The number of attractions and activities in Krakow makes 24 hours too little time to visit it completely. Not only will you have to miss the many attractions of the salt mines of Wieliczka or hire one of the excursions to the Auschwitz concentration camp, but you will not be able to see some places in the city itself that are very worthwhile.
However, with a good itinerary you will be able to see the essential points of the city. The small size of its Stare Miasto (the old town declared a World Heritage Site) and the short distances that allow walking without problems, will allow you to visit at least the Market Square, Wawel Castle and part of the Jewish quarter.
1. Search for the Wawel Dragon on the banks of the Vistula River
To start the tour of Krakow is very important to be clear that we will have to get up early to alleviate the lack of time. The first point to go to is the bank of the Vistula River, more specifically to the iron statue depicting a dragon and is located under the Wawel Hill.
This dragon is one of the main symbols of the city. The legend, which you can read in more detail in this link, tells that many centuries ago, an animal of this type inhabited a cave in the hill and terrorized the inhabitants of the area.
The fact that the statue spits fire from its mouth every few minutes should definitely be at the top of this list of things to do in Krakow with kids, as they are sure to be fascinated.
On the other hand, the so-called Dragon Cave, located next to the statue, can be visited during the summer months. However, on this occasion it will have to be missed in order to continue with the itinerary.
Guided tour or on your own?
There are several guided tours in Krakow that will cover, approximately, the points of interest that I point out. Hiring one or doing it on your own has its pros and cons, so it is up to you to decide what to do.
The main advantage of a tour, especially when you have little time, is that you will get to the places of interest without having to stop to get your bearings. In addition, the guides will always provide you with interesting information about the places you visit.
On the other hand, Krakow is a very easy city to explore on your own, since its size means that you can walk almost everywhere. However, even if you prefer this option, it is worth hiring a guide for some of the visits.
2. Climb the Wawel Castle and soak in history
From the base of the hill you have to take a short climb to reach one of the essential places to visit in Krakow: Wawe Castle.
This castle, named after the hill on which it was built, is one of the symbols of Polish national identity, as well as being one of its cultural centers. In addition, for several centuries it was the official residence of the kings of the country.
The complex is quite large, with a large central courtyard surrounded by several buildings, all with an interesting interior that is worth visiting with time:
- John Paul II Cathedral Museum: inaugurated by Karol Wojtyła, the Polish-born pope, in 1978, inside is an exhibition of religious objects.
- Entrance to the dragon's cave: from the castle you can access the cave where a legendary dragon lived. The exit is located on the bank of the river, right where a statue has been built to remember him.
- Royal Palace: it was the first seat of the Polish monarchy. Later, the building was abandoned until it was rebuilt again.
- Other attractions include the Sandomierska Tower, the armory and the remains known as "the Lost Wawel".
My advice, given the lack of time, is to dedicate the visit to see the exterior of the castle and the inner arcaded courtyard. The Palace and the royal apartments take several hours, so it may be better to leave them for another time.
- Price: entrance to the courtyard is free, while each of the attractions inside has a different price.
- Hours: the usual opening time of the gates is 9:30 am and they close at 5:00 pm.
3. Enter the Wawel Cathedral, a symbol of Catholic Poland
Within the enclosure of the hill is one of the most important cathedrals in the country. This temple, with more than 1000 years of history, was the place where some of the Polish kings were crowned and also buried.
Together with the palace, this Gothic-style cathedral made Wawel Hill the center of religious and political power in the country for many centuries.
Inside you can see 18 funerary chapels, among which especially highlights that of Sigismund I, considered the best example of the Renaissance in Poland. Also interesting is the mausoleum of St. Stanislaus, the patron saint of the country. Finally, it is worth climbing the Sigismund Tower and contemplate the 12-ton bell located there.
Practical information about Wawel Castle
- Price: the entrance to the cathedral is free, but the Sigismund Chapel is paid. The entrance costs about 14 zlotys, the church is free, but to enter the Sigismund Chapel you will have to pay an entrance fee of about 15 zlotys (just over 3 €). Students and pensioners pay half the price.
- Opening hours: from Monday to Saturday the opening hours are from 9:00 to 17:00 in the afternoon (except from September to March, when it closes one hour earlier). On Sundays it opens later, at 12:30.
4. Stroll along Grodzka Street
After leaving the cathedral you have to go down the hill to enter the old town of Krakow, named World Heritage Site by Unesco. To do so, look for Grodzka Street, one of the liveliest streets in the city.
This street, nowadays eminently commercial, was once part of the so-called Royal Road, a route that crossed the entire walled enclosure from the castle to St. Florian's Gate. During this walk you can take the opportunity to take a look at the craft stores, but without losing sight of the beautiful pastel-painted facades of the buildings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
If you prefer (or have time to see both), you can choose the street parallel to Grodzka, the Kanonicza. Here you can see Renaissance houses and some old churches.
No matter which one you walk, during the tour you should stop (at least to look outside) at the church of St. Peter and St. Paul to see the statues of the 12 apostles. Likewise, it is worth your while to enter the church of San Andrés to delight in its baroque style. Both are among the most important churches in Krakow.
5. The Market Square, the heart of the city
At the end of Grodzka Street is the extraordinary Market Square with all its monuments and activities. It is, without discussion, the heart of the historic center and landmark of the city. Surrounded by Renaissance-style buildings, it is one of the most beautiful medieval squares on the continent.
If you go to Krakow at Christmas you can not miss the fabulous market that is installed here and you can walk around while listening to the Christmas choirs performing on some stages set up for the occasion.
Among the highlights of the square is the Lonja de Paños, built in 1257 and today occupied by several souvenir and craft stores. The beauty of this palace has made it one of the most photographed buildings in Krakow. In its time, it was a place dedicated to trade, to the point that some historians consider it as the first commercial center in history.
Depending on your interests you can go up to the second floor of the building, where the National Museum of Krakow is located, or go down to the subway to see the Rynek Museum.
Another point of great interest that you can not miss while wandering around the square is the Old Town Hall Tower, the only remnant of a building demolished in the early nineteenth century. My advice is to climb its 110 steps to reach its viewpoint, one of the most outstanding in the city. .
The visit that can not be missed is the Basilica of Santa Maria. Inside you can contemplate the largest wooden altarpiece in Europe with its 12 meters long. In addition, you can climb one of its two Gothic towers to see the views, although if you have already done so in the Town Hall Tower it will not be necessary.
Joaquín's Traveller Tip:
Try to make your visit to the basilica coincide with a certain time of day. At that time a small door in one of the towers opens and a trumpeter comes out to play a melody.
6. Eating at Bar Mleczny Filarkami
It is very likely that so many visits have whetted your appetite. To recharge your batteries I advise you to go to a reminiscence of the communist era: the Bar mleczny or Milk Bars. These are small restaurants that, in their origin, served mainly to the workers at a modest price.
Some of them have survived the passage of time and retain some of their characteristics. Thus, the food they serve is simple and traditional and the prices are among the lowest you will find in the country. Another point to remember is that they do not serve alcoholic beverages.
Obviously, they do not have the style of the best restaurants in the city, but I assure you that the food is more authentic and the atmosphere is worth it.
For this day I recommend the Bar Mleczny Filarkami, as it is only 10 minutes from the square, on the way to the Jewish quarter where the tour continues in the afternoon. One of its advantages is that it has a menu in English, something that does not always happen in this kind of places.
Keep in mind that, in general, in Poland people usually eat around 13:00, although there will be no problem to delay until 14:00 or even a little later.
- Address: ul. Starowiślna 29
- Opening hours: from 8:00 to 18:00 from Monday to Friday. Saturday and Sunday from 09:00 to 16:00
7. Get lost in the Kazimierz and visit its synagogues
After lunch you have to walk for about 10 minutes more until you reach the next point of the tour: Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of the city.
This area experienced a revitalization after the filming of Schindler's List and is considered one of the most interesting places to see in the city, as it is full of synagogues and very interesting corners.
In my opinion, this is one of the most attractive parts of the whole city, both for its streets and buildings as well as for the atmosphere. You only have to read the article What to see and do in the Jewish quarter of Krakow to realize its possibilities during a trip.
The most important street in Kazimierz is called Szeroka. Here you will find several synagogues, Jewish bookstores and restaurants serving kosher food. Here you will also find the Martyrdom Monument, which pays tribute to the 65,000 inhabitants of the neighborhood murdered by the Nazis.
It is difficult to find time to enter all the synagogues in the area. The best, therefore, is to choose a couple of them to visit and the rest to see them outside while you walk around the neighborhood.
To enter I recommend two of them:
- Old Synagogue: the most important of the whole neighborhood. Although the current synagogue dates from the sixteenth century, it is known that in the same place there was another one a century earlier. Built in Renaissance style, it currently houses an interesting museum that explains how the once large Jewish community lived.
- Remuh Synagogue: it is the only one that continues to offer worship in the entire Jewish quarter. Its origin dates back to the sixteenth century and hides a cemetery in the back. The entrance fee is charged, but it is an essential visit, although much more pleasant during the autumn when the presence of tourists decreases and the fallen leaves form a beautiful carpet in the cemetery.
- Opening hours: these synagogues (and the rest of the synagogues in Kazimierz) open at 09:00 in the morning and close at 16:00 in the afternoon, although in summer the closing time is delayed until 18:00. They are closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
- Entrance fee: the entrance fee is about 10 PLN (about 2,5 €). Some groups can buy a reduced ticket for half that price.
8. Relax with a drink at 2 Okna Cafe
A good walk through the streets of the neighborhood and a visit to the synagogues deserves a reward. One of my favorite places to do this in Kazimierz is 2 Okna Cafe, located on Józefa Street.
The cafe, which also serves sweets, has a couple of tables outside. However, if the weather is nice I recommend you to go into the inner courtyard.
In addition to coffee and tea, from the end of September onwards the café offers a wonderful mulled wine. If you are feeling a bit more daring, you can also try the hot beer or even the cider or vodka with spices and also hot.
9. A movie set: Schindler's List stairs
An interesting place related to Oskar Schindler, in this case to the film, are the stairs located in an inner courtyard between Jozefa and Meiselas streets. If you have seen the film you will recognize the scene of one of its most dramatic scenes, which reflects the eviction of the ghetto by Nazi troops.
10. Plac Nowy, a square with a great atmosphere for dinner.
There are few better places to end a visit to Krakow than Plac Nowy (New Square), also known by the nickname of the Jewish Square. In its center is a circular building (the Okraglak) that was built in 1900 to serve as a poultry butcher.
Today, numerous stalls have been set up, both in the building and in various areas of the square. They sell various types of food, from grilled meat to sausages to Poland's most popular fast food dish, the zapiekanka.
The zapiekanka, despite its simplicity, is a dish capable of satisfying anyone's appetite and palate. It is half a loaf of bread spread with oil and butter and topped with various ingredients, such as ham, tomatoes or mushrooms. It is then covered with grated cheese and heated in the oven.
The square is full of young people (and not so young) to eat something, to the point that it is difficult to sit in one of the few chairs in the place. However, you can also order your food and look for a free bench.
If you are in the mood, the streets near the square are full of cafes and pubs. The student atmosphere of the city is noticeable in these places, whose presence has given the neighborhood a festive and somewhat bohemian atmosphere.
How to get from the airport to the city to avoid wasting time
If you prefer public transport, you should not worry too much about the delay in reaching the city. There are several bus lines (208, 252 and 902) with a high frequency of departures that will take you to the city center in about 45 minutes.
Finally, the fastest means of transport is the train. Approximately every 30 minutes, one leaves the airport and arrives in the city in only 18 minutes. The stop in Kraków is located at the central station**(Kraków Główny**), just a few minutes from the entrance to the historic center.
Where to change from euros to zlotys?
A good place to exchange money is the big shopping mall next to the central train station. On the second floor there are a couple of exchange houses with a good rate.
In the city center you are also going to find more exchange places, with a much better rate than what you can find at the airport. One of the best tips for visiting Krakow is to never change money upon arrival, but to compare two or three to get an idea of the most favorable exchange rate.
On the other hand, you will be able to pay by credit card in many stores and restaurants, especially if they are in the most touristy area. If you prefer to withdraw money in an ATM I recommend you to check the possible commissions that your bank will charge you for the withdrawal of cash abroad.