Should I visit Warsaw or Krakow? Get all your answers here

Warsaw and Krakow are two popular cities in Poland that offer unique experiences for travellers. Each city has its own distinct charm, attractions, and cultural heritage. Whether you’re planning a trip to visit Poland or deciding whether to visit Warsaw or Krakow, it’s essential to understand what each city has to offer.

Warsaw is the capital of Poland, while Krakow is the most popular place to visit in Poland for international tourists.

In this travel guide, we will explore the highlights of the two Polish cities, Warsaw and Krakow, comparing their location, history, culture, attractions, cuisine, nightlife, shopping, transportation, accommodation, and more. Let’s dive in and discover the delights of these remarkable Polish cities.

Warsaw vs Krakow

Poland is a country known for its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture. Warsaw, the capital city, and Krakow, a historic city in the south, are popular tourist destinations.

Located in central Poland, Warsaw offers a blend of modernity and history, while Krakow, with its well-preserved medieval old town, exudes an enchanting atmosphere.

The Vistula River in Warsaw, The Vistula River can be seen in Warsaw or Krakow
You can see the Vistula River in Krakow or Warsaw

Warsaw is a much larger city than Krakow, while Krakow is cheaper to visit than Warsaw. Whether you’re interested in exploring a thriving metropolis or delving into the country’s medieval past, both Krakow and Warsaw have something to offer.

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Location – Warsaw or Krakow

Warsaw is situated on the banks of the Vistula River, Poland’s longest river. It boasts a relatively flat landscape with a few hills on the city’s outskirts.

In contrast, Krakow is nestled in the southern part of the country, surrounded by the picturesque Tatra Mountains. Its location near the banks of the Vistula River provides a stunning backdrop for the city’s historic architecture.

The culture and history of Krakow and Warsaw

Warsaw has a tumultuous history, with much of it destroyed during World War II. However, the city has risen from the ashes and undergone extensive reconstruction, blending the old with the new.

Its rich history is reflected in its numerous museums, including the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The old town of Warsaw and its cobblestone streets make the capital city of Poland a must-visit destination.

Krakow, on the other hand, served as the capital of Poland until the 16th century and is known for its well-preserved medieval architecture.

Ariel view of the old town area of Krakow
Historical buildings in Krakow

The historic centre of Krakow, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the largest medieval square in Europe, the famous Wawel Castle, and the magnificent St Mary’s Basilica. Both cities have a vibrant cultural scene, hosting numerous festivals, concerts, and theatrical performances throughout the year.

Warsaw is known for its contemporary art galleries and theatres, while Krakow’s cultural life revolves around its historic city centre landmarks and traditional festivals, such as the famous Krakow Christmas Market and the vibrant Festival of Jewish Culture.

Attractions and landmarks Krakow vs Warsaw

Warsaw offers a mix of modern and historical attractions. The Royal Castle, a symbol of Polish resilience and reconstruction, is a must-visit. The Wilanów Palace and Gardens, a stunning Baroque palace surrounded by picturesque gardens, is another popular attraction.

Ariel view of Wilanow Palace surrounded by trees with Warsaw in the background
Wilanow Palace in Warsaw

Head to the largest park in Warsaw, Lazienki Park where you will regularly find classical music performances celebrating Fredrik Chopin. On the other hand, Krakow’s main draw is its charming Old Town, featuring the Rynek Market Square, Cloth Hall, and the imposing St. Mary’s Basilica.

The historic Wawel Castle complex, with its stunning architecture and breathtaking views of the city, is a true gem. The Tadeusz Kościuszko Monument in Kraków is one of the best-known bronze monuments in Poland.

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What to eat and where to party – Warsaw Krakow

When it comes to cuisine, Warsaw boasts a diverse culinary scene with international influences and a thriving street food culture. The city offers a range of restaurants, from traditional Polish eateries serving pierogi and hearty stews to fine dining establishments.

Kraków is equally renowned for its culinary offerings, with traditional Polish dishes taking centre stage. The city is dotted with charming cafés and restaurants where you can savour local delicacies like oscypek (smoked cheese) and obwarzanek (a traditional bread ring).

In terms of nightlife, both Warsaw and Krakow have vibrant scenes to cater to different tastes. Warsaw is known for its trendy rooftop bars, stylish clubs, and live music venues, while Krakow’s nightlife offers a more laid-back atmosphere with cozy pubs, jazz clubs, and cellar bars tucked away in its historic streets.

Shopping and Entertainment

If you enjoy shopping, Warsaw is the place to be. The city is home to numerous shopping centres, including Złote Tarasy and Arkadia, where you can find international brands and local designers.

stalls selling crafts and souvenirs inside the Cloth Hall in Krakow Poland
Stalls selling crafts and souvenirs inside the Cloth Hall

Krakow, on the other hand, offers a more unique shopping experience with its bustling markets, such as the Cloth Hall, where you can browse through handmade crafts, jewellery, and traditional Polish souvenirs on your trip to Poland. 

When it comes to entertainment, Warsaw offers a wide range of options, including theatres, cinemas, and music venues showcasing both local and international talent.

Krakow, with its vibrant cultural scene, hosts various festivals and events throughout the year, such as the world-renowned Krakow Film Festival and the vibrant Jewish Culture Festival.

Transport and accessibility – Warsaw or Krakow

Both Warsaw and Krakow have well-developed transportation networks. Warsaw has an extensive public transportation system, including buses, trams, and a metro line, making it easy to navigate the city.

A train pulling out of Warsaw
Poland has a well-developed train network

Krakow is more compact and has an efficient public transport system, with trams and buses connecting the main attractions. Additionally, both cities offer bike-sharing services, allowing visitors to explore at their own pace.

In terms of accessibility, both Warsaw and Kraków have international airports with connections to major European cities, making them as accessible as any Spain vacation or holiday to Italy. Warsaw even has direct flights from as far away as Iceland. High-speed train services also connect Warsaw to Kraków, providing a convenient option for travellers.

Accommodation and tourism services

A stay in Warsaw offers a wide range of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels and apartments. This cosmopolitan city has numerous tourist information centres, where you can find assistance and book tours to explore the city and its surroundings.

Krakow also provides a variety of accommodation choices, including boutique hotels and guesthouses, particularly in the heart of the historic centre. Tourism services, such as guided tours and transportation, are readily available in both cities to cater to the needs of visitors.

Related post: The 4 best areas to stay in Warsaw

Day trips from each city

Both cities offer a wealth of historical and cultural attractions, and there are some fantastic day trips you can take from each city to further explore the surrounding areas.

auschwitz gate

Here are some day trip recommendations from the city of Krakow: 

You’ll find two of the most popular tourist attractions in Poland, Auschwitz and the Wieliscka Salt Mine are easily seen from Krakow. While they are done from Warsaw as well you can spend more time there from Krakow.

But they aren’t the only amazing day trips from Krakow that you can take and below we have included some of the very best.

Auschwitz-Birkenau:

Take a poignant day trip to the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial and Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that serves as a sobering reminder of the Holocaust.  You can easily reach Auschwitz from Krakow.

Wieliczka Salt Mine:

Descend into the fascinating underground world of Wieliczka Salt Mine, renowned for its breathtaking salt chambers, intricate carvings, and unique subterranean lakes.

Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains:

Journey to the charming town of Zakopane, nestled in the picturesque Tatra Mountains. Explore the stunning landscapes, go hiking, or experience traditional Highlander culture.

Wadowice and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: 

Visit the birthplace of Pope John Paul II in Wadowice, followed by a trip to the religious sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, a UNESCO-listed pilgrimage site.

Here are some day trip recommendations for the city of  Warsaw

Day trips from Warsaw are on par with day trips from Krakow. You can see historical sites and some of the most stunning landscapes in Poland.

Treblinka Concentration Camp:

The Treblinka concentration camp was a notorious Nazi extermination camp during World War II, located northeast of Warsaw, Poland. An Auschwitz day trip is also possible via a tour but will take around 12–15 hours.

Mazovian Countryside:

Venture into the picturesque Mazovian countryside, dotted with charming villages, historic manor houses, and idyllic landscapes. Experience rural life, sample local cuisine, and admire the traditional wooden architecture.

Bison in a forest near Warsaw
The Bison of Poland

Bialowieza Forest:

Embark on a longer day trip to the UNESCO-listed Bialowieza Forest, one of the last and largest remaining parts of the primeval forest that once covered Europe. Explore its rich biodiversity and encounter the iconic European bison.

These day trips offer a glimpse into the diverse attractions surrounding Krakow and Warsaw, allowing you to delve deeper into Poland’s history, nature, and cultural heritage.

Whether you choose to reflect on history, immerse yourself in nature, or explore charming towns and palaces, these excursions will enhance your visit to both cities and provide a well-rounded experience of Poland’s treasures.

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Pros and cons of Warsaw or Krakow

Visiting Warsaw has several advantages. Warsaw is home to a unique blend of modern architecture and historical landmarks, allowing visitors to experience Poland’s resilience and reconstruction.

Sunny day in Krakow by the Vistula River with a castle in the background
The Vistula River in Krakow with Wawel Castle in the background

Warsaw’s vibrant cultural scene, diverse culinary options, and bustling nightlife make it an exciting destination for travellers seeking a dynamic urban experience. Additionally, the city’s accessibility and well-developed tourism services ensure a comfortable and convenient stay.

You will find Krakow, on the other hand, captivates visitors with its medieval charm and well-preserved historic centre. The city’s rich cultural heritage, including the stunning Wawel Castle and the gothic St. Mary’s Basilica, immerses visitors in Poland’s fascinating history.

Krakow’s traditional cuisine, cozy atmosphere, and vibrant festivals offer a more relaxed and intimate experience compared to the bustling metropolis of Warsaw. 

Warsaw old town buildings
The colourful building in the Warsaw Old Town

However, there are some drawbacks to consider. Warsaw’s rapid development and modernisation have led to a loss of historical authenticity in certain areas. The city’s sprawling nature might also make it challenging for travellers who prefer a more compact and walkable city.

On the other hand, although Krakow oozes historic charm throughout the city, it can become crowded with tourists during peak seasons, affecting the overall experience for some visitors.

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Conclusion on Warsaw or Krakow to visit

In conclusion, both Polish cities Warsaw and Krakow have their own unique appeal and offer distinct experiences for travellers. Warsaw impresses with its modernity, rich history, vibrant cultural scene, and dynamic urban atmosphere.

On the other hand, Krakow remains captivating with its medieval charm, well-preserved architecture, traditional cuisine, and intimate ambience.

If you’re deciding whether to visit the modern metropolis or the enchanting medieval city, a visit to either Warsaw or Krakow promises a memorable journey through Poland’s past and present. Is Warsaw or Krakow better? Maybe you will need to get from Krakow to Warsaw to know!

FAQs about visiting Poland

  1. Is English widely spoken in Warsaw and Krakow? Yes, English is widely spoken in both Warsaw and Krakow, particularly in tourist areas, hotels, and restaurants. Most locals in the service industry have a good command of English.
  2. What is the best time to visit Warsaw or Krakow? The best time to visit Warsaw and Krakow is during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to October) seasons, when the weather is mild, and the tourist crowds are relatively smaller than in the summer months. Warsaw may be slightly colder in the winter than Krakow.
  3. Which city is more budget-friendly, Warsaw or Krakow? Generally, Krakow is cheaper and more budget-friendly compared to Warsaw. Accommodation, dining, and entertainment options in Krakow tend to be slightly more affordable when comparing prices between Warsaw and Krakow.
  4. Is it safe to travel to Warsaw or Krakow? Yes, both Warsaw and Krakow are safe cities for travellers. However, it’s always advisable to take general precautions and be aware of your surroundings, particularly in crowded tourist areas.

Poland Travel Expert is your ultimate guide to all things Poland. Your next trip to Poland will not be complete without our detailed Poland guides, Poland itineraries, and Poland travel tips.


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Author Bio: Mark Wyld

Mark Wyld is a Father, husband, traveller, and writer at Poland Travel Expert and other blogs. I have accumulated a wealth of experience over multiple visits to Poland. Thanks to our friends in Poland, we stay connected to the nation’s pulse, ensuring that our content is up to date with our first-hand experience. The information on this website is backed by genuine expertise.