Day 1: Get acquainted with the city
Krakow is a medieval jewel and any long weekend in this city must start at the Market Square, from where you can easily reach the main monuments. From there you can easily reach the main monuments - are you ready, let's discover the best of Krakow!
Start your vacation with a traditional breakfast
Are you familiar with Polish breakfast? In the northern European country, the first meal of the day is also the most important one. Locals usually start the day with a slice of bread with kielbasa (a flavored sausage), scrambled eggs or quark cheese with radishes. Hard-boiled eggs and herring may complete the menu. In Polish culture, breakfast is so important that at 11:00 they usually have a second one.
In Krakow, many establishments offer a traditional breakfast. Not far from the Market Square you can try the dishes of Smakolyki (28 Straszewskiego Street) or Dynia (20 Krupnicza Street). The latter is particularly recommended for the warmer months as it has a nice garden. If you are staying in the Kazimierz district, I recommend Moment Resto Bar & Music at 22 Estery Street.
Stroll through the old town
Until the 16th century, Krakow was the capital of Poland. King Sigmund III Vasa moved his court to Warsaw but could not take with him the splendid buildings that make up the city center. This area is very compact and can be easily visited on foot. On your tour, you will see a number of fascinating monuments:
- Market Square (Rynek Główny), one of the largest squares in Europe. It is surrounded by colorful houses while in the center rises one of the symbols of the city: the Cloth Exchange, an ancient market that has retained its commercial vocation.
- Floriańska Street (ulica Floriańska), one of the most prestigious shopping streets in the country. It is part of the Royal Route, an old route that goes all the way to Wawel Hill.
- Wawel Hill, a mound overlooking the city. Here is the cathedral, the castle and a large cave where, according to legend, lived a dragon that tormented the locals. For more info, you can check the post Visiting Krakow Castle: opening hours, how to get there, guided tours and more.
- St. Mary's Basilica (Kościół Mariacki), the main church of the Old Town easily distinguished by its asymmetrical towers.
- Barbican, one of the best preserved medieval fortifications in Europe. It was built to control the nearby St. Florian's Gate.
Relax in the greenery of Planty Park
After visiting the Barbican, it will be enough to walk a few meters to reach the Planty Park, a green ring that surrounds the city. There is no other city in Poland that can boast such a beautiful place! This urban garden was born at the beginning of the 20th century when the city authorities decided to convert the city walls into a place of leisure.
At the beginning, it was Feliks Radwański the person in charge of carrying out the works while in the following years, his projects were taken up by Florian Straszewski. Today, Planty Park is divided into eight gardens stretching for about 4 km.
End the day with a well-deserved dinner
After a long walk through the center, it is time to think about dinner and to appease your hunger, there is nothing better than some good ribs. In Krakow, if you want to taste this dish you have to head towards Plac Dominikański 2.
Here you will find the Rzeźnia restaurant, a place for hardcore carnivores. If you don't feel like eating ribs, you can opt for Polish tartar or Buffalo-style chicken wings. At Rzeźnia, the portions are very generous and you can pair them with a few shots of local vodka. After all, it's not work tomorrow, right?
Day 2: Immerse yourself in a magical place
After seeing the old town, you can dedicate yourself to an excursion that will take you down into the belly of the earth. Naturally we are talking about a trip to the Wieliczka salt mine, a magical place just a few kilometers from Krakow.
Spend a morning at the Wieliczka Mine
The Wieliczka salt mine is located about 15 km from Krakow and is a very popular destination for both tourists and locals. The deposit was opened in the 14th century and its development is largely due to the efforts of King Casimir III the Great who granted many privileges to the miners and founded a hospital to cure them. This magical place has a depth of 327 meters and is crossed by a network of chambers and galleries dotted with sculpted figures. Read on for a brief list of its most famous attractions:
- St. Kinga Chapel, the flagship of the mine. This place of worship was carved by two visionary brothers over 30 years of work.
- Weimar Chamber, the most romantic of the entire deposit. The biggest attraction is its tiny illuminated lake.
- Chapel of San Antonio, a baroque monument excavated in a block of green salt. It is decorated with figures of saints and features a pulpit carved entirely of salt.
- Gołuchowski Chamber and its station. During the 19th century, miners used a subway railroad and the station was located in this very environment.
- Spalone Chamber, the most "explosive" place in Wieliczka. Salt men with long sticks in their hands recall the workers who risked their lives the most: the burners. Their task was to burn the methane before its concentration caused an explosion.
Stroll through Kazimierz district
The Kazimierz district was founded by King Casimir the Great in the 14th century as an independent town. In the 15th century, the Jews were expelled from Krakow and eventually moved into this district. Before World War II, about 60,000 Jews lived here and were engaged in all trades, from catering to handicrafts.
Kazimierz could boast of its rich cultural life, but all this was destined to end. In 1941, the Germans came to the city and drove the inhabitants out of their homes. The Jews ended up living in the Podgórze quarter or in the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.
After the conflict, Kazimierz fell into oblivion and only in the 1990s did it return to its former glory. Today, the former Jewish ghetto is Krakow's most vibrant neighborhood. The past comes alive in the synagogues and at night, the streets come alive thanks to its rich offer of entertainment. For a drink, head towards the Klub Piękny Pies (Plac Wolnica 9, ideal if you like indie, soul or grunge) or cross the threshold of the Alchemia, possibly the best known bar in Kazimierz. For more info, I recommend you to read the post What to see and do in the Jewish quarter of Krakow.
Treat yourself to a traditional restaurant
Among the restaurants linked to tradition, the Czarna Kaczka deserves a special mention. Its name means "the black duck" and, as you can imagine, it specializes in this type of meat. Here you can taste a delicious duck roasted cracoviana (with horseradish and mushroom sauce) or a more refined duck breast in red wine accompanied by dumplings with red cabbage and dried plums.
If you feel like eating fish, the Czarna Kaczka restaurant offers dishes based on freshwater fish such as trout fried in butter or pike-perch fillet. Vegetarian options are also available, including excellent potato pancakes. The establishment is located on Poselska Street and occupies the second floor of a 17th century building. To conclude the dinner, you can opt for a vodka tris. If you are interested in gastronomy, I recommend you to read the post about the best restaurants in the Polish city.
Day 3: Get out of town to see the worst legacy of World War II
Auschwitz-Birkenau is a memorial of human cruelty. Having four days, I recommend you to visit this sadly famous place.
Visit the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp
Located in the suburbs of Oświęcim, this concentration camp claimed the lives of 1.1 million people. As World War II drew to a close, Nazi authorities attempted to destroy evidence of the genocide but, fortunately, the liberation of the camp in January 1945 prevented the process from taking place.
After the conflict, the Polish government decided to restore Auschwitz-Birkenau as a memorial and museum. Since 1979, the lager has been a Unesco World Heritage Site and receives more than 2 million tourists each year.
Visiting it is tantamount to reliving a horrific page in contemporary history. However, knowledge is awareness and a few hours in the barracks are more than enough to understand the horrors of the Shoah. For the full experience, I recommend booking an organized tour.
The article How much does it cost to visit Auschwitz: entrance fees and guided tours explains point by point all the options available. I advise you to choose a morning visit; this way you can return to Krakow for lunch.
Return to Krakow for a bite to eat
Auschwitz-Birkenau is very large and much of your time will be spent walking through barracks and open fields. Although the place will make you feel a knot in your stomach, when you return to Krakow you might get hungry. A good way to satisfy it is with some pierogi, the quintessential Polish comfort food.
There are dozens of specialized places and one of the most popular is Pierogarnia Station. Pierogarnia Station uses the recipe of Ula (the owners' aunt) and has eight establishments both in the center and on the outskirts of Krakow.
If you don't feel like sitting down and prefer to have some pierogi to go, you can choose the Robimy Pierogi food truck. The van is located in the Kazimierz district (21 Dajwór Street) within walking distance of the old synagogue. His dumplings are handmade according to traditional recipes and, above all, do not contain any flavor enhancers.
Enjoy a pleasant boat ride
After such a challenging day, a relaxing activity is ideal. This way you can continue to admire the jewels of Krakow without having to walk. As you know, the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship (Małopolska) is bathed by the Vistula, a river that rises in the Carpathian Mountains and flows into the Baltic Sea. Along the way you can admire buildings and monuments from a different perspective.
If you choose an excursion in concomitance with the sunset, you will enjoy the most romantic of walks. Cruises depart from Krakow's river port (bulwar Czerwieński) and last approximately one hour. There are several types of boats available depending on the season and/or time of day and most tours have some audio guides. If you prefer to stay with your feet on the ground, you can visit the best churches in Krakow.
Day 4: last shopping
On the last day you can spend the last shopping and original experiences, so make the most of every last minute!
Buy some souvenirs in the Cloth Market
No vacation can be considered complete without a few little trophies and the ideal place to do this is the Lonja de los Paños. Underneath this majestic building there are dozens of food, craft and souvenir stalls. Read on, we have prepared a small list of the most typical souvenirs of Krakow:
- Amber jewelry. Krakow was an important stage of the Amber Road, a trade route that started at the Baltic Sea. At the Cloth Market, prices are surprisingly competitive.
- Regional costumes
- Hand-carved chess sets. In Poland there is a peculiar hexagonal version that you will hardly see elsewhere.
- Wicker objects
- Żubrówka, the excellent local vodka recognizable by the bison on its coat of arms.
- Obwarzanek krakowski, a braided bread that resembles a bagel.
Stroll through the courtyard of the Collegium Maius
The oldest university building in Krakow. Built in the 15th century, the building is famous for the clock in the courtyard. Every two hours, between 09:00 and 17:00, wooden figures appear and parade accompanied by traditional music. If you feel like it, you can visit the Jagiellonian University Museum, which houses a collection of astronomical and astrological instruments dating from the second half of the 15th century.
End your long weekend with a unique experience
After dinner, you can say goodbye to the Polish city with a bit of adrenaline. Axe throwing comes from Canada and the United States. Around 2000, what used to be a hobby became a real discipline, so much so that in these countries there are professional leagues, while the international championship was broadcasted by ESPN. If you have never tried it, I recommend you do so: it's a great way to let off steam.
In Krakow, the place to go is Axe Nation. You'll find it at 46 Grodzka Street, a short walk from the Church of St. Peter and Paul and the Archaeological Museum. Axe Nation is one of Krakow's top-rated attractions and has five lanes spread over three rooms. The establishment is ideal for stag and hen parties and private parties.