I’ve seen a lot of beautiful cities in my time, but Krakow is really something special. While you could easily spend a week or more in the city, 3 days in Krakow is a great amount of time to explore the highlights. It will give you enough time to explore the historic Old Town, Jewish Krakow and even head out of the city on some great day trips. To help you plan the perfect stay, here is my ideal itinerary for 3 days in Krakow.
This three day Krakow itinerary will introduce you to the main sights of the magical Old Town, as well as the beautiful Jewish district of Kazimierz. Then there’s a little bit of extra time to head out for some day trips, provided that you can drag yourself away from stupidly beautiful Krakow.
With this itinerary, you’ll get a good mix of experiences in Krakow. Of course, you can always amend this three day itinerary in Krakow to match your own preferences!
Day one: Krakow Old Town
For the first of your three days in Krakow, you’ll want to head for the city’s Old Town. Seriously, prepare to be dazzled – this is hands down one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life.
Just one look at the stunning Market Square was enough to have me considered a move to Krakow, and things only got better from there.
Honestly, this town looks like it was dreamt up by some kind of ultra-romantic painter. It is so picturesque, with horse-drawn carriages and stunning Gothic architecture.
Thankfully, Krakow also escaped nearly all damage during World War II, so its largely original. I can’t imagine how tragic it would have been had all the beauty been lost, but luckily it’s well and truly there for you to enjoy!
Morning: Walking tour of Krakow Old Town
It’s hard to go far in Krakow without falling over a group of eager tourists following around a tour leader with a brightly-coloured umbrella.
Yep, Krakow seems to be the hub of free walking tours, which will either delight or disgust you!
I personally am firmly in the “delight” camp, and think they’re a great way to check out the city’s sights. We did several tours with Walkative, and they were all excellent.
The Walkative Old Town free walking tour departs daily at 10am, so I highly recommend starting off your 3 days in Krakow with this tour. It will help introduce you to the main sights, and orientate you with the city.
Just be prepared to be very, very, very identifiable as a tourist while you do it.
Not keen to toddle on after a yellow umbrella? Fair enough. Don’t worry, I’ve got you sorted. Here’s a self-guided itinerary with all the main spots you have to see on your first day in Krakow.
(Hint: if you are planning on doing the tour, skip ahead to lunch!)
Self-guided tour of Krakow Old Town
There are so many amazing places to see in Krakow’s Old Town, but you can definitely see the highlights during your three days in Krakow with this self-guided itinerary.
The Barbican was built in the 15th Century to guard the powerful city of Krakow. Its walls are over 10 feet thick, and you can still see where archers would have stood at the ready.
The building is Gothic style, however it has strong Arabic influence. As a result, it’s quite a unique looking structure that’s very different from what is seen in Western Europe.
Nowadays, the Barbican has a more refined purpose. It’s one of the city’s key exhibition spaces. Events from classical concerts to art exhibits are held here, and are a good excuse to get inside the walls of the Barbican.
St Florian’s Gate Tower
Another keystone in Krakow’s defensive history is the St Florian’s Gate Tower. Not far from the Barbican, the tower was built in the aftermath of the Tatar attack back in 1241.
After this attack destroyed much of Krakow, the city got serious – and set about building one hell of a tower. As was the done thing at the time, it was soon surrounded by a moat adjacent to the Barbican.
At the height of Krakow’s paranoia, there were 47 watch towers and 8 heavily fortified gates. Today, St Florian’s gate is the oldest and most famous.
There’s no shortage of beautiful streets in Krakow, but Florianska is quite the standout. Most of the facades date from the 13th century, meaning it’s just ridiculously beautiful.
Back in the day, Florianska Street was a hot address for wealthy middle-class families. Over time, more and more buildings sprung up in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic styles.
I’m going to be honest that I don’t know much about architecture, but I know about good vibes – and Florianska street has plenty. In fact, it’s the most visited street in Krakow, so don’t miss it.
Small Market Square (Maly Rynek)
In any other city, ‘Small Market Square’ would be a generously sized square. However, this is Krakow, and by comparison it’s pretty small.
Originally, this square held a secondary market, first with a selection of butchers before it moved to fresh fruit and vegetables.
It wasn’t without controversy, however, as the square saw numerous clashes between Catholics and Protestants, who lived on either side of the square.
Today, Small Market Square is a great place to stop for coffee. It’s got similar vibes to Main Market Square but on a smaller scale — and without the wince-inducing prices.
Adam Mickiewicz Monument
In the midst of the Market Square, it’s hard to miss the statue of Adam Mickiewicz. He’s perhaps Poland’s most loved poet, and one of the most famous Polish people of the 19th Century.
Mickiewicz’s works are still part of the Polish school curriculum – it’s used to torture children, our tour guide joked. Whether you enjoy his poetry or not, he’s certainly a prominent Polish figure.
Interestingly, Mickiewicz’s connection to Krakow is tenuous. He was born is Zaosie, which is actually today part of Belarus. He was eventually exiled and died in Istanbul where he was initially interred. Soon, his remains were moved to Paris.
In fact, the only concrete connection that Mickiewicz has to Krakow is that his remains were finally moved to Wawel Castle. As such, he has a much stronger tie to Krakow in death than he did in live.
Nonetheless, it is a very impressive statue.
Main Market Square (Rynek Główny)
It’s impossible to leave Krakow without visiting the Main Market Square. No, really – I don’t believe there’s ever been a visitor Krakow who hasn’t ended up at Rynek Główny.
It covers just under 10 acres, making it one of the largest Medieval squares anywhere in Europe. Having visited a fair few squares in Europe, I’m going to go controversial and say — I think it might just be the best.
The square itself dates back to the 13th century. It was built in the aftermath of the Mongol Invasion in 1241. After the Mongols sacked the city, it became a real source of pride for such a magnificent square to be created.
And magnificent it is. Originally hosting a large market (hence its name), it went on to have many other uses — including, most gruesomely, the ground for public executions.
It’s hard to image such a gorgeous square could be used for anything so grisly. Today, Main Market Square is the kind of place you could just spend hours. Don’t miss seeing the beautiful, ornately decorated carriages led by stunning horses.
Town Hall Tower
It’s known as Krakow’s very own leaning tower – but you’ll have to look closely to see it. The slant is around 55cm, just enough to slightly throw off your photos. (No, it’s not you!)
The Tower was built in the late 13th century, and was, at one time, connected to the town hall. As well as boring administrative functions, the Town Hall also dabbled in imprisonment and torture. Lovely!
That was demolished however, with the promise that it would be rebuilt. That was several decades ago, and the 70 metre high tower still stands out on its own.
Nonetheless, it’s still one of the most recognisable buildings in Krakow and well worth a visit. You can even have a cuppa in the basement where prisoners were once tortured. Or is it just me that likes that kind of thing?
Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)
In the middle of the square, it’s pretty much impossible to miss the gorgeous Cloth Hall. It’s seriously one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen in my life.
You really get a feel for the grandeur of Krakow back when it was a main source of the textile trade back in the 14th century. Sadly the original building was destroyed by fire in the 1500s, but it was rebuilt in a beautiful Renaissance style.
Not only is the building beautiful to look at, but it’s also one of the best places to shop for souvenirs in the city. If you’re looking for a reminder of your three days in Krakow, this is the place to go!
St Mary’s Basilica
The sight of the asymmetrical towers of St Mary’s Basilica is probably the most iconic in Krakow.
What I love about St Mary’s Basilica is that it’s deeply imperfect. The towers don’t match, and it doesn’t line up with the rest of the square. There’s even the fact that it’s a mish mash of Gothic and Renaissance style.
It might sound like this would look messy – but the end result is actually far from it. It’s an incredibly beautiful building, and one that is fitting for the market square.
You can take a look at the church at any time, however it’s worth trying to line up your visit on the hour. At this time, a trumpeter comes out of the top window of the left tower and plays a recognisable tune.
You can also climb up the tower, and if you’re lucky you might even get to meet the trumpet player!
Every European city I visit, there’s always a place or two that stagger you with their incredible history. In Krakow, this was the Collegium Maius.
This is the first university building in Poland, which opened for students in 1400. Within a century, it had become one of the most famous universities in Europe.
Early on, the only subjects available at the university were law, theology and medicine, but it eventually widened.
Over time, the Jagiellonian University has seen many famous students, including the hugely influential astronomer Nicholas Copernicus.
The building is incredibly beautiful, and looks somewhat Islamic influenced with its archways. As well as admiring its beauty, there’s also an exhibit inside showcasing the university’s treasures. The medieval scientific instruments are particularly fascinating!
Krakow has an amazing musical history, and the Krakow Philharmonic is one of the most significant buildings.
It’s not one of the oldest buildings in Krakow, having been built in the early 1900s, however it is one of the most beautiful. The style is Neo-Baroque, and it really is an amazing sight.
Although it was first built as the Catholic Assembly Hall, today it is most famously home to the Philharmonic Orchestra. If you’re lucky, you can even get tickets to catch a beautiful show there.
If not, just admire it from the outside!
Wawel Royal Castle
Probably the most impressive building Krakow (and there are a lot of impressive buildings) is the Wawel Castle.
It sits atop a naturally formed hill, meaning it was perfectly placed to see any invading armies. That’s why it was selected as the residence for Krakow’s royals and their servants.
As such, the area is almost like a small town. As well as the beautiful and impressive castle, there’s also a stunning chapel. Be sure to look out for the gold-adorned dome on top of the King Sisimund Chapel.
(Psst: the gold obsession continues inside, if you want to check it out).
It’s free to visit the grounds of the castle and to walk inside the beautiful courtyard. If you’d like, you can enter the castle and see the art collection. It’s pretty cool, but if you’re on a budget I wouldn’t feel too bad about skipping it.
Krakow really does look like something out of a fairytale, so it’s fitting that the last stop on our self-guided tour would be in front of a fire-breathing dragon.
Yes, really! You’ve got to love countries where health and safety regulations haven’t yet decided pyrotechnics are a no-go.
Not far from Wawel Castle, the dragon statue commemorates a famous legend about the city.
Folklore says that early on in the reign of King Krak, the city’s namesake, there was a fierce dragon living near Wawel.
At first, the townsfolk kept the dragon at bay by sacrificing young maidens to him. (Why is it always the young maidens? Seriously?) Eventually, the dragon had consumed practically all the maidens, and the townspeople decided that the King’s daughter was next.
Not well thrilled about this plan, the King instead instructed his bravest knights to vanquish the dragon.
They failed, yet a young shoemaker had a cunning plan. He fed the dragon a sheep filled with sulphur, causing him to dive into the water in agony, and eventually explode.
(Why no one else thought poisoning the dragon was a better plan than killing an infinite number of eligible young ladies, I am unsure).
Today, the cool fire-breathing statue not only commemorates this story, but is one of the city’s most iconic statues.
Map of Old Town Walking Tour
Lunch: Camera Cafe
For me, Poland is synonymous with pierogis. Now, to be fair, I have an unapologetic dumpling obsession. Wrap any food in carbs and I’m all about it, so dumplings are basically my favourite thing on earth.
So, you can bet I was going to eat my bodyweight (and then some) of pierogis in Poland. I highly recommend you do the same.
Pretty much every place in Krakow will do you up some pierogis – they are truly a country-wide obsession. However, I particularly loved the ones I got from Camera Cafe, a cute little place in Old Town.
They also do some mean desserts, so you can satiate your sweet tooth here too. Plus, there’s air-conditioning for when it’s scorching hot (yes! It is true! Poland gets really, really hot.)
Afternoon: Rynek Underground Museum
Fun fact about Krakow: it used to be several feet lower, but over time it has been layered up the height it is now. It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around, but one way to find out about it is at the Rynek Underground Museum.
You’ll find this museum in the heart of Market Square, and you’ll want to devote a few hours to exploring it.
Although it’s smack-bang in the middle of Old Town, the museum is actually super modern. They’ve used the old, excavated trading stalls and turned them into fancy, high-tech exhibits.
It’s a pretty amazing way to learn more about the fascinating history of Krakow.
Just be warned, the museum gets super busy and since it’s small, only a certain number of people are allowed in at any time. You’ll want to book tickets ahead of time (I’d recommend at least 3 days in advance, and probably more) so you don’t miss out.
Another hot tip if you’re on a budget during your three days in Krakow – it’s free on Tuesdays!
Optional: St Francis Basilica
If you finish up at the Rynek Underground Museum and still have time to waste before dinner, then I’d recommend dropping in to the St Francis Basilica.
The Church dates way back from the 14th century, and has been significant in Polish history. What I particularly love about this church (considering Krakow has lots and lots of churches) is the beautiful, colourful interior.
Once you’ve stopped by the Basilica, you can also look up at the window where Pope John Paul II would speak to worshippers in the park from.
Evening: Chopin Piano Concert
It might not be to everyone’s taste, but when I visited Krakow, the Chopin Piano Concert was one of my absolute highlights!
I’ve loved classical piano since I was a kid, but usually the cost of seeing a real maestro is ridiculously expensive. In Krakow, you can see a brilliant pianist perform Chopin’s pieces (+ enjoy a glass of sparkling) for about $18 USD.
The evening went for about an hour and a half and made it through most of Chopin’s well-known pieces. I highly recommend this if you enjoy classical piano like I do!
Dinner: Milkbar Tomasza
Krakow has many fabulous restaurants, but I highly recommend paying a stop to a traditional “milk bar” like Milkbar Tomasza.
A milk bar has nothing to do with milk and little to do with alcohol. Instead, it’s a cheap style of eatery that became popular during communist times.
Here, you can enjoy all kinds of delicious Polish dishes (pierogi! Pierogi!) at a really, really good price. It also boasts a great location in the heart of Old Town, but just far enough away from the Main Square not to feel totally over-touristed.
Plus, it’s a cultural experience in itself. Highly recommend.
Krakow’s nightlife is kind of legendary. Regardless of how old you are or where you come from, it’s kind of criminal not to indulge in at least a teensy bit of debauchery in the city.
Just please don’t start singing English football chants. Please.
Anyway, Krakow is one of those places where you can just throw a stone and hit five pretty awesome bars or pubs.
Nights tend to start and finish pretty late in Krakow, but if you’re keen to start early then you certainly won’t go thirsty. Of course, you don’t have to drink to have a good time at night in Krakow (I can smugly say this from experience.)
Some places you might want to check out for your big night in Krakow include:
- Alchemia – if you want to enjoy some laid back and relaxed drinks in a beautiful and stylish bar, this is a great choice! The drinks are a little more upscale but they’re still very reasonably priced.
- Strefa Piwa (Beer Zone) – while everyone knows about Polish vodka, it seems beer is often the local beverage of choice. I’m not a huge beer drinker myself, but if you’re all about this then check out Strefa Piwa, a relaxed bar in Kazimierz. The beer list is great and the staff are super knowledgeable.
- Społem Deluxe – if you like your nightlife local and kind of quirky, then this is a great choice. The Polish Republic-inspired interior is just the right amount of questionable, as is the colourful lighting. Then there’s the fact that the DJ is hitting the decks from inside an old car, which is also pretty cool.
- Zakąski i wódka – this bar believes that food and vodka should be fast and cheap. I wholeheartedly agree. This is a great place that’s popular with visitors and locals, and won’t break the bank. I recommend it if you’re looking to try Polish vodka (just go easy, it’s strong!)
- Lokal Krakow – a fabulous three storey nightclub and pub that is kind of like all your nights out mashed into one. In an old tenement house and serving up hip hop and r’n’b predominantly, I’m a big fan!
Day two: Jewish Krakow
One of the most important aspect of Krakow’s past is its Jewish history. Once home to a thriving Jewish community, World War II and the aftermath devastated the city’s Jewish community. While today the community is much smaller than it was in the past, there is a concerted effort to celebrate this side of Krakow.
Morning: Walking tour of Kazimierz
The heart of the Jewish community in Krakow was Kazimierz, and it’s also the perfect place to begin unearthing the Jewish history of the city.
Kazimierz has been known as the Jewish Quarter of Krakow since around the 13th century. Jewish people migrated to Poland around this time, as the new country needed educated and literate people.
Most Christians could not read and write, while the Torah (Jewish holy book) stipulated that Jewish boys should learn to read (later, girls would also do so.) As a result, Jewish people were hugely influential, not just in Kazimierz but also for all of Poland.
Walkative does a great free walking tour of Kazimierz, which traces the history of the Jewish community in Krakow before World War II. The tour departs every day at 10.30am, all year round (there are also afternoon tours if you miss them).
As with the Old Town, if you don’t want to do a guided tour you can easily explore Kazimierz yourself without a guide. Here’s a guide to the main highlights you’ll want to see.
Kazimierz Walking Tour
Kazimierz, also known as the Jewish Quarter in Krakow, is truly one of the most beautiful and moving places I’ve ever been. Just wandering the hodge podge of streets is eye opening, but there are a few places you just can’t miss.
PS. Sorry for the lack of photos in this section… I always feel a bit odd taking photos when hearing about atrocities.
It may not be quite as spectacular as its Old Town sister, but Plac Nowy is a great starting point for the tour. It’s a little more grey and grim, but I do love some gritty atmosphere.
Plac Nowy has long been a hub for traders in Kazimierz. Today, its pizza rolls are famous by day, while once the sun goes down it becomes a party hotspot.
You’ll often find market stalls in the square, so if you want to grab an affordable souvenir or snack – check them out.
Jewish Community Centre
I found it incredibly tragic the way that Kazimierz has really never recovered from the atrocities of World War II and the subsequent years.
You often visit places that have been scarred by events yet recovered. Honestly, Kazimierz is not one of those places. The character and community of Kazimierz has been irrevocably changed by the Holocaust, and you can really feel it.
It was a community of over 65,000 in the 1930s – today, it’s just a few thousand.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however. One place to see this is at the Jewish Community Centre, which was opened in 2008.
The Centre is run by the ever-strengthening Jewish community. They hold numerous events, and also welcome walk-ins who’d like to know more about the modern Jewish community in Kazimierz.
This synagogue was founded in 1643 by the local autonomous Jewish Government. It became one of the finest synagogues of the region, with many beautiful elements.
Unfortunately, the synagogue was ransacked during the war. Many of the original features were destroyed and the synagogue itself was badly damaged.
It was restored in 2002, contributing hugely to the rejuvenation of Kazimierz.
There’s not a huge amount to see inside, but it’s worth popping your head in to see the depictions of zodiac symbols on the ceiling.
Remuh Synagogue & Cemetery
While it isn’t the biggest synagogue in Kazimierz, it’s one of the most important. It’s the most active today, and has a distinctively “lived in” feel.
It’s also very historic, having been constructed in 1553 by the family of Polish rabbi Moses Isseries.
Perhaps the most moving part of the synagogue is the cemetery next door. I love a beautiful cemetery, and the ones in Poland are particularly beautiful. Part of what makes them so gorgeous is the way they are meticulously cared for.
This is what makes the destruction of the cemetery during World War II so tragic. Many of the original graves were destroyed, with only a handful remaining.
While the cemetery has been largely restored, it still retains a kind of haunting and tragic beauty. Fragments of the destroyed graves have been turned into the ‘Wailing Wall’, which is a place for quiet reflection.
High Synagogue is the third oldest synagogue in Krakow, and one of the most unique. Although it looks a little worse for wear nowadays, it’s still well worth a visit.
The most unique feature of the High Synagogue is that the prayer room is upstairs, in contrast of most of Krakow’s other synagogues. It is believed that this was planned when it was built in 1563, to keep it away from angry people below.
The synagogue was once a beautiful and ornate place, but like so much of Kazimierz, it was nearly destroyed during WWII after being the subject of an arson attack.
It’s been partly restored, although none of the original furnishings remain. There is, however, a small exhibition space occupying the upstairs.
Downstairs, there is a Jewish bookstore selling books relating to Krakow and the Jewish faith.
Another of Krakow’s most charming roads is Szeroka Street. Originally the heart of Jewish life in Kazimierz, it is more a square than a street – and today it’s filled with cafes and restaurants.
While this is a recent rejuvenation, it does hark back to what Szeroka Street was like before the atrocities of the mid-20th century. It’s a glimpse into what it would have been like, back when Kazimierz was a bustling hub.
There are lots of restaurants to stop in at, but you also shouldn’t miss the place of meditation. This rock sculpture is dedicated to the 65,000 Jewish citizens of Krakow, and the tens of thousands who were killed or displaced during World War II and its aftermath.
The Old Synagogue was built in either 1402 or 1492 – we’re not sure which. Either way, the Old Synagogue is the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue in Poland. Historically, it was one of the most significant synagogues in Kazimierz.
Like many of the synagogues in Kazimierz, it fell largely to ruin during Nazi occupation. In this time, it was used to store ammunition and gunpowder. It was also the site of numerous executions of Polish dissenters. Miraculously, the synagogue escaped total destruction.
Renovated in the 1950s, the Old Synagogue would never again hold religious services. Instead, it is a museum devoted to the history of Krakow.
Fittingly, there’s an emphasis on Jewish history, and you can see some of the beautiful rooms of the synagogue.
Map of Kazimierz Walking Tour
Lunch: Street food
Not far away from the Old Synagogue in Kazimierz, there is a group of food trucks. This was one of my favourite lunch stops in Krakow, and I definitely recommend a visit!
The area has a great atmosphere and there are heaps of great choices for street food. From indulgent choices like a mac ‘n’ cheese hot dog to healthy salads, there’s great variety.
(You can bet I chose the mac ‘n’ cheese hot dog!)
I definitely recommend grabbing lunch here after walking around Kazimierz. Another good stop is ‘Okrąglak’ a bit further on down Plac Nowy, where you can get traditional pizza rolls.
Best of all, both of these choices are very affordable – so perfect for the budget traveller! If you head for the street called Dajwór, you can’t miss it.
Afternoon: Jewish Ghetto & Schindler’s Factory
While today Kazimierz has a vibrant and warm atmosphere, it’s impossible to forget the tragedy that befell the community that once called it home.
I am, of course, talking about World War II and the Holocaust. This atrocity would see the vast majority of Jewish people displaced from Krakow. While some were able to escape, leaving their lives in Krakow behind in search of safety, many others perished in the concentration camps such as Auschwitz.
You may have heard of the name Oskar Schindler, the WWII hero that was immortalised by the film Schindler’s List. He was indeed a real character who saved many people during the war.
You can learn more about him and his actions by visiting his factory. It is one of the most popular things to do in the city, and a worthy addition to your 3 days in Krakow itinerary.
Schindler’s story is fascinating, as he began as a member of the Nazi party who was more concerned with making money then doing any kind of public good. However, he formed close connections with his Jewish factory employees, which eventually saw his actions save over 1,200 Jews.
His bravery and kindness was rewarded in many ways. After the war he fled Poland, and was supported financially by the Jewish community as thanks for his actions.
To ensure you can visit the museum, you’ll want to buy tickets ahead of time. At the museum, there is a lot of information about Oskar Schindler.
The Museum also features exhibits explaining Nazi occupation in Krakow more generally. Every room in the factory is supposed to resemble a different historic building (such as a house and a hairdresser), to really give you a feel for what Krakow would have been like during this terrible time.
It’s definitely an unmissable sight while you’re in Krakow for three days. Just don’t forget to book your tickets ahead of time!
Jewish Ghetto or Walking Tour
Okay guys, I promise I’m not sponsored by Walkative tours – I just really like what they have on offer. Case in point: their 5pm “Traces of the Holocaust Tour”, which traces the tragic history of the Jewish community from 1939 onwards.
It’s not always an easy history to hear, but it is so important. Especially today, when it seems like intolerance is once again on the rise.
Anyway, the tour will take you past some of the key Jewish sites which are outside of Kazimierz. As Jewish people were persecuted in the late 30s and onwards, eventually the Jewish population was moved into ghettos outside of Kazimierz.
The main location was in Podgórze, just down the river from Kazimierz. This place would become a place of great sadness and loss for the Jewish people. To this day, you can still see many fragments of the wall that was used to separate Jewish people from others in Krakow.
In the centre of Podgórze there is a large square, today known as Ghetto Heroes Square. It is a memorial to those who lost their homes, loved ones and lives as a result of the terrible events that happened in Krakow and elsewhere.
It’s a place of quiet reflection; don’t miss the 33 chairs that are placed to represent the tragedy of the Holocaust. Before WWII, there were approximately 68,000 Jewish people in Krakow – today there are around 3,000. Sadly, the city has been irrevocably changed by this event.
For a reminder of the good amongst all the evil, I recommend paying a visit to the Eagle Pharmacy in the square. One of the few non-Jewish people who lived near the ghetto, the owner rendered a lot of assistance to Jewish people during this terrible period.
For dinner, I recommend going back to Kazimierz and again heading for the Old Synagogue. Here you’ll find a selection of Jewish restaurants, which are the perfect way to finish off your day discovering Krakow’s Jewish history.
I particularly love the restaurant Hamsa, which serves a selection of Jewish and Middle Eastern dishes. Plus Polish vodka, because, well, this is Polska.
We had a mezze trio which was totally delicious, and the mains sounded pretty awesome as well. If Hamsa is too busy, there’s a selection of other Jewish restaurants nearby as well.
Day three: Day trips!
There is so much to do in Krakow that you could easily spend a week or more in the city. However, with three days in Krakow I recommend spending the last one exploring a bit beyond the city limits.
(I really loved Zakopane, which could be done as an alternate daytrip – although it is a BIG day.)
Morning: Salt mine
Probably the most popular day trip from Krakow is to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It’s hard to walk anywhere in the Old Town without being confronted with posters and tour guides offering trips to the mine.
The area was first excavated way back in the 13th century and salt mining did not stop until the mid 1990s. That means it was easily one of the longest continuously operating mines on earth, and this was one of the reasons it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The other (at least according to yours truly) is because it is really, really cool. When you think “mine”, you probably think of small, claustrophobic spaces like those in Poldark. (Yes, that was a shameless plug for my favourite TV show.)
Not Wieliczka Salt Mine. It’s practically an underground city, complete with its very own Church. This is Poland, after all, and you’re never far from a church – even when you’re underground.
The Church isn’t the only part of Wieliczka with spiritual significance. All throughout the mine, workers over the centuries left statues and icons. Many of these are religious icons, and they can be seen throughout.
It’s hard to overstate the size of the mines — an average visit takes a couple of hours, but sees just a tiny fraction of everything that’s on offer. It’s easy to see it on a self-guided tour, but you can also get a guide if you’d prefer.
Like many of Krakow’s most popular tours, it’s highly recommended that you book your tickets in advance. This day trip is super popular, so if you can, I highly recommend booking your tickets as soon as you’ve confirmed your dates.
Afternoon: Nowa Huta
Once you’ve seen the amazing beauty of Kazimierz and Krakow’s Old Town, it’s time to go distinctly in the other direction. Enter Nowa Huta, just outside of Krakow.
As soon as you arrive, it’s clear you’re not in Kansas (Krakow) anymore. Nowa Huta has stripped out all the beauty and charisma of Krakow, leaving just functional, uniform buildings in its place.
History of Nowa Huta
This was all completely deliberate. To understand Nowa Huta you need to understand the history of communism in Poland. After World War II, Poland was devastated, and fell into the hands of a communist government aligned with the USSR.
One of their first projects was to build a “socially engineered” city. Being communist, functionless beauty wasn’t really the done thing – it was all about substance over style. As such, Nowa Huta was built in the “socialist realism” style.
Impressively, it took just four years to complete the city that could house 100,000 people. Not every part of the initial plan was completed, but overall it was a model for a communist city.
In fact, Nowa Huta is one of just two such cities in the world – the other one being Magnitogorsk in Russia.
Ironically, however, the dreams of it being a communist paradise didn’t really happen – by contrast, it was a hotbed of anti-Government sentiment. I suspect seeing beautiful Krakow just kilometres away didn’t help you to feel terribly warm and fuzzy about life under communism.
What to see in Nowa Huta
Nowa Huta is one of those places that it’s best to explore on foot, although there is a tram if you’re feeling lazy.
You can’t miss the Central Square, which was the keystone of the communist design. Between 1973 and 1989, a huge statue of Vladimir Lenin stood here — the literal fall of his statue after the revolution was a huge event.
Everywhere you go, you’ll see examples of the “realist” architectural style. To find out even more about communism in Poland, and Nowa Huta, you can visit the Nowa Huta Museum, and the Nowa Huta Cultural Centre.
Also worth visiting is the Steelworks, which gave the city its name and were also one of the largest in communist Europe. At their height, they employed more than 40,000 people, and even Fidel Castro of Cuba paid them a visit.
Of course, visiting a church is always an option in Poland. Due to distrust between the church and communist Government, Nowa Huta originally did not have one. However, massive protests eventually led to the construction of the Lord’s Ark (Kościół Arka Pana) in 1977.
Finally, you can’t leave Nowa Huta without trying some ice cream. I’m not really sure why icecream is so important and synonymous with the area, but my Polish friends insisted that you can’t visit Nowa Huta without trying the ice cream. It was pretty delicious, I must say!
Another of the most popular daytrips from Krakow is to visit Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where about a million people were senselessly murdered.
Deciding whether to visit is a deeply personal decision and one I did a lot of research on before visiting Krakow. In the end, I decided that it wouldn’t make our itinerary.
The main reason was because we had heard that a lot of people are quite disrespectful, taking selfies and the like. Having seen this elsewhere, such as at the Killing Fields in Cambodia, I just didn’t feel comfortable seeing it again.
That said, there are many good reasons to visit Auschwitz. I firmly believe that it is important not to resign tragedies to the pages of history, but to confront them.
Particularly in our current political climate – with the rise of far-right parties and xenophobia – I think we can learn a lot from the atrocity that was the Holocaust.
So, you may prefer to add Auschwitz onto your itinerary rather than the Salt Mine/Nowa Huta. There are many tours that run from Krakow to Auschwitz, so you will have no problems finding a group or private tour.
You can also visit independently – if you have a car it’s about a one hour drive, or you can get a minibus from Krakow Główny, which takes about two hours.
As I didn’t go, I can’t really offer a personal opinion on it – however you may like to have a read of this post about visiting Auschwitz.
Tips for the perfect 3 days in Krakow
- The weather in Krakow can be really extreme. Seriously. In winter, the temperature can drop down to a bone-chattering -30 degrees C (yes, that’s a minus sign there), while summer temps frequently hover above 30 degrees.
- Many of Krakow’s most popular attractions have limited entrance tickets available. As such it’s highly advisable to book ahead, especially if you are visiting in high season. I’d recommend trying to book at least 3 days in advance, but the more the better.
- While I found Krakow to be mesmerisingly beautiful, it’s also got quite a sad history – particularly in respect of the Jewish community. Please treat all the sites with the respect they deserve, and be aware that this tragic time is still very much in living memory for lots of people from Krakow.