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 the main characteristics and differences so you can choose between them.

Katherine Betances

Katherine Betances

9 min read

Krakow or Warsaw: which is better?

Wawel Cathedral, Krakow | ©Robert Stokoe

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

If you ask me, the answer would be to visit both cities, although taking into consideration 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 you a comparison of the most important aspects: attractions, architecture, gastronomic offer and budget. Let's get started!

Choose according to your tastes and preferences

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

Both Warsaw and Krakow offer many interesting things to see and do. In order for you to choose the most convenient travel destination according to your tastes and interests, here is a summary of the most striking aspects of each of these cities:

  • If you want to take good pictures: Krakow.
  • If you prefer to explore an old historical center: Krakow.
  • If you prefer to explore the only renovated historic 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 World War II: Krakow.
  • If you are more interested in the perspective of the Polish people during World War II: 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, November in Krakow or December in Krakow.
  • Krakow
  • Former capital of Poland
  • Old historical center
  • University life
  • Most economical
  • Warsaw
  • Current capital of Poland
  • Renovated historic center
  • Cosmopolitan atmosphere
  • Slightly more expensive

Main sights of Krakow vs. Warsaw

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

Both Warsaw and Krakow offer a wide range of attractions and sightseeing, but with very different approaches, for example...

Krakow is a much smaller city so its atmosphere is, in general, more welcoming, and almost all roads lead to the beautiful Krakow Market Square with the interesting attractions you will find there. Warsaw, on the other hand, is a larger city with a historic center but also with many modern buildings.

Since the city of Krakow was not affected by the bombings of World War II, the buildings are authentic historic buildings, while in Warsaw you will find renovated architecture made with an impressive level of fidelity to the original design.

As for museums and art galleries, nothing beats Warsaw and its abundant alternatives. However, when it comes to out-of-town attractions and getaways, Krakow has a more varied offering that includes historical museums, nature reserves and medieval palaces.

Sights and excursions not to be missed on your visit to Krakow

There is plenty to see and do in Krakow and the surrounding area. Take note of the most relevant places so you don't miss anything:

  • Krakow's Jewish Quarter: Kazimierz, Krakow's Jewish quarter, is one of the most popular districts of Krakow and hides synagogues, palaces, majestic houses, churches, bridges, stories and legends. not to be missed!
  • Schindler's Factory: Oskar Schindler was a hero of World War II and in his factory-museum you can recall his story through photographs, old documents and other artifacts.
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine: an 800-year-old subway world of 20 subway chambers more than 3 kilometers long and 135 meters subway, a unique experience not to be missed!
  • Auschwitz Concentration Camp: located just 50 km from Krakow, this concentration camp contains the history of terror experienced by the Jewish people during World War II.
  • Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains: discover the most popular mountain resort in Poland, where you can travel by cable car and discover the wonders of the Tatra Mountains.
  • Wawel Castle: both the hill and the Wawel Castle are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A must-see if you want to visit one of the wonders of Poland.

Main visits you can make in Warsaw

If you visit the Polish capital, be sure to explore the following monuments and museums:

  • Warsaw Ghetto: discover all the secrets about the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest in Europe, and visit the remains of the only synagogue that survived the Holocaust.
  • Warsaw Royal Castle: one of the most important monuments of the city, which hides inside fascinating stories of Polish royalty.
  • Polish Vodka Museum: if you want to know how vodka is made and the history of this drink, while tasting a drink, you can not miss this visit.
  • Chopin Concert: enjoy the best works of one of Poland's most famous composers in the old part of the city.
  • Treblinka concentration camp: in this concentration camp you can remember the atrocities of World War II and also honor the victims in the memorials inside.
  • Krakow
  • Jewish Quarter of Krakow
  • Wawel Castle
  • Wieliczka salt mines
  • Zakopane and Tatra Mountains
  • Auschwitz Concentration Camp
  • Warsaw
  • Warsaw Ghetto
  • Warsaw Royal Castle
  • Polish Vodka Museum
  • Chopin Concert
  • Treblinka Concentration Camp

Book a guided tour of Warsaw

What are the historical centers of Krakow and Warsaw like?

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

Warsaw was completely destroyed in World War II. Few places remained intact so, once the conflict was over, 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, a European metropolis with a more modern 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.

Krakow, on the other hand, did not suffer the ravages of war to the same extent, so if you are motivated to admire beautiful historic buildings, medieval squares, Gothic buildings 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 appeal is centered around its historic center: its famous Market Square is the largest medieval square in all of Europe and its monuments date back centuries before World War II, so Krakowers pride themselves on their authentic historical appeal and fairy-tale city charm.

Book a tour of Krakow's Old Town

What is the gastronomic offer in 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: In general offers a wider selection of traditional Polish food; the best restaurants in Krakow have managed to translate into their dishes the most significant aspects of Polish gastronomy. Around the Market Square and throughout the old part of the city 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.

Book a gastronomic tour of Warsaw

What is the nightlife like in Krakow vs. Warsaw?

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

Both Krakow and Warsaw are cities with a seductive nightlife; both destinations are full of traditional Polish bars, but with certain peculiarities.

The popular Polish taverns located in old cellars filled with cigarette smoke are everywhere in Krakow, not to mention the charming nightclubs of the Jewish Quarter. It could be said that Krakow's nightlife offer is distinguished by a traditional touch. Some alternatives of bars and clubs in Krakow are:

Warsaw's nightlife is characterized by its diversity. However, in the Polish capital, as in Krakow, you can find traditional Polish bars where drinks are served for about 1 euro. Some alternatives of bars and clubs in Warsaw are:

Book tickets for a folklore show in Krakow

Is Krakow or Warsaw more expensive?

Warsaw Rising Museum| ©Halibutt
Warsaw Rising 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 summer. Keep this in mind if you want to save money on your next trip. Rates in Warsaw remain more or less stable throughout the year.

Book an excursion from Krakow

Tourist inflow: Krakow vs. Warsaw

Tourists at the Wieliczka Salt Mines| ©Aleksandr Zykov
Tourists at 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 stands at the honorable figure of up to 14 million. Both destinations are expected to see significant growth in the future.

Transportation and mobility in Krakow vs. in Warsaw

Warsaw bus| ©Chido-Fajny
Warsaw bus| ©Chido-Fajny

In neither city will mobility 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 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.

Book a bike tour in Warsaw

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.

For centuries the official capital of the country was located in Krakow; however, King Sigismund III decided to move the capital to Warsaw after accidentally burning Wawel Castle. Much later, the rivalry would be settled with the Nazi invasion of Poland; while Warsaw was almost completely destroyed, Krakow retained all its historic buildings and charm of a 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.

Book a tour of Krakow's Old Town