Best cities to visit in Poland: Krakow

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Guide to Krakow on a Budget:

Why Krakow is one of the best cities to visit in Poland

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If you're wondering about the best cities to visit in Poland, look no further than Krakow. This city is full of rich history and remained well preserved throughout the second world war. Our budget guide to Krakow goes over the best things to do in Krakow, cheap places to eat, how to get there on a budget, and affordable lodging options. Though Poland certainly isn't the cheapest European country to visit, we stayed in Krakow for 5 nights and spent under €30/day per person including lodging, food, and entertainment.

We each got a bed at Submarine Hostel for 39 PLN (€8.5/person), then spent roughly €20/person each day on food, entertainment, etc. Finding great cheap things to do in Krakow is quite easy. You can explore the old town on a free walking tour, eat some delicious food in the Jewish Quarter, or even discover street art around the city. Also included in our budget guide to Krakow is taking a self-guided tour of Auschwitz, instead of booking a private one, which turned out to be a remarkable experience.

Explore the Old Town

Unlike other Polish cities after WWII, or most European cities for that matter, Krakow remained fully intact. It was occupied early on in the war by the German forces and did not suffer any bombings. Due to maintaining it’s original character, the historic center (aka - Old Town) was in-scripted as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978[1]. The historic center of this city, and former capital of Poland, was one of our favorite parts of our trip here. We can see why Krakow remains one of the best cities to visit in Poland.

Since our hostel was right across the street from the Barbican, let's begin our tour of the old town here. This fortified outpost, or Barbican, was constructed in the late 15th century as a secondary line of defense to the city. It’s a mixture between a guard tower and city gate[2]. Tickets can be purchased to go inside, but we didn't think it was worth it. In fact, one of the free walking tours starts here so we got some nice background information without having to purchase any tickets!

The Barbican of Krakow: a 15th century defense gate
The Barbican of Krakow: a 15th century defense gate
Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow
Sunrise over the Tower of St. Mary's Church in the main square of the Old Town

Dating back to the 13th century, the main square of Krakow is massive. Spanning almost 4 hectares (9.4 acres)[3], it remains the largest medieval square in Europe to date. Nowadays it’s filled with restaurants and shops, however there are still souvenir stalls inside the Cloth Hall, Krakow's historic trading hall. On the other side of the main square is St. Mary's Basilica with it's tall, imposing towers. These two towers are famous for their oddly unequal heights. Every hour the bells ring and trumpeter plays a short tune from the top of the right tower. Legend has it this originally started to warn the citizens of Krakow of an imminent attack.

Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow
Sunset walking towards Wawel Royal Castle
Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow
Beautiful flowers in the gardens of Wawel Royal Castle just after sunrise

About a 10 minute walk from the main square is Wawel Royal Castle, a longstanding fortified hilltop complex originally constructed in the 14th century and expanded upon for several hundred years. It remained the primary residence to the King of Poland for the majority of it's life and is included as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Tickets can be bought to tour the inside, however there's no cost to walk around the grounds. If you’re looking for another one of the great cheap things to do in Krakow, come here in the evening to view the sunset over the river. Can’t beat that view.

Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow
Smok Wawelski - the fire breathing dragon of Krakow
Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow
Outside of the fortified Wawel Castle
Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow
The beautifully stone built St. Andrew's Church

Located just below the Wawel Castle is the Smok Wawelski, one of the few remaining fire breathing dragons! Every so often flames will burst out of the mouth of the statue as you pose for a shot with it. We’re not positive, but we think there’s a button somewhere on the statue to make flames come out since it didn’t seem to be doing it on a regular interval. On the walk back from the fire breathing dragon, we made our way past the beautiful buildings, like St. Andrew's church, along the beautiful cobblestone of Grodzkra.

Free Tours in Krakow

Walkative is a company known for giving some of the best free walking tours in Krakow. They offer a handful of free tours, and a few select paid ones. The free ones include tours of the Old Town, Krakow WWII History Tour, Jewish Quarter, Street Art, and a Macabre Tour. We ended up doing the Old Town, WWII History, and Street Art tour. They also hand out free city maps with some hidden gems and other points of interest included in other tours. Just incase you want to do some of the tours on your own or go back to some of the spots you thought were interesting.

As always, these tours are donation based which is how they stay operational. We recommend tipping at least 25 PLN/tour (roughly €5). In fact, some of the tour guides will also accept Euros if you haven’t had a chance to make an ATM withdrawal.

Cost: Free
Frequency: Check Availability Here
Duration: 2.5 hrs
Starting Point: Krakow Barbican

Cost: Free
Frequency: Check Availability Here
Duration: 2.5 hrs
Starting Point: Cross of Katyn

Cost: TBD*
Frequency: Check Availability Here
Duration: 2.5 hrs
*Tours can be tailor made or private versions of the public tours. Prices vary.

Walk around the Jewish Quarter

Walking distance from the old town is the historic Jewish Quarter of Krakow. We really enjoyed spending an afternoon walking around admiring the beautiful architecture. We even gave ourselves a self guided tour from one of the maps we got from the free Walkative tour. There are also a few food truck courts which offer a delicious smorgasbord of Polish and other European cuisine. Read more below about some of the best places to eat in Krakow. If you’re into history and have seen the movie Schindler’s List, you can even arrange a tour of Schindler’s Enamel factory. However, if you’re looking for his original apartment, it can be found near the Old Town.

Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow
Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow

Best places to eat in Krakow on the cheap

One of the reasons many people think Krakow is one of the best cities to visit in Poland is because there are tons of delicious and affordable places to eat. Though the restaurants the main square of the Old Town offer a nice atmosphere, they're a bit on the pricey side. This is why we did some walking along the side streets to find some of the best places to eat in Krakow on a budget.

We found this place while looking for a nice cheap place to eat in Krakow.  It’s buffet style and the cost is based on how many items you choose. Starting with 1 item for 5 PLN ($1.20 USD) 4 Items are 15 PLN ($3.60 USD) and 6 Items are 20 PLN ($4.75 USD). We each got a full meal plus a beer for about 50 PLN ($12 USD). Afterwards, we were completely stuffed and the food was delicious.

While we were walking around the Jewish Quarter, we found an amazing food truck court here. They were serving everything from Polish sausages, to German bratwurst, to Belgian fries. We were starving after our long walk and it turned out to be a little slice of heaven. I (Josh) got a loaded brat from Wurst Truck for 17 PLN ($4 USD), which was a pretty good deal.

Traditional Polish food is known for containing lots of meat and fats, which taste great, but if those things aren’t part of your diet, it can be a bit of a challenge. Though it’s not the cheapest place to eat in Krakow, it’s certainly a bargain in terms of eating out at home. 2 entrees and 2 drinks cost us 57 PLN ($15 USD) which is a real steal compared to prices back in the States.

Discover Krakow's Street Art

The Jewish Quarter of Krakow is also home to some cool hidden and not so hidden street art murals. You won’t find any graffiti or street art in the Old Town because it’s strictly forbidden. But, you still might find people trying to sell artwork like we did near St. Florian's Gate. A free walking tour is offered for this experience, or you can use the free maps found online to make your way to these locations. Either way, it’s cool to see the Jewish influence of art in this historic district.

Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow
Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow
Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow

Take a Self Guided Tour of Auschwitz

Located within a 1.5 hour bus ride of Krakow is the infamous WWII concentration camp of Auschwitz. Tours can be found around town ranging from 99– 140+ PLN ($19-33+ USD). However, we highly recommend doing a self guided tour of the camps which can be done for free if you arrive before 10:00AM. Well, you still need to get transportation there which can be done for under $10 USD return by Flixbus. The museum opens up at 8:00AM and free tickets are first come first serve so we recommend coming early. However, FlixBus has buses running daily between Krakow and Auschwitz starting at 6:25AM. This is the latest bus that runs directly to the museum if you want to get a ticket for free.

auschwtiz - 600 original
Best cities to visit in Poland - Budget Guide to Krakow

How to get to Krakow on a Budget

Like we mentioned above, we spent about €28 ($30 USD)/person per day which included lodging, entertainment, food, and transportation to places around Krakow. However, this did not include transportation getting there. Getting around Europe can be done on the cheap by taking buses. Most people think the Eurorail trains are the best way to get around Europe, but taking a bus is really best option to get to Krakow on a budget. Hands down our favorite bus operator in Europe is Flixbus. They run to most countries and large cities, and are by far the most comfortable buses with the most leg room.

Photo Credit: Flixbus.com
Photo Credit: Flixbus.com
Warsaw ↠ Krakow
  • Bus:
    • Cost: €7+ ($7.50+ USD)
    • Time: 4.5 hrs+
  • Train:
    • Cost: €22+ ($24+ USD)
    • Time: 2.5 hrs+
Prague ↠ Krakow
  • Bus:
    • Cost: €12+ ($13+ USD)
    • Time: 7 hrs+
  • Train:
    • Cost: €17+ ($18.50+ USD)
    • Time: 9 hrs+
Berlin ↠ Krakow
  • Bus:
    • Cost: €27.99+ ($30+ USD)
    • Time: 8.5 hrs+
  • Train:
    • Cost: €35+ ($38+ USD)
    • Time: 9 hrs+

We also like browsing tickets on CheckMyBus to see the easiest and cheapest options. This website also suggests train tickets, but buses are usually the most cost effective option. Above are rough costs of getting to Krakow from a few close-by European cities. Another good website we like to is Trainline for both bus and train tickets. They also offer a comprehensive search of the quickest/cheapest transport between European cities.

Pro Tip: If you plan on taking trains anywhere in Europe, you will need to book more than a month ahead of time if you want a decent price. Booking train tickets only a few weeks out can sometimes be 3-4x more expensive than a bus. Fortunately, bus tickets remain fairly stable and only increase a modest amount closer to the departure date.

Best lodging in Krakow on a budget

We ended up staying at the Submarine Hostel for five nights in Krakow. Overall, the shared dorm experience there was probably the most eclectic group of people pass through a room we have ever seen. It wasn't the best place we've stayed, though certainly not the worst, but what do you expect for €8.50/night?

When looking for budget lodging in Krakow, or any city for that matter, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations if its a better deal than hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you a deal with either of the sites, but are affiliate links so we earn a small commission.

Dorms: €6.50+ ($7+ USD)

Private: €7.75+ ($8.50+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Coffee/Tea making facilities, Free Security Lockers, Free Maps & Info, Self-Catering Facilities, Limited Check-in Hours, Luggage storage

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: €10.15+ ($11+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Bar, 24 Hr Reception, Tours & Travel Desk, Free Security Lockers, Free Coffee/Tea making facilities, Free events, Self-Catering Facilities, Luggage Storage, Tours/Travel Desk

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: €8.50+ ($9.20+ USD)

Private: €13.50+ ($14.60+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Limited Reception Hours, Tours & Travel Desk, Luggage Storage, Tea/Coffee Making Facilities, Laundry Facilities, Self-Catering Facilities

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

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By |2020-04-25T14:52:27-04:00April 25th, 2020|Budget Travel, Europe, Poland, Travel Guides|0 Comments

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