant and cafe has something different to offer. Here are my favorite spots that you shouldn't miss!!
Dining - Finding cheap food in Krakow is not hard to do, and once you leave the Old Town, food is even cheaper. You can enjoy a €2 breakfast at Glonojad like I did or enjoy a €4 dinner at the food truck street market. Your choices for food are endless and they don't come with a big price tag.
Ice Cream - Ice cream is definitely one of my guilty pleasures that I always treat myself to when traveling. It is a tradition for me to have ice cream in every country I visit. Sometimes I treat myself and have one ice cream a day and try new flavors each time.
In Krakow Old Town, you can easily find at least two ice cream shops on every street. It is a great way to beat the heat and a very refreshing snack.
Beer - The pubs are just as abundant as the ice cream shops, if not more so. Travelers and locals alike enjoy going out for a pint and chatting with friends. A great place to find cheap beers in Herring Embassy. I highly recommend them for their €1.50 pints.
Have you been to Krakow?? Tell me your thoughts and stories about your experiences in this beautiful city below!
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