12 things to do in Krakow Poland
Krakow is Poland’s top tourist destination. While there are other destinations to put on your Poland tour which are also beautiful and less touristy (namely Wroclaw), you shouldn’t miss Krakow. It was the only major city in Poland to survive World War II undamaged. Our Poland trip also included a stop in the capital, Warsaw and ended perfectly in the region of Silesia, walking across the bridge into the Czech Republic.
As for Krakow Poland, here are my picks for favorite things to do:
The Hejnał Mariacki, or Cracovian Hymn, the traditional five-note Polish tune played by a trumpeter from the tower of St. Mary’s Church. The tune, which for centuries has been entwined to the history and traditions of the city, is performed four times consecutively each hour and is cut short suddenly on the forth in memory of a trumpeter shot and killed by a Tatar arrow in 1241. Keep in mind you’ll be witnessing a tradition observed since the 14th century. Krakow. (Watch the video here.)
Chase the pigeons around the largest medieval square in Europe
Krakow’s Market Square, or Rynek, dates from 1257. The Cloth Hall, at its center, was first built in 1300, but has a Renaissance structure engulfing the Gothic one beneath.
Eat a Zapiekanka
You want to do this at Plac Nowy (in Kazimierz)—preferable when a nice hunger arouses after a beer. Zapiekanka is an open-face baguette topped with a host of fresh ingredients before being briefly put in the oven. They sold from windows of the Okrąglak building in the center of the square and are considered to be the best in Krakow
Explore Krakow’s Jewish past
Krakow has a long and recently turbulent Jewish history. You’ll want to head to Kazimierz, a neighborhood of Krakow which was once a separate city. In 1495 Jews were relocated from the center of Krakow to Kazimierz. By the start of World War II, some 68,000 Jews lived there. You’ll want to start with the Old synagogue and its accompanying cemetery. Remember when you eat a zapiekanka at Plac Nowy, this used to be a kosher butcher house. Also know that the current population of Jews in Krakow is extremely small and spread out throughout the modern city. If you do see Orthodox Jews, they are most likely foreigners on pilgrimage.
Eat at U Stasi
It might be ordinary food if you are Polish—but that’s the point. Here you can fill up on local favorites at a great price. It’s tucked into an ally at Ulica Mikolajska 16, and you’re bound to be sharing one of the eight or so tables with some locals. Only open for lunch during the week. Find this place!
Drink a beer at Alchemia
A popular place with multiple candlelit rooms, they defined the “Kazimierz style” years ago. If you want a beer with some flavor, order a “Piwo Ciemna” (dark beer). Located at ul. Estery 5 on Plac Nowy.
Hang out in Plac Nowy in the evening
This is the epitome of bohemian life in Krakow. Kazimierz is the cool neighborhood to hang in and there are trendy restaurants, bars, antique shops, and art galleries throughout the neighborhood. Plac Nowy hosts a little farmer’s market in the daytime and a number of snack stalls in the evening serving up kielbasa, soups, and the local specialty, Zapiekanka. Every night, folks shuffle between the bars and the food stalls, or just hang out drinking beer from bottles.
Shop at Stary Kleparz Farmers Market
This is an open air fresh produce market located close to Planty, at Basztowa Street. At the market you can buy fresh fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, bread, cheese, meat and a host of sausages at reasonable prices.
Our tour guide, Dennis suggested this. Polish film poster art is unique and it makes a fantastic souvenir from Poland. You can browse through the Krakow Poster Gallery, or Galeria Plakatu, at ul. Stolarska 8-10.
Pay tribute to a lesser-seen Copernicus monument
You’ll have to go inside the Church of St. Anne, which is fine because the church is an excellent example of Polish Baroque. Why is it fascinating to see a shrine to Copernicus inside of a church? Well, after theorizing that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe, he wasn’t exactly popular with the Catholic Church.
Eat at Bar Kazimierz (Milk Bar)
Eating at the milk bar is a classic Polish experience, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked on a trip there. Milk Bars are relics from the communist days where people ate home-cooked lunches at reasonable prices. Some things never change, and old women in aprons are still dishing out traditional Polish standards cafeteria-style. Prices are low and the atmosphere is unbeatable. You’ll be sharing your table with students, pensioners, and perhaps the odd fellow traveler and town drunk. Located at ul. Krakowska 24
Visit the kiełbasa van
Every night from 8pm to 3am, two folks set up a fire grill outside of their van and grill kielbasa. For 8 zloty ($2.50 US) you get a sausage, roll, and mustard, and stand at the table set up nearby to pig out with the locals . Fun and delicious, especially after a night of exploring the Krakow bar scene. Located at ul. Grzegórzecka, opposite ul. Blich, in front of the market east of the Old Town near the train bridge
Special thanks to our guide Dennis and the folks over at Stay Poland for sponsoring our awesome Poland travel adventure.