Top 10 things to do in Krakow

Poland’s geographical location means a history of changing and changing the country’s borders, resulting in cities that blend different influences in their architecture and cuisine. Kraków is resolutely Polish and is seen by many as the spiritual capital of Kraków. Walk the cobbled streets, look from a cafe on the huge Market Square, dive into the museums and many churches and you will understand the soul of this country. The center is compact, making its attractions easily accessible and for those who want to travel outside, the unusual salt mines of Wieliczka await.

For more Krakow inspiration, check out our guides to the best hotels, restaurants and bars.

Listen to the sound of the city

A sound that defines Kraków is the Hejnal call, or bugle that is heard on the hour, every hour from the highest tower of St Mary’s Church. Played four times with each point of the compass, the call stops abruptly to honor the bugler who was shot in the throat in the 13th century by invading Tatars.

Insider tip: The bugle tower, which towers 54 meters above the city, is currently undergoing renovations, so check the website to see if it’s open for climbing. If so, go to Plac Mariacki 7, early in the morning of the day you want to climb to secure your ticket.

Price: £

St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow

Every hour from the highest tower of St. Mary’s Church there is a sound that defines Kraków – RossHelen/RossHelen

Peers at the most famous woman of Kraków

The 15th century Lady with an Ermine is one of four still unknown portraits of women painted by Leonardo da Vinci. It is Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan when Leonardo was in the Duke’s service. Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski found it in Italy in 1798 and brought it to Poland soon after.

Insider tip: This painting is now in the Czartoryski Museum, a collection originally established by Princess Isabella Czartoryska in 1796. It was discovered by allied troops at the end of World War II in the Bavarian country house of Hans Frank, Governor-General of occupied Poland, and returned .

Price: £

The Lady with the Ermine, KrakowThe Lady with the Ermine, Krakow

Lady with an Ermine is one of four unknown portraits of women painted by Leonardo da Vinci – 2011 AFP/CARL COURT

Take to the waters for the evening

A five-hour cruise on the Peter Pan ship, limited to 34 passengers with a panoramic upper deck, will take you along the Vistula past many of the city’s landmarks from Wawel Hill to the baroque Pauline Church on the Rock. It includes a tour of the Tyniec Benedictine Monastery, located above the river.

Insider tip: The Pauline Rock Church houses a pantheon of Polish creativity within its crypt. The painters Malczewski and Wyspiański are both buried there, as is the pianist and composer Szymanowski and the writer and Nobel Prize winner, Czesław Miłosz.

Contact: 00 48 601 560 250;
Meeting point: Czerwie ski boulevard, in front of the Sheraton Hotel, at the Dębnicki Bridge.
Price: £

Peter Pan Ship, KrakowPeter Pan Ship, Krakow

Pass many of the city’s landmarks from Wawel Hill to the Baroque Pauline Church on the Rock on a five-hour journey on the Peter Pan ship

Picnic on an important mound with great views

Built by Cracovians in 1823 to commemorate the Polish national leader, Tadeusz Kościuszko, this artificial mound was modeled on Kraków’s prehistoric mounds, Krak and Wanda. A serpentine path leads to the top of the Kościuszko Mound, with a wonderful view of the Vistula and Kraków. Pack a picnic from the deli in Pasaz 13 in the Market Square and set up in the surrounding park.

Insider tip: Kosciuszko Mound prompted Count Paul Strzelecki, a Polish patriot and Australian explorer, to name Australia’s highest mountain Mount Kosciuszko because of its perceived resemblance to the Kościuszko Mound in Kraków.

Contact: 00 48 12 425 11 16;
Price: £

Kościuszko Mound, KrakowKościuszko Mound, Krakow

The Kościuszko mound was modeled on Kraków’s prehistoric mounds of Krak and Wanda – mikolajn

Learn about Kraków’s history at Schindler’s Factory

Oskar Schindler converted his enamel factory to make ammunition and mess kits to ensure that the Germans would not suspect his activities. As immortalized in the film Schindler’s list, Schindler managed to save many Jews through this factory. The Schindler Factory now houses a museum about Nazi-occupied Kraków as well as a contemporary Polish art museum, MOCAK, which exhibits national and international artists.

Insider tip: The museum was designed in an original way with 45 rooms divided into a hairdressing salon, a labor camp, a railway station, a street and so on, making this a living history lesson of the horrors people suffered at the time.

Contact: 00 48 12 257 10 17;
Price: £

Schindler Factory, KrakowSchindler Factory, Krakow

Oskar Schindler converted his factory to make ammunition and mess kits to ensure the Germans would not be suspicious of his activities – Dragoncello

Explore the symbol of national identity at The Wawel

A fortress once stood on this hill but was replaced by the Renaissance Castle and Gothic Cathedral that dominates Krakow’s skyline today. The Royal Cathedral, considered by the Poles as a spiritual shrine, was the site of royal coronations and burials. The Royal Castle was the center of political and cultural life and remains a symbol of national identity.

Insider tip: The Zygmunt Chapel stands out among the other churches of the Royal Cathedral as a jewel of Italian Renaissance art in Poland. It contains the tombs of the last two Jagiellonian kings, Bartolomeo Berrecci and Santi Gucci in 1530 and 1574 respectively.

Contact: 00 48 12 429 95 16;
Price: £

Wawel Castle, KrakowWawel Castle, Krakow

The Royal Cathedral, considered by the Poles as a spiritual shrine, was the site of royal coronations and burials – RolfSt/RolfSt

Look for archaeological finds

Rynek Underground opened in 2010 as a high-tech museum that traces the story of the city from the first settlers to the death of Pope John Paul II. It is four meters below the Main Market Square. The underground vaults display archaeological finds as well as coins and ancient clothing. The whole is a skilful mix of interactive and traditional displays.

Insider tip: As entrance is limited to 300 people at a time, advance bookings for timed slots. This can be done online or at the information office on the other side of the Cloth Hall to the entrance of the museum, which is opposite the Chapel of Our Lady.

Contact: 00 48 12 426 50 60;
Price: £

See the largest Gothic altar in the world

This very beautiful polyptych from the 15th century, 11 meters wide and 13 meters high, is located behind the high altar in St Mary’s Church. Veit Stoss, a famous sculptor in Gothic art who lived in Kraków, carved it, devoting 12 years to this, his magnum opus. It is carved in lime wood and consists of 200 sculptures treated with color and gold foil.

Insider tip: The polyptych, the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world, has recently undergone major restoration but is now back to its former glory. Check the website for visiting times. See also the beautiful sandstone cross, also by Veit Stoss, which hangs in the church, near the visitor’s entrance. It is a fine example of 15th century sculpture.

Price: £

St Mary's Church, KrakowSt Mary's Church, Krakow

The world’s largest Gothic altar can be found in St. Mary’s Church in Kraków – (c) Mikhail Markovskiy, 2016/klug-photo

Explore the oldest salt mine in the world

A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1978, the Wieliczka salt mine, located 40 minutes outside of Kraków, is the oldest salt mine in the world, dating back over 700 years. Only a mile and a half of the network of underground chambers are open to the public, of which the most notable is the Chapel of Saint Ríona with its altar, statues and chandeliers embedded in salt.

Insider tip: The unique micro-climate is used for sub-therapy in treatment chambers located 135 meters (442 feet) underground. It is also possible to sleep underground in the East Mountain Stable Room, a natural breather, which used to be a stable for the horses that worked the mine.

Contact: 00 48 12 288 00 52;
Price: ££

Wieliczka Salt Mine, KrakowWieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow

The Wieliczka salt mine has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1978 – EunikaSopotnicka/EunikaSopotnicka

Prepare for your sobering experience at Auschwitz

Many visitors who come to Kraków do so with the intention of visiting Auschwitz, an hour away, which was the largest of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. It was a grim and sobering experience that the world believed should be turned into a museum in memory of the 900,00 to 1.5 million Jews, Poles and others who were killed there.

Insider tip: As for poles, Auschwitz, famous for the inscription on its gate ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (the work you do for free), is a particular symbol of their own suffering. It was here that Saint Maksymilian Kolbe died after volunteering his life for the lives of other prisoners.

Contact: 00 48 33 844 8000;
rice: Free or £ with a guided tour

Auschwitz, KrakówAuschwitz, Kraków

As for poles, Auschwitz, famous for the inscription on its gate ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (work makes you free), is a particular symbol of their own suffering – Martin Dimitrov/martin-dm

How we choose

Every thing and activity in this curated list has been tried and tested by our destination expert, to give you their insider perspective. We cover a range of budgets and styles, from world-class museums to family-friendly theme parks – to suit every type of traveller. We update this list regularly to keep up with the latest openings and provide up-to-date recommendations.

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