Both Krakow and Berlin are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions of Berlin and Krakow, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Krakow is Poland's cultural capital, and draws nearly 10 million visitors every year. Famed for its UNESCO Old Town, it's one of the few cities in this part of Europe to have emerged largely unscathed from WWII. That means the cobbled alleys and the medieval castles are still intact. It means you'll find centuries-old palaces rubbing shoulders with trading halls and gatehouses from the 13th century.
Big, bustling, boisterous Berlin. Welcome to the beating heart of modern Germany. A city at once steeped in dark histories and creative culture, it's a place to strut between the ruins of the Berlin Wall seeing subversive graffiti murals, or to sip craft beers within eyeshot of Checkpoint Charlie. More contradictions come as you move from sleepy Tiergarten to the shimmering dome of the Reichstag, or hop from the rich collections of Museum Island to the GDR-era TV tower above Alexanderplatz.
At its best, Berlin should be seen as a patchwork of neighbourhoods with their own unique vibes. There's Mitte, with its must-see landmarks and sights. There's Prenzlauer Berg, peppered with pavement cafés and jazz joints. There's Kreuzberg, a hodgepodge of art squats and Turkic grills. There's rustic Rixdorf, replete with cobbled lanes and leafy parks. And that's just scratching the surface.
Which city would I go to? Berlin
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Berlin
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Berlin
Which for my food obsessed friend? Berlin
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.
Berlin is one of those vibrant metropolises that always seems to have something extra up its sleeve. You could easily spend months here and not do everything you want. That's really a result of just how big it is – more than 3.5 million people call it home, and it's the largest city in Germany by a long shot.
That said, a weekend or a three-day break is often ample for a whirlwind tour of the capital's most iconic points of interest. Uber-efficient (no pun intended!) U-Bahn, tram, bus, and train links can help you hop from A to B with ease. But you'll also find that most of the mainstay attractions are close together, woven into the blocks of Mitte, Wedding and hipster East Central.
In many ways, Krakow is the perfect example of a city-break destination. Not only is it compact and walkable, but its main-see sights are all connected via leafy parklands or riverside paths. You can check off the castle, the Old Town, the Jewish Quarter, and plenty more in a mere 48 hours. And the airport hosts oodles of low-cost flight links to cities right across Europe, which makes it easy to whiz in for just a couple of days.
If you're looking to add excursions (and there are loads of them) to your itinerary, you might need a little longer. Trips to Auschwitz, the salt mines in Wieliczka, and the Tatra Mountains can be crammed together in a single two-day tour, but it's better to do them separately and leave at least a day for each.
What's more, the wild Krakow nightlife might just put you out of action for a morning. Those with a penchant for vodka might be better off planning 4-5 days at least in the Polish city of kings.
It's simple: Spring to summer for Berlin. From May to October, the locals of Berlin seem to come out of hibernation. The street-side cafes of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg get into full swing, with jazz evenings and long lunches fuelled by cold German beer the name of the game. What's more, this is when you'll find the lovely Tiergarten, the Mauer Park, and the Volkspark at their green and vibrant best. Those who prefer cooler days should stick to May and autumn. Those who like daytime highs in the low 30s can come in July and August.
If you prefer exploring European cities with mysterious mists and dustings of snow on the streets, not to mention way fewer tourists around, winter is also a top option. You'll need to wrap up for December, but Berlin will reward with enchanting Christmas markets at the Charlottenburg Palace and on Alexanderplatz.
Summertime sees Krakow fill to bursting with tourists. It's the peak season, and things can get rammed on the main drags of the Old Town. That's why it's often better to try to come in months like May or September. Those are outside of major European vacations. There will be way fewer people queuing for the Wawel Castle. Hotel prices in Krakow also tend to drop considerably after August, while the Tatra Mountains are at their most handsome in spring and autumn.
Krakow in the winter is a totally different beast. Woolly jumpers, thermal underlayers, snow boots – you'll need the lot. Temperatures in south Poland can ebb to minus 25 degrees in the height of the season. However, the Planty Park and the Old Town do look truly stunning under a layer of snowflakes. It's also the time of year to plan ski trips near to Krakow. Just beware that pollution can be bad in the centre – the winter smog is some of the worst on the continent.
If you're a city slicker with a soft spot for cool cafes (aka the coolest in Europe), great coffee, ethnic eateries, and urban vibes, then Berlin is arguably the place you should be for the rest of your life!
This is the epitome of a metropolis made up of individual neighbourhoods. Each has crafted its own unique character; some are hedonistic, others laid back and easy going, others packed with famous landmarks.
Those who want fresh air can escape to the Tiergarten and the beautiful Spreewald, but those are just supporting acts to the buzz of the downtown. It's not the place to be to attune yourself to nature, relax under the sun, or have swims in the sea.
Krakow's a seriously versatile travel destination. Weaving the threads of a long, regal history together with a vibrant café culture, the culinary delights of Lesser Poland, and a nightlife that's nothing short of legendary, there's something in these parts to cater to all sorts. First up: Backpackers. The younger, budget-conscious crowd enjoy more hostel dorms and happy-hour deals than they can shake a Polish blood sausage at. Meanwhile, districts like Kazimierz are laden with concept stores and hip coffee shops.
Those who lean towards the more cultural side of things are also in luck. UNESCO World Heritage Sites abound in this part of Europe. In fact, Krakow's Old Town itself is one, bursting with medieval trading halls, brick-fronted churches, and castles that date back to the 1200s. There's also art by Leonardo da Vinci and Polish masters to get through in the museums, along with archaeology expos of the urban underground that are truly fascinating.
Being stuck between the vast plains of central Poland and the Carpathian Mountains means that Krakow is probably not the city for anyone looking for sun, sand and sea. What's more, the air quality is abysmal, so don't come expecting a break from life in a metropolis.
48hours in Berlin
Does the perfect 48 hours in Berlin even exist? With so many museums and vibey neighbourhoods to get through, it's hard to pack the highlights of the German capital into just two days. Still, the Berlin itinerary below gives it a go, offering everything from ancient Greek artefacts to cool pavement drinkeries and more.
Day 1: Morning in Mitte. As its name implies (Mitte = Middle), it's the hub of Berlin. You can settle in for a refined breakfast in the hidden courtyards of the Hackescher Höfe. The area is brimming with independent boutique stores and elegant tearooms. A few steps to the south take you beneath the needle-like Berliner Fernsehturm. A relic of Communist times, it's home to the fastest elevators in the world, while the lookouts at the top have jaw-dropping panoramas of the city (tickets cost €16.50).
A quick people-watching session on bustling Alexanderplatz and then move west to Museum Island. Culture vultures should take their time here. The Pergamonmuseum is a real highlight, with its priceless Assyrian statues and even the blue-tiled gates of Babylon. A pitstop at the nearby German Historical Museum is one for those who want to unravel the tale of the nation, with particular highlights in the collections that chronicle the world wars of the 20th century.
From there, walk down Unter den Linden to encounter the main artery of Mitte. That takes you to the world-famous Brandenburg Gate, which stands next to the glass-domed Reichstag Building. A picnic lunch in the Tiergarten park can be followed by a sobering walk through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Past that is Checkpoint Charlie – a onetime gateway between East and West Berlin – and then the lively streets of Kreuzberg, with their ramen restaurants, jazz bars, and multicultural kitchens.
The mock gothic Oberbaum Bridge connects the eastern and western sides of Berlin and is prominent icon of the city’s unity.
Day 2: If you're lucky enough to escape a hangover courtesy of the Kreuzberg bars, then an early morning start in the area of Friedrichshain is in order. It's brimming with graffiti-scrawled coffee bars and breakfast joints.
On the south side of the district is the striking East Side Gallery. Once a bland concrete section of the Berlin Wall, it's now an artist's homage to the fall of the great divider in 1989. From there, go north to the green lawns of Volkspark Friedrichshain. Chilled and leafy, it's actually the oldest public garden in the capital. And it's got monuments to the Spanish Civil War next to volleyball courts and picnic tables.
Hugging that is the enchanting area of Prenzlauer Berg. This is the perfect place to end your 48 hours. It's not bursting with sights and attractions, but it's got a classic Berliner neighbourhood vibe. If you're unsure where to begin, check out Kulturbrauerei – an all-in-one complex of cinemas, theatres, clubs and beer halls.
48hours in Krakow
It's a good idea to stick to the city of Krakow itself for your first 48 hours. That's where you'll be able to uncover the rich medieval history, tales of Polish kings and queens, and some of the best dining (and drinking) the country has to offer:
Day 1: Where better to start than the UNESCO-tagged heart of Krakow? The Old Town is the piece de resistance here. Begin on the Market Square. It's one of the largest urban squares in the world, and a lively gathering point for both people and sights. On its eastern side is the wonderful Basilica of St Mary, arguably the most important church in Poland. The Cloth Hall (a stunning Renaissance building) stands in the middle, filled with souvenir stalls.
After learning about powerful kings and battles with Tartar hordes, you'll finish under the mighty Wawel Castle. That's an icon of Krakow. Walk through its gateways to find a green courtyard with a small café. Glug a coffee and then scale the belfry of on-site Krakow Cathedral for sweeping panoramas of the Vistula River and the Tatra Mountains (on a clear day).
For the evening, return to the Market Square and hit the local bars with fellow travellers.
Tourist boats moored along the banks of the Vistula River in the scenic Kazimierz district of Krakow
Day 2: A hangover-cure breakfast (if required) in Milkbar Tomasza complete with traditional Polish sausage starts the day. From there, head to the Planty Park. A famous green space, it follows the route of the old city walls and is a people-watching paradise. Move south to the district of Kazimierz. Known as the Jewish Quarter, it's got centuries-old synagogues and some of the coolest cafes in town.
An optional walking tour here is for you if you want to delve into the darker history of Krakow's wartime past. If not, stroll to the Vistula Boulevards to join the joggers. Then, it's easy to cross over to Podgorze neighborhood and find corner cafés and wine bars. For sunset, push southwards to the Krakus Mound. This off-the-beaten-track spot is great when the light dips low over the city.
Getting around Berlin is a cinch. The capital has a super-efficient and well-linked public network of trams, trains and underground lines. You can purchase tickets at any S-Bahn or U-Bahn station, or at any establishment with a BVG sign. Daily and weekly passes for all public transportation are also available with slight reductions. A new smartphone app allows digital purchasing of tickets (search: FahrInfo Plus). All other tickets must be validated before use.
Violence of any sort in the capital is rare and police can be relied upon. Still, have your wits about you, especially if travelling through Berlin's lesser-known or rougher areas, like the ones bordering Kreuzberg, or the nightlife hubs of Alexanderplatz and Friedrichshain.
When it comes to searching for a hotel, there's a hard choice to be made. There are oodles of neighbourhoods here that are worthy of attention. It's really up to you to decide what you want. Generally speaking: Sightseers can't go wrong in Mitte, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are perfect for bar hoppers and foodies, and Neukölln offers something more local.
The Balice International Airport is the main gateway to Krakow from the air. Getting to and from the terminal is now really easy thanks to a dedicated train line that runs every 30 minutes or so to the central station. You can purchase your ticket at the airport platform or on the train (9 PLN). A taxi from the airport typically costs around 50-100 PLN, depending on the company you go for (Mega and Eco taxis are usually the cheapest).
Most of Krakow's hotels can be found at least within walking distance of the Old Town. Generally speaking, the closer you are to that the better. However, you might also prefer the café scene and more local atmosphere of Kazimierz, which sits just a little to the south.
Krakow is generally safe for visitors. Reports of bar scams (when staff charge astronomical rates for just a few beers) and taxi scams are occasional. Also be warned that Police will pounce on anyone caught drinking alcohol in public or crossing the road on a red light (both warrant a fine).