Both Krakow and Prague 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 Prague 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.
Prague, the Czech capital wows visitors with its Gothic castles, cobbled lanes and handsome medieval plazas.It sits on a snaking bend in the Vltava River, unfolding with a fairy-tale Old Town district that flits from curious astronomical clocks to age-old synagogues at just the turn of a corner. Around that are other neighborhoods that beat with hipster cafes or come topped with the stunning spires of Prague Castle – one of the largest medieval fortifications in the world.
You can fill days glugging frothy beers in cosy basement bars. You can trace the footsteps of Franz Kafka in award-winning literature museums. You can delve into enchanting Christmas Markets or gaze at great monuments on Wenceslas Square. What's more, Prague sits smack bang in the heart of the beautiful region of Bohemia, a land of undulating hills and beer breweries that offers a taste of rural Europe.
Which city would I go to? Prague
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Prague
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Prague
Which for my food obsessed friend? Prague
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.
Prague is one of the original European city break destinations. With countless low-cost carriers whizzing in and out, it should be easy to put together a short trip here on a budget. To unearth the secrets of the Old Town, see Prague Castle, and enjoy at least a night on the beer and the goulash, a few days is probably all you'll need.
Of course, if you've got extra days, Prague will surely fill them. Excursions out to the wooded valleys of Bohemia, where the castles of Český Krumlov and Kutna Hora await, can be added into the mix. But you could also stay in the city itself, to break away from the more touristy centre into neighborhoods like hipster Žižkov and Nusle.
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.
Prague has the usual four seasons of Central Europe. The summer is generally hot and humid, with the highest temperatures in the 30s during July and August. It's also common to have regular thunderstorms that last for short bursts then. Winter, meanwhile, is cold. It's the best time to visit Prague if you're in search of kitschy Christmas markets that sell blood sausages, hot chocolate and warm Czech beer. You'll certainly need the thermals and snow coat between November and March, though. It's not uncommon for temperatures to stay below zero for weeks on end.
The upshot is that the spring and autumn probably see Prague in its prime. In April, May, September and October, things can still be mild and warm. There are fewer visitors hitting the mainstay sites like the Prague Castle. Hotel rates drop considerably to boot, and you're more likely to get bargains on flights into town.
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.
Prague is a heritage-rich, historic and hedonistic European city. You'll spend your time gawping at haunting castles and getting lost in medieval districts. Of course, there's also plenty of room for evenings of Czech beer and samplings of Slavic dumplings and goulash. If you're a food-loving culture vulture then there's hardly anywhere better on offer. What's more, backpackers and partygoers will find loads to like in the sleepless basement bars and pubs.
What Prague can't excel in is proximity to the ocean. If you're looking for somewhere to dine on seafood and hit the beach, it's not the place for you. The same goes for the great outdoors. It isn't hard to escape to backcountry Bohemia from here, but you will need to rent a car or organise a day trip away from the Old Town to do that.
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 Prague
Two days in Prague is best shared 50/50 between history and urban life. The fairy-tale Old Town and the mighty Prague Castle take care of the first half. Then come cool districts like Žižkov, where you'll sip fair-trade coffees and explore flea bazaars.
Day 1: Go straight to the heart of the city by beginning your weekend on the vast Old Town Square. This is the kernel of the historic quarter of Prague. It bustles with life from summer to winter, with the crowds moving between the great landmarks of the Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady before Týn. The latter of those is famed for its coal-black Gothic turrets that loom more than 80 metres up.
The former has gorgeous Gothic doors and gargoyles, along with the strange Prague Astronomical Clock, a 15th-century time keeping device that now reigns as the longest-running working clock on the planet. Crowds will gather below to watch it chime on the hour, as figures of the apostles emerge from doors like a strange version of a cuckoo clock. Go eastwards through the winding lanes of the Old Town and you'll eventually come to the riverside.
That's where the cobbled streets lead straight onto Charles Bridge. An icon of Prague, it's peppered with statues of saints that are a photographer's dream in the misty winter months. Cross the walkway and you'll find yourself in the chocolate-box Malá Strana. This is the oldest part of Prague, where you'll catch hearty beer taverns like the local favourite U Hrocha. Beer finished? Good, it's time to work it off with the walk up to Prague Castle. The steps lead up almost straight from the door of the pub. Spend the afternoon exploring that sprawling site. There is loads to see, from the stunning St. Vitus Cathedral to the cute craft workshops of Golden Lane.
The Dancing House may be one of Prague’s most distinctive buildings, but being in the heart of the old town its unique design was extremely controversial
Day 2: Treat yourself to a hearty breakfast in boho Žižkavárna Café. It's loved by the locals for its strong coffees and homemade cakes but is also a fantastic intro to the stylish neighborhood of Žižkov itself. The landmark at the heart of that district of the soaring Žižkov Television Tower in Tower Park Praha. Be sure to take in its futuristic architecture from below before going inside. Then, it's straight up to the observation decks to enjoy sweeping views of the city.
You'll also want to drop by the National Memorial on Vítkov Hill. It's an important spot in the annals of Czech history. It was once a hops plantation but now hosts the colossal equestrian statue of Jan Žižka (a revered Czech military general) and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a symbolic monument to resistance to Nazi occupation.
Keep going north across the river to Prague 7 and you'll find stripped-down hipster cafés like Kavárna Liberál. For dinner, try the multi-ethnic stalls of Hala 22 closer to the waterside, where everything from Rajasthani curry houses to Chinese noodles are options. Finally, get your beer drinking hat on, because Gyllene tigern – a legendary microbrewery – beckons with its hoppy unpasteurized tipples back in the Old Town.
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.
The Václav Havel Airport Prague is the main entry point to the Czech capital. It's also the largest international airport in the Czech Republic. That means short-haul flight connections arrive there from all over, and you can usually bag some wallet-friendly bargains on carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet
All the usual crimes and scams of a European capital are present in Prague, though the town is generally very safe for visitors. Be vigilant of pick pocketers in busy areas and on public transport especially. Also try to dodge picking up taxis straight off the street – tourists are often prime targets for inflated rates. Prague's currency exchange points are notorious for being rip offs, so get your koruna before touching down.
For proximity to the main sites and bars, there's really nowhere better to bed down than in the Prague Old Town. Hotels will usually cost the most there, however. Something quieter and equally as atmospheric is available in the Malá Strana. But the New Town district and Žižkov are also both good options.
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).