I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to visit Krakow. It was a destination that had caused me something of a heated mental debate — I had heard such mixed reviews of the city that I was sitting firmly on the fence as to whether to visit at all.
There were a few reasons, however, that pushed me over the edge and I found myself visiting Poland’s second-largest city with a sense of forced optimism. After spending a week in Krakow, I was left with a mixed perspective of the city myself.
Many potential visitors are like me and ask themselves if Krakow is worth visiting. And if you’re in that camp, this list of pros and cons should help you make the right decision!
The Pros of Visiting Krakow
1. Ample Budget Accommodation
When it comes to typical European backpackers, the sheer amount of hostels is enough to entice them to visit Krakow — but the city goes one step beyond. While it is commonplace in many hostels to offer a basic breakfast with your dorm bed, the majority of Krakow hostels add in a free dinner.
This is a game-changer for penny-pinching backpackers as the price of meals tends to be a major factor in any travel budget. When the only meal you have to worry about paying for out of pocket is lunch, this leaves some cash left over to spend on tours, sights, nightlife, or experiences.
On top of offering two meals, most hostels also run social events every evening — often with free vodka shots — before the staff will take you out on the hostel’s own pub crawl. This is a great deal when it comes to cutting down on your Krakow travel costs, but it’s also a fantastic way to meet other travellers and it’s something that Krakow does very well.
2. It’s Absolutely Beautiful
While many big cities in Central Europe are pretty, you will be hard-pressed to find an Old Town quite as beautiful as Krakow’s. Surrounded by medieval castle walls, lush parks, and cobbled streets and squares, the city is also incredibly walkable.
All of the main sights when you visit Krakow are within walking distance of each other. Also, even if a site lies outside of the Old Town, Krakow’s extensive tram and bus network makes it incredibly easy to travel around the city. This is a definite pro to visiting this Polish city.
3. Kazimierz is Cool!
If you’re after something a little less touristy and a little more off-beat, then head to Krakow’s traditionally Jewish quarter of Kazimierz. Packed with a fascinating history, many museums, and arguably a better nightlife than on offer in the Old Town, Kazimierz was my favourite area of the city.
If you’re keen to dig a little deeper when you visit Krakow, definitely head to Kazimierz and maybe go on a free walking tour! The history of this neighbourhood, which used to be a city separate of Krakow altogether, is both dark and fascinating.
I also found the bars and clubs in this area to be both less expensive and more enjoyable and I definitely recommend heading here to go out at night rather than the Old Town.
4. Delicious Polish Cuisine
Gone are the days of a late-night kebab or McDonald’s stop after a boozy night out. When you visit Krakow, you will soon find that the 24-hour pierogi shops reign supreme! This was a definite highlight for me — pierogi are absolutely delicious and incredibly hearty.
The sheer quantity of pierogi shops throughout Krakow was heavenly and be sure not to pass up any opportunity to eat these potato and cheese-filled delights! It’s also worth checking out one of the many milk bars in Krakow which are cafeteria-style restaurants with local food options.
5. Lots of History
If you’re a history buff, then it’s definitely worth it to visit Krakow. As one of the few historic old towns in Poland that wasn’t heavily bombed during WWII (especially when compared to Warsaw), Krakow can feel a bit like walking through an open-air museum.
Whether it’s touring the beautiful Wawel Castle and learning about Poland through the centuries or visiting Schindler’s Factory and learning about Krakow’s more recent history, Krakow is a wonderful place for lovers of history.
The Cons of Visiting Krakow
1. Drunk Tourists
Many young western European tourists visit Krakow solely because it is a “cheap” place to party. This, and I’m not going to hide my opinion here, is the absolute worst.
The handful of times I went out in the Old Town, the bars and clubs were packed full of British stag do’s and drunk Aussies and Americans. I lost count of the number of drunken brawls I encountered outside of nightclubs and inside was not much better.
Bars and clubs in the Old Town seemed to be catered exclusively toward tourists, churning out bucket loads of watered-down drinks to already plastered foreigners. This led to a general feeling of discomfort as a woman in these clubs.
Rarely in my travels through Eastern and Central Europe did I feel concerned for my personal safety, but I felt that way a number of times in Krakow (more than anywhere else, actually) and I attribute it largely to its “party town” stereotype. This is a definite con to consider when you visit Krakow.
2. Extremely Busy
I found, and I’m sure you will too when you visit Krakow, that the city was jam-packed with tourists. I was there in the shoulder city and struggled to find a bed weeks in advance. The Old Town and main sites were packed with tourists and I found that it took away from the more beautiful and peaceful sites of the city.
It is something to keep in mind even when travelling off-season; make sure you have your accommodation booked well in advance when travelling to Krakow. And if you’re looking for a less busy alternative to Krakow, consider heading to cities like Wroclaw or Poznan instead.
3. Disrespectful Visits to Auschwitz
I’m speaking solely of my experience of the backpacking community, but I found the general attitude toward visiting Auschwitz extremely unsettling. Many hostels provide tours to visit the infamous concentration camp and I, by all means, think it is important to go, however, I encountered far too many backpackers who treated such an excursion as a photo op and nothing more.
The number of people who went on the hostel-run Auschwitz tour solely to do “something cultural” left me with a sick feeling in my stomach, and viewing their smiling selfies from the trip only magnified that feeling.
It is my opinion that a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau should be a solemn, respectful affair. The camp remains as it was in order to educate and prevent such atrocities from ever happening again. It’s not a place to “check off your bucket list” or an idea of a fun day trip.
If you plan on touring Auschwitz when you visit Krakow, treat everything with the utmost respect. Understand why you are there, appreciate the fact that you can come and go freely, and don’t treat it as a fun, travel experience.
4. Party Hostels
In my “pros” list, I mentioned the sheer amount of hostels when you visit Krakow and the varying perks they offer. However, this comes to be a bit of a double-edged sword. While many hostels say blatantly in their descriptions that they are not “party hostels” per se, I beg to differ.
While they might not have a bar or club on site and quiet hours might be enforced, most hostels organise hours of drinking games before taking guests on nightly pub crawls to the aforementioned tourist-ridden nightclubs.
It proved to be increasingly difficult to get a good night’s sleep in Krakow and many times it seemed like it was the hostel’s job and intent to get backpackers drunk. If you enjoy partying and drinking with other backpackers every night, then this might not seem like a big deal.
Where to Stay in Krakow
Mundo Hostel – a small hostel located close to the Old Town, this is definitely one of the best places to stay if visiting Krakow on a budget. They offer breakfast and regular social events that are great way to meat other travellers and make the most of your time in the city!
Q Hotel Kraków – a great mid-range hotel that is in a fantastic location and a good option if you do not want to stay in a hostel. They offer a large selection of comfortable rooms and there is also breakfast available each morning.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Krakow!
So is Krakow worth visiting? It definitely depends on what kind of trip you’re after. This beautiful Polish city has a lot to offer visitors, however, it can also be a bit overcrowded and touristy.
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Have you been to Krakow? What were your experiences of the city? Do you have any tips for someone wanting to visit Krakow? Leave a comment below!