From absinthe to salt mines, Krakow certainly surprised me! I knew absolutely nothing about the city before my flight. Literally not a thing… to the point where I was at the airport waiting for my flight and realised I had Euros… and Poland has the Zloty (zł) currency. Cue me quickly kicking myself and then doing a dash to the mad expensive currency exchange counter! You can read all about why I was at the airport with no idea where I was going, but for now, let me show you how to spend 24 hours in Krakow.
There are so many cool things to do in Krakow, and with a sharp mind and a speedy WiFi, you can quickly pull together a jam-packed exciting trip with minimal time to research! Let’s face it, delish food, tantalising cocktails, beautiful architecture, and prices that do not break the bank makes for a pretty damn good European weekend break! Who’s keen for a quick jaunt to the Polish city?
24 hours in Krakow
How to get there:
Krakow has a large airport a mere 20 minute drive from the city centre. I read about a few taxi scams (as per usual) so wasn’t keen to risk a seemingly convenient way to get into Krakow, only to be stung with expensive fees. Luckily, Krakow airport has a brilliant train service that connects new visitors and locals to the big main train station, Kraków Główny, just outside the Old Town. The train costs 9 zł (€2.15) and only takes about 40 minutes. To get back to the airport, head to Platform 3 at Kraków Główny station.
Where to Stay:
The Old Town gets pretty busy with tourists, so it’s a good idea to stay slightly outside the bustle but still within walking distance to the sights. We went for Puro Hotel, exactly opposite Galeria Krakowska which holds Kraków Główny train station.
With spacious modern rooms, fancy bathrooms with a glass wall, fast WiFi and an iPad which controls all the lighting, temperature and underfloor heating, it’s pretty much got all the mod cons! The reception area is light and airy, with comfy armchairs to lounge on with the latest fashion mags. And there’s a huge proper coffee machine specifically for guests. Take advantage of the buffet breakfast and dig into the fluffiest scrambled eggs.
A brilliant Krakow Lunch:
Walk from your hotel towards the Old Town, and you’ll be in a network of peeling brick buildings, cobbled streets and leafy parks. Tall trees fill little oasis gardens scattered in the Old Town, and every now and then you’ll pop out from the backstreets into a serene courtyard outlined by cafes.
Head to Charlotte at anytime of the day – they’re open from about 7am to midnight meaning early-risers and night owls get to taste what they offer. You could easily imagine this bistro belongs to a chic Parisian scene as it has gorgeous table tops, old recycled wood, a wrought iron spiral staircase and delicious sparkling wine on offer. Dig into their breads and baguettes baked on the premises during the day, enjoy salads and nibbles with a Prosecco cocktail in the evenings.
Explore the Old Market Square and St Mary Basilica:
You’ll notice that the medieval Old Town is seriously well-preserved – the core of the city is ringed by plant-filled parkland and remnants of old medieval walls. The centre of the Old Town has the expansive Old Market Square where a billion cafes and bars line the edges, and stunning churches spring out from the centre.
Trotting horses circle the many market stalls (not sure how animal friendly this is though…) and the area bustles with life. Sit for a while and people watch, grab a drink from one of the pricey restaurants with pavement seating, or crane your neck to marvel at the quaint townhouses, painted in pastels.
St Mary Basilica has a tourist entrance around the back, and it only costs about 10zł (€2.40) to enter. This Gothic church dates back to the early 13th-century and has gorgeous ornate decorations and stained glass windows inside, Look up to the intricate ceiling and walk up the tower if you have time.
Cocktail O’Clock! And Castle views:
As you leave the south side of the Old Town, you’ll approach the river. You’ll spy the majestic Wawel Castle up on a mound, looking out over the city. Wander the outskirts for some little market stalls which sell tasty treats that won’t break the bank (also great if you just want to pick up a souvenir trinket), or head up to the nearby rooftop bars for a cocktail and a castle view.
You have two rooftops to choose from in the vicinity: The Sheraton Rooftop Bar or Cafe Oranzeria on the roof of Hotel Kossak. Unfortunately, our first choice of Cafe Oranzeria was scuppered by a private event, so we headed to the Sheraton to sample one of their many vodka cocktails and a view over to the sprawling castle.
You can go inside Wawel Castle and wander the Italian-style courtyard and archways. It’s the oldest castle in Poland and represents a vast array of European architectural designs, including structures of the Baroque and Renaissance period.
Krakow’s hip neighbourhood: The Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter, south of Wawel Castle, is where all the cool cats hang out. The area is full of trendy cafes, hole-in-the-wall bars, peeling facades and old buildings that look pretty shabby chic. It was nearly destroyed during the turmoil of World War II, both structurally and culturally.
The Nazis took over Krakow and used it as the headquarters of the Nazi General Government, meaning the city didn’t bear as much structural damage as others in Poland, such as Warsaw. However, the Nazis did not want to live side-by-side with the Jews of Krakow – nearly 50,000 were deported from the city. Many were sent to Auschwitz which is a few hours from Krakow and the city reeled from these dreadful times. If you’re in Krakow for more than 24 hours, perhaps a long weekend, do try to visit Auschwitz as it’s incredibly important to learn about the pain of the past and understand what the country had been through.
Today, the Jewish Quarter (or Kazimierz) brings in many visitors due to it’s alternative nature. The Jewish history of the district is cherished and is a popular pilgrimage site for Jews, resurrecting the contemporary Jewish culture of these quarters.
Stumble upon hidden little bars and coffee shops – it’s a top place to wander and sip a little vodka here and there. Head to Absinthe for a pick me up – I recommend the Oscar Wilde: A layered shot of absinthe with Kahlua and Baileys. Oh yeah, they also set it alight as you drink it. It’ll pop a spring in your step!
Unique restaurants and bars in Krakow:
You may start to flag after all this exploring, but a bit of fuel will get you right again! Zenit is a gorgeous restaurant with friendly staff and brilliant decor. There were blue velvet seats, photography plastering the walls and a cocktail menu that outshone any other bar I visited in Krakow! And I got around a lot.
Open from breakfast to dinner, you simply must visit this venue. Fresh with heaps of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, the menu is stocked with health. The menu has something for everyone as it’s handily split out into pasta, meat, seafood and ‘vege’. And for drinks? For all the gin-lovers out there (my people!!), go for the Ivory: gin, cucumber infused Vermouth, elderflower, lemon juice and mint leaves. Yes.
If you’re after something a bit cheaper and a bit grimier/cooler, then be sure to visit Alchemia. It was my personal favourite as it was full of old broken vintage furniture, it was dimly lit by candles, the bar staff were pretty cool (and good-looking) and they have Zubrowka vodka with apple juice for a tiny price of 12zł (€2.90). Dig into their menu – falafel and halloumi lovers, rejoice!
Awesome house and indie music pumps from the speakers and everyone who fills the three spacious rooms are super friendly. Just a quick note: don’t eat in the furthest room as smoking is allowed – mind-blown coming from England where smoking indoors has been banned for eons! Used as an art gallery, a restaurant, a bar, a music venue – it has many different sides to it, so be sure to check out their events.
Take in a bit of Polish Jazz:
Phew! It’s getting late! Take a stroll through the park and within 20-minutes, you’ll be back at the Old Town Market Square. Don’t bother with taxis and clock up those steps! Everything is pretty close together.
The streets will be busy with tourists predominantly near the square (hello, stag dos) with the locals sticking to the outskirts and backstreets. At the good places. Ignore the trashy bars with blue lights and bouncers scowling at the door, and head down to the hidden bars. Venture down some nondescript stairs to the underground Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club for some chilled jazz and average cocktails. They usually have some kind of el cheapo drink of the night, so you could nab a good Whiskey Sour for about 10zł (€2.40). Check their timetable though to ensure you don’t make an appearance on a night where there’s no live music!
Time to head back to the hotel and zonk out for a deep sleep.
Time for brunch!
Hey now, if you don’t brunch, then who are you? It’s all about getting in that delicious breakfast-lunch deal and there are some lovely places to brunch in Krakow. Wander the Old Town’s leafy streets and venture along Tomasza. You’ll find Cafe Camelot on this street, pretty in pink and cowering in the shadow of a big yellow church.
With pink peeling walls and a sweet little area cordoned off on the pavement, it attracts many walking by. Sip a creamy and generous Espresso Martini and dig into their all-day breakfasts or seriously huge salads. They also have a plethora of cakes available, so be sure you’re hungry!
Wander inside and you’ll find chandeliers, pink walls and shabby chic furniture. It gets pretty busy in the evenings of the weekends, so pop in for a quiet brunch amongst locals.
Get salty in Wielicka Salt Mine:
Just a short train ride from Kraków Główny train station, you can get to the famous salt mines for a little day trip out of Krakow. These mines made up 20% of Poland’s industry back in the day as salt was such a valuable commodity – it provided 15,000 tons of salt a year when it was in action. It has nine levels and is so deep, you could put the Eiffel Tower inside it and the tip of the tower wouldn’t breach the surface!
Explore a fraction of the 300km of tunnels and see various chandelier lit caverns and carvings. There are a few chapels down there as miners would pray everyday for their safety working in perilous conditions.
The miners used to carve in the salt in their spare time and have made some beautiful designs, including an epic Last Supper carving of Jesus and his homies. The attention to detail is mind-blowing! It costs around 80zł (€19) to visit, and you get a 2-hour tour throughout the top three levels of the mine. There’s a lot of walking so be sure to wear comfortable shoes, and the temperatures can dip slightly down there so a light sweater is worth bringing.
A must-do in Krakow:
Head back to Krakow and indulge in some top treats before you leave! The city is famous for its delicious, creamy Lody (ice cream) so you need to take a taste. Various flavours and a variety of cones are available – try a strawberry infused pink cone to get an instagram shot that’s pretty perfect!
Krakow has some great dessert options, so head to Legal Cakes in the Old Town for some non-sugary delights. “No sugar?!!” I hear you cry? It won’t affect the taste at all and you’ll feel pretty damn healthy! From brownies made with sweet potato to gluten free treats, you can definitely go to town here. Try their pancakes if you want to feast!
So with a couple of long miles walked, a gallon of vodka in your system and delicious cakes coming out your ears, you may be ready to leave Krakow…. There’s a lot you can do in 24 hours in Krakow and you’re guaranteed a cultural and fun European break! Pop over this summer and have a Zubrowka vodka with apple juice for me!
Have I coaxed you to trip over to Krakow?
All photographs by Sophie Saint