I read about Krakow quite some years ago and it’s been on my travel list ever since. What spoke out to me was its perfect fusion of medieval pageantry and modern-day student town. The cobbled streets, horse-pulled carriages, colourful neighbourhoods and abundance of amazing, wallet-friendly restaurants – it’s no wonder Buzzfeed listed Krakow as one of the most most underrated vacation spots around the world to visit! Fun fact, Krakow was granted the title of European Capital of Gastronomic Culture by the European Academy of Gastronomy in 2019.
It’s a fairly small city, so a weekend (or a long weekend, like I did) is the perfect amount of time to explore the best bits of it. Joining a free walking tour is the best way to see almost everything the city has to offer. Some hotels organise tours for their guests (ours did) but if not, just wander into the Main Market Square (Rynek Glówny) or the Old Town and look for people with the giant umbrellas (no pre-booking necessary!). The tours typically take place every hour. We spent most of my time in the city but took a day out to visit Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Day 1: Arrival & Christmas Markets
Krakow is well-known for their affordable drinks and nightlife and because of this, they tend to attract quite a few stag/hen-dos. Unsurprisingly, our flight there was quite a rowdy one with lots of very merry individuals. We landed around 5pm, breezed through security and hopped into an Uber to our hotel, PURO Hotel Kraków Stare Miasto. With traffic, the journey took 45 minutes but it only costed us 58zł (£12).
PURO Hotel was very conveniently located next to Galeria Krakowska Shopping Mall, and just a 10 minute walk to the main square. I liked that the hotel looked really modern and the staff were friendly and attentive. They also had a free coffee machine for all guests!
By the time we were done, we were starving! Because I live by the motto “dessert first”, our first stop was Stara Paczkarnia for paczki (i.e. Polish filled donuts) – you will find many outlets dotted across the city. The traditional filling for paczki is rose jam but Stara Paczkarnia also sold donuts with a whole lot of other flavours e.g. apple & cinnamon, blueberry cream cheese, Nutella, and my personal favourite, Raffaello. Each donut was nearly the size of my hand and costed only 4.50zł (£1). Discovering this was honestly the highlight of my trip – I had at least two each day.
We then wandered into the Main Market Square where we were greeted with a humongous Christmas tree amidst a background of bright sparkly lights from the Christmas market. The aroma was incredible. It wasn’t like any of the Christmas markets I was used to in Europe, selling foods like pierogis, chimney cakes and oscypek (smoked Polish cheese that’s served with cranberry sauce, ham, or both). We also got ourselves a nice and juicy grilled sausage which was unbelievable. It was so good that we went back again for it the next day!
Given that Krakow is extremely famous for their flavoured vodkas, we dropped by Wódka Cafe Bar to sample their kaleidoscopic array of drinks. A word of advice though, it’s quite a small bar so if you see a table becoming available, GET ON IT!!! Everything was very reasonably priced, we ordered the 6 glass vodka taster and paid 33zł (£5) for it. Not going to lie, I wasn’t sure what flavours to get because there were that many but just ask the guy at the bar and he’ll be able to recommend a good spread to suit your preferences.
Day 2: Exploration Day
At 10am, we gathered in our hotel lobby in anticipation of the free 3-hour walking tour the hotel organised every Saturday. Even if you’re only in Krakow for a day, I highly recommend joining a walking tour – it’s a great way to explore any city on a budget, and learn more about its history. Tour guides are also some of the best people to go to for recommendations on things to do and where to eat. Highlights of the tour include St Mary’s Basilica, the Cloth Hall, the Barbican, Wawel Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral. Our tour guide timed the tour such that we were right by St Mary’s Basilica at 11am, for the melodious trumpeting played at the stroke of every hour. This bugle call is a tradition that dates back seven centuries.
We were famished by the end of the tour so we made our way (as quickly as we could) to the highly rated Milkbar Tomasza. These quintessential Milk Bars (bar mleczny) are government subsidised cafeterias which saw their heyday in socialist postwar Poland. They typically offer traditional Polish dishes at unbelievably low prices – a great way to soak up the local culture while enjoying a delicious meal. Milkbar Tomasza was located fairly near to the Main Market Square and in addition to the typical Polish cuisine, also offered options like panini and scrambled eggs. Based on what I read, it was the only Milk Bar that gave the option of fried or boiled pierogis – obviously we ordered both to try! They were really tasty but I definitely preferred the fried one (because when is fried food not good?).
It was time to explore Kazimierz i.e. the Jewish Quarter. The best way to describe it would be a bustling hipster neighbourhood packed with historical sites, quaint cafes and bars. This is a very cool area to spend a few hours or even an entire day. Being entirely food-driven, we headed to the local market at Plac Nowy for traditional zapiekanki (toasted open sandwiches with loads of toppings) – apparently they are known as the finest in all of Poland. We got a ham and cheese one from Bar Oko but I’d definitely recommend trying another sandwich or getting one from another stall in the area. As if I we haven’t had enough food, we popped by Good Lood Ice Cream for one of, if not, the BEST ice cream in Krakow. Unlike your usual ice cream parlours, Good Lood offers a much smaller variety of ice cream but each one was made extremely well. Their usual flavours include Polish Strawberry, Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel but it’s their special daily specials that caught my eye e.g. Raffaello, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Snickers. If you are vegan, fret not, they’ve got you covered as well. For 4zł (£1) per scoop, this is something you absolutely cannot miss. They have outlets all over the city, including one right next to our hotel! Safe to say we had probably way too much ice cream during the trip.
Later in the evening, we took a stroll down Grodzka Street – a wide, picturesque street that’s lined with boutique shops, souvenir shops, and plenty of restaurants. One of which was Pod Aniolami, our dinner place for the night. The restaurant is located in a 13th century building and had beautiful medieval interiors to match. It was grand yet cozy at the same time, and just had the best atmosphere! We ordered pierogis to share and for mains, a grilled pork knuckle and a pork steak. Everything was incredible but omg, BEST PIEROGI EVER!!! A visit to Pod Aniolami is an absolute must, although I would urge you to make a reservation beforehand. Obviously dining here costs more than at a Milk Bar but for what we had, it was extremely reasonably priced.
Day 3: Auschwitz & Wieliczka Salt Mine
Please wear sensible shoes if you intend to visit these attractions – it will be a long day with a lot of walking (and I mean a lot). We booked our day trip out to Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mine with KrakowShuttle beforehand but if you’re not about that pre-planning life, there are many agencies across the city that advertise tours to both attractions. Our day trip costed £69.50 per person – this included entry fees, guided tours, hotel pick-up and drop-off, and a packed lunch. We did the math and in all honesty, we thought it was good value for money. The shuttle picked us up at 7am and then proceeded to collect the rest of the customers. Our first stop was Auschwitz and on route to it, we were shown a documentary about the Nazi concentration camps of Europe. Too graphic if you ask me, but informative nonetheless. Our guide was very knowledgeable and talked us through everything that happened on site. We then moved on to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi concentration camps and a sobering memorial to all of those who died during the Holocaust.
I know what you must be wondering, so what was for lunch?! Well…we were given a macaroni salad, a sandwich and some chocolate wafer thing for dessert. It wasn’t bad but I really really wanted a hot meal. Anyway, the journey to the Salt Mine really lightened the mood. Again, we had a guide walk us around the UNESCO World Heritage Site and boy was it impressive. It’s nine-level labyrinth ran 1,100 feet underground, and its 3,000 chambers, sculptures, and stairways were all painstakingly carved by miners. The highlight definitely had to be the remarkably grand Chapel of St. Kinga. At a depth of about 330 feet, it took three miners 70 years (1896–1963) to complete the 5,000-square-foot chapel. The walls were carved with scenes from the Bible, including the Last Supper.
At the end of the trip, we requested to be dropped off near the Main Market Square and made a beeline for a burger place we passed by on Friday – Moaburger. They had quite a list of interesting burgers but I just went for The Classic + cheese (18zł / £4). After a looong day, this was exactly the pick me up I needed.
Day 4: Just Chillin’
We made sure to keep today light and breezy as we had to leave for the airport quite early. After finally getting to sleep in (a little), we started the day with breakfast at the Chimney Cake Bakery. I love love LOVE chimney cakes and was so excited when we chanced upon this place. I got myself a white chocolate and pistachio chimney cake, and sat in the park while I enjoyed both the views and my glorious pastry.
Walked to Kazimierz to check out Andrus Food Truck’s drool-worthy pulled pork rolls but alas, they were closed. If anyone manages to try their food, please let me know in the comment how good they were!
To summarise, here are my food recommendations in Krakow:
- Sweet treats: Stara Paczkarnia, Good Lood Ice Cream, Chimney Cake Bakery
- Polish food: Milkbar Tomasza, Pod Aniolami, Moaburger
- Alcohol: Wodka Cafe Bar
- Apart from the Christmas market, most places take cards so you don’t have to bring loads of cash/change around
- Go early before the small restaurants become overwhelming
- Always make bookings – it’s extremely busy so book restaurants before your trip
- No alcohol in public – it’s illegal in Poland to drink outside and you can get fined for that