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Krakow or Warsaw: which is better?

Are you taking a trip to Poland soon but don't know which of these two important cities to visit? In this article I present you the main characteristics and differences so you can choose.

Katherine Betances

Katherine Betances

8 min read

Krakow or Warsaw: which is better?

Wawel Cathedral, Krakow | ©Robert Stokoe

It is no secret that these are the two most important cities in Poland; therefore, when planning a new adventure, many travelers wonder if it is better to visit Krakow or if, instead, they should focus their trip only in Warsaw.

If you ask me, the answer would be: visit both cities, especially considering how easy it is to get from Krakow to Warsaw. However, I understand that, many times, neither time nor budget will allow us to make the trip of our dreams. Therefore, and hoping to make your decision easier, I present a comparison of the most important aspects: attractions, architecture, gastronomic offer and budget. Let's get started!

Attractions: What to see in Krakow vs. What to see in Warsaw

Krakow Market Square| ©Francisco Anzola
Krakow Market Square| ©Francisco Anzola

When contrasting two important cities, it is important to know what there is to do in each of them. Both destinations offer a wide range of attractions and sightseeing, but with very different approaches, for example...

  • Krakow is a much smaller city with a much cozier overall atmosphere, where almost all roads lead to the beautiful Krakow Market Square with the interesting attractions you will find there. Warsaw is a larger city with a historic old town but also many modern buildings.
  • Since the city of Krakow was not affected by the bombings the buildings are authentic historical buildings while in Warsaw you will find renovations made with an impressive level of fidelity to the original design.
  • When it comes to museums and art galleries, nothing beats Warsaw and its abundant alternatives. However, for out-of-town attractions and getaways, Krakow has a more varied offer that includes historical museums, nature reserves and medieval palaces.

Attractions in Krakow

There is plenty to see and do in Krakow and the surrounding area, the must-see attractions are:

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Attractions in Warsaw

If you visit this city be sure to explore the following destinations.

Price: Krakow vs. Warsaw Which is cheaper?

Warsaw Uprising Museum| ©Halibutt
Warsaw Uprising Museum| ©Halibutt

If your concern is budget, it is good to know that both cities are in a similar price range for accommodation, attractions and restaurants. However, keep in mind that Warsaw is the financial and economic center of the country so a slight price increase in most services, including transportation and food, is completely logical and expected.

Although in general terms Krakow is a cheaper city to visit, the prices of the most important services are slightly increased in times of high tourist influx such as the summer holidays in Krakow. Keep this in mind if you want to save money on your next trip. In Warsaw rates are more or less stable throughout the year.

Book your excursions from Krakow

Architecture in Krakow vs Architecture in Warsaw

Jewish Quarter of Krakow| ©Francisco Javier Toledo
Jewish Quarter of Krakow| ©Francisco Javier Toledo

Both cities have beautiful historic centers but clearly differentiated.

Architecture and design in Warsaw

The most important point you should keep in mind about Warsaw is that this city was completely destroyed in the Second World War, few places remained intact so, once the conflict ended, a process of total reconstruction began. If you are interested in the architecture of Soviet realism, you must visit Warsaw and admire the fantastic work that architects and designers of modernity did in this place.

Warsaw is a much bigger city, it is a full-fledged European metropolis so it has a much more modern overall look. You can find impressive skyscrapers, wide boulevards, luxury boutiques and alternative restaurants. Its modern buildings have made it the center of financial and business activity in the country.

Architecture and design in Warsaw

Krakow did not suffer the ravages of war to the same extent as its sister city Warsaw, so its buildings ended up looking much the same. If you are motivated to admire beautiful historic buildings, medieval squares, gothic constructions and cobblestone streets, then Krakow is the place for you.

In comparison, the city of Krakow is much smaller and almost all of its architectural attraction is centered in its historic center; its famous Market Square is the largest medieval square in Europe. Its monuments date back centuries before World War II, so Krakowers take pride in its authentic historical appeal and fairy-tale city charm.

Book your excursions from Krakow

Gastronomic offer: Krakow vs. Warsaw

Bigos, traditional Polish food| ©Caterine Romero
Bigos, traditional Polish food| ©Caterine Romero

In both destinations you will find an interesting gastronomic offer although with marked differences.

  • Krakow: As a city that aims to preserve the traditions of its nation, Krakow in general offers a wider selection of traditional Polish food; the best restaurants in Krakow have managed to translate the most significant aspects of Polish gastronomy into their dishes. Around the Market Square and throughout the Old Town you will find a large number of restaurants, cafes and bars in all possible price ranges.
  • Warsaw: It is a cosmopolitan city whose gastronomic offer is based on the diversity of alternatives. It is a place to find many highly sophisticated food options capable of satisfying demanding palates. You will be able to find many alternatives of traditional Polish food but also many international food restaurants in case you feel like having some sushi or a simple pizza.

Nightlife: Cracow vs. Warsaw

La Playa Music Bar, Warsaw| ©Piotr Wysocki
La Playa Music Bar, Warsaw| ©Piotr Wysocki

In both Krakow and Warsaw you will find cities with a seductive nightlife; both destinations are full of traditional Polish bars but with certain peculiarities.

Nightlife in Krakow

An old Polish myth states "...there are more bars per square meter in Krakow's Old Town than in any other city in Europe" and this may not be far from the truth. Popular Polish taverns located in old cellars filled with cigarette smoke are everywhere, not to mention the charming nightclubs of the Jewish Quarter. It could be said that Krakow's nightlife offer is distinguished by the traditional touch. Some alternatives of bars and clubs in Krakow are:

Nightlife in Warsaw

Warsaw is a much larger city than Krakow, so its nightlife offer is characterized by diversity. However, in Warsaw, as in Krakow, you can find traditional Polish bars where drinks are served for about €1. Some alternatives of bars and clubs in Warsaw are:

Tourist Influx: Krakow vs. Warsaw

Tourists in the Wieliczka Salt Mines| ©Aleksandr Zykov
Tourists in the Wieliczka Salt Mines| ©Aleksandr Zykov

In terms of tourist inflow, Poland in general is a destination that has experienced a remarkable growth in the flow of tourists not only from the European continent but also from distant destinations such as Asia, the Middle East and the United States. This reality is mainly due to the improvement of the quality of the infrastructure that connects its cities as well as to the increase of accommodation offers and activities focused on the tourism sector.

The latest statistics show that Warsaw as a city has received up to 23 million visitors in a year, while its sister city Krakow has an honorable figure of up to 14 million. Both destinations are expected to grow significantly in the future.

Book your excursions from Krakow

Transportation and mobility in Krakow vs. Transportation and mobility in Warsaw

Warsaw Bus| ©Chido-Fajny
Warsaw Bus| ©Chido-Fajny

In both you will find that mobility will not be a problem. Both locations have an excellent public transportation system that includes streetcars and buses. On the outskirts of both cities you will find international airports where flights land and take off from all corners of the European continent.

Although, in all fairness it is important to note that when it comes to the train system, Warsaw is much more functional. The city of Warsaw is much better interconnected both with other important points or cities within Poland and with other important points or cities in the rest of Europe. This means that depending on the destination from which you travel to Poland, the arrival to Warsaw may be much easier than the arrival to Krakow, at least using this means of transportation.

Historical context: Rivalry between Krakow and Warsaw.

Entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Krakow| ©Rafael Wagner
Entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Krakow| ©Rafael Wagner

A common dynamic in nations around the world is to have rival cities that generally correspond to cities with high political and economic power within a country. In Poland it is no different and this historical rivalry is between Krakow and Warsaw.

Legends say that for centuries the official capital of the country was located in Krakow, but King Sigismund III decided to move the capital to Warsaw after accidentally burning the Wawel Castle. Much later the rivalry would be settled with the Nazi invasion in Poland; while Warsaw was almost completely destroyed, Krakow retained in its entirety its historic buildings and charm of medieval city.

Although the inhabitants of Warsaw admit the particular beauty and charm of its rival Krakow, the truth is that they retain the honor of being the nation's capital while Krakow remains in the position of second most important city.

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Visiting Krakow and visiting Warsaw, choose according to your travel plans

Warsaw Royal Castle Square| ©Vinicius Pinheiro
Warsaw Royal Castle Square| ©Vinicius Pinheiro

As you may have noticed, both cities have interesting things to offer. I will summarize the most striking aspects so that you can choose the most convenient travel destination according to your priorities.

  • If you want to take good pictures: Krakow is a bit more beautiful than Warsaw.
  • If you prefer to explore an old historical center: Krakow.
  • If you prefer to explore the only renovated historical center: Warsaw.
  • If you want to enjoy a traditional nightlife: Krakow.
  • If you are interested in university life and young atmosphere: Krakow.
  • If you want to enjoy a cosmopolitan nightlife: Warsaw.
  • If you want to learn about the hardships of the Jewish people in the Second World War: Cracow.
  • If you are more interested in the perspective of the Polish people during the Second World War: Warsaw.
  • If you have little time: Krakow. I recommend you to read the guide to see Krakow in two days or see Krakow in three days.
  • If you are on a budget: Krakow is slightly cheaper, especially if you visit the city in the off-peak months such as February in Krakow, October in Krakow and November in Krakow.