Krakow: the highlights

Why visit Krakow for your weekend away

Krakow is known as the cultural capital of Poland. Stunning architecture and historical landmarks like the Royal Castle atop Wawel Hill make it a top sightseeing destination. It’s also home tobuzzing Polish bars, world cuisines and, of course, Polish vodka, with a huge range of different flavours worth trying.

It’s a small city, easily explored on foot. It’s around 25 minutes from the airport to the city centre, and you could always hire a party bus to kick off the fun early. If you’re looking for warmer weather, May to September time would be your best bet. The impressive Christmas markets, however, are worth braving the cold weather for.

Explore the City

Old Town

In the shadow of the beautiful St Mary’s Basilica, Old Town is the beating heart of Krakow. Rynek Główny is the largest medieval market square in Europe and is filled with lively market stalls. This is where you’ll find all the popular restaurants,bars and clubs.

Kazimierz

Krakow’s historic Jewish quarter is a vibrant area full of culture. There’s a mix of indie galleries, vintage shops and quirky bars that range from cocktail dens to shabby-chic spaces. Here you’ll find the city’salternative nightlife, like Opium Music Club and Alchemia.

Party on the beach

On a hot summer's day, take the party to Kryspinow. This artificial beach is set around a huge lake, just 30 minutes’ drive from the city centre. It has its own bar, swimming area, waterslide and volleyball and basketball courts - everything you need for a beach party. For food, there are grill bars and pizzerias, plus a log cabin restaurant, Skansken Smakow, for local specialities.

Auschwitz tour

Visit the largest of the Nazi concentration camps, now transformed into a museum and memorial where you can still see the ruins of prison blocks and gas chambers. A guided tour will take you through the horrors that this place once held. Fair warning - while it is worth seeing, this is an emotional experience not to be taken lightly so it might put a damper on the party mood.

Nightlife Hotspots

Krakow isn’t all about the history and as pretty as it may be, it also knows how to party. It’s home to one of the highest concentrations of pubs, clubs and bars in Europe. From the streets of the Old Town to the lively Kazimierz quarter you’ll find plenty of places for a good night out.

CoCo Music Club

This lively club across from Slowacki Theatre has three bars, two dance floors, a VIP area and a smoking room. It combines modern interior design with exposed brick walls to bring the atmosphere of a historical tenement building. The white cushioned sofas and framed mirrors add a touch of luxury. The music is a mix of funk, R&B, hip-hop and house music with regular dedicated club nights.

Baroque

This modern and stylish lounge is just a few steps away from the Main Square combining a restaurant, cocktail bar and music club into one. With elegant interiors, an all-season covered garden and dance floor, there’s a lot going on. The drinks menu includes an impressive 100 or so vodkas, and you can order modern twists on Italian and Polish cuisine in the restaurant

Frantic

This minimalist club just off the main square is designed as a typical Cracovian cellar, with exposed rock, modern decor and illuminated boxes. There are two dance floors, three bars and a chillout room, with a state-of-the-art sound system luring international DJs who spin a mix of pop, house, R&B and EDM.

Eat like a local

Polish cuisine is simple and hearty with a lot of meat. Why not try out some traditional dishes? Pierogi are doughy dumplings traditionally filled with potato. Zapiekanka, the Polish drunk food, is half a baguette covered with mushrooms and cheese.

Traditional Polish cuisine

There are plenty of places to sample the local cuisine. Morskie Oko has costumed waitresses and a rustic interior, with grilled game on the menu. If you want to try pickled herring in different flavours, Ambasada Sledzia is worth a try. Or head to one of the Polish milk bars, leftover from its communist days.

C K Browar

This Old Town cellar is Kraków's oldest brew-pub, with its own mini brewery, Austrian restaurant and club. Located just a five-minute walk from the Main Market Square, the restaurant serves a variety of meats from venison and wild boar to beef, with beer poured straight from the tanks to your glass. It has a Bavarian beer hall feel and its design reminiscent of an old Austrian fort.

Plac Nowy 1

This stylish restaurant in Kazimierz offers modern takes on classic Polish dishes, as well as American and Italian cuisines. Its spacious interior has natural lighting, brick walls and plants make it a great place to enjoy one of their craft beers. It even has a sushi and tapas restaurant, a club and bowling in the basement.

Places to Stay

If you want to be close to all the action and make the most of your time, check out the apartments available in the Old Town area. There are a variety of apartments for different sized groups. Hotels are available but are quite a bit further out of city centre.

Your guide to a wild weekend in Krakow

Krakow’s 18 different districts all claim to be unique and individual but, like most cities, some are more unique and individual than others. If you’re staying for months, great. Go explore all 18. Otherwise, you want the Old Town for glossed up medieval history and die-hard nightlife. Then try some of the more arty, hipster quarters – rumour has it they’re becoming trendy, so catch them while you can.

At a glance:

  • Made up of 18 distinct districts and said to boast the world’s highest density of bars and clubs at its heart
  • Huge student population gives the city a young, vibrant edge, alongside its unique history
  • Krakow Old Town and the historic Kazimierz District are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Things not to miss:

Sukiennice The spectacular Medieval Cloth Hall overlooking the Market Square in the centre of Krakow is the city’s most iconic building. Today it houses the Sukiennice Museum and some of the city’s nicest shopping areas.

Krakow Film Festival Dedicated to documentary, animation and shorts, this is one of Europe’s longest running film festivals and it’s held in May. There are events all over the city, and open-air screenings next to Wawel Castle.

Krakow’s Longest Bar Stara Zajezdnia is a converted tram depot and not only is it Krakow’s biggest brewery and beer house, it’s also got the city’s longest bar. A beer garden’s great for summer evening and they’re particularly proud of the collection of malt whiskies.www.starazajezdniakrakow.pl

Zakapone This is Poland’s best known and loved winter resort with great skiing and far fewer crowds and queues than its Western European counterparts. There are regular bus services between Krakow and Zakapone so it’s possible to just go ski or snowboard for the day.

Local knowledge:

Old Town – looks sedate, plays down and dirty If anywhere in magical Krakow could be accused of sleight of hand it’s the Old Town. All gleaming, restored and respectable on the surface, underneath it’s a seething mass of excess. This is where the fable (or not) of record-breaking bar and club concentration comes from. And with dozens of places vying with each other on price, long hours and epically attractive customers, it’s easy not to question the numbers and just go for it. Famously stag friendly, Krakow Old Town is great to explore en-masse during the day, continue through the night and then start all over again.

Kazimierz – up and coming and oozing alternative charm Bohemian and just verging on the edge of cool and trendy, Kazamierz was one of Krakow’s ancient Jewish quarters until the invasion of Nazi Germany in 1941. Cleared of its residents and cleansed of its culture, the district didn’t really begin to recover until recently. Schindler’s List was filmed in here in 1993 and inspired a rebirth that hasn’t stopped since. This is where you’ll find the city’s avant-garde galleries and museums, alternative clubs, bars, cafés and restaurants and a big concentration of Krakow’s young, successful and edgy.

Best pubs in Krakow:

House of Beer Poland’s not shy when it comes to brewing, so when House of Beer offers up 200 local varieties by the bottle and 18 on draught, you know it’s going to be a good night. Very friendly, enthusiastic crowd and shows live sports on TV, but avoids being too laddish. Wisnia W Plwie (cherry in beer) is a particular speciality – if you can pronounce it.www.houseofbeerkrakow.com

Irish Pub Pod Papugami If a classic Irish pub and a Cracovian cellar bar cross-bred this would be their offspring. Excellent selection of the usual favourites (Guinness and Murphy’s) plus a big range of Polish soon-to-be-favourites. Not too touristy so good for a bit of local life.www.podpapugami.krakow.pl

Cybermachina A combination of drinking and gaming, Cybermachina is themed on classics like Mario Bros and even has retro Nintendo for old school geeks. Laid back, cheap and some real weird tastes mixed in with the standards – vodka, dried sausage and mustard anyone?

Pierwsky Lokal Right in the Old Town centre and the only place in Krakow to serve the prized Dragon’s Head Beer.

Best bars in Krakow:

Stary Port Krakow’s only ‘Sailor Bar’ and in that fine tradition it’s known for its drunken sing-alongs (brush up on your Polish sea shanties), stuffed parrot, cheap beer and very nautical decor. Open Thursday to Saturday, it’s a fine place for an unforgettable stag night.www.staryport.com.pl

Hard Rock Café Hard Rock Café is worth a visit for the location alone. Right in the middle of the Old Town next to St Mary’s Church, not only can you hear the legendary bugler playing ‘Hejnar’ on the hour, every hour, you can have cocktails with your culture.www.hardrock.com/cafes/krakow

Pergamin Slap bang in the centre of the Old Town nightlife, this pre-club favourite is cool without being standoffish, has great music and the drinks are reasonable and interesting.www.pergamin.pl

Sheraton Roof Top Terrace & Lounge Bar Eastern Europe likes swanky, luxury chain hotels and Krakow’s Sheraton fits the bill just fine. You don’t have to be a guest to sit on the Roof Top Terrace and have cocktails overlooking the Wisla River and Wawei Castle.http://www.taras-loungebar.pl/

Best clubs in Krakow:

Shakers Classic Cracovian cocktail club meets wild weekend venue and shakes it up seven nights a week. Fantastic cocktails at ridiculously low prices, great show-off mixologists, guest DJs and live music on Sundays.www.shakers.com.pl

Prozak 2.0 A Krakow legend and arguably the city’s best club, Prozac is underground in style and literally underground. A maze of rooms for drinking, DJs, dancing and just standing about looking like you just don’t care.

Baroque Chic, glamorous and great in summer (there’s a fantasy secret garden) Baroque in Kazimierz mixes up clubbing, cocktails and vodka. There are over 100 Polish vodkas and Baroque has all of them, neat or on their 200 plus cocktail menu.http://baroque.com.pl/

Food: eat like a local:

Krakow is cold in winter and local food is obviously designed to stop you freezing to death. Heavy on carbs, high in calories and almost unbearably delicious, it’s the original and best comfort food.

Try Pierogi dumplings in all their many and wonderful forms. Barszcz is fantastic savoury beetroot soup. And for snacking there’s Zapiekanka – big, open baguette smothered in cheese and mushrooms, baked and covered in tomato or garlic sauce. No chance of hypothermia here.

Morskie Oko Rustic and a little bit kitsch, this underground restaurant serves fantastic, regional food for very little money. When the costumed staff aren’t waiting tables they do a bit of dancing to local bands, which apparently is a Polish tradition.
www.morskieoko.krakow.pl

Caffe Camelot The news that breakfast is the most important meal of the day hasn’t reached Krakow yet. So the city still starts the morning with a cup of strong coffee and a cigarette. If you want to give this local custom a miss, Caffe Camelot is happy to step into the breach with all-day breakfast instead.

Wierzynek When Krakow does ‘fine dining’ it doesn’t do it by half. This city legend dates back to 1364 and has served legions of kings and also Kate Moss in its time. The staff are discreet and attentive, the décor is lusciously ornate and gorgeous and the food is superb. Expensive by Polish standards but not out of the question for a special occasion. The views of Market Square are pretty splendid too.http://wierzynek.pl/

Ambasada Sledzia Sledz are pickled herrings and they’re so good with vodka that they have their own theme bars all over Krakow. The ‘Herring Embassy’ is where the Sledz Bar tradition was born and it’s one of the city’s busiest bars. The vodka is cheap and after a while you grow surprisingly fond of the fish too.

Milk Bars Krakow institutions to try at least once, Milk Bars are all over the city and specialise in calorific classics like golabki, nalesniki and barszcz. The food is basic and piled high and the prices are ludicrously cheap. Babcia Malina is a good place to start.

Best time to visit:

Warm in summer, Krakow is plenty sunny and has lots of green space and riverside spots where you can cool off. Winters are notoriously harsh, but pretty snow more than makes up for freezing temperatures.

Getting about:

Krakow city centre is compact, so in summer you should walk. Slippy streets make that less of a winter option, but the MPK bus and tram service goes everywhere and a 24-hour pass costs 7.50 zloty (£1.50).

Staying safe:

Polish women don’t approach unaccompanied men and invite them to nightclubs, if this happens it’s probably part of a scam. Be polite and walk away. Avoid scuffles or fights in the street, Poland’s anti-hooliganism squads are armed with live ammunition. Brothels aren’t legal in Poland, if you go into one it’s a criminal offence.