Are you about to land at Krakow Airport? Get ready for a wonderful holiday or business trip. Krakow is the second biggest city and one of the oldest cities in Poland and Central Europe and serves as the country’s academic, cultural and economic center. The former capital of Poland, Krakow is a gorgeous city with a rich history, impressive cultural heritage and well-preserved historic landmarks and buildings. In fact, the entire Krakow Old Town area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978.
Krakow is Poland’s most popular destination and one of Europe’s most visited cities, welcoming an average of 14 million tourists every year. However, despite its popularity and high quality of life, the Polish city is comparatively cheaper compared to other European cities. In fact, if you are on a shoestring budget but want to visit Krakow, you’re in luck because there are plenty of cheap and free things to do to keep you occupied.
You can visit some of the most iconic landmarks and famous attractions in this amazing city without having to spend a single dime. To help you plan for your trip, check out our guide to the best free things to do in Krakow. Store your bags at a Krakow luggage locker while you explore the city. This budget friendly storage solution will keep shopping purchases or heavy bags safe when you find yourself weighed down.
Explore the historic Wawel Royal Castle
Among the largest castles in all of Poland, the Wawel Castle in central Krakow once served as the residency of the Polish kings and royals. Part of a larger architectural complex in Wawel Hill, the castle served as the symbol of Polish statehood and Krakow's history, making it one of the most important historical sites in the city and a major tourist attraction.
Because of the significance of the Wawel Castle and being one of the most prominent attractions in Krakow, it is easy to assume that getting inside the castle means having to buy tickets. However, visitors can actually enter the gardens and grounds of the Wawel Castle for free, including the famous Renaissance-style courtyard. Some of the exhibitions inside the castle are also free to access, such as the incredible Lost Wawel archaeological collection housed inside the cellars.
Go people watching at the Rynek Główny
Free or not, the Rynek Główny (also known as Main Market Square or Old Town Square) is one of the best places to visit in Krakow as it is a significant part of Polish history. Set in the heart of the city center, it is Krakow’s main square and Europe’s largest medieval square, dating all the way back to the 13th century. The 40,000-square-meter area is not only known for its colorful history, but it also houses some of the city’s most famous sights.
One of the top attractions located within the Rynek Główny is St. Mary’s Basilica, a Brick Gothic-style church that was built during the 14th century and is arguably the most recognizable and interesting church in the city. It has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. Also found in the main square is the Cloth Hall, where you can find an array of stalls and vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs and trinkets. While shopping will obviously cost you, it is completely free to just walk around the hall and observe the vendors and buyers doing business.
Commemorate the victims of the Holocaust
Krakow once had an extremely thriving Jewish community until Hitler’s Nazis came and murdered nearly all the Jews residing in the city, which included some of the artists, politicians and professors. The nearby Auschwitz concentration camp, which is easily accessible from the city center, is where most tourists go to learn about the tragic period and pay respects to the innocent Jews that were killed.
However, if you want a truly memorable and moving experience, you need not leave the city limits. Simply visit the New Jewish Cemetery. Located just outside Kazimierz, the former Jewish district, the cemetery served as the main burial ground of the Jewish community before the war. Here, you’ll discover memorials dedicated to the victims and get to see graves that serve as a reminder of the city’s horrific past during the Nazi occupation.
Hear the 700-year-old Hejnal bugle call
When visiting Krakow, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard the traditional Hejnal bugle call being played from the St. Mary’s Church tower every hour. If not, then you should definitely set aside your time and listen to this traditional call heard all over Krakow.
While the origins of the call are still being debated today, the tradition of playing the bugle call dates back to the 14th century. For the best seats in the house, head to the tower by noon and listen to the performance of the trumpeter playing the bugle call, which is broadcast nationally via the radio every noon.
Take advantage of the free days of Krakow's best museums
Krakow boasts a range of world-class museums, most of which require visitors to pay for a ticket or an entrance fee (though the prices here are reasonable). However, if you’re on a limited budget, you can still enjoy some of the city’s best museums without paying a single cent. Most of Krakow’s museums offer free entry one day per week and all you have to do is time your visit right.
On Tuesdays, Rynek Underground Museum offers free entrance to the first 300 guests; this historical museum is one of the top Krakow sights and should definitely be on your itinerary. The museum is an interactive museum that houses archaeological finds and artifacts that were unearthed from the Cloth Hall and other parts of Krakow’s Old Town. Its permanent exhibition features touchscreens and projections that showcase the city’s ancient history.
Another must-visit museum in Krakow is the Schindler Factory Museum, which offers free admission every Monday. The museum, which is set in Oskar Schindler’s former enamel factory (thus the name), highlights the history of World War II and details how it affected Krakow and Poland in general. It also tells the story of Schindler and his remarkable effort to save Jews during the time of the Nazis.
Other noteworthy Krakow museums that offer free entrance once a week include the Krakow National Museum (free on Tuesdays), the Nowa Huta (free on Wednesdays), and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (free on Thursdays).
Unwind at the marvelous Planty Park
Krakow may be known for its historic buildings and ancient architecture, but it also has plenty of beautiful parks that outdoor lovers can enjoy. One of the best free things to do in Krakow is to stroll along the beautiful Planty Park. Surrounding the entire Old Town, the lovely place used to be the site where the city’s medieval walls stood. In fact, you can still discover some historic walking areas around the park, including the ancient Florian Gate.
Planty Park is especially popular among locals and tourists during the summer season; the massive green space is filled with benches that people can use for picnics and relaxation. Also scattered all over the park are numerous statues of historical figures, such as Nicolaus Copernicus. If you follow the path circling the park, you’ll come across some lovely gardens and go through what was once a medieval moat that enclosed the city.
Join one of the many free walking tours in the city
Perhaps the best way to do Krakow sightseeing and explore the city walls is to join a free walking tour. Here, you are spoiled for choice; countless tour companies offer their own version of a guided tour led by an experienced tour guide that knows the ins and outs of the city. Joining a free walking tour allows you to get some insights from an experienced guide and even meet some new friends along the way. Note that while these walking tours are free, it is customary to leave your guide a tip.
If you are adamant about not paying anything and doing a walking tour on your own, there are also a number of free audio guides that you can use to take you through some of Krakow’s top sights. You can also do some research and check out the routes the walking tours usually follow and simply use it as your guide.
Escape to the beautiful Bagry Lake
When you get tired of exploring historic sights and landmarks, give yourself a break and discover Krakow’s beautiful nature. One of the best places to go to when you tire of the buildings and medieval sites is Bagry Lake, situated just a couple of miles from the city centre. While it technically can be reached by foot from the Old Town, the more convenient option is to take public transportation or ride a bike.
A popular oasis for locals, the large lake also features a sandy shore with a beach bar, where visitors can relax, sunbathe and have a drink or two. Aside from swimming, Bagry Lake also offers plenty of other water activities and sports, including sailing, kayaking, beach volleyball, ping pong tables and a designated picnic area.
Climb the Krakus Mound
You cannot talk about the top free things to do in Krakow without mentioning the famous Krakus Mound (known locally as Kopiec Krakusa) situated in the Podgórze district, just south of Old Town Krakow. The mound is the oldest man-made structure in Krakow, dating back to prehistoric times, and was named after the mythical King Krakus, whom the city was named after.
The grassy hill, which is believed to be the burial place of King Krakus, is one of four mounds found in Krakow and arguably the most popular one. The reason for this is that top of the Krakus Mound is among the best spots in the city to get panoramic views of Krakow and surrounding areas. Pro tip: head up to the top of the mound just before the sun sets and enjoy the sunset from the viewpoint.
Discover the lovely Kazimierz district
The district of Kazimierz once served as Krakow’s Jewish quarter and the area where a huge community of Jews lived and thrived. This all changed in 1941, however, when the Jews were forced out of the city by the Nazis during the Second World War. While there are still parts of the district that serve as a reminder of this tragic period, the people of Krakow have rebuilt Kazimierz to make it the thriving hub that it was before.
Today, Kazimierz is regarded as the trendiest district in Krakow and one of the must-visit areas in the city. One of the key locations within the area is Plac Nowy, which is home to a range of trendy cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, flea markets and other establishments. Another noteworthy spot in Kazimierz is Szeroka Street, which is the heart of the Jewish quarter and home to some historic synagogues.
If you are a fan of the film The Schindler’s List, you might find some of the places around Kazimierz familiar. That’s because a huge portion of the movie was shot in the district because of its significance to Oskar Schindler and the Jewish community.
A Free Walking Tour and More
Krakow is a beautiful city that has so much to offer, especially for those that love history and culture. The best part is that there are numerous things that you can do for free during your stay.
Whether you're thinking of strolling along the ancient Krakow Market Square, seeing Jagiellonian University, exploring the famous Wawel Cathedral or Wawel Hill, or checking out the world-renowned museums in the city, there are enough free activities to keep you occupied during your stay.