Both Krakow and Dubrovnik 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 Dubrovnik 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.
Prepare to be wowed by the sheer audacity of Dubrovnik. A castle on the Adriatic, the whole town is ringed by glowing limestone battlements, topped with keeps and turrets, and crowned by Byzantine basilicas. It looks like something plucked from Game of Thrones. Scratch that – it was plucked from Game of Thrones (Dubrovnik is now famed as one of the main filming locations for the hit HBO series).
But put that modern claim to fame aside and there's still a truly enchanting city to get stuck into. From the bustling Stradun walkway (the main drag) to the Gothic façades of the Sponza Palace to the shimmering pebble beaches of the Lapad Peninsula, you can pack your itinerary full of histories of wars and republics, tasty Croatian foods, and a healthy dose of Adriatic sun and sea. Downsides include booming summer crowds and cruise shippers.
Which city would I go to? Dubrovnik
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Dubrovnik
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?Krakow
Which for my food obsessed friend?Dubrovnik
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.
Choosing how long to spend in Dubrovnik really depends on what you want out of your city break. A fly-in whirlwind tour of the Old Town can be great if you're on the hunt for culture and history. The museum collections of the Sponza Palace and the Rector's House, walking routes of the City Walls, and sightings of landmarks like Large Onofrio Fountain can all be packed into just a day or two.
But it might be best to allow a little extra time. With all the castles and churches here, it's easy to forget that Dubrovnik is an Adriatic riviera destination at heart. You've got pine forests, olive groves, rakija distilleries and the lost-paradise island of Mljet to think about. You certainly won't want to rush those during the warmer months, so consider staying a week or more to explore the city itself and those stunning surroundings.
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.
Summer might seem like the perfect time to put together a trip to Croatia's castle city. However, temperature highs in the low 30s and strong midday sun can make things a little tiring. And that's not even mentioning the whopping great big crowds. Recent protests by Dubrovnik's locals have really highlighted the problem of summertime tourism – there's hardly an inch to move in the Old Town, especially when huge cruise ships are docked at port.
Things might improve thanks to recent laws barring any more than two large vessels per day, but we still think September and October come up trumps. This southern corner of the Balkans stays pleasantly warm well into the autumn, so you shouldn't have to worry about having the weather to laze on Lapad Beach. What's more, visitor numbers, hotel rates, and flight prices all plummet following the end of the summer vacations.
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 one for enthralling tales of warring republics and battles with the Ottomans, Dubrovnik has you covered. If you're the sort who loves jaw-dropping European old towns with enough castles and churches and cobbled alleys to keep you going for a whole trip, it's also perfect. Oh, and Dubrovnik takes care of globetrotters who come in search of a little Mediterranean sand, sun and sea. You won't have to venture far to find a cove to swim in, a yacht charter, or even a remote island villa where you can crank up the R&R.
If you're not big on crowds, then summer trips (as noted above) to Dubrovnik are surely best avoided. And it's hardly the place for anyone in search of big-metropolis vibes a la Berlin or Amsterdam. For a city, Dubrovnik is relatively small and compact.
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 Dubrovnik
Hopping from crenulated towers overlooking the Adriatic Sea to hidden local swimming spots to soaring summits in the Dinaric Alps, this fun-filled 48 hours could just be the perfect introduction to this awesome city:
Day 1: Start – where else? – on buzzy Stradun. The main artery of the Old Town of Dubrovnik, it runs from the port to Pile Gate (a 16th-century stone gatehouse that's worth a photo stop), passing Irish pubs, coffee joints, and Croatian konoba (taverns) as it goes. Sip a cappuccino and devour a pastry there before making for the Large Onofrio Fountain.
An elaborate water feature that's stood since the 1430s, it still dispenses crystal-clear water for drinking. Fill the bottle and then move to the iconic City Walls. These can be traversed entirely.
Day 2: Kick start the day with a dip in the Med at Banje Beach. This is the closest beach to the Old Town of Dubrovnik and has a free section where you can take a quick swim while gawping at the high fortresses overhead.
Cafés and gelato shops line Frana Supila just above it, where you can grab a bite for breakfast before making for the base station of the Dubrovnik Cable Car – it's less than 500 metres away. Tickets might cost 170 HRK (€22) apiece, but the sweeping 180-degree views from the top station of Mountain Srd are simply awesome. You'll be able to see the red-tiled roofs of the Old Town below, the wooded crags of Lokrum Island, and the remote Elaphiti Islands (perfect day outings by boat if you have some more time to spare) beyond.
Return to ground level and then hop on a bus going over to the Lapad Peninsula. This is great for the evening. A quick splash in the sea can be followed by uber-fresh seafood dinners with crisp Croatian wine in the traditional taverns just by the bay.
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.
Dubrovnik is a super walkable city. In fact, getting lost in the Old Town area is one of the best things to do here. Don't go thinking you can use the City Walls to navigate. The ticket for those costs 200 HRK (€29) and is only valid for a single entry.
To get back and forth from districts around the Old Town and the beaches of Lapad and beyond, there's an efficient local bus network. Virtually all routes will either take you to the historic heart of Dubrovnik or terminate at the main Kantafig station. You can purchase fares onboard for 15 HRK but they're a little cheaper if bought from a kiosk in advance.
Try to seek out a place to stay as close to the Old Town as you can if you're coming to see the history sights and enjoy the walking tours. Remember that the district is super compact, so boutique B&Bs with cosy rooms are the name of the game within its boundaries. For extra space and proximity to the Adriatic Sea, you could look to the larger hotels and guesthouses around Banje Beach or Gruz to the north.
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).