Krakow’s rich history comes to life in its museums. From underground archaeological dig sites to reveal the old medieval core of the town to fascinating journeys through Polish folklore to sobering memorials of the horrors of WWII, there’s oodles to see here. Here’s just 12 to set the cultural ball rolling…
Oskar Schindler's Factory
Housed in the very industrial hall that was used by Oskar Schindler as an enamel plant back in WWII, this is surely one of the most fascinating museums in Krakow. Not only does it chronicle the emotional tale of how one man conspired against the Nazis to save as many Jews from the onslaught of the Holocaust as he could, but it also goes even further back into the city’s past, telling tales of its foundation, its rich cultural fabric and technological innovations over the ages.
Test tubes and dust-caked glass bottles of all shapes and sizes are crammed into the various historic pharmacy rooms of this interesting and quirky little museum. Nestled in an historic late-medieval period home in the Krakow Old Town, the institution is arguably the best on the continent for chronicling the development of pharmaceuticals and prescription medicine throughout the 1800s and 1900s.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is perhaps the most sobering of all the WWII relics in Europe. Once the place where the horrific result of the Nazi Final Solution came to bear on the Jewish and minority populations of the continent, it stands as a reminder of the notorious death camps of the Holocaust. Trips to the UNESCO site are easy to make from Krakow, which sits just an hour’s drive away to the east.
Set beneath the cobbles of the Main Market Square, the Rynek Underground Museum offers a journey back in time; back to when merchants from all over Slavic Europe would have traded cloth and wares in this sprawling plaza in the heart of the town. Excavations of the historic medieval relics drive the exhibition, while immersive recreations of what Krakow was like in the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th centuries offer an insight into the rich history of Lesser Poland.
Just a glimpse at the swish, Bauhaus-style shell of the MOCAK museum in Podgorze is enough to hint at the wonders that lurk within. Dedicated to all things contemporary in the art world, the place boasts a range of regular touring exhibits that showcase the likes of avant-garde and the newest cutting-edge of Polish photography. There are also installation pieces and one excellent coffee shop on site.
Sat hidden on the outskirts of the city’s historic core, visitors will need to seek out the basement exhibits of the old Gestapo Headquarters. Once you’ve found them, be ready for a journey through the dark days of Nazi occupation and the decades of communist rule in Poland, when the locals of Krakow lived under state scrutiny and totalitarian oppression. There are recreated cells, nooses and even uniforms worn by politico prisoners.
Haunting ghosts and spine-tingling ghouls await visitors to this spooky museum on Florianska Street. One part haunted house and one part thrilling immersive exhibition about the more macabre side of Krakow, the place rarely fails to get the goose bumps rising. You’ll need plenty of courage to navigate the dark rooms and corridors as your flashlight flickers, and all your wits about you to escape the challenges along the way.
Hidden down a small alleyway between the Old Town and the Kazimierz district, the Krakow Pinball Museum does exactly what is says on the tin. Inside, flickering lights and whirring thingamabobs herald an array of classic pinball machines. Some can be played while others are just there for show. The best part though? There’s an on-site bar offering craft beers and drinks!15 Kraków, Stradomska, Kraków, Poland
Follow in the footsteps of one of Poland’s greatest ever thinkers with a trip to the regal rooms of the prestigious Collegium Maius. A department of the iconic Jagiellonian University, the place was once home to none other than Nicolas Copernicus, who made many an important observation while studying in these halls. There are also Nobel prizes adorning the display cabinets, and one fantastic clock that takes the meaning of cuckoo to the next level!Jagiellońska 15, Kraków, Poland
Housed in a grand building with a bulbous, Germanic spire on the edge of the Kazimierz district, Krakow’s Ethnographic Museum is the place to go to learn all about the folksy traditions of Slavic Europe and southern Poland. There are exhibits that detail the curious, flowery architecture of the region, and the craft movements of the nearby Tatra Mountains, along with a regular array of touring collections that change each month.
Not so much a museum of stained glass as it is an active workshop for the creation of awesome stained glass art commissions, this interesting stop off close to the Vistula River is one of the city’s quirkier and more hands-on attractions. Visitors will need to call ahead to book onto one of the scheduled tours, which not only talk about the 100 year tradition of glass making at the facility but also showcase some of the artists currently working there.
Because this large museum occupies a place on the far side of the dual carriageway leading out from the Krakow Old Town, it’s often not visited by the crowds that its fascinating exhibits probably warrant. The good news is that it means patrons might just get the whole place to themselves, as they wander the restored railway depot unravelling the heroic story of Poland’s famous Armii Krajowej (the honoured national resistance movement that combatted first the Nazis and then the Soviets).