This itinerary for 3 days in Krakow will help you hit the highlights and most important attractions in one of my favorite cities in the world. I could spend all day admiring its beautiful old town area and feasting on incredible Polish food. This 3-day Krakow itinerary and includes some of my favorite restaurants. You’ll hit all the best things to do in Krakow, including 3 unique UNESCO sites.
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Day One in Krakow
Today’s itinerary features not one, but two UNESCO World Heritage sites, including what has so far proven to be my favorite square in Europe. My brother who has gotten to explore more of the continent than I have disagrees, but this is my blog not his.
Explore the Rynek Glowny
Start your 3 days in Krakow by exploring my favorite part of the city – the gorgeous Rynek Glowny square. The Cloth Hall in the center has been the site of markets for centuries, though these days you’re more likely to find tourist trinkets for sale than handmade goods. My favorite thing about Krakow’s old town is that it really is old. Unlike historic areas in many European cities, Krakow wasn’t destroyed during WWII, so the buildings lining its old town actually date back hundreds of years. The old town area is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While in the Rynek Glowny, check out the tower and the quirky sculpture of a human head nearby. If you like exploring churches, St. Mary’s Basilica is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. You can enter for free if you just want to pray or attend services, but tourists have to pay a fee. It’s worth it to explore the intricate altar and incredible painted ceilings.
Visit the Barbican Fortress
If you continue walking north of the Rynek Glowny, you can pass through the old city walls. You’ll see the imposing Barbican fortress, which was built to defend the city from attacks. Visitors can tour the fortress and learn about its history.
Your Barbican ticket also includes admission to climb the city walls, so once you’re done exploring head back toward the old town area and check those out along the way. Climbing up the old walls gives you a pretty view of the colorful city streets.
Grab lunch at one of the many restaurants surrounding the Rynek Glowny – I’d recommend Morskie Oko just off of the main square for a delicious, hearty Polish lunch. There are tons of other options to choose from though if you’re looking for something lighter.
Tour the historic Wieliczka Salt Mines just outside the city
Once you’re done eating, hop a bus or drive to the Wieliczka Salt Mine just outside of town – your second UNESCO site of the day. These mines have been in operation for centuries and now offer tours through the excavated chambers decorated with sculptures made from the same salt mined there and serve as a health retreat. Tours are offered in several languages and depart throughout the day. You should allow around 3 hours for the tour and small museum on site. Don’t worry though – there are bathrooms, snacks, and a full restaurant deep underground. My favorite spot on the tour is St. Kinga’s Chapel, a full chapel featuring chandeliers made of clear salt crystals. It’s absolutely gorgeous. You can pre-book your tickets online in advance, and I’d highly recommend it as tours often sell out. Read more about the Wieliczka tours here.
Day Two in Krakow
This is the difficult part of your 3 days in Krakow. If you have early tickets to Auschwitz, you’ll need to hit the road quite early, but otherwise take some time and have a nice breakfast first. You’ll be grateful to have something hearty in your stomach lately.
Day trip to Auschwitz
Visiting Auschwitz was one of the main reasons we came to the city, and the former concentration camp (also a UNESCO site) continues to be a huge draw for tourists. It is not an easy place to visit though, so I recommend doing it on day two so you can emotionally recover with some less depressing activities on your final day in town. There’s a dark feeling in the air over Auschwitz even all these years later and I could actually sense the evil that had occurred there. It’s hard – I barely drink and even I got back to Krakow and headed straight for the closest beer – and I can honestly say that it’s the most distressing place I’ve ever visited in my travels, but it’s so important to see and learn about what happened there and to honor the victims. And please, be respectful.
Several companies run bus tours from the Krakow city center, and these are a great option if you don’t have your own transportation. Auschwitz is about an hour west of Krakow by car if you drive yourself, and can be reached by train in around an hour and a half. Visitors who arrive early or late in the day can tour for free on their own, but I think it’s worth the cost to pay for a guided tour. I would plan to spend an hour and a half-two hours at Auschwitz and the same amount of time at Birkenau, which is connected by a shuttle bus. You can purchase snacks outside the gates, though I didn’t really have much of an appetite. Tickets can be booked online, and do sell out so plan ahead.
If you return to Krakow early, there are some good history museums you can explore, or you can peek into some of the ornately decorated churches near the Rynek Glowny, but if you’re like me you’ll just want to sit quietly and reflect.
Day Three in Krakow
Day three is much happier and will hopefully help you rebound from a draining day two. You’ll get to walk in the footsteps of Polish royalty and learn about the city during WWII by exploring the Jewish district.
Visit Wawel Castle
Wrap up your 3-day Krakow itinerary with a visit to the royal palace, Wawel Castle. High up on a hill overlooking the river, it has a fascinating history and is made up of an interesting mishmash of architectural styles as pieces were added over the centuries. It’s a great place to tour because visitors can buy tickets to different exhibits a la carte style – you only buy the tickets for the spots that interest you. The Wawel State Rooms portion is my favorite with its intricately carved ceilings and famous faces looking down from the rafters. Check out the official site here.
If you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to spend money on tickets, you can do a couple of free things at Wawel Castle. The cathedral there, built for Polish royals to attend mass, is gorgeous inside, and definitely worth exploring. You can also tour the crypt below ground. Also check out the area near the Dragon’s Den (that requires tickets) has gorgeous views overlooking the river and is a great place to catch sunset.
Once you’ve finished exploring the castle, it’s time for lunch at my favorite restaurant in Krakow, Pierozki U Vincenta. No visit to Poland would be complete without feasting on pierogi, and I’m obsessed with the unique flavors served up at this tiny spot just a few blocks from Wawel. Check out my full review here (it’s the only restaurant I’ve loved enough to actually write a post about). They do take reservations, so consider calling ahead for one if you’re as excited about their menu as I am.
Learn about the Kazmierz Jewish district
After lunch, take a walking tour of the Kazmierz area, the former Jewish district. We stopped by one site that was used in the filming of Schindler’s List, and then headed across the Vistula River. Our guide talked about the devastating conditions in the ghetto during Nazi occupation. We also visited a moving memorial called Heroes of the Ghetto which features empty chairs in the square where the Nazis rounded up Jews to send to the gas chambers.
The area is also home to possibly my favorite street art ever.
After your walking tour, make your way back to the Rynek Glowny for one last dinner in Krakow. I recommend Wierzynek, a restaurant dating back to the year 1364. It serves awesome (though a little pricy) Polish food and overlooks the historic square. While we were dining there, we got to see a small parade out the windows. Our fancy meal was the perfect treat to end our time in Krakow.
Where to stay for your 3 days in Krakow
On my first visit to Krakow, I stayed at an awesome AirBnB in Kazmierz. For my most recent visit, we stayed at a great hotel right in Rynek Glowny called the Venetian House. We had a larger group that required two rooms, and each had small kitchens. Breakfast was not included, but there was a restaurant downstairs and a quick place to grab bagels and paczki (delicious Polish jelly donuts pronounced “poonch-key) a couple doors down.
The best time to visit Krakow
Visiting Krakow in the summer will give you beautiful, warm weather, but it also means that tourist crowds will be at their peak. I’d try to time your visit for the shoulder seasons – early or late summer – if you’re not tied to school schedules. Late August or early September would be the best time to visit Krakow for a combination of pleasant weather and a break from the crowds. If you don’t mind the cold, the city is absolutely beautiful at Christmas time and there’s a great market in the Rynek Glowny.
Getting to Krakow
Krakow is accessible by several train routes and bus lines. There’s an international airport just outside the city with flights to a variety of destinations.
Other things to do in Krakow
If you find yourself with a little more than 3 days in Krakow, or would like to swap different things into this itinerary, here are a few other ideas:
- Oskar Schindler’s Factory is housed in the administrative offices of factory made famous by Schindler’s List. It focuses on Poland’s history during WWII more broadly than just the story of Schindler.
- The Kosciuszko Mound is a little outside the city, but it offers great views of the area. It’s not far from the airport, so could be added as a stop on the way to/from it if you’re flying.
- There are lots of cool churches open to the public. I particularly liked the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul near Rynek Glowny.
- Check out contemporary art at the MOCAK Museum.
Don’t miss these other Krakow posts:
- Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland
- Exploring the Wieliczka Salt Mine
- The Best Pierogi in Krakow: Pierozki U Vincenta
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