The Krakow Old Town is the most important neighborhood in the city. It’s got the most iconic sights, some of the best nightlife and gastronomy, and is a fantastic place to stay if you’re traveling here for the first time. This guide has all you need to know…
The Krakow Old Town is a feast for the senses. It’s riddled with stunning architecture, bustling squares, and an incredible atmosphere. The whole place is also steeped in history, with a story that goes back more than 2,000 years! The architecture of this UNESCO-tagged part of Krakow is particularly noteworthy, with buildings that span the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods.
This is just one part to our complete guide to things to do in Krakow
What is the Krakow Old Town?
The Krakow Old Town is a neighborhood in Krakow. Put it like that and it sounds positively boring. But this is anything but! The Old Town is the MOST IMPORTANT neighborhood in Krakow (sorry Kazimierz). It sits smack dab in the heart of the whole city, surrounded by the Planty Park on three sides and the great Wawel Castle to the south. The area is entirely encompassed by a UNESCO World Heritage Site but it’s also no museum piece – it’s alive with bars, shops, nightclubs and more.
Where is the Krakow Old Town?
Look at the map. See the diamond-shaped middle of Krakow? The bit that’s surrounded on all sides by the park known as the Planty? That’s all the Old Town. Clichés aside, it really is the heart of the city. The main train station is a little to the north. The district of Kazimierz and the river is to the south.
It’s worth knowing that some people’s definition of the Old Town extend out past the park areas to the main ring road. That expands it a considerable way, but only really adds in residential areas. They are definitely worth considering on your hotel search, because the stays there will be quieter and, probably, cheaper.
What is there to see in the Old Town?
Loads. Like…LOADS! But then again, the whole Old Town is a UNESCO site, so what do you expect? Seriously, this part of Krakow is packed to bursting with attractions. It’s simply a must for any first-time visitors to the city.
The good news is that you can see almost all of it in just a few hours and the whole place is walkable. Simple sightseeing trips are easy to string together. They will take you from the Main Square, up bustling Florianska Street, and then back down to the Wawel Castle, all with fantastic lunch spots and beers tops in between.
Here, we’ll take a look at the absolute unmissable things there are to see in the Krakow Old Town. It’s by no means an exhaustive list but it does tick off most of the top-draw attractions and locations…
The Main Market Square
One of the most impressive sights in the Old Town is the Main Market Square, which is the largest medieval square in Europe – closely followed by St Mark’s in Venice. Here, you’ll find the iconic Cloth Hall, a beautiful Renaissance building that has stood in the center of the square for centuries, and stunning St. Mary’s Basilica, with its twin towers and intricate facade.
The Main Market Square is very much the beating heart of Krakow. It’s a fantastic place to meet up and have a coffee while watching the world go by – bars and cafes of all shapes and sizes ring three sides of the plaza. It’s also the starting point for free walking tours and paid guided tours around the Old Town and the greater city.
St Mary’s Basilica
This is arguably the most important church in the whole of Poland. It’s stood here on the eastern side of the Main Square since the 1200s. Back then, legend has it, a city guard alerted the locals of the city to an invasion by Tatar hordes by playing his trumpet. That’s why you’ll hear a tune played from the top tower each hour, on the hour, night and day.
The church itself is marked by two towers of varying height. They’re a quirk of Gothic architecture that have inspired some haunting ghost stories and things. Inside, there’s a fantastic triptych alter work by Viet Stoss, and some gorgeous vaulted ceilings painted with blue and yellow stars.
The building is considered one of the great Gothic achievements of Central Europe and is now a veritable icon of Krakow as a whole. You really do have to visit St Mary’s Church at least once!
The Wawel Castle caps off the Old Town on its southern side. You’ll be able to see it as you walk down Grodzka Street towards the river and Kazimierz. It’s a glorious cacophony of a building, with gold-hued domes and imposing Gothic bulwarks. Once upon a time this was the home of the Polish kings and queens. Today, it’s the city’s largest historical site.
Climb up the steep steps on the north side of the Wawel and you’ll first come to the Wawel Cathedral. You can go in there to get a 360-degree panoramic view of the Krakow Old Town. The complex also has preserved state rooms from the 1600s and a fantastic Renaissance era courtyard.
The Planty Park
Unwind and explore the serene haven of Planty Park, one of Krakow’s most treasured and picturesque green spaces. This verdant oasis, which encircles the historic Old Town, offers a refreshing escape from the bustling city life.
Planty Park was established in the early 19th century, after the demolition of the city’s medieval walls. The park stretches across 52 acres and was designed by Feliks Radwański, a renowned Polish gardener, who transformed the former defense system into a splendid promenade.
We love dropping by for a picnic on one of the benches, especially around the amazing Barbican at the north entrance.
The Barbican is a 15th-century fort, or – at least – the remaining part of a 15th-century fort that once protected the entrance to the Krakow Old Town at its northern end. It’s now home to a pretty good exhibition of medieval weaponry. We also think it makes for prime picnic territory, as there are benches on both sides and lots of people watching to be done.
Adam Mickiewicz Monument
The Adam Mickiewicz Monument is an impressive bronze statue, standing over 10 meters (33 feet) tall. At its center is the figure of Mickiewicz himself, with his gaze cast downward, as if in deep contemplation. The poet is depicted wearing a cloak and holding a quill, symbolizing his literary prowess. For younger travelers, perhaps the most important thing about this mighty statue on the Main Square is the fact that it’s where the Krawl Through Krakow meets, at 9pm each evening.
The best museums in the Krakow Old Town
The Krakow Old Town has more museums than you could possibly hope to get through in a normal weekend break. Sure, you could spend ALL your time in the city hitting one after the other, but we wouldn’t recommend it if you want to leave with an unfried pre-frontal lobe. Our advice? Pick just two and do them on consecutive days. That should leave plenty of time to enjoy everything else the Old Town has to offer.
Here are the best museums in the area:
See where a certain Nicolaus Copernicus went to study at a young age by walking the halls of this uber-prestigious learning institution. It’s been a university since the 1300s and it shows. The whole place has been preserved in its classic form, with Harry Potter-style interiors and some pretty mind-boggling exhibits.
We think this is the best museum in Krakow hands down. It’s a fascinating look under – literally – the whole of the city. You’ll go beneath the Main Square to see archaeological digs of the original trading square from the 1200s. It’s the best place to really understand quite how old Krakow is!
Town Hall Tower
The Town Hall Tower is best known for the views that you get from the top. That’s why most people pay the entry fee. We don’t blame them. However, there are some interesting historical exhibits to see on the way up, not least of all one that talks about the unusual workings of the tower’s clock.
The Princes Czartoryski Museum
The Princes Czartoryski Museum is known for one thing and one thing only: Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci. Yep, this one hosts pretty much the only da Vinci north of the Alps and it’s properly amazing to lay eyes on. There are some other additions worth noting, too, such as Dutch Golden Age paintings and works by Hans Holbein the Younger.
Most important streets in the Old Town
Much of the Old Town is pedestrianized. Some of it’s not. There are also some streets that really stand out from the crowd, whether for their shopping or just the way they look (yep, you’ll have plenty of photo ops with handsome medieval alleys covered in cobblestone here). Below, we’ve listed a couple of the streets that we think every first-time visitor should be sure to see…
This pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare, also known as St. Florian’s Street, stretches from St. Florian’s Gate to the iconic Main Market Square. As you stroll down, you’ll be immersed in a captivating blend of history, culture, and contemporary urban life, making it an unmissable part of your Kraków experience. In the last five years or so, we’ve noticed Florianska making a change to the more chic end of the spectrum. There’s now a pretty slick five-star hotel on one side, and a couple of boutique jewelry shops. You do still get the gritty mix of shot bars and hostels, though. All good.
Grodzka Street is a crazzzzyy street when the summer months are in full swing. It’s probably the busiest street in the whole city, fed by endless crowds coming off the Main Square but also three tram stops (one at the bottom and two in the middle). Grodzka is a mix of the old and the new. There are Turkic kebab shops next to fantastic churches, most notably the Saints Peter and Paul Church church. The main thing to know is that it leads the way to two of Krakow’s most legendary institutions: The Wawel Castle (a UNESCO site) and Prozac II (a pumping nightclub).
Have the camera at the ready for your walk down Kanonicza. Have you ever seen such a charmer of a roadway? The picture of this lovely cobbled alleyway – almost totally pedestrianized – from its southern end really does sum up the architectural beauty of the Old Town district. It’s flanked by a run of grand palazzos that once hosted Krakow’s elite – think bishops and landowners. Many are now museums (such as the Palace of Bishop Erasmus Ciolek) or luxury hotels (Hotel Copernicus, for example).
The best places to eat in the Krakow Old Town
There’s no shortage at all of places to eat in the Old Town of Krakow. This is the premier district for dining, offering everything from hearty Polish taverns to hipster brunch spots. The only downside is that sometimes it can feel all a little too touristy and mainstream. You’ll breeze by names like McDonald’s and Starbucks in the Old Town as well as the city’s finest eateries.
We’ve been eating and drinking here for the best part of 15 years. You can imagine just how many recommendations that brings. So, here goes, in a handy list organized by time of day…
Best places for breakfast in the Krakow Old Town
- Charlotte – A taste of Paris in Krakow, this French bakery does crispy baguettes and continental breakos, and perhaps the best croissants in town.
- Żarówka Café – An independent café with big Polish bagels and smoked cheese fillings plus a charming outdoor coffee space. All very Old Town.
- Milkbar Tomasza – There was a time when the Milkbar Tomasza was an expat haunt because it was the only place that served up proper full English spreads. They still do, along with scrambled eggs with bacon and other things.
- Las Kraków Breakfast & Prosecco – Shakshuka to healthy oats, all washed down with crisp Italiano wines.
- Fitagain Coffee & Food – Healthy breakfast options with some naughtier choices as the day wears on. Decent coffee and close to the Main Square.
Best places for lunch/brunch in the Krakow Old Town
- Chimera – The salad bar to end all salad bars. It’s done by weight/size of plate and the food is very vegan-friendly. Inside, you’ll dine under oodles of climbing plants and vegetation. Cool spot.
- No Bones Vegan Food – One of the outright leaders of the Krakow vegan scene, this one does dips, curries, soups, and hasselback potatoes you won’t be able to stop talking about!
- Gospoda Koko – The original cheap and cheerful milk bar. Now more expensive than it was in 2013 but still a corker. Get the pierogi and a beer and do it as the locals do.
- Moaburger – A Kiwi-owned burger joint that’s legendary. A rotating menu helps to mix things up.
- Krowarzywa Vegan Burgers – We love this chain. They make vegan-friendly burgers and are downright creative with them. It’s, so far, the only place we’ve seen proper Beyond patties in the country!
Best places for dinner in the Krakow Old Town
- Morskie Oko – Named for the amazing mountain lake in the Tatra Mountains, Morskie Oko does proper highlander food. That means hearty pierogi dumplings, salty gherkins, and warming sour soups. We rate it as probably the best overall Polish cuisine in the city.
- Albertina Restaurant & Wine – An option for those with cash to splash, this elegant eatery has Mediterranean food and a curated wine list. I think we heard somewhere it was of Michelin pedigree but you’ll have to check that?
- Pino – An Italian that’s a bit like Poland’s answer to Pizza Express. It’s okay, it’s affordable, and it’s well designed. Nothing crazy special but good all round.
Nightlife in the Krakow Old Town
If you’re heading to Krakow to sample the infamous nightlife of the city, then there are probably only two places worth considering a hotel or an apartment: Kazimierz (the hipster area) and the Old Town. We’d probably tell first-time travelers to go for the Old Town every time, as it puts you in the mix for pub crawls and some of the best night clubs.
Anyway, the point here is that the nightlife in this part of the city is OFF THE HOOK. Yep, it’s wild. You know that mantra that’s bandied about saying that Krakow has more pubs per square meter than anywhere else on the planet? Well…that’s about the Old Town. And it shows.
As with food, there are simply too many places to recommend. You can check out our complete guide to Krakow nightlife right here. We’ve also selected some of our absolute fav spots in the Old Town in particular below…
- BaniaLuka – A legend, a god, BaniaLuka has always been the OG shot bar in the city. Get beers for under 5 PLN and shots for less. It’s a balling place and great for meeting new people until 4, 5, or 6 in the morning if you can stay awake.
- Szpitalna 1 – Deep house, Euro D&B, and the leading lights in the city’s DJ scene play here. Downstairs is a gritty dive bar. Upstairs is really social, especially in the summer
- Teatro Cubano – There are always thousands of people crowding around Teatro, now arguably the most famous nightclub in the old town. It’s got a Spanish twist but really it’s mainstream.
- Club RE – Go here for pre-drinks. The bar has the best beer garden in the city in the summer months.
- Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa – Some nights here are amazing. Others are meh. It’s a roll of the dice who you meet and if the bouncers are in a good mood. Definitely worth it for 5 PLN a beer though!
The best hotels in Krakow Old Town
We actually have a complete guide to the best hotels in Krakow Old Town, which lists 10 fantastic options. We’ll touch on some of them below and offer others that suit all budgets…
- Hotel Stary ($$$) – The stand-out luxury hotel in the Old Town, this one is between two medieval squares and has a spa facility in its underground basement. It’s not for nothing that celebs like Rob Lewandowski come here when they are in town.
- Bonerowski Palace ($$$) – Another high-luxury hotel with a view of the Main Square, very elaborate, with suites that have hardly been changed a jot since the 15th century.
- Hotel Pod Różą ($$$) – An all-new lux hotel on Florianska Street with moody spa rooms and a lovely Art Deco breakfast space.
- Sewa Apartments ($$) – Clean and spacious apartments on the western side of the Old Town, complete with options for up to seven people.
- Ermine Suites ($$) – Contemporary apartment style stays in the quieter backstreets north of the Old Town.
- The Little Havana Party Hostel ($) – For the hedonists and budget seekers, this one has its own pub crawl every night.