Both Florence and Krakow, for a city break or holiday.
We understand that so many travel guides and websites make every destination seem so amazing, but few actually say which one is better, and more suited for your style of holiday. This in-depth guide will provide our unbiased opinions and independent views, and hopefully help you to select your ideal city to visit.
The guide has the following sections:
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.
But history aside, Krakow is also very much a lived-in town. A booming student population and a steady stream of backpackers breathe life and hedonism into the evenings. It's been said that there are more bars per square metre in the centre than in any other European city.
So, you're never short of somewhere to drink a beer! Throw in leafy parks, bohemian districts, cutting-edge art galleries, and alluring nearby mountain ranges and it's easy to see why Krakow remains such a popular destination.
Which city would I go to?Krakow
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Florence
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?Krakow
Which for my food obsessed friend? Florence
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.
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.
Florence is a compact city which can be seen within a stay of one day and night. This is usually extended by an additional day to visit the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries. In the peak season there are extremely long queues for the galleries and Duomo cathedral; to avoid wasting precious time, it is advisable to pre-purchase tickets start the day sightseeing very early (8am).
There are many good day trips from Florence, which are easily accessible by train, and include Siena, Lucca, and Arezzo. Florence may be a smaller city, but a fabulous one-week holiday could be had based here.
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.
The ideal time to visit Florence is from April to June or September and October; this is when there are fewer tourists, prices are slightly lower, and the weather is pleasant. Even though it is popular, we would discourage the summer as it will be very hot, crowded, and most expensive for flights and accommodation. Winters are cooler and possibly wet but have the lowest number of tourists. Early spring and late autumn and are ideal for a city break.
Florence is an amazing destination. The focus for a trip will always be around the renaissance historical sights, from the statue of David in the Accademia Gallery, Botticelli, Caravaggio paintings in the Uffizi, or the Duomo. Beyond this there is a delightful city, with classical Italian architecture and delicious Tuscan regional cuisine - also gelato originated from Florence!
Florence is not an overly expensive destination, is relatively safe and has a small city atmosphere. The only real negatives are the sheer number of tourists (and day-trippers) who visit during the peak season, which means hours can be wasted stood in queues. Florence is highly recommended.
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 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.
48 hours in Florence
While sightseeing in Florence always aim to see the major sights as early in the day as possible, to try to avoid the awful queues. For the first morning visit the Duomo complex with the church, the Campanile di Giotto Tower and Museo dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. Next visit the Palazzo Vecchio palace and the pretty Piazza della Signoria.
In the afternoon visit the Galleria dell'Accademia, which the standout attraction will be the statue of David by Michelangelo (advisable pre-book tickets). For the latter part of the day cross the Ponte alle Grazie with it’s views the Arno River and head to the Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte church. For sunset climb to the Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint, the most romantic place in the city. For dinner try the regional meal of Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak).
The statue of David is regarded Michelangelo finest work
For the second day start early again and head to the Uffizi Gallery, with its extensive collection of renaissance art (Botticelli, Caravaggio Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian). For the afternoon cross the Ponte Vecchio with its jewel shops and visit the Boboli Gardens. To end the day visit Forte di Belvedere.
When selecting a location to be based in Florence, it is very difficult to go wrong, the city is compact and walkable. You should also stay within the confines of the SS67 ring road, and all of the main historic sights are to the north of the Arno River. The San Marco district (north of the historic centre) tends to have more budget options, while Oltrarno (south of the river) tends to have a younger vibe with its lively nightlife and artisan scene. For a more authentic Italian experience head to the east of the city and the Santa Croce district.
Florence is best explored on foot, and there is rarely any need for public transport or taxis. The two train stations are conveniently close to the city centre and make public transport day trips easy.
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).