Let me preface this by mentioning that three days is too short for Krakow. An often heard cliché, “Krakow is like an old wine; it should be savored and not gulped down”, is very apt. You can do “nothing”, just sit down somewhere in Rynek Glowny and have an amazing time.
However, if you only have three full days to spare for Krakow, a careful plan might allow you to sample most of what Krakow has to offer. Based on my experience, I have prepared the following plan that includes the major attractions in and around Krakow.
Old Town (Rynek Glowny (main square), Cloth Hall, St. Mary’s Basilica, St. Florian’s Gate and others), Wawel Castle, Kazimierz, Podgorze, Visla River bank
Museums: Rynek underground, Wawel Castle, Schindler’s Factory
Day trips: Auschwitz, Wieliczka salt mine
Food to try: Zapiekanka (Plac Nowy), Placki (Milkbar Tomasca), Zurek/Borch (beetroot soup), Kielbaski (Hala Targowa), Pierogi, Hot chocolate (Nowa Prowincja)
UNESCO sites: Auschwitz Birkenau,Wieliczka Salt Mines, Historic Centre of Kraków
Day 0: Reach Krakow at night and stay the night. If possible, pre-book the 10:30AM tour of Auschwitz for the next day.
Day 1: Auschwitz, Rynek Glowny, Rynek Underground
Start early morning, or at least early enough to catch the 8:40AM bus to Auschwitz.
Get the 10:30AM tour of Auschwitz which includes about 1.5 hours in Auschwitz I and approximately the same time in Birkenau. Your tour should finish by 2PM and you would be back in Krakow at 4PM.
Note that if you reach Auschwitz before 10AM, you have the option of not using a guide. However, I would recommend using a guide. The Polish countryside is beautiful. On a sunny day with good weather, it is difficult to imagine the horrific events that unfurled at Auschwitz.
You would be emotionally drained by the time your tour ends. So, this should be your “rest” day.
Head to Rynek Glowny, maybe pop by Milkbar Tomasca to grab something to eat. If there is still time to sunset, check out the Rynek underground museum. It is a confusing museum and probably overpriced but it is interesting to see how well preserved the underground city is and some of the videos there are extremely engaging.
Watch sunset from the main square. The colors of the facades becomes vibrant at this time. Also, there are various artists playing music and displaying their skills and this would lift your mood after the depression that Auschwitz drives you into.
Day 2: Wieliczka salt mine, Old Town walking tour, Wawel, Kazimierz
Start really early at 630-7AM if possible and take bus 304, minibuses or train to Wieliczka for the UNESCO salt mine tour. It takes around 6 hours total to see the mines and head back to Krakow. If you started early, get back to your hotel/hostel and get some rest.
Join the Free Walking tour of the old city at 3PM from Rynek Glowny. The tour will last about 2.5 hours and will end at the Wawel castle. Stroll around Wawel castle until sunset. Check out the dragon breathing fire while you are there. You can also take a boat ride on the Visla river. Alternatively, you can take a tram or walk to Kazimerz district and enjoy the evening there. Make sure to taste a Zapiekanka on Plac Nowy square while you are there.
Day 3: Wawel Castle Museum, Kazimierz, Podgorze, Schindler’s Factory, Jewish Quarter walking tour
Pre-book the 930/10AM tour at Wawel castle. I would recommend at least taking a tour of the Royal Private Apartments. Wawel looks great when bathed in morning light. So, get there early if you can.
Grab lunch after your tour and head back to Rynek Glowny to join the Free Walking tour of the Jewish district in Kazimerz and Podgurze. The tour would end at the Schindler’s Factory. Visit the Schindler’s Factory museum.
Hopefully you have an extra day to chew the cud.
Budget restaurant suggestions: Milkbar Tomasca, Pod Temida(milkbar), Zapikanka (Plac Nowy), Nowa Provincia (Molten Chocolate), Przystanek Pierogarnia (Best Pierogi), Alchemia and other Plac Nowy area bars.
Do you have any suggestions to improve the itinerary?
Note: Pay attention to the hours of operation of the Rynek underground, Wawel castle and Schindler’s Factory museums especially on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.