With charming pastel-colored buildings, medieval churches, historic universities, enthralling castles, and the world’s first UNESCO site, Krakow is a fascinating city to visit. Here’s how to experience the best of Krakow in 48 hours.
Explore Krakow’s Old Town
Krakow is a very walkable city making it relatively easy to explore the main Krakow attractions in a day.
Start by Market Square and stroll down the surrounding cobbled streets to admire the area’s architectural gems. Marvel at sky high St. Mary’s Basilica, built in the 14th century and dominating the Old Town skyline with its Gothic spires. One of the best examples of Polish Gothic architecture, the Basilica is most known for its wooden art and monumental polychrome murals, so be sure to wander around inside.
Wait until the clock strikes a full hour to hear a trumpet signal played from the top of its towers to honor a 13th-century trumpeter shot in the throat for alarming the city before a Mongol invasion.
If you dare to walk up around 300 steep steps, the viewing platform of the Basilica is open from spring to autumn, offering sweeping views of Krakow’s historic center.
Then, make sure to visit the hidden museum below Market Square, Rynek Underground, to learn more about Krakow’s 700-year history and forgotten medieval market stalls. `
Devour Polish cuisine for Lunch
Morskie Oko, located only around 5 minutes walk from the Market Square, is a great lunch spot to try steaming plates of traditional dumplings, pierogi; smoky blood sausages fried on a charcoal grill, sheep’s cheese from the Tatra mountains, or robust Zurek (sour rye) soup.
Enjoy a walk through Planty Park
Encircling the Old Town, Platy Park is one of the largest city parks spread out where the Medieval city walls stood until the early 19th century. This 4-kilometer long park comprises thirty smaller gardens designed in different styles featuring a handful of fountains and monuments. It is a scenic walkway for locals and foreigners during warm sunny days.
Climb up to the mighty Wawel Royal Castle
Nestled on top of the Wawel Hill overlooking the city, Wawel Royal Castle is a castle residency constructed by King Casimir III the Great. The castle features several structures from different eras surrounding an Italian-style courtyard. It is easily accessible through Planty Park.
It’s not only one of the largest castles in Poland, Wawel also showcases almost all European architectural styles from medieval to renaissance and even baroque.
The castle complex is also home to Wawel Cathedral, where Polish monarchs used to be crowned; it also served as their burial site.
The art museum on the castle grounds includes ten departments where you can visit various significant collections, including paintings, sculptures, prints, textiles, armory, goldsmith works, ceramics, and Meissen porcelain, to name a few.
Stroll down the Jewish Quarter
From Wawel Royal Castle, continue your way towards Kazimierz. Once an independent city for 500 years, Kazimierz is now one of Krakow’s trendiest neighborhoods.
Kazimierz was where Jewish and Polish culture harmoniously coexisted for thousands of years. However, during the Second World War, the Jews of Krakow were forced to relocate from here to Krakow Ghetto, set across the river in the Podgorze neighborhood.
Despite its brutal past, over the last decades Kazimierz has emerged as one of the popular tourist destinations in Krakow with its charming cafes, funky bars, and local restaurants.
Visit Schindler’s Factory
The Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory is one of the must-visit Krakow attractions. Today, the former enamel factory is home to two museums–the Museum of Contemporary Art and a branch of the Historical Museum, showcasing the Nazi Occupation 1939-1945. It tells the fascinating story of how one person has saved almost a thousand Jews during the Second World War.
The exhibition also presents how Nazis came to the city and disturbed the centuries-long relationship between Poles and jews.
Dine at Soviet cafeteria
Bar Mleczny, or Milk Bars, is a local cafeteria and a relic of Poland’s Communist times. These cafeterias served government-subsidized Polish cuisine at the lowest prices back in the day. And even after so many years, some of them still operate, serving hearty local traditional meals at the best prices.
Milkbar Tomasza is a mixture of quirky and cool, offering all-day breakfast, Polish dumplings, traditional pancakes, main courses, and salads.
Make a Day Trip
The geographical location of Krakow enables you to take day trips to various historical or cultural sights. However, the most popular day trips from Krakow is either Wieliczka Salt Mine or Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.
Located around 2 hours drive from Krakow, the first Nazi camp was set in the quiet town of Oswiecim and later extended to the nearby village of Brzezinka, now known for its German name of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Visiting a concentration camp, especially Auschwitz-Birkenau, is not for the faint-hearted, but it is worth the walk through one of the most tragic and cruel places in the world to experience the history firsthand.
It was one of the biggest and most lethal Nazi camps, with 40 concentration, extermination camps, gas chambers, and labor camps. Prisoners here had the worst conditions that most could not survive. It was the primary camp for the Nazi’s Final Solution to the Jewish Question, the official code for Jewish genocide.
Alternatively, visit Wieliczka Salt Mine, located around a 40-minute drive from Krakow, for spectacular sights deep underground.
This massive mine of nine levels going deep to 327 meters from the ground produced the so-called table salt from ancient times until 2007. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Polish Historic Monument open to the public. It offers extraordinary experiences through labyrinthine passages, chapels, underground lakes, and statues carved from salt rock. Even the chandeliers have oval salt crystals hanging on the wooden frame.
Have dinner in a 13th-century cellar
Pod Aniolami, nestled in the gothic cellar of the 13th century once used as a goldsmith workshop, offers history, charm, and a medieval atmosphere.
The menu is full of delicious Polish cuisine, including wild boar steak, grilled duck fillet, dumplings, Bigos, and grilled blood sausage, to name a few.
Looking for more to do in Poland? Eat your way through the nation’s rich and hearty cuisine with Pierogi and Beyond: Poland’s Culinary Past and Present