A fascinating history, beautiful architecture, and strong café culture are among the many reasons that Kraków is becoming an increasingly popular city break destination in Europe.
Just wandering around the cobbled streets of the historic Old Town district and admiring the many Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings is a pleasant way to pass one day in Kraków in and of itself.
Spending 24 hours in Kraków is also very feasible without having to make too many hard choices about what to miss out on.
Krakow is very compact and easily walkable. Old Town, where many of the most popular things to see and do are located, can be traversed at its longest point on foot in around 20 minutes.
You can’t come to Kraków without at least stopping for a drink in one of its many cafés. Most are open all day, transitioning seamlessly from breakfast and coffee in the morning to wine and dinner later on.
Main Market Square: The Center of Krakow
The central point of the city, Kraków’s Main Market Square, is the largest one of its kind in Europe.
You could quite happily spend a couple of days just wandering around and exploring everything it has to offer, and if you’re short on time, be sure to spend part of your day in Kraków in this lovely square.
The highlight of Main Market Square has to be the stunning gothic church, St. Mary’s Basilica.
Every hour, on the hour, a bugle call is made from the tallest tower that rings out across the city. You can go inside to admire the dramatic stained glass windows, wall paintings, and intricately carved alter, before climbing the tower for sweeping views across the city.
Running through the middle of the square is the Cloth Hall (or Sukiennice), where a market has been in operation since the 13th century. Join the hustle and bustle inside and browse the many stalls; it’s the perfect place to pick up souvenirs.
Underneath the Cloth Hall is the Rynek Underground Museum which takes visitors on an interactive journey of Kraków’s history through the ages and allows you to walk through the remains of the original, excavated market stalls.
Main Market Square
Bars and restaurants surround the square from every side, so there is no shortage of options for grabbing a bite.
There is, however, quite a lot of variance in quality between them; many appear to be catering mostly to tourists and relying on the excellent location rather than the quality of their food.
Wawel Castle & Cathedral
The 15-minute walk to Wawel Castle from the Main Market Square is a very pleasant one along cobbled streets, passing historic old buildings and beautiful churches.
Keep an eye out for the stunning 17th-century Renaissance building that is St. Peter and Paul’s Church, a fantastic example of the city’s superb architecture.
Wawel Castle is located on the southernmost point of Kraków’s Old Town, perched on Wawel Hill overlooking the Vistula River. For centuries the Polish monarchy lived here, was crowned in Wawel Cathedral, and then buried in the crypts below.
Wawel Hill (and the buildings upon it) is regarded as one of the most important historical sites in all of Poland and the Castle was converted into a museum in 1930.
There are lots of options to visit at Wawel Castle and it would take you days to get around everything. Check the official website for what exhibitions and tours are available and pick two at most. Keep an eye on the opening times as some exhibitions are seasonal.
In Wawel Castle, there are five permanent exhibitions alone, ranging from a tour of the royal apartments to a visit to the crown treasury and armory.
Within the grounds of the castle, you can visit the Dragon’s Den(complete with a fire-breathing dragon!), and Sandomierska Tower or take a guided tour of the architecture and gardens on Wawel Hill.
The Dragon’s Den is a cave formed at the base of the hill that was used to host banquets by the monarchy and also was once rumored to be home to a dragon in the 13th century.
Once a watch tower, then a very comfortable prison for naughty noble people, you can climb Sandomierska Tower for views across the grounds, river, and Kraków itself.
The other option is to visit Wawel Cathedral, located within the grounds of the Castle. You can wander through the Cathedral itself for free, but paid tickets are required to visit the John Paul II Cathedral Museum, the Royal Crypts, and Sigismund Bell Tower.
The crypts are the final resting place of most of the Polish monarchy and a few select national heroes. The most recent addition is the former Prime Minister of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, and his wife Maria, who were buried here in 2010 after passing away in a plane accident.
Dinner at a Traditional Polish Restaurant
Polish cuisine is generally very hearty and great comfort food — there aren’t a lot of light options!
You will fall in love with pierogi, a Polish dumpling often filled with duck or goose. Other traditional dishes include Kiełbasa (smoked sausage) or Żurek, a sour soup often served in a bowl of bread.
Alternative Itinerary Recommendations in Kraków
If you have longer than one day in Kraków, there is plenty more to see and do! Encircling Old Town is the very serene Planty Park, a lovely place for a picnic or simply a wander around while taking in some more of that fantastic Polish architecture.
For art lovers, try the Gallery of Polish Art in the Sukiennice in Main Market Square.
Around a 10-minute walk southeast of Old Town, is Kraków’s historic Jewish district, Kazimierz. There is a more industrial, gritty vibe here with many quirky independent shops and some absolutely superb street side cafés and bars.
For a day trip, Kraków is well known as being a base for visiting Auschwitz.
A one-and-a-half-hour drive away, it is a sobering but extremely important historical experience. The easiest option is to book an all-inclusive tour that offers return coach transfers as well as your entrance tickets.
The other option for a day trip from Kraków is the Wieliczka Salt Mines, about half an hour’s drive on the outskirts of Kraków.
One of the oldest and longest operating salt mines in the world, you can now descend over 300 meters underground to see the caves and lakes, as well as chapels, statues, and sculptures that have been intricately carved from the salt.
The most famous of them all is the grand Chapel of St. Kinga, where the acoustics are so impressive that classical music concerts are performed there.
Where to Stay in Kraków?
Kraków is an ideal place for a historical, entertaining, and budget-friendly travel getaway.
Staying in Kraków is generally very reasonable and I have found your money goes a lot further here than in many other European cities making it a much more economical choice for a city break than many of its other European counterparts.
Whether you choose to stay in the city center, do a day trip, spend hours eating and drinking, or spend time with a knowledgeable tour guide, your day in Kraków is sure to be unforgettable.