The 10 best things to do in Krakow

Poland’s geographical location has led to a history of constantly shifting borders, resulting in cities that blend a variety of influences in their architecture and food. Krakow, however, is resolutely Polish and is seen by many as its spiritual capital. Stroll the cobbled streets, observe from a café on the expansive market square, delve into the many museums and churches and you’ll understand the soul of this country. The centre is compact, making it easy to access the various attractions there, and for those who want to venture further afield, the extraordinary Wieliczka Salt Mines await.

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

Listen to the sound of the city

The Hejnal, or horn signal, sounded every hour from the highest tower of St. Mary’s Church, is a sound that defines Kraków. It is played four times to each point on the compass, the call suddenly interrupted to honor the bugler who was shot in the throat by invading Tatars in the 13th century.

Insider tip: The bugle tower, 54 metres above the city, is currently under renovation, so check the website to see if it is open to climb. If it is, go to Plac Mariacki 7 early in the morning of the day you want to climb it to get your ticket.


St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow

Every hour, a sound that defines Krakow rings out from the highest tower of St. Mary’s Basilica – RossHelen/RossHelen

Look at the most famous lady of Krakow

The 15th-century Lady with an Ermine is one of only four female portraits painted by Leonardo da Vinci and it remains relatively unknown. The sitter is Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan when Leonardo was in the service of the duke. It was acquired in Italy in 1798 by Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski and brought to Poland shortly afterwards.

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


Lady with an Ermine, KrakowLady with an Ermine, Krakow

Lady with an Ermine is one of only four female portraits Leonardo da Vinci painted and it remains relatively unknown – 2011 AFP/CARL COURT

Spend an afternoon on the water

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

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

Contact: 00 48 601 560 250;
Meeting point: Czerwieński Boulevard, opposite the Sheraton Hotel, near the Dębnicki Bridge.

Peter Pan Ship, KrakowPeter Pan Ship, Krakow

Cruise past many of the city’s sights, from Wawel Hill to the impressive Baroque Pauline Church on the Rock, on a five-hour cruise on the Peter Pan ship

Picnic on an important hill with a beautiful view

This artificial hill was built in 1823 by the people of Kraków in memory of the Polish national leader, Tadeusz Kościuszko, and is modeled after the prehistoric mounds of Kraków, Krak and Wanda. A winding path leads to the top of Kościuszko Hill, with beautiful views of the Vistula and Kraków. Pack a picnic from the delicatessen at Pasaz 13 on the Market Square and settle in in the surrounding park.

Insider tip: Kosciuszko Hill inspired Count Paul Strzelecki, a Polish patriot and Australian explorer, to name Australia’s highest mountain Kosciuszko, because of its resemblance to Kosciuszko Hill in Kraków.

Contact: 00 48 12 425 11 16;

Kościuszko Hill, KrakówKościuszko Hill, Kraków

The Kościuszko Mound is modeled after the prehistoric mounds of Kraków, Krak and Wanda – mikolajn

Learn about Krakow’s past at the Schindler Factory

Oskar Schindler converted his enamel factory into munitions and mess kits to ensure that the Germans would not be suspicious of his activities. As immortalized in the film Schindler’s List, Schindler saved many Jews through this factory. Schindler’s Factory now houses a museum about Kraków under Nazi occupation as well as a contemporary Polish art museum, MOCAK, which exhibits national and international artists.

Insider tip: The museum is designed in an original way with 45 rooms, divided between a hair salon, a labor camp, a train station, a street, etc. The museum is a real, living history lesson about the horrors that people had to endure at that time.

Contact: 00 48 12 257 10 17;

Schindler's Factory, KrakowSchindler's Factory, Krakow

Oskar Schindler converted his factory to produce ammunition and dining sets so the Germans would not suspect his activities – Dragoncello

Discover a symbol of national identity at Wawel

A citadel once stood on this hill, but it was long ago replaced by the Renaissance castle and Gothic cathedral that now dominate Kraków’s skyline. The Royal Cathedral, considered a spiritual sanctuary by Poles, was the site of coronations and royal funerals. The Royal Castle was the center of political and cultural life and remains a symbol of national identity.

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

Contact: 00 48 12 429 95 16;

Wawel Castle, KrakowWawel Castle, Krakow

The Royal Cathedral, considered a spiritual sanctuary by Poles, was the place of coronations and royal funerals – RolfSt/RolfSt

Reviewing archaeological finds

Opened in 2010, Rynek Underground is a high-tech museum that traces the city’s story from its first settlers to the death of Pope John Paul II. It is located four metres below the Main Market Square. The underground vaults display archaeological finds as well as ancient coins and clothing. The whole thing is a skillful mix of interactive exhibits and traditional displays.

Insider tip: As access is limited to 300 people at a time, you must reserve a time slot in advance. This can be done online or at the information office on the other side of the Lakenhal at the entrance to the museum, which overlooks St. Mary’s Church.

Contact: 00 48 12 426 50 60;

See the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world

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

Insider tip: The polyptych, the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world, recently underwent a major restoration but has now been restored to its former glory. Check the website for visiting hours. Also look out for the beautiful sandstone crucifix, also by Veit Stoss, which hangs in the church, near the visitors’ entrance. It is a wonderful example of 15th century sculpture.


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

The largest Gothic altarpiece in the world is in St. Mary’s Basilica in Kraków – (c) Mikhail Markovskiy, 2016/klug-photo

Discover the oldest salt mine in the world

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, 40 minutes outside Kraków, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978 and is the oldest working salt mine in the world, having existed for over 700 years. Only two and a half kilometres of the network of underground chambers are open to the public, the most impressive of which is the Chapel of St. Kinga, with its altarpieces, sculptures and chandeliers carved from salt.

Insider tip: The unique microclimate is used for underground therapy in treatment rooms 135 meters (442 ft) below ground. It is also possible to sleep underground in the Eastern Mountain’s Stable Chamber, a natural inhaler, formerly a stable for the horses that worked in the mine.

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

Wieliczka Salt Mine, KrakowWieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow

The Wieliczka Salt Mine has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1978 – EunikaSopotnicka/EunikaSopotnicka

Prepare yourself for a sobering experience in Auschwitz

Many visitors to Krakow come with the intention of visiting Auschwitz, an hour away, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps. It is a grim and sobering experience that the world decided should become a museum as a memorial to the 900,000 to 1.5 million Jews, Poles and others who were murdered there.

Insider tip: For Poles, Auschwitz, famous for the inscription on its gate, “Arbeit macht frei” (Work sets you free), is a special symbol of their own suffering. It was here that St. Maksymilian Kolbe died after giving his life for that of a fellow prisoner.

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

Auschwitz, KrakowAuschwitz, Krakow

For the Poles, Auschwitz, famous for the inscription on its gate ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work sets you free), is a special symbol of their own suffering – Martin Dimitrov/martin-dm

How we choose

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

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