There are so many blockbuster palaces, churches and townhouses in Kraków that Unesco seemingly got tired of listing them all and just declared the whole historic center a site of Outstanding Universal Value. It is one of Europe’s most historically intact and beautiful cities – and walking it is all yours for free.
Even better news – you can see the glorious interiors of many buildings for nothing as well. Most Kraków museums and art galleries offer free entry on Tuesdays or at least one day of the week. Save your złoty and see some of the best things in Kraków for free.
Meet the heart of Poland at Wawel Royal Castle
For centuries this castle complex was where Polish royalty was crowned, and it remains the spiritual heart of the nation. The towers, chapels and halls tell the history of Poland, from great power to Nazi occupation.
From outside, watching tour groups climb the castle's ramparts, it’s easy to think entrance to this landmark complex is ticketed. It’s not. You can visit the grounds and gardens of Wawel for free, including the highlight of any visit – the Renaissance-style arcaded castle courtyard. A few exhibitions inside are free too, including the excellent archaeological collection at Lost Wawel in the castle cellars.
Hear the 700-year old Hejnał
The melancholy strains of the Hejnał bugle call, played from St Mary’s Basilica tower, are known to every Pole. It’s played hourly, so you’ll hear snippets of it while walking the city, but it’s worth taking up a spot below the tower at noon – when it’s broadcast on national radio – to watch crowds crane their neck to the sky as the city fireperson pokes their bugle out of the window to play.
The tradition dates to the 14th century, although its origins are disputed. You’ll be spun the legend of the heroic city watchmen, who, having spotted the Mongol army, blew the Hejnał to successfully rally the citizens to defend the city. Sadly, the watchman was struck by an arrow in the neck, which is why the Hejnał still suddenly stops, mid-note.
Remember the Holocaust at the New Jewish Cemetery
Once one of the most vibrant Jewish cities in the world, the Nazis murdered nearly every Kraków Jew in nearby Auschwitz, which included many of the city’s professors, politicians and artists. Learning about and remembering the victims of the Holocaust is the reason many people visit Kraków.
You’ll want to visit Auschwitz, but it’s often the smaller places of everyday Jewish life that are most moving. The New Jewish Cemetery, at the edges of the former Jewish district of Kazimierz, was the community’s main burial ground before the war. You’ll find heartrending memorials to loved ones lost in the Shoah, but it’s especially poignant to walk amongst overgrown graves thinking of the generations of families whose lives were abruptly destroyed. Wear a head covering while visiting.
Break bread over Shabbat at the Jewish Community Center
Learning about Kraków's Jewish past can be emotionally tough, but it should always be balanced with the uplifting experience of being introduced to the city’s Jewish present.
The JCC supports and helps grow the local Jewish community. It runs almost daily events (some paid), from lectures and workshops to Q&As with Holocaust survivors – many in English. Particularly special is an invite to Shabbat meals, where you can chat with community members over a Kosher meal. Email the center to ask about an invitation and what donation is appropriate.
Kraków's best museums offers free entry one day a week
Almost every museum offers free entry one day a week to encourage those that wouldn’t normally visit to step inside. Tuesday is most popular, but you could plan nearly a whole week of free museum and gallery visits.
In our listings below we’ve listed the free day for each museum, but do check before visiting as this can change.
See the city from above at Kraków Town Hall Tower – free on Monday
There may only be a handful of rooms with a few unloved period costumes on display, but it’s worth a visit for the views from the top. Built in the 15th century, Kraków's town hall tower gives you a panorama over the spectacular market square and beyond. You need to book two weeks in advance, and the tower closes in winter.
See the city from below at Rynek Underground – free on Tuesday
One of Kraków's most popular and priciest attractions, Rynek Underground came about after archaeologists started digging around under the market square’s centerpiece Cloth Hall.
What they found, from merchant stalls to vampire lucky charms, is now displayed in these vaults under the square. The exhibits are cleverly paired with projections and touchscreens to tell visitors the story of old Kraków. Again, book at least two weeks in advance.
Explore the communist workers' paradise of Nowa Huta – museum free on Wednesday
Said to be one of only two socialist-realist Stalinist-era planned towns fully built, Nowa Huta was supposed to be a worker's paradise, set around the huge Lenin steelworks.
It still looks like the set of a Cold War film, where Italian Renaissance influences meet concrete in the apartment blocks and government administration offices on its leafy avenues. A walk here is fascinating any time, but come on Wednesdays and you can visit both the Nowa Huta Museum and the Nowa Huta Underground museum for free. The latter lets you explore the fallout shelters built for residents.
Be challenged by the art at MOCAK – permanent collection free on Thursday
You’ll either love or hate the challenging exhibitions of conceptualist and avant-garde art and installations at the ambitious Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków. It has several thousand pieces of work in its collection, mostly from the past few decades with a particular specialism in art from Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.
The gallery is housed in the former Oskar Schindler factory. You can visit the Schindler museum next door for free on Mondays.
Stretch out on the beach with the locals at Bagry Lake
Every second building in Kraków might be on a Unesco poster, but at some point, you’ll tire of frescoes, trompe l'oeil and gargoyles. Escape to Bagry Lake and head straight for sunbathing on one of its beaches or the newly installed hammocks.
The lake is big and you’ll find a sailing school, kayak rental and lifeguards here in the summer months. It’s immensely popular during warm weekends, but because it’s 30 minutes by tram from the center you’ll leave the tour groups behind and be mixing with Krakovians.
Take a "free" walking tour, but be prepared to tip
You’ll hardly have stepped foot in town before a leaflet is thrust in your hand promising a free walking tour. But these tours are only free if you’re willing to spend an uncomfortable five minutes at the end not giving a tip to the guide. Tours are typically two or three hours, so you’re taking advantage of the tour guide if you’re not prepared to pay 15zł or 20zł (US$3.50-US$4.50), even if the "free" adverts are misleading.
Try Walkative, which has dozens of different tours in different languages, and crucially hires engaging guides who tell stories of the city rather than rattling off a list of dates when Krakovian Kings were crowned.