A historic center listed as a World Heritage Site, a Jewish quarter that stores centuries of history and an increasingly lively atmosphere are some of the many reasons to visit Krakow. Two days are the minimum time you should spend in the city to get to know most of its attractions.
In the tour I have prepared are the must-see places of the city, from its medieval historic center to the notorious Jewish ghetto, through Kazimierz (the old neighborhood where the Jewish population used to live) and the Wawel Hill.
Day 1: getting to know in depth the Stare Miasto, the medieval historical center of Krakow
The area of the medieval historic center of Krakow is undoubtedly the most visited by tourists. Inside the old walled city are many of the monuments, churches and buildings that can not be missed, as well as a large number of stores and restaurants.
Its cobblestone streets full of beautiful houses painted in pastel shades are perfect for strolling through them and be surprised at every step.
To make this tour you can book a guided tour or do it on your own. Both styles will allow you to get to know perfectly each of the interesting places found in this area of the city.
Enter the historical center through the Florian Gate and discover the Barbican and the city walls
To enter the Stare Miasto you have to go in front of Matejko Square, where stands an equestrian statue of Wladyslaw II, one of the kings of Poland. The ensemble is known as the Grunwald Monument.
The old town was for centuries enclosed by walls, of which only a few hundred meters remain. The entrance to the town was the Florian Gate, built in the 13th century. Today, it is the only remaining gate and is the perfect place to start the visit to the historic center.
This gate is a kind of tower about 35 meters high. At the time it marked the beginning of the Royal Road, a route taken by the kings who were to be crowned at Wawel Castle.
Just through the Florian Gate you can see the Barbican, a circular fortification of the late fifteenth century. Inside there are often exhibitions of various themes that you can visit if you are interested at that time.
In the area, before delving into the medieval center, you can also see the tower of the Cabinetmakers, the tower of the Carpenters and part of the old wall.
Walk along Florianska Street
In order to continue the tour you have to enter the Florianska Street, which leads from the Barbican to the heart of the medieval city.
This street is not only the best known in Krakow, but also has a reputation throughout Poland. In fact, statistics claim that it is the third most expensive in the country, behind only two in Warsaw.
It is safe to say that every meter of the street is full of charm. Although it is now full of stores, cafes and restaurants, these are located in old buildings to delight in front of.
On this tour you should pay special attention to the Matejko House, number 41 on the street. This house was the residence of a famous painter of the same name and today there is a museum with his works and some military objects and historical costumes that he himself collected.
Another building of interest is the one now occupied by the Jama Michalika café, a place that was a meeting point in the nineteenth century for artists and journalists of the city. Its interior is decorated in Art Nouveau style and is worth a peek.
The Pod Hotel Roza, with a 16th-century Renaissance portal, and other historic houses lining the street are other points to look out for as you stroll along.
Market Square, the heart of the old town
At the end of Florianska Street is the Krakow Market Square, undoubtedly the most famous place in all of Krakow. The buildings on the square, both those that can be visited and those that can't, are worth staying there for a while.
This square, which at Christmas in Krakow hosts a fabulous Christmas market and at Easter stalls selling handicrafts from several neighboring countries, has some attractions that are worth seeing more in depth:
- St. Mary's Basilica: without a doubt, this temple is one of the most important churches in Krakow. It has two irregular towers, with a different height and with different finishes. If you want, you can climb one of them to contemplate the views.
- Cloth Exchange: this old 13th century market is today full of stalls selling souvenirs to tourists. In addition, both the second floor and the basement house two different museums.
- Old Town Hall Tower: this tower is the last vestige of the building that housed the city's town hall. Built in the 16th century, you can go up to the viewpoint it houses, although you must be prepared for narrow stairs of more than 100 steps.
Joaquin's Traveller Tip:
every hour a small door opens in one of the towers of the basilica of Santa Maria and out of it comes a trumpeter who plays a brief melody. If you're in the area, it's a fun time to spend in the square.
Grab a bite to eat in the area
This can be a good time to recharge your batteries. So that you don't have to stray too far from the route, I suggest you eat at one of these restaurants located near the square:
Milkbar Tomasza: this place is sort of a more modern version of the traditional Polish milk bars. The prices are very low and the service is very fast. Another advantage is that it has a menu in English. It is located on Świętego Tomasza Street.
Chlopskie Jadlo: although the price is high by Polish standards (about 15€ per person) this traditional food restaurant is worth it, especially for being located in the heart of the city. You can order from the typical pierogis to a zurek soup. It is at number 9 Grodzka street.
Joaquín's Traveller Tip:
the lunch time in Poland is earlier than in Spain. Normally, lunch is around 13:00, although in most places you will have no problem if you arrive an hour later.
Follow in the footsteps of Copernicus at the Collegium Maius
Still within the historic center is the Collegium Maius. The building, which has been renovated several times, was built in the 15th century and its classrooms have been visited by important figures such as Nicolaus Copernicus.
The visit inside, which can only be guided, is really interesting. In its rooms you will be able to see a large number of objects related to almost all areas of knowledge: physics, chemistry, meteorology, cartography and, of course, astronomy.
Likewise, you will also find some curious items such as the Oscar won by Polish film director Andrzej Wajda and a photograph of the Earth taken from the Moon donated and signed by Neil Armstrong.
The building's courtyard, with its fountain, is another must-see area. On one of the sides is an old clock that opens every two hours and reveals several wooden figures parading while music plays.
Forget about time at the Wawel Castle
The next point of the tour is located at the top of a small hill. It is the so-called Wawel Castle, a fortification more than 1000 years old. Among other things, the complex housed the former seat of Polish royalty until the 17th century.
On this hill, according to legend, lived a dragon, the Smok Wawelski or Wawel Dragon. Here I leave the story adapted in case you go with children to Krakow and want to show them the sculpture (next to the river, at the base of the hill) representing the beast and expelling fire every few minutes.
Inside the Royal Palace you will be able to visit several rooms, with different tickets for each of them. It is best to choose the ones you are most interested in before buying the ticket:
- Lost Wawel: an exhibition on the history of the hill located in the basement of the palace.
- State Rooms: several rooms with furniture, paintings, tapestries and other original objects of the palace.
- Royal Apartments: the rooms where the royal family resided.
- Treasury and Armory: as the name suggests, here you can see jewelry, weapons and armor.
In addition to these interior visits, the castle also has an outdoor garden that is worth a leisurely stroll. Admission is free.
Don't miss the Wawel Cathedral
Still within the castle complex is the impressive cathedral dedicated to St. Stanislaus, where you can enter for free.
Formerly, this was the place where kings were crowned, so it played a very important role in the history of the country.
Inside you can see the Sigismund Chapel, which does have paid entrance, built in a beautiful Renaissance style and with a beautiful dome. It is also essential to take a look at the Mausoleum of St. Stanislaus and the crypt where several kings of the country are buried.
If you wish, it is also interesting to climb the Sigismund Tower and see the impressive bell of the sixteenth century that was installed in the defensive towers of the complex.
Walk along Grodzka Street until you reach the Market Square again.
Coming down the hill, look for the beginning of Grodzka Street, one of the busiest streets in the center. In addition to stores and beautiful buildings, this street houses the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, one of the most beautiful in the whole country, especially for its exterior decoration.
My advice is to walk down this street at your leisure and sometimes turn off to its parallel, Kanonicza Street. In both you will enjoy the sight of some Renaissance houses and other churches.
At the end of the day's tour you return to the Market Square. Stay there to see the night illumination and look for a place to have dinner nearby or, if you prefer, on your way to the hotel.
Day 2: Krakow's Jewish heritage, from the synagogues to the Ghetto
Many tourists choose the morning of their second day to take a trip to Auschwitz or the Wieliczka salt mines. However, in my opinion there are still many things to see in Krakow, especially if you want to get to know the city in depth.
If, finally, you decide to do the excursion, you can read my itinerary on what to see in Krakow in 1 day and add some other point for the time you have left in the afternoon after returning from that excursion.
In case you decide to finish seeing the city, for this second day I have booked the Jewish quarter and the remains of the city's notorious ghetto.
Enter Kazimierz, the thriving Jewish quarter
After a leisurely breakfast, the tour will start in this beautiful neighborhood located south of Wawel Castle. The area can be easily reached on foot from the center, but if your hotel is too far away or you just don't feel like walking, you can always take a streetcar to the entrance of Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Krakow.
Kazimierz was born as an independent town founded in the 14th century, but already in the 19th century it was incorporated into Krakow. Since its foundation and until the Second World War it was the place of residence of the Jewish community, something that cost it to be one of the most damaged areas after the Nazi invasion. Many of its inhabitants ended up in the ghetto or in a concentration camp.
Today, the neighborhood is home to the second largest collection of Jewish monuments on the continent, only behind Prague. Its most important street is called Szeroka and is a great place to start the itinerary.
To get to know the area well you can hire a guided tour (there are several that go through the neighborhood) or stroll around discovering its beautiful corners. If you go on Sunday, you should not miss the antique market that is installed in Nowy square.
Enter the Old Synagogue to learn about the Jewish culture in Krakow
A visit to the Old Synagogue, located in Szeroka Street, the oldest Hebrew temple in the country, is a must on your tour of the Jewish Quarter.
In addition to contemplating its exterior, it is also well worth going inside to see the Museum of Jewish Culture. Once you have paid the entrance fee you will be able to witness the history of the Jewish community in Krakow thanks to the exhibits. You will learn about their culture, their way of dressing, their celebrations and, perhaps most shockingly, the persecution to which they were subjected by the Nazis.
Apart from the objects and photographs in the museum, the highlight of the interior of the temple is the prayer room, with an altar where the Torah was read and a niche in which the sacred texts were kept.
Discover the Remuh Synagogue Cemetery
Another synagogue in Kazimierz that you must enter is the Remuh Synagogue (also for a fee), built in the sixteenth century. Despite being the smallest in the neighborhood, it is the only one that still retains its religious function.
Behind the main building is a very interesting cemetery. Unfortunately, some of the oldest tombs were destroyed by the Germans and their remains used as paving stones for the streets.
Stroll through the neighborhood and see the Isaac's Synagogue and the Tempel Synagogue
While strolling through the streets of the neighborhood you can't miss two other synagogues. Although you can enter both, it may actually be enough to see them from the outside.
The first is the Isaac Synagogue, at number 18 Kupa Street. The building, of rather simple architecture, was built in the 17th century on behalf of a Jewish banker and merchant.
The other synagogue you should visit is the Tempel Synagogue, the last one erected in Kazimierz at the end of the 19th century. The highlight of the temple is its stained glass windows.
Eating in the Jewish quarter
No doubt that while strolling through the neighborhood you will have noticed the large number of restaurants in the streets. The ones next to the Old Synagogue are a bit more expensive, but they have a good offer of kosher dishes, which you will know if you have made a gastronomic tour of Krakow.
If you prefer something less touristy, in the neighborhood you will not lack options, such as the simple Polakowski Restauracja (on Miodowa Street) or the Kuchnia Domowa Sąsiedzi (on the same street).
A movie tour: Oscar Schindler's factory
To get to the next point of the itinerary you have to leave the Jewish quarter and cross the Vistula River over the Powstańców Śląskich Bridge. Then look for Lipowa Street, where you will find what is known as Schindler's Factory.
Both the factory itself and its namesake, Oskar Schindler, became internationally famous after the release of Spielberg's film "Schindler's List," which was partly shot in Krakow.
Schindler was a German businessman who managed to save the lives of more than 1,000 Jews by using his kitchen equipment factory.
Today, the factory is the site of the permanent exhibition "Krakow under Nazi occupation". Here you can see the history of the city during World War II, as well as some objects used in the filming of the movie.
Remnants of horror in Podgórze, the Jewish ghetto
Surrounding Schindler's Factory is what remains of one of the most horrific places that existed in Krakow during World War II: the Jewish ghetto. The Nazis sent more than 15,000 people there to, in their words, "cleanse the city of Jews". To isolate them, they built a wall around the 30 streets where the deportees lived in overcrowded conditions.
Podgórze, the name of the neighborhood that housed the ghetto, has its center in Bohaterów Square. A monument consisting of 60 chairs has been erected there to commemorate the Jews who were moved to the area.
In Lwowska Street and Limanowskiego Street you can see the few remains of the wall that surrounded the Jewish ghetto.
Enter the store of a hero: the Eagle's Pharmacy
On a corner of Bohaterów Square stands the Eagle's Pharmacy (Apteka pod Orlem), known for its owner's resistance to leaving when the ghetto was built.
Unlike other merchants in the area, the pharmacist preferred to remain there and it is estimated that he helped save several of the Jews who were moved there. Inside you can see today an exhibition about the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
Do not miss the facade of the Catholic church of St. Joseph
Continuing along the same bank of the river I recommend that you walk through the streets leading from the old ghetto to find the Catholic church of St. Joseph. Although its interior is quite simple, you should not miss the opportunity to admire its splendid facade.
From here you have to continue walking towards the river until you cross it again, this time over the Marshal Józef Piłsudski Bridge.
Dinner at Plac Nowy
To finish the itinerary you have to walk back into Kazimierz until you reach the New Square, Plac Nowy in Polish. There you will see a circular building in the center that was built to house a slaughterhouse. Today it is full of small kiosks selling food, especially zapiekanka, a kind of baguette with mushrooms and other ingredients.
Around the square there are also other stalls offering everything from grilled meats to homemade sausages. For dinner, there is no better place than here, either on one of the few chairs in the area or on one of the benches in the square.