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Hitting any destination as packed with culture as Krakow for just a single weekend can be a tricky business. Faced with a medley of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, soaring Gothic churches, gorgeous medieval castles, pretty parks, enough cafes to shame even Vienna, and one darn raucous nightlife, piecing together a 72-hour itinerary that covers it all is no mean feat. Cue The Culture Trip’s in-the-know roundup of how to make the most of your weekend in Krakow.
After checking into your hotel (as early as possible), it’s time to head out and explore the legendary Old Town area of the city. This is the perfect place to begin a tour of the historic medieval heart of Krakow; offering a glimpse at the 1,300-year-long history of the place and most of the major sights.
The district is easy to find – it’s shaped like a diamond and surrounded by a park. Make for the Market Square first, where you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the redbrick rises of St Mary’s Basilica and the huge Sukiennice cloth hall (a huge merchant’s building from the 1400s).
Hang around at the entrance of St Mary’s Church for the start of the 10am Friday Old Town Walking Tour. These are totally free, run in a host of different languages, they last two hours, and take travellers on a comprehensive odyssey through Polish history and the past of Krakow itself – it’s the best way to cram over a millennium of culture into a single morning!
You’ll finish up sometime after midday close to the Wawel Hill, where you can lunch in the covered terrace of Pod Wawelem restaurant, devouring Polish soups and hearty meat skewers in the shadow of the UNESCO attested castle complex high above.
And talking of the Wawel Castle, that’s precisely where you should head in the afternoon. Tours of the State Rooms, the Royal Private Apartments and the Crown Armoury are musts, and together should take the rest of the day. Be sure to finish your trip to Krakow’s iconic citadel with a coffee in the leafy courtyard and a climb to the top of the Wawel Cathedral tower, where dramatic panoramas of the Tatra Mountains and the city unfold on clear days.
In the evening, head back to the Old Town area you’ve already explored. Here, some of the best restaurants in the city await. However, there’s arguably nowhere more enchanting than the cellar of Restauracja Pod Aniołami, which showcases masterful Slavic fine-dining in a fairy tail underground setting.
Saturday means heading out of the centre of Krakow and to one of the most striking and infamous sites in all of Europe: Auschwitz. This former concentration camp was opened by the Nazis in 1940 and eventually became one of the most destructive extermination facilities in the Third Reich; the place where an estimated 1.3 million Jews and other minorities were systematically murdered. Tours of the UNESCO protected complex are compulsory – a guide will be allocated on arrival. Trips to Auschwitz will typically take six hours from start to finish.
Once you’re back in the city, head to the riverbanks of the Vistula and grab a local obwarzanek bagel from one of the roadside stalls. You’ll find these plentiful under the Wawel Castle. In the summer, the banks of the river are alive with locals chatting and chilling. Stroll across to the far south-western banks and take a seat oi the gravel gardens of Forum Przestrzenie. This huge shell of an old communist hotel looms large above the water, offering a relaxed atmosphere, tasty pizzelas and some great local craft beers. It’s the perfect spot to digest what promises to be a sobering and moving day.
Your last day in Krakow will be all about hitting the other, lesser-known neighborhoods of Poland’s cultural capital. Start by catching the tram to the historic Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz. This area of chipped facades and old tenements is now one of the bohemian centres of town. Wander around, grab some Middle Eastern mezze in the acclaimed restaurant Hamsa, do some people watching from the drinking terraces of famous Alchemia bar (there’s tasty breakfasts there too), and finish by walking south out of the district towards the arched bridges that cross the Vistula.
After crossing the river, the neighborhood of Podgorze unfolds on both sides. This is the area where the Jewish Ghetto was situated in WWII. You’ll be able to see some sobering memorials to that dark past on Plac Bohaterów Getta. From there, it’s also just a short walk to the museum halls of Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory. Made famous by Spielberg’s 1993 Oscar-winning epic, this old industrial depot is now home to one amazing museum that unravels the modern history of Krakow city as a whole. That should take around four hours in all.
After that, nearby BAL has some healthy and filling meals to round off the day, not to mention a fantastic al fresco drinking terrace nestled between the old industrial rises of the Zablocie area (now an up-coming hipster hub). Then, once you’ve dined, hop aboard another tram to the Old Town in time for the start of the legendary Krakow pub crawl. This highly rated evening jaunt through the smoky cellar bars and thumping clubs of the city is arguably the best way to finish a weekend here; mingling and mixing with other travellers, guzzling vodka shots and dancing into the early hours. Just try not to miss that return flight!