Stare Miasto (which in Polish means Old Town) is the real heart of Krakow, with its quaint, colorful town houses, the iconic market square, dozens of old churches and a majestic castle perched on top of a hill.
Krakow’s Old Town is a true gem, a masterpiece of medieval art visited by millions of travelers every year. It was once an important crossroads along ancient trade routes to the east. Today it keeps its ancient charm intact, while its streets teem with life day and night.
In this guide, you’ll find all the best things to do and see in Krakow’s Old Town, as well as the locals’ best tips on places to eat and drink.
What you will find in this guide to Stare Miasto (Krakow Old Town):
- 5 Best Things to Do and See in Krakow’s Old Town
- Krakow Old Town Map
- Best Places to Eat and Drink in Stare Miasto
- Best Places to Stay in Stare Miasto
- How to get to Krakow’s Old Town from the Airport
5 Best Things to Do and See in Krakow’s Old Town
Krakow Old Town is actually a small part of the city center, what is referred to as the Stare Miasto district. So hotels outside the Old Town are often advertised as being located in Stare Miasto, but they can actually be several kilometers further away.
In any case, Krakow is a rather compact city and you can move around quite easily on foot or by public transport (which are free with the Krakow City Card, which is inexpensive and also allows you to enter almost all the museums in the city).
In this guide we will refer to the term Stare Miasto as the centuries-old Krakow Old Town, surrounded by Planty Park, famous worldwide for being the first place inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Krakow Old Town is a true jewel of medieval architecture and was the capital of Poland until the 1500s, when King Sigmund III Vasa moved his court to Warsaw. Its buildings boast over a thousand years of history, and still today it is possible to admire the remains of ancient towers and the imposing defensive system that made Krakow one of the most beautiful and majestic cities of the Middle Ages.
Since 1978 Krakow Old Town, its churches, castles, buildings and main monuments are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1. Main Market Square (Rynek Główny)
Krakow’s Main Market Square is certainly one of the most iconic places in the city. This ancient medieval square is one of the largest in Europe and is surrounded by ancient and colorful town houses, each with its own stories and legends.
Krakow’s Main Market Square has been the heart of city life for centuries. Once here merchants from all over the world came to exchange their goods and to rest during the journey along the route between the East and Europe.
The square was full of stalls where cloths were exchanged for salt from the Wieliczka Mines, or for coal and lead extracted from Polish mines. The large textile market hall in the center of the square is called Sukiennice or Kraków Cloth Hall, and is a wonderful example of Polish Gothic architecture.
2. Saint Mary’s Basilica (Kościół Mariacki)
Adjacent to Krakow’s Main Market Square is the Saint Mary’s Basilica, the main church in Krakow Old Town.
The church with its asymmetrical towers is one of the most iconic buildings in Krakow and one of the best examples of Polish Gothic architecture.
Dating back to the 14th century, it houses the famous wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss, a masterpiece of European Gothic art. Its richly decorated chapels can be visited by purchasing a ticket.
Don’t miss the trumpet signal (which locals call Hejnał Mariacki) which a trumpet player plays at every hour from the highest tower of the church.
3. Wawel Hill and the Royal Castle
Wawel Hill overlooks Krakow’s Old Town and the Vistula River, and is a great place to go for a sunset stroll.
This was once the home of Polish kings, and the place where some of the most famous and ancient legends about the city of Krakow are set.
On the top of the hill you can visit the magnificent Wawel Cathedral, which was once the royal cathedral, and which in its basement houses the crypts where Polish kings and heroes are buried.
I also recommend that you join a guided tour and visit the ancient Wawel Royal Castle, a masterpiece of architecture and art, designed by some great Italian Renaissance artists who lived in the court of the Polish kings.
4. Floriańska Street (ulica Floriańska)
Floriańska Street is considered one of the most famous and prestigious shopping streets in Poland, full of shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as pubs and clubs.
It is located along what is called the Royal Route, an ancient road built in the 13th century, which starts at St. Florian’s Gate, which was one of the main city gates, and goes all the way to the Wawel Royal Castle.
St. Florian’s Gate is a jewel of medieval Gothic architecture, and is part of the Barbican defense complex. It is one of the few remains of the mighty medieval city walls.
Floriańska Street goes all the way to the Main Market Square, from where it continues under the name of Grodzka Street, another straight boulevard full of shops, cafes and restaurants.
One of the most interesting museums to visit along Floriańska Street is the Pharmacy Museum of the Jagiellonian University Medical College, which boasts a valuable collection of ancient medical and pharmaceutical furnishings and equipment dating back to the Middle Ages.
On Floriańska Street there is also the House of Jan Matejko, one of the most famous Polish painters. Here are housed some of his main works. It can be visited for free with the Krakow City Card.
5. Kraków Barbican
Kraków Barbican is one of the best-preserved ancient medieval barbican in Europe.
This Gothic-style defensive structure dates from the end of the 15th century, when Krakow was surrounded by mighty city walls. This was one of the main gates of the city and the barbican served as a checkpoint. From here you passed through a covered passageway, which allowed you to overcome the moat and reach the city walls.
The complex defense system of Krakow was dismantled in the 19th century during the Austrian rule and the current Planty Park was created in its place.
Kraków Barbican was saved from demolition at the behest of the Senate of the Free City of Cracow, and today it is one of the few visible remains of the medieval city walls. It can be visited for free with the Krakow City Card.
Krakow Old Town Map
One of the best ways to fully enjoy the many attractions of Krakow Old Town is to join a guided tour. There are great free walking tours every day, led by friendly local guides.
In the evening, don’t miss the fun-filled pub crawl. You will be able to discover the best clubs in Krakow and enjoy the best of Stare Miasto nightlife.
If you’d rather explore Stare Miasto on your own, then this Krakow Old Town map might come in handy, including directions to all the main attractions to visit.
☞ Read our guide to the Best Free Tours in Krakow
Best Places to Eat and Drink in Stare Miasto
The Stare Miasto district is full of great restaurants and bars. There is something for all tastes, from traditional restaurants where you can taste some local specialties, to international cuisine restaurants and the most famous fast food chains.
The prices and the quality of the experience can be quite variable and especially in Krakow Old Town you could fall into some tourist trap. That’s why I thought I’d give you some advice on some places recommended by the locals, where you can eat and drink some local specialties.
A restaurant that is definitely worth a visit is the Wierzynek, located in the heart of Stare Miasto, right on the Main Market Square.
Wierzynek is one of the oldest restaurants in Krakow Old Town and according to legend has been running since 1364. Many famous people have dined here, such as George Bush, Fidel Castro and Kate Moss.
The elegant interiors keep the charm of the old days intact, with antique furnishings, tapestries and paintings. The Wierzynek serves elegant dishes of international cuisine. It is a little expensive, but it is worth the experience.
Another good restaurant in Krakow Old Town is Morskie Oko, with its traditional atmosphere and its interior that resembles that of an old mountain house. It serves good regional cuisine, enlivened by musicians singing mountain songs.
I recommend you try the meat specialties: mutton, veal and pork accompanied by excellent traditional sauces. Also try their good selection of local spirits. Main courses: 30 – 70 zł.
If you want to fill up on pierogi, the famous Polish dumplings, you should go to Pierogarnia Krakowiacy, a small restaurant that serves excellent hand-made pierogis. You will spend around 20 zł for a serving of 10 pierogi.
A great alternative is also Przypiecek, which serves excellent pierogi until late at night. You will spend around 20 zł for a serving of 10 pierogi.
A great experience could be to join a traditional dinner held in a restaurant in the countryside just outside Krakow. You can book online, and you’ll get round-trip transportation from Stare Miasto and a gorgeous buffet dinner, unlimited drinks included.
Also, if you are a food enthusiast, you shouldn’t miss the Krakow Food Tour, which allows you to taste the specialties that the locals love, or the tastings of the best Polish vodka.
Best Places to Stay in Stare Miasto
Stare Miasto is undoubtedly the best district to stay in Krakow, as it is quite compact (easy to get around on foot) and allows you to be close to all major attractions and places to eat and drink.
You can choose from a wide range of good quality hotels and hostels at quite affordable prices. If you are planning your trip to Krakow, some advice on the best places to stay in Krakow Old Town will certainly be useful.
One of the best accommodation for couples is the Aparthotel Stare Miasto, which offers fabulous apartments equipped with every comfort and located in the heart of Krakow Old Town.
Among the best hotels in Stare Miasto are the fabulous Unicus Palace, the Sheraton Grand Krakow and the excellent Hotel Wawel Queen.
Elegant, comfortable and offering excellent value for money are the Hotel Copernicus, the Hotel Polski Pod Białym Orłem and the Hotel Stary.
While for those looking for a cheap but quality accommodation the best choice is the Hotel Jan.
If you are looking for cheap and fun accommodation, you should know that Krakow offers a good choice of hostels. Right in the heart of Krakow Old Town are Let’s Rock Hostel (right on Grodzka Street) and The Little Havana Party Hostel, which offer good rooms and a cheerful atmosphere.
Also in the heart of Stare Miasto great alternatives are the quiet and clean Flamingo Hostel, the Globtroter and Draggo House which are nice, clean and comfortable guesthouses and the Greg & Tom Hostel, which offers free breakfast and dinner.
For those looking for a hostel near Krakow station, the best solution is the Bubble Hostel, which is convenient and comfortable and also offers girls-only dorms.
How to get to Krakow’s Old Town from the Airport
Getting to Krakow Old Town from the Airport is quite easy. The best solution is undoubtedly to book a private transfer, especially if you are traveling with your family or carrying heavy luggage.
Private transfers from Krakow Balice Airport to Stare Miasto are reliable and inexpensive. Drivers speak good English and have nice and comfortable cars. By booking online in advance, you will avoid the risk of scams and nasty price surprises.
There is also a train from the airport to Krakow city center, the Balice Ekspres, which runs from 5.00 to 22.30 from the airport to the central railway station (Kraków Główny). Runs every 30-60 minutes, the journey takes about 20 minutes and the ticket costs 12 zł.
Public buses are also a good alternative. During the day, lines 208 and 252 run between the airport and the city center every 60 minutes (every 20 minutes during peak times). At night you can take bus 902. The ride from the airport to Stare Miasto takes 30-40 minutes and the ticket costs 4 zł.
The most expensive way to get from the airport to Krakow Old Town is by taxi. The ride takes about 30 minutes and the fare starts at 90 zł.
Things to see and do around Krakow’s Old Town
Krakow’s Old Town is the real heart of the city. From here you can easily visit most of the best Museums in Krakow and enjoy most of the best attractions in the city, such as Kazimierz, the Wawel Castle and the iconic Krakow’s Market Square.
Check out our must-read list of the Best Things to Do and See in Krakow.
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