If you’re looking for a good time, look no further than Krakow. As a backpacker, you can’t ask for much more from a city than Krakow. It’s a historic and culturally rich city. It’s budget-friendly with an absolutely bumpin’ nightlife scene. Krakow also serves as an excellent home base for some of Poland’s best day trips, whether it’s to the Tatra Mountains or a sobering visit to Auschwitz. I had to physically drag myself away from Krakow otherwise I would’ve stayed forever.
Krakow is a top backpacker destination in Europe. It’s excellent location close to other major cities like Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, Vienna, and Budapest puts it firmly on the backpacker trail. Make sure to tack it on to your European travel itinerary. You won’t regret it.
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How To Get To Krakow
Public transportation in Europe, including Poland, is pretty dang great. Train travel within Poland is affordable and reliable. The best way to get to Krakow if you’re already in Poland is by train. The best website for looking up train schedules is PKP. Another option is by bus. Most backpackers use Flixbus for budget-friendly bus travel throughout Europe. It’s an essential app to have if you’re traveling through Europe. Buses are a little slower, but cheap and sufficient.
Oh, and before you head out, make sure to have good travel insurance handy while you’re off adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month.
Where To Stay in Krakow
Some of my favorite hostels in Europe are in Krakow. You’re getting an unbeatable value that you truly won’t find anywhere else in Europe. I’m talking Latin America levels of bang for your buck.
Let’s start with what might be the best-value hostel I’ve ever encountered.
Greg and Tom Hostels
Where do I even begin with Greg and Tom Hostels? There are three of them in Krakow, each with varying levels of craziness. Greg and Tom Party Hostel, as one would imagine, is where the party’s at. Greg and Tom Beer House Hostel is also a good party hostel, but a little more chill. Greg and Tom Home Hostel is where I stayed and found it a perfect balance of chill and social. It’s very easy to meet people here, but at the same time, you’ll actually be able to sleep.
Okay, so why did I claim that this is the best value hostel in Europe? Well, let’s start with the price. I paid $16 per night for this hostel. Pretty cheap for Europe already, but wait, there’s more! You get free breakfast. And I’m not talking just a piece of toast and jam. It’s a breakfast that rivals a continental buffet from a nice hotel. I’m not done yet. Greg and Tom also includes a free dinner buffet in your nightly rate. What does that include? Several choices of pizza, salads, pastas, rice, burgers, burritos, kielbasa, chicken, and more. It’s actually ridiculous how much food they give you for the price.
I can rave on and on about it, but basically, just stay at Greg and Tom’s. All their hostels include free breakfast and free dinner, so just choose depending on how hard you want to party.
Little Havana Party Hostel
To no one’s surprise, Greg and Tom’s fills up pretty quickly. I managed to stay there for three nights before all three hostels were fully booked and I was forced to pack up and move. I moved to Little Havana Party Hostel because hey, it was the weekend and finding a bed for $7 a night was a miracle. With that price comes a free breakfast and a free beer for each night of your stay. Like I said, Krakow is a backpacker’s paradise.
Let’s Rock Party Hostel
I didn’t stay at this hostel but one of the pub crawls I did started here. It had a good vibe with friendly staff and volunteers. If Greg and Tom’s are fully booked, then Let’s Rock Party Hostel is a good alternative with a great location in town. There lots of great hostels in town to choose from, but I’d say these are the best party hostels in Krakow.
Things To Do in Krakow
Krakow is a city with a rich history dating back over a thousand years. It was even the capital of Poland before it was moved to Warsaw. Miraculously, Krakow as a whole survived the devastation that other cities in Poland underwent during World War II. Many of the historic buildings are still standing, making Krakow a city with immense historical and cultural significance.
Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town
The Old Town of Krakow was one of the original UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s a beautiful area to roam around aimlessly in, but if you’re looking for some highlights, here are some spots you can’t miss.
You couldn’t miss Krakow’s market square if you tried. Krakow is home to the largest market square in all of Europe. This lively main plaza is home to churches, museums, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and more.
The Cloth Hall
This huge building in the center of Krakow’s Market Square used to be the hub for buying and selling back in the day. It still is, but now it’s mostly tourist fare and souvenirs. It’s still worth taking a walk down this indoors market road.
St. Mary’s Basilica
This two-towered basilica is the most recognizable landmark of Krakow. Just walk in the direction of its two tall spires and you’ll find yourself in the market square. One can also climb up the tower for a beautiful view of Krakow and its surroundings.
Krakow’s Jewish Quarter
Another neighborhood of Krakow worth checking out is Krakow’s Jewish Quarter. Kazimierz is the neighborhood where most of Krakow’s Jews lived in before the war. The acclaimed movie Schindler’s List was also filmed here. One can even actually visit Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, now a museum commemorating his heroic actions. These days, this historic neighborhood has become a lively hub of restaurants and nightlife. It’s a much different vibe to the charming and pristine Old Town of Krakow. It’s well worth spending a few hours roaming around this neighborhood.
Just outside of Krakow’s Old Town, you’ll find a hill with a lot of extravagant and historical buildings. Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral are the two main draws here. You have to buy individual tickets to each of the buildings. It’s a beautiful hilltop area where you can kill an hour or two close to town.
Smocza Jama – The Cave Where The Dragon Lived
You’ll come to find that there’s a big dragon theme to Krakow. That comes from its origin story that involves dragons. Pretty badass if you ask me. Basically, legend has it that there used to be a dragon that terrorized town. These days, you can even visit the cave where the dragon supposedly lived. There’s as much authenticity to it as Dracula’s Castle, but hey, it’s a fun story.
For good views of Krakow and the surrounding landscapes, Kosciuszko Mound is a good place to visit. It’s easily accessible by public transportation and home to some cool architecture along with great views of the city.
Eat Some Pierogies
Pierogies are basically these little Polish dumplings filled with meat or veggies or even sweets. Krakow has some of the best pierogies in the country and you’d be wise to take advantage.
Day Trips from Krakow
Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains
The small town of Zakopane is Poland’s gateway into the mountains and home to the country’s most stunning natural beauty. During the winters, Zakopane is a renowned winter sports resort town. During the summers, it’s an excellent place to go hiking and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Poland.
Auschwitz is a place that needs no introduction. It’s where one of the world’s most devastating genocides took place. I recommend a visit to Auschwitz to anyone. Reading and hearing the numbers and statistics is one thing. But a visit to Auschwitz humanizes those numbers and reminds you the unfathomable scale of genocide that happened here. Walking into a room of piles upon piles of human hair is a sobering reminder that every single one of those 1.3 million people was a human being with their own lives, aspirations, dreams, families, and so on.
Auschwitz is one of the most sobering and heartbreaking places I’ve ever visited. I think it is something everyone in the world should experience and witness, and Krakow is the most convenient place to visit it from. This is the guided tour that I booked, which includes a tour guide plus pick up and drop off in Krakow for less than $20.
Wieliczka Salt Mines and Museum
About 40 minutes by public transport from Krakow, one can visit the small town of Wieliczka. The highlight of this town is the still-functioning salt mine. This salt mine has a long history. Walking through the tunnels gives you a glimpse of many centuries of history. The guided tours take about an hour before giving you some free time to explore the salt mines freely. You’ll end up 130 meters underground and run into highlights such as a salt cathedral, turquoise pools, and a multitude of elaborate salt sculptures.
Krakow Nightlife Guide
Well, this blog is called The Partying Traveler after all. Can’t talk about Krakow without talking about its absolutely raucous nightlife scene. Krakow is one of my favorite nightlife destinations in Europe. There are a ton of bars to choose from, it’s easy to socialize and meet people, and all of the nightclubs are within walking distance from each other. It’s always easier when your drunken walks from bar to bar only take a few minutes instead of becoming a sobering long walk or a long wait for an Uber.
Krakow excels at one thing in particular, and that’s backpacker pub crawls. They are affordable and load you up with plenty of alcohol. Best of all, there are lots of fellow travelers that you can meet. If you’re traveling solo and need to make friends, hopping on a Krakow bar crawl is an excellent place to start. I actually wished that I had started my Poland adventures in Krakow. In Gdansk, Wroclaw, and Warsaw, I was mostly alone because the backpacker scene wasn’t as big and the good hostels were already fully booked. In Krakow? Honestly, maybe I made too many friends. It led to plenty of reunions throughout Europe for the rest of the summer. For extroverted solo travelers looking to make travel buddies, Krakow is wonderful.
Pub Crawls in Krakow
Most hostels will run their own pub crawls. If not, they’ll have a partner hostel that they’ll send you to. They usually cost around 70 zloty ($15) and include an hour of open bar at the starting bar/hostel. After that, you’ll go to four different clubs and get a shot at each one. It’s a great option if you want to meet people and don’t know what spots to hit.
A few of the clubs I remember visiting in Krakow that I enjoyed were:
Bodega – This bar is right on the market square. Along with its perfect location, it’s got a fun vibe with two dance floors and plenty of quieter rooms to take a break from dancing.
Teatro Cubano – While it claims to be a Latin bar, the playlist is quite varied. If you’re into reggaeton or Latin music, this is your best bet, along with Mojito’s or Single Scena. Teatro Cubano is popular among young locals because it is one of the cheaper clubs in town. There are always people here, so it’s always a safe bet.
Mojito’s – This is another fun club with a Latin vibe, although a bit pricier than Teatro Cubano.
Prozak – This is popular among locals and usually the final stop on many of the pub crawls. The music here leans more towards electronic and house.
Propaganda, Coco, and Four are a few others that I remember visiting. The music is more mainstream, so expect a lot of pop and hip-hop. For pre-gaming, I’d recommend Bania Luka for 6 zloty beers and shots.
There are a ton of other bars and clubs to check out. Whether you’re hopping on a pub crawl or bar-hopping on your own, you’re bound to find a good time.
Of course, there’s so much more to Krakow than this guide. It’s a city rich with activities, adventure, and most importantly, fun. However, this is definitely a good starting point that will keep you busy for a long, long time.
If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by buying me a beer! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.