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First Timer’s Guide to Krakow

  • Plan your perfect trip with our top tips on what to pack, tipping in Poland, and best places to see
  • Explore Poland’s historic second city on a Krakow tour, and experience its rich, vibrant culture
  • Discover great things to see and do in Krakow, including visiting the Wawel Castle and seeing Europe’s largest collection of tapestries

Krakow, the second-largest city in Poland, is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination no matter the season – in fact, it’s one of our top 10 European cities to visit in winter. Just a short flight from the UK and with plenty to see and do, more and more travellers are being tempted by Krakow weekend breaks and Krakow Christmas market tours. Curious to find out more? Read our first-timer’s guide.

Explore centuries-old historical Krakow on an escorted Krakow tour or Krakow for solo travellers tour, wandering around sights including Wawel Castle, the immense Florian Gate, and included – but optional – visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Visiting Krakow: what you need to know

A vibrant cosmopolitan city, Krakow is also one of the oldest in Poland with over 6,000 historic buildings and monuments, 18 museums, around 140 churches, and one of Europe’s oldest universities. That said, Krakow is easy to get around, and many of the top highlights can be comfortably seen on a short break to the city.

Flight time from London is around two hours and 25 minutes, and when you arrive in Krakow, you’ll find the city is extremely walkable – though it is an offence to cross the road unless at recognised crossing points. To use public transport, buy a ticket at a newspaper stand or kiosk with the sign ‘Bilety’, and validate at the start of your journey. If you need a taxi, officially registered companies will have their name and number on the side of the vehicle and display a rate card on their window.

Krakow’s currency is the zloty (zł) – the current exchange rate is around 5zł to £1* – and the city offers excellent value for money. A cup of coffee or bottle of local beer costs around 10zł (£2*), with a three-course meal for two and a bottle of house wine being approximately 325zł (£66*). Expect to pay 25zł (£5*) for entry into a top museum, such as Schindler’s Factory. ATMs are commonplace too.

When it comes to tipping in Poland, the norm is to tip around 10% of your restaurant bill, perhaps 15% if service was outstanding. One top tip, however, is not to say ‘thank you’ or ‘dziękuję’ when paying the bill in cash with a high-value note – your waiter will see that as an indication that he/she can keep all the change.

krakow tours market square krakow

Market Square, Krakow

When to go on a Krakow tour?

The city is a year-round destination, though the majority of visitors choose a holiday to Krakow in the summer – the average daytime temperature in July is 24°C. Visit in May and June if you want to escape the crowds and enjoy temperatures between 14°C and 19°C. Or consider an autumn break when Krakow has fewer rainy days, and the parks turn a glorious golden colour. Winters in Poland are chilly, and the mercury often struggles to reach 3°C in the city at Christmas. However, if you wrap up warm, you could be rewarded with a snowy festive scene, and the traditional Yuletide Market has a joyous atmosphere.

Six great things to see and do in Krakow

Wander around Wawel

Wawel, the city’s castle district, dates back to the 11th century and dominates Krakow. The area was the political and cultural capital of Poland for over 500 years, and today you can visit the Royal Private Apartments, State Rooms, Senators’ Hall, Crown Treasury and Armoury – each requires a separate ticket. It’s free to walk around the castle grounds. The Palace and Royal chambers are home to fine furniture, works of art, as well as Europe’s most extensive collection of tapestries. On your Krakow tour, also pop into the nearby Cathedral, an impressive place of worship that is the final resting place of Polish monarchs.

krakow tours wawel castle

Wawel Castle

Enjoy a walking tour

As with many other cities on escorted tours, Krakow is best explored on foot, and the best place to start a guided walk is in the beautiful UNESCO-listed centre. The historic main square is lined with exquisite medieval buildings, one being the Cloth Hall, which today is full of market stalls selling local amber jewellery. The richly decorated St Mary’s Church is a must-see too – listen out for the hourly trumpet call from the top of one of its two ornate spires. Don’t miss Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, which was built in 1364, and former educator of the astronomer Copernicus.

Visit the Jewish quarter

The suburb of Kazimierz, a 30-minute walk from the old town, is where you’ll find Krakow’s Jewish quarter. Jews started to settle in the city in the 12th century, and approximately 64,000 lived in and around Kazimierz before World War II. The Old Synagogue is worth a visit, as is the interesting but somewhat harrowing factory of Oskar Schindler – director Steven Spielberg filmed much of his 1993 epic Schindler’s List here. The Jewish quarter today is also a great place to relax in a cool bar, quirky café, or in one of the many up-and-coming eateries.

Reflect at Auschwitz

It is easy to go on an Auschwitz tour from Krakow, but understandably, it’s not for everyone. Around 40 miles from the city, the destination needs no introduction, and any guided tour will be incredibly moving. Auschwitz has been left virtually as it was when it was liberated in 1945. Today you’ll find a poignant museum and monument.

Tour the Salt Mines

Our Krakow tour also allows time to take a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wieliczka, a deep salt mine just eight miles south of the city. A labyrinth of tunnels and chambers – explored via walkways, ramps, and 800 steps – on a guided tour you’ll learn about the history of the salt mines, the ethos of its workers, and enter a magical underground world with unique salt carvings. Wear warm clothing and comfortable shoes on the classic Tourist Route that takes in the magnificent St Kinga’s Chapel. Alternatively, don a hardhat and some overalls (provided) on the Miners’ Route to try some salt mining yourself.

krakow tours chapel in slt mines wieliczka

The chapel in the Salt Mines of Wieliczka

Sample the local cuisine

One of the most enjoyable things about going on holiday in Europe is trying the local food and drink; in Krakow, you won’t be disappointed. The national dish, pierogi, appears on many menus – the savoury dumplings are often stuffed with a potato filling, cheese, mushrooms or sauerkraut. There are other local specialities though, mainly hearty stews and soups. You must try an obwarzanek, a braided ring-shaped bagel, topped with poppy or sesame seeds – Krakow bakers produce up to 200,000 of the snacks daily. For foodies on a European tour, join a traditional Polish food tour, and sample the best cuisine the city has to offer, as well as Polish vodka and craft beers.

krakow tours pierogi

Enjoy fresh pierogis

Plan your Krakow tour

Eager to wander the impressive streets of Krakow and immerse yourself in its rich heritage and history? Try our 4-day Krakow escorted tour or Krakow escorted tour for solo travellers, both including the services of an experienced tour manager.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

*The exchange rate stated is a guide and correct at the time of writing. Please check online for the most recent exchange rates.

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