Exploring the Top 10 Reasons to Visit Krakow, Poland to help plan your next trip to Europe!
We are always on the lookout for intriguing travel destinations. Places around the world we can dive into the culture and taste what the city has to offer.
This summer I had the opportunity to visit Krakow, Poland with my friend Amanda from the travel site KevinandAmanda.com. We decided to visit Poland and the Czech Republic and instantly knew Krakow was at the top of the list.
Krakow is an easy city to love. It’s steeped in rich history, both glorious and infamous. You can relax and blend in, experience roaring nightlife, visit sights and museums, and seek outdoor adventure, all in the same place.
With quaint streets and historical buildings, a walk around Krakow is an adventure on its own. If you are planning a trip through eastern Europe, Krakow is not to be missed.
Today I want to share my Top 10 Reasons to Visit Krakow, Poland to help you plan your next vacation!
Top 10 Reasons to Visit Krakow, Poland
1 Eating Polish Food
Obviously, food is going to be high on my list, and wow, was it ever good!
One observation we made in Krakow is that Polish people seem to have very strong convictions about their cuisine, both traditional and modern. This is not the case in some eastern European countries that were under communist rule for generations. However in Poland, food holds great importance and regional dishes are passed down through families as part of their inheritance.
Since Polish people tend to have a strong awareness of their cuisine, the dining options in Krakow are very exciting. We had some truly unforgettable meals in our short time in the city!
Our first night in Krakow, we were invited to dine at the home of Magdalena Kasprzyk-Chevriaux, a food writer who also owns a business called Eataway.com with her friend Marta Bradshaw. Eataway offers cooking classes and in-home family dinners to tourists who want to get a better taste of true local cuisine.
The meal Magdalena and Marta prepared for us was truly exceptional. We enjoyed all sorts of dishes that are important to the region including: pickled herring, chilled beet soup, local cheeses and produce, pierogis, sausages, and of course amazing Polish vodka. Magdalena’s husband made a classic cream dessert called Kremowka, that I still find myself day dreaming about from time to time.
In-home dining with Eataway.com was the perfect way to kick off our culinary experience in Krakow!
We also dined at a few fabulous restaurants in Krakow, Poland.
One of our favorites was Miód Malina, a restaurant that focuses on new and old Polish cuisine. We enjoyed savory and sweet pierogis, outstanding fermented rye soup serve in the best looking bread bowl I’d ever seen, spareribs, and potato cakes with stew.
The restaurant and courtyard are absolutely stunning, creating a perfect setting to dine.
But the food… The food was amazing!
We enjoyed an evening meal in the garden of La Campana, an Italian eatery with Polish flare.
Yet no matter where you dine, be sure to look for:
Bagels – Street vendors sell them all over the city… But they are called Obwarzanek Krakowski. These twisted bread rings were created in Krakow and are the original jewish bagel.
Kielbasa – I had no idea how many varieties of kielbasa there were until I visited Krakow! These sausages were some of the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere. Polish sausages have been popularized all over the world, but the best of course are in Poland.
Zapiekanka – A sort of Polish pizza baked on an baguette with all sorts of crazy toppings.
Fermented Foods – Pickling and fermenting are extremely important cooking/preservation techniques in Poland, due to the long winter months. Because of this, preserved foods in Poland are an art form. The pickled vegetables, fruits, and fish we tasted were utterly inspired. In fact, I had never tasted pickled herring that I liked until visiting Krakow. After my first taste, I ate pickled herring every chance I got.
When you see fermented foods on a Krakow menu, don’t be afraid to try them. Give in to this culinary treasure. You’ll be so glad you did.
Food Truck Parks – Although classic Polish dishes were the highlight of our eating in Poland, it’s important to note that Krakow has a very vibrant modern food scene. There are pop-up eateries and food trucks throughout the city, as well as cutting-edge restaurants serving Polish and world cuisine in unique ways.
We were able to visit the food trucks one evening and had all sorts of delicious nibbles including spicy Polish pulled pork sandwiches.
2 Explore the Largest City Square in Europe
That’s right, Krakow, Poland is home of the most expansive city square on the continent.
You could spend an entire day (or two) exploring Rynek Glowny Square: shopping in the market, sitting in a cafés, take a carriage ride, climbing the steps of the Clock Tower of Sukiennice and people watching from above, or sitting by a fountain.
But best of all, you must visit the Basilica of the Virgin Mary. You must.
It is absolutely stunning inside with the largest gothic alter piece anywhere in the world.
You can go inside to worship without paying a fee, or you can buy tickets to tour the cathedral and even go up in the famed tower. Taking a guided tour of the cathedral is a good idea. There is so much rich history within the chapel walls, it’s good to have someone to share it with you.
Make sure to be outside the cathedral (on the hour) to hear a bugle call from the tower play homage to a fallen trumpeter who was killed while trying to warn the city of invaders.
3 Experience World War II History
Krakow, Poland was an ominous place to be during World War II. Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe at the time, so much of the devastating accounts we learn about in school happened there.
Nazis took hold of the city and used it as a central location for many of their operations.
Jewish ghettos were built to control the population. People were starved, then carted out of the city to local concentration camps. Most of them were told they were being relocated to better living quarters and had no idea they were being sentenced to death.
The Gates of Aschwitz.
Oskar Schindler’s Factory (known from the movie Schindler’s List) is located in Krakow and is now a WWII museum featuring artifacts, clippings, and photographs from the region during the notorious years of 1939-1945.
The infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camps are right outside of Krakow, for a day trip to learn and pay your respects to the 1.1 million people who died in this camp alone. 90% of these were Jewish.
We visited both of these memorials. Although they were tough emotionally-charged hours of our otherwise relaxed adventure, we feel it was a very important part of our trip.
I would highly recommend anyone visiting Krakow to take the time to go to Auschwitz. For me, it only became real after seeing the living quarters, standing in the gas chamber, and witnessing the mountains of belongings taken from innocent people.
It’s by remembering the past that we change the future.
Sleeping Quarters – People were forced to sleep 8 per platform, 3 levels high.
4 The Jewish Quarter
Krakow’s Jewish Quarter is not only a place to experience history, it’s a lively part of town with pop-up restaurants and food trucks, as well as a raging night life!
This cafe is one of the locations Schindler’s List was filmed.
Visit during the day to walk the street of Jewish neighborhoods. You can book a history tour to get all the facts.
Then come back in the evening for clubs, pubs, and lots of action!
5 Explore Wawel Castle
Perched above Old Town Krakow is beautiful Wawel Castle. You can walk through the courtyard to see the architecture and gardens.
You can visit Wawel Royal Cathedral where Pope John Paul II served mass. Then climb the bell tower for stunning views of the city, and touch the bell to make a wish.
You can tour the inside of the castle if you have time.
You can even walk through the famous Wawel Dragon’s cave and watch the dragon monument breath fire!
6 Get to Know Pope John Paul II
Krakow, Poland was the hometown of Pope John Paul II for 40 years before his was elected pope and moved to Vatican City in 1946.
He is thought of as Krakow’s greatest citizen for his many achievements over the years, including helping to bring on the fall of communism.
There are monuments, museums, and tributes to Pope John Paul II all over the city.
No matter your faith, his life is an inspiration to all and worth exploring while in Krakow.
7 Old World European Charm
Krakow, Poland is an alluring city full of quaint streets and historical buildings. It’s the kind of city I love to get lost in for a day… As long as I have my google maps app with me to get me back to the hotel. *wink*
Make sure to walk the park trail around Old Town Krakow and enter the city through the last standing city gate, Saint Florian’s Gate.
Follow the street down toward Rynek Glowny (city square) and Basilica of the Virgin Mary. Follow the “royal road” south past the square to Wawel Castle.
Don’t be afraid to veer off into courtyards and down side streets along the way. There are so many hidden treasures in Krakow, exploring the city is a must!
8 Wieliczka Salt Mines
Just outside Krakow is another destination that makes a marvelous day trip, Wieliczka Salt Mine. Walk through salt caverns, intricately carved underground chapels, and tunnels of salt carved by miners and amateur artists for generations.
The salt mine was mined commercially until 2007. Now it is a national monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
9 Outdoor Adventure
Krakow is close to ski resorts, lakes with beaches, hiking, rock climbing, farm tours and all sorts of outdoor activities. Once you’ve visited the city, make sure to gear up for some outdoor fun!
This should possibly be #1 on the list… Americans often think they can’t afford to travel through Europe, because of the high prices associated with cities like Paris, London, and Rome.
However many eastern European countries offer just as much visual stimulation and cultural appeal, for a fraction of the price.
Yes, the airfare might be pricey. Yet if you get a deal on airfare, the hotels, local transportation, dining, tours, and activities are all extremely reasonable.
Amanda and I took a train from Krakow to Prague, which is a 6 hour train ride, for about $14. (I’ll share about Prague next week!) Our most expensive fine-dining meals were equivalent to casual dining in the US. Our lovely hotel right in the heart of town, with a park view, was about one-third of what you would pay for a similar hotel and location in a popular American city.
If you are planning to take a train trip through Europe, definitely put Krakow, Poland on the list!
Tables in front of Singer Club – An old Singer factory turned pub in the Jewish Quarter.
Where Should You Stay?
Speaking of hotels, we loved staying at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Krakow. It was clean, close to everything, and had a fabulous breakfast with lots of options.
Staying at the Radisson Blu made it easy to pop in and out of the hotel as needed throughout the day as we passed by. I will definitely book a room there the next time I visit Krakow.
Need Additional Help Planning Your Trip to Krakow, Poland?
Visit Krakow Tourism helped Amanda and I plan our trip. Check out their site and contact them with questions. They are very helpful and have all sorts of insider information to share!
Disclosure: Visit Krakow hosted us and helped us plan our time in Poland. All opinions re my own.