I haven't lived in Kraków for 10 years (oh my god) or visited in 5, but I will always consider it one of my home cities. I'm sure there are newer things that I won't have listed, & this isn't a complete list of all the places I'd love to revisit, but these are my absolute musts if you want to do Kraków & the surrounding area properly.
  1. Go to the Rynek Główny.
    It's pretty much impossible to visit Kraków without doing this - it's the main square. There are several sights within, all worth seeing; some are listed below. But also: a lot of life takes place here. The thing I love about Kraków's Rynek is that it's not all tourists - there are many, but plenty of students and locals hang out here too. This is a lot different from, for example, Warsaw's Rynek, which in my experience is viewed with as much local enthusiasm as Times Square is by New Yorkers.
  2. Eat an obwarzanek krakowski.
    Hell, eat 25; the earlier in the day the better, as they're baked fresh every morning. You can't miss the obwarzanki carts - they're bright blue & everywhere. My personal favorite vendor was in the SE part of the Rynek, parked sort of in-between the Church of St. Wojciech & Bracka St - mainly because he was nice to me, patient with my terrible Polish, & always had plenty of my favorite kind (papryka). The carts all have the same supplier/s though, so it doesn't really matter.
  3. Wander through the Cloth Hall.
    The ground floor has merchant stalls, and it feels touristy as all get-out, but it's a good place to buy souvenirs, and the Hall itself is quite simply a gorgeous Renaissance building, inside & out. Originally built for trade, it's also been used to host important visitors as well as hold celebratory balls. There's a museum on the upper floors featuring Polish art, which I somehow never visited, but I hear is gorgeous.
  4. Visit St. Mary's Basilica.
    Go inside, for sure - the Altar, carved by Viet Stoss in the late 1400s, is the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world, & it's stunning. Eastern European cathedrals tend to be painted gorgeously inside, & St. Mary's, with a ceiling full of stars, is probably my favorite of those I've seen. Make sure to be outside at the top of the hour to hear the Hejnał mariacki, trumpeted from the tallest tower - The Trumpeter of Kraków is based on the legend surrounding this tradition.
  5. Climb the tower of St Mary's Basilica.
    Second-best view in the city, & particularly great if you happen to time it with the trumpeter's performance.
  6. Visit the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków at Krzysztofory Palace to see the szopki.
    The tradition of szopki - nativity sets - dates back to the 1800s. Originally carved from wood, they're made from many different mediums now, but they are always gorgeous & ornate & usually feature Krakowian landmarks as a background for the nativity. There's a szopki procession & competition every December; afterwards, the best ones go to this branch of the city museum, located in the NW corner of the Rynek.
  7. Walk around the Planty.
    This is a park that surrounds the old town. Built along the site of the former city walls, it contains several monuments & historical plaques, which are worth seeing in their own right. There are multiple smaller gardens, each a different design, interspersed along the way. Large trees arch over the path most of the way around; even when they lose their leaves the Planty still feels protected. Even at its most crowded, it's a lovely retreat from the world for a bit.
  8. Have hot chocolate at Nowa Prowincja on ul. Bracka.
    Bracka Street, just off the Rynek, has several fantastic cafes (really, Kraków is not lacking in cafes even a little), but NP is legendary, and with good reason. It's been years, but I still dream about their hot chocolate. Make sure you ask for whipped cream.
  9. Visit Massolit Books & Cafe, on ul. Felicjanek.
    Best new & used bookstore in the world, built in two ground-floor flats. Wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor shelves, crammed full of pretty much any kind of book you can think of. Other perks include a lovely little cafe, lots of comfy chairs, & a staff that's ready & willing to help you but also great at giving you your space.
  10. Eat at a Milk Bar.
    Bar Mleczny are cafeteria-like places that serve simple, traditional food. They popped up after WWI, lasted through the depression, peaked under Communism, & exist now largely due to nostalgia. The food is hearty & good & cheap, & I just feel like it's an experience everyone should have at least once. My personal favorite in Kraków is Bar Lajkonik on Zwierzyniecka. Bar Tomasza is great for a modernized (slightly more $$) spin on the concept. You can't really go wrong wherever you end up.
  11. Tour Wawel Castle.
    This includes the cathedral & the bell tower, but if you lack time, go for just the castle tour. The Envoys' Room & its ceiling of carved heads is particularly unmissable.
  12. Walk through Wawel Cathedral, even if you don't have time for a tour.
    Kraków is the former capital of Poland & much of the monarchy was buried here, including my personal fave, King Jadwiga, 1st female monarch of Poland, crowned at age 10. Details of her life are subject to debate, but it is clear that she was both a champion of the poor & an expert mediator. She also revived Kraków Academy, which ultimately became Jagiellonian University. The crypt is also worth seeing & contains the remains of many famous Poles including Tadeusz Kościuszko & Jósef Piłsudski.
  13. Climb the Sigusmund Tower of Wawel Cathedral.
    Wawel Hill is the highest point in the city center, so naturally its bell tower offers the best views. The Sigusmund Bell is in and of itself a sight to behold - it was cast in 1520 & it takes 12 people (historically men 🙄) to ring it.
  14. Visit the Wawel Dragon.
    You can find the dragon statue from outside the castle walls as you walk along the Wisła river, but it's more fun to climb down from the top of Wawel Hill through some caves to Smok's lair. It costs a few zł, & the staff will totally judge you for doing this if you are not a child or accompanied by one, but it's totally worth it, imo.
  15. Go to a jazz club.
    Kraków is famous for its jazz, & there are a wealth of clubs off the Rynek, usually in charmingly dim, slightly dank basements. I'm not a huge jazz fan, but I still remember being crammed in a booth at U Muniaka with all my friends, drinking Tyskie & murmuring to each other in-between moments of basking in the specific glory of live music as played by talented musicians who love what they do. It's one of my favorite memories.
  16. Tour Kazimierz, the Historic Jewish District.
    A lot of tragedy runs beneath Kazimierz's surface, mostly in the negative spaces: Kraków's buildings were largely unscathed by the Nazis, but they forced its Jews out to the ghetto & later to camps, leaving many empty buildings in Kazimierz that were largely neglected under Communism. There are several historic synagogues, the oldest now a museum, as well as a cemetery. The Jewish community of Kraków remained small for decades, but has resurged in recent years & will hopefully continue to do so.
  17. Have a drink in Kazimierz.
    Kazimierz is known for having some of the best bars in Kraków, & I'm partial to them because they tend to attract a slightly quieter crowd than the ones in & around the Rynek. My personal favorites, atmospherically, were Propaganda, whose decor consists of Communist-era memorabilia, & Absynte, which takes the form of a traditional absinthe bar (I never tried the absinthe, but several of my friends enjoyed it). I also loved Singer, where every table is an old sewing machine.
  18. Get ice cream at Lody na Starowiślnej.
    This tiny shop in Kazimierz sells the best ice cream in Kraków, & probably all of Poland, as evidenced by the very long line you'll have to stand in to get it. It's worth it. (N.b., they're closed during the winter.)
  19. Visit Nowa Huta on a Crazy Communism Tour.
    Nowa Huta was built as an 'ideal Communist city', which in short, the Poles didn't take to. It's a super interesting place in general. There are other NH tours, but the Crazy Guides are so much fun, & they'll pick you up at your hotel in a vintage Trabant & show you all the sights & just chat with you about life under Communism. It's a very story-based tour, which is my favorite kind. Poles love - LOVE - talking about their history, & the opportunity to experience that is one you shouldn't miss.
  20. Day Trip 1: Auschwitz
    About 45 min by bus. It goes without saying that Auschwitz is horrific, but it's a place I firmly believe everyone should visit at least once in their life. You can still feel death here, & there's nothing in the world like that feeling. It's awful and sobering and paradigm-shifting and my visits had a direct impact on the person I have become (who I hope is a better version than she would be otherwise). This won't be an all day trip, but be sure to allow yourself time to recover emotionally.
  21. Day Trip 2: Wieliczka Salt Mines
    Another 45 minute-ish bus ride from Kraków. You can easily take public transport from the city to Wieliczka but an even easier option is to join a bus tour that begins in Kraków. The mines were discovered in the 1200s & have only been fully out of operation since 2007. The tours have some cheesy aspects, but the caverns are so so stunning. Features include rock salt chandeliers, salt carvings of famous artworks & people, chapels, a cathedral, and an underground lake. I want to get married here.
  22. Day Trip 3: Zakopane
    ~2 hour trip into the Tatra Mountains. Go overnight if you can, but worth visiting for only a day too. A snow sports destination in winter, Zakopane thrives throughout the year on its preservation of Góral (mountain people) culture. Walk down Krupówki street & browse the shops, take in the views & the architecture, & enjoy the raucous folk bands. Be sure to eat as much grilled oscypek (smoked, salty sheep's milk cheese) as possible: it's made in Zakopane & impossible to find outside the EU.