The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.

Should you Visit Warsaw or Krakow in 2024? Which One is Better

Warsaw or Kraków, which to choose? Warsaw and Kraków are Poland’s two largest cities and also its two most visited. Both cities have a lot to offer for tourists of all ages, interests, and budgets. Both cities have stunning Old Town centers, with beautiful buildings, walkable streets, and many shops and restaurants. Beyond that, each city has everything a tourist would want in a European city, from top-notch museums to interesting nightlife, and beautiful parks. However, there are some clear differences between the two cities. If you are coming to Poland and only have time for one city, choosing Warsaw or Kraków makes the most sense, but how should you choose?

While you could just choose based on the cheapest flight, there are many other ways to choose. In this article, you will find 4 positive points and 4 negative points for both Warsaw and Kraków to help you choose which of them to visit. As someone who has lived in Warsaw for almost two years and served as a tour guide for family and friends, and has visited Kraków four times as a tourist, I will be providing my personal insight based on my own experiences. In general, both cities are worth a visit if you can manage both, but each has clear advantages and disadvantages. Read on to learn more. 

Pros of Warsaw

1. Best Museums in Poland

In my opinion, Warsaw has the best museums in all of Poland. This is not too much of a surprise, the capital city usually has the best museums. But, I believe the museums in Poland are a clear tier above any other city. Any trip to Warsaw should include a visit to the fantastic National Museum in Warsaw. Branches of this museum can be found in every major city in Poland, but the branch in Warsaw is the flagship branch. It contains almost all of the best art to be found in Poland, as well as a large collection of artifacts from Egypt, Nubia, Greece, and Rome.

But, there are so many other choices if you are not a fan of art. Are you interested in learning a bit more about Polish history, and like visiting palaces and castles? The Royal Castle in Warsaw and the Wilanów Palace both offer stunning buildings with gardens, artwork, and beautiful interiors. Are you more into WWII history? You can visit the fantastic Warsaw Uprising Museum to learn all about this event that led to the destruction of Warsaw in 1944. POLIN, the city’s Jewish museum, also covers WWII topics, as well as the history of Jewish people in Poland.

Inside the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw
An inside look into the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw. Our Poland Insiders photographer was able to visit it for free.

If Poland’s communist history is more of your interest, you can visit the Museum of Life in the Polish People’s Republic for accurate exhibits and recreated rooms from Poland’s communist era. Or, you can visit the Neon Museum to get some pictures of the neon signs that adorned the streets during this era. Warsaw also has the best of the general museums a country can have, from ethnography to history, to sports, to music, to science. Some standouts in this area include the Copernicus Science Center, an interactive child-friendly museum located along the Vistula River, and the Chopin Museum, which is dedicated to the life of Poland’s most famous musician. 

So, there are so many choices in museums when coming to Warsaw. Kraków does have museums, but in my opinion, the quality of the museums in Warsaw is so much better for the same price, and are usually less crowded than the ones in Kraków. So, if you are interested in museums the most, Warsaw is definitely the city for you, you can easily fill 2 days of time just visiting the museums mentioned on this list!

2. Best Food Scene in Poland

Polish food in itself is amazing. From pierogi to potato pancakes, and vodka, Polish cuisine has a lot to offer. But, international food has also been present in Poland since the fall of communism. And, in my opinion, Warsaw easily has the best food scene of any major city in Poland. This is also not a surprise given it is the capital of a European city with many people from different countries. Thus, in Warsaw, you can have top-notch Polish food, but also good cuisine from Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Georgia (my personal favorite), as well as many restaurants that are fusions of international cuisine with Polish sensibilities. 

Gołąbki with potato pancakes and cucumber salad
Gołąbki with potato pancakes and cucumber salad. Eaten and taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej in a milk bar in Warsaw.

Not only are the food options delicious, but the restaurants themselves are often beautiful places as well. Some areas with especially nice restaurants are along ul. Chmielna. Other classy places to eat are at food halls, a growing trend in Poland. Food halls are essentially food courts, but they are often placed in former industrial sites and buildings, with the buildings built in the style of the former industrial site, such as a mill, or an electricity plant. Here you can get lots of international food, and also a good drink. My personal favorites are Hala Koszyki, Browary Warszawskie, and Elektrownia Powiśle. 

Other locations that are popular for food are along Nowy Świat, which is also a popular nightlife spot, and Krakówskie Przedmieście, although these restaurants are typically a bit more touristy and expensive. Any neighborhood you choose to stay in should also have many good restaurants to choose from. In general, Warsaw’s food choices are diverse and delicious.

3. Many Amazing Green Spaces

Another amazing feature of Warsaw is the many parks throughout the city. In fact, Warsaw has 25% green spaces, whether parks, gardens or even some urban forests called “lasy.” Thus, if you enjoy nature, you can get some really good nature without leaving the city limits of Warsaw. The most popular park in Warsaw is certainly Łazienki Park. This park is a massive park with monuments, ponds, museums, cool buildings, peacocks, and free Chopin concerts in the summer. For a similar experience that is not in a gated garden, the Saxon Gardens are well-manicured and close to the center of the city with lots of nice places to relax, as well as the Polish military memorial. 

Saxon Gardens in Warsaw, Poland
Saxon Gardens in Warsaw, Poland. Taken by PolandInsiders photographer Jeremy.

Beyond these two main parks that many tourists visit, there are also many other standouts. There are the rooftop gardens of the University of Warsaw Library, with views of the city skyline and the Vistula River. There is Park Szczęśliwicki, with its viewpoint hill, artificial ski hill, gravity coaster, and barbeque and picnic spots. Park Moczydło offers a quiet pond, and a perfect hill for picnics. I could continue with more recommendations, but in general, any park near you in Warsaw is likely to be a good one. 

If you are looking for a more rugged park, Warsaw also has this. The Kabaty Woods are located at the southern end of the M1 metro line and offer hiking and biking trails, as well as picnic areas. Just outside the main city limits of Warsaw is Kampinos National Park, which offers hundreds of kilometers of trails, and the chance to see wildlife including moose. This national park is perhaps the most accessible national park in all of Poland, as it is reachable by city bus from Warsaw on the Zone 1 (the cheapest) ticket. In general, Warsaw has a lot of nature to offer, just take a walk and you will find a green space!

4. Fantastic and Cheap Public Transportation

As an American, I am generally impressed with public transportation anywhere I go in Europe. However, in my opinion, Warsaw stands at the top compared to any city I have visited in Europe, due to both cost, efficiency, and coverage. In fact, Warsaw has some of the best in the world according to some rankings. Warsaw’s public transport includes hundreds of buses, a couple dozen tram lines, and Poland’s only two underground metro lines, as well as local and regional train services throughout the region. All of these, minus the regional trains, can be purchased on one ticket for as little as 4.40 PLN (about 1 euro) for a 75-minute ticket with transfers.

Tram ticket vending machine in Warsaw, Poland
PolandInsiders photographer Andrzej is buying a 20 minute tram ticket in Warsaw, Poland.

Not only is the price one of the lowest in all of Europe, but the coverage is truly widespread. The two metro lines hit most of the major locations of Warsaw, and staying near a Metro stop is a guarantee to get to the main parts of the city in a maximum of 20 minutes. Where the metro lines do not go (although a major expansion is planned), trams do, with reliable service that is not subject to traffic. Everywhere else is covered by buses, which can sometimes be late due to traffic, but are generally reliable and run every 10-20 minutes throughout the day. 

Furthermore, any train station within Zone 1 (which covers the entire city limits of Warsaw) is also included in any transport ticket you buy, which is an extra luxury. Tickets can be purchased onboard buses and trams and most trains, at ticket machines at every metro and train station, as well as many major bus and tram stations, and through apps such as Jakdojade. In general, I have found Warsaw’s public transport convenient, clean, and safe, and have not struggled without a car for the past 2 years. Warsaw’s public transport is truly exceptional, and the best in Poland, and makes your travel plans so much easier. 

For a complete guide to public transport from the city, including costs, visit here

Pros of Kraków

1. The Walkable City Core

Easily the best part of visiting Kraków is how walkable it is. Everything in Kraków is within 20 minutes of the historic Old Town Market Square. In fact, a majority of what tourists do in Kraków is located within the walls of the Old Town. Whether you want to visit the Market Square, admire St. Mary’s Church, or visit a museum such as the Princes Czartoryski Museum, all these things are located within the Old Town. Furthermore, you can get to other main attractions, such as the old Kazimierz District with its Jewish history, or the Wawel Royal Castle, the former site of the throne of the Polish royal family, all within 20 minutes. 

St Marys Church in Krakow
St Marys Church in Krakow, Poland. Taken by Poland Insiders writer Jeremy.

Not only is everything in close distance, but these walks are all flat, with paved sidewalks. The Old Town itself is also mostly closed off to cars, with the notable exception being the horse-drawn carriages. The only worry about walking is when it rains, as the cobblestone streets of the Old Town can become slick, making it easy to trip. But in general, it is super easy to walk around Kraków, and if you like being able to do everything when you want without having to worry about too much travel time, Kraków is the city for you. 

2. Amazing Day Trips

Beyond the amazing things to do in Kraków, it is also possible to visit many great day trip destinations from Kraków if you are planning to stay longer than for a few days. If you are only staying for a weekend, what are perhaps Poland’s two most popular day trips are a short train ride from the Kraków Central Station. The Wieliczka Salt Mine takes you deep underground to learn the history of the substance that increased Poland’s wealth greatly, and you can admire entire rooms made of salt. It is reachable by train in 30 minutes. The other popular day trip is to Auschwitz, which is easily accessible from Kraków in less than an hour. 

Town square in Katowice
The town square in Katowice. Taken by Poland Insiders writer Jeremy.

However, there are many other great places within reach. In just over 2 hours, you can make it to the beautiful city of Zakopane, one of the most popular winter destinations in Poland, with Poland’s tallest mountains, the most popular hike, and other amazing activities. If you want to stay a bit closer to Kraków, you can get to Katowice, perhaps Poland’s most underrated city, in just over an hour from Kraków by train, and easily spend a whole day there. Other great day trips within reach of Kraków include Ojcowski National Park, with its rugged terrain and rock formations, and Tyniec Monastery, perched high over the Vistula River. 

Compared to Warsaw, it is much easier to do more in and around Kraków despite Warsaw’s central location within Poland. With close proximity to mountains, rivers, mines, and historical sights, Kraków is truly a great place for seeing more of what Poland has to offer. 

3. The Nightlife

Kraków is also a great destination in Poland due to its celebrated nightlife. In fact, Kraków may have the best nightlife in Poland. There are many articles extolling the cheap alcohol prices of Kraków. While prices may not be as cheap as you expect (and have been steadily rising over the past years as some of the highest inflation rates in Europe were present), Kraków’s nightlife is indeed splendid. After dark, the beautiful streets of the Old Town become the life of the party, with all the best bars in Kraków found here, as well as some of the better clubs. It is extremely easy to barhop from place to place and explore the city at the same time. 

The only thing to be cautious about is the strip clubs found in the Old Town. These have a worse reputation than the clubs and have been known to drug people and steal a lot of their money. Stick to the regular bars and clubs, they are a lot cheaper and much more fun! If you are staying at a hostel, or some hotels, you may even be able to book a bar crawl if you want to be 100% safe. However, it is usually safe to do this all on your own, and it is a lot of fun!

4. A Convenient Airport

Kraków’s airport is only 15 km (9 mi) from the city center. The airport, while small, has regular and budget flights from all over Europe, and even direct flights to Chicago. The best part of this airport, however, is the convenient train service. You can take a regional train and get from the airport to the main train station in around 20 minutes at a price of around 15 PLN. This is extremely convenient for travelers of all budgets. Furthermore, there are buses available for an even lower cost if you do not mind taking a little bit of extra time. 

Kraków’s airport is, however, very small. But, from my experience, flights are scheduled well to make sure the proper amount of people are in the airport at one time. If you are flying out of Europe, you should arrive early, as the Schengen security line may be a bit longer. But, I got through security in 5 minutes with the help of perhaps the nicest security guards I have encountered in Europe. With this in mind, you can spend even more time in Kraków, and not have to worry about getting to the airport so early to ensure you do not miss your flight. 

Cons of Warsaw

1. A Capital City: Things can get messy sometimes

Warsaw is the capital city of Poland. With that comes some things that will sometimes make visiting here as a tourist not so fun. As the capital, this is where all major events will happen. This also means that traffic in the city is not often fun. While Warsaw’s public transportation is excellent, it is often crowded, and may not always be the most comfortable experience. Remember, almost all of those using the transport around you are commuting to their jobs from another part of the city!

If you prefer the comfort of renting a car, parking is always hard to find with so many visitors and workers driving to the center, and the roads are often clogged with commuter traffic. 

Traffic while driving in Warsaw
Traffic in Warsaw can get bad from around 7 AM to 10 AM in the morning, and then again from around 4 PM to 7 PM. Taken by Poland Insiders writer Jeremy.

Beyond the traffic, specific major events can make visiting Warsaw not so fun. Specifically, major rallies and marches happen here multiple times per year. Lately, such protests have been about politics, by farmers about EU agriculture policy, and about the war in the Levant. These rallies and protests can draw in hundreds of thousands of people, bringing all traffic to a halt. As these protests often go by certain major tourist areas, such as the Palace of Culture and Science, and even the Old Town, this can interfere with your experience. Finally, when world leaders arrive, entire streets and areas can be shut down for security, which also interferes with travel. 

Of course, the lives of the Polish people will not stop for tourists. So, if such an event happens, you will just need to be patient. Metro is then the best option for transport, although it will certainly be crowded. There are always areas of Warsaw away from protests. And, if you are a US citizen, you can enroll in a program that, in my experience, will inform you of any major events happening. But, if you happen to be in Warsaw when such a major event happens, your experience may not be as good. 

2. A Sprawling City

By European standards, Warsaw is a pretty sprawling city. Covering 517 sq km (about 200 sq mi), getting from one end of Warsaw to the other can take well over an hour by car, and longer with public transport. This is part of the reason why traffic in the center can be so bad, and parking scarce, as people in Warsaw may live many kilometers away from the center. But, Warsaw’s size also means that not every place amongst the most popular is close to each other. This is not always a bad thing, as it means when there are more tourists, they can be more spread out. 

But, this means you will spend more of your time in Warsaw than in Kraków going from place to place. It is not that bad in my opinion. But, for places such as Wilanów Palace, you might spend 45 minutes on public transport getting there. And, while Kraków has most of its main attractions within a 20-minute walk of the Old Town, 20 minutes is the minimum walking distance to get anywhere. If you visit Warsaw, you will have to plan your itinerary in a savvy way, to minimize transport time by grouping attractions. Thus, Warsaw is not the easiest city to explore without a plan if you want to see a lot. 

However, given the good public transportation, you should be able to get around decently well. But, you will have to spend more money on transport than in Kraków, and given that public transportation in Warsaw can be crowded, it is not always the most comfortable travel experience. So, while Warsaw has many great things to do, this comes at a price, as these things are quite spread out. 

3. Airport: budget airport is far from the city

Warsaw actually has two different airports, something that may not be initially clear if you are booking with a budget airline. These two airports are Warsaw Chopin Airport, located a 25-minute direct bus ride from the city center, and Warsaw Modlin Airport. Modlin airport is about 41 km (25 mi) from the Warsaw city center. While there are plenty of European airports this far from the city, unlike those airports, there are fewer choices to get from the city center to Modlin. And, as a majority of budget flights arrive at Modlin (all RyanAir flights and its subsidiaries), the trek from Modlin has to be planned for.

My first advice is to fly with WizzAir into Warsaw Chopin if you can manage it. Chopin has multiple buses, a train (all included in the basic transport ticket), and good Uber prices. From Modlin, your cheapest option is the shuttle bus and train combination, which costs 20 PLN and takes around 1 hour to get to the city center, not including waiting time for the bus, and is often quite crowded and uncomfortable if you have large bags. Unfortunately, a taxi to the city center is quite expensive given the distance, costing at least 100 PLN and not necessarily being faster than the train. 

So, unlike Kraków with its airport with both full-priced and budget flights into an easily accessible airport, your budget flight to Warsaw may take you out of the city. If such movement sounds stressful to you, it might be worth it to pay a bit extra to fly into Chopin or look for a Wizz Air flight if Wizz Air serves where you are going. If you are arriving from outside Europe, you have nothing to worry about, as such flights will 99% of the time land at Chopin.

4. Nightlife

To start, Warsaw’s nightlife is not bad by any means. In fact, some people I know might say it is better than Kraków’s. However, I believe that Warsaw’s nightlife is not that great. There are really only two areas in the city with bars, and these areas are about 15 minutes apart by foot. One area is Nowy Świat. The Pawiliony area is full of bars that sometimes have a good atmosphere, but are often crowded, smelly, and loud, with expensive prices. Especially in the summer, coming here is like going to Disneyland. It is also not the safest area if you are a solo traveler or female traveler, so keep this in mind. 

Panorama Sky Bar in Warsaw
The Panorama Sky Bar in Warsaw right after sunset. Taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej Tokarski.

But to me, the main downside of Warsaw’s nightlife is the clubs. While I must admit I am not a huge fan of clubs, the clubs in Warsaw have not helped my perception. Clubs are one of the few places in Poland where you might face open discrimination as a tourist. Usually, entrance is free, but a cover might be arbitrarily charged if the bouncer feels like it. Clubs in Warsaw are also crowded, overpriced, and do not have the best music. In addition, the clubs in Warsaw are separate from the main bar areas, meaning you will have to walk 15-20 minutes while drunk to the clubs or take a short taxi ride. 

In general, Kraków’s nightlife, while rowdy, is more entertaining, with friendlier and larger bars with better drink offerings, and better clubs as well (as long as you are careful). Kraków’s nightlife is also much more concentrated. There is much more room for getting lost or in trouble in Warsaw. So, if you like to party, choose Kraków over Warsaw (although be warned that Polish people may not be a huge fan of you if you just came to Poland to get drunk on “cheap” alcohol). 

Cons of Kraków

1. Very Crowded!

During certain parts of the season, Kraków can also feel like Disneyland. And while Warsaw can be crowded due to major events and rallies, Kraków is usually quite crowded with just tourists. Kraków is Poland’s most visited city, and with an increased interest in traveling to Poland due to its advertisement campaign as a safe budget Europe destination, Kraków has grown increasingly crowded. Each of the four times I have visited has seen the city get more crowded. I traveled to Kraków at the same time of year in 2023 and 2024, and Kraków was 3 times more crowded in 2024 than in 2023. 

Traveling Poland on a Budget in Krakow
Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Part of this is because most of the tourist core is walkable, which is a positive, but can mean that with lots of tourists, the Old Town can be very hard to navigate. A key example of this is during the much celebrated Kraków Christmas market. I visited myself in 2023, and by a certain point of the night, it was almost impossible to move anywhere in the center, and lines for food and drink were 30+ minutes long! It is not surprising that Auschwitz has had to introduce timed tickets recently to manage increasing crowds. 

Gone are the days when Kraków was an underrated destination with mostly Polish tourists. Kraków is very well known as a top Europe destination, and going to Kraków on a weekend, during holidays, or near Christmas is a guarantee of going with a lot of people. So, be prepared for large crowds. If this is something you do not like, Warsaw is much less crowded in the winter especially, but also in the summer.

2. Unsafe Nightlife (sometimes)

As mentioned already, Kraków’s nightlife is super popular, but can be unsafe! Here I will go into more detail on what you need to look out for in Kraków. While in Kraków, there are two major red flags for going into a bar. The first is if a pair of attractive girls on the street invite you for a drink in the city. Take it from me, the chance of this being a true invitation is 1 in a million. 

What will instead happen is you will be brought to a friend’s bar, where the girls will first “pay” for the drink, but then expect you to buy them the drink they prefer, which will most certainly be made with the most expensive vodka in the bar. And if you don’t pay, the burly bouncers will look at you menacingly until you do. In the worst case, you will get taken to a strip club, where a girl may dance for you, but a drug may be slipped into your glass and all your money may be taken, with local police not caring much for the troubles of tourists. 

Another major red flag for nightlife in Poland is if the main menu is in English, or if there are no prices listed. In general, a cocktail in Kraków should cost no more than 35 PLN at the highest end. But, if no prices are listed, that 35 PLN cocktail you were hoping for might become 135 PLN if you do not specify which vodka you want. As a tourist, it is hard to know which vodka is the right price. So, if a place has a menu like this, live immediately, and find one of the many good bars with prices listed and friendly service.

3. Higher Prices

Technically speaking, Warsaw is a more expensive city than Kraków. However, this is more for people living in Warsaw than those visiting, due to an issue of housing supply in Warsaw that has caused rent rates to skyrocket (so try your best to be a responsible tourist and avoid Airbnbs that seem to be owned by a large company, which is a big part of the housing issues in Warsaw). However, Kraków is a more expensive city for tourists. Lodging prices are more expensive for sure, as is public transportation. But, the place you can get burned in Kraków is food and drink. The only place more expensive to eat than the Kraków Old Town is anywhere in Zakopane.

The reason for this is that the Old Town is pretty much entirely a tourist destination. Not many people live in the city center, so prices can be higher as a so-called tourist tax. While the prices are often still cheaper than in other European cities, on my last trip, some of the prices were starting to approach those of cities like Barcelona and Berlin. In addition, tipping is starting to become expected, but only in this bubble of the Old Town (Poles would not be happy if they felt required to tip). 

Beyond food, day trips can also be quite expensive, especially if you book a guided tour. These guided tours can cost 400 PLN per person (for Auschwitz as an example), which is more than twice as expensive as a self-guided tour. In general, there are many more tourist traps you have to watch out for while in Kraków, with again Zakopane being the only city with more tourist traps in Poland. So, do your research, to make sure you get the best deal. Warsaw has fewer of these problems, so your money will actually go further despite it technically being a more expensive city.

4. Weather

To be honest, the differences in weather between Kraków and Warsaw are not so extreme. However, where the differences come into play is that Kraków is more likely to have circumstances with extreme weather. Kraków gets almost 33% more rain than Warsaw, due to a large number of summer thunderstorms that can dump many millimeters on the city. In the winter, half a meter of snow can fall in one night, something I experienced that got me sick. Thus, there is a higher chance that traveling to Kraków will mean that bad weather can get in the way. 

So is Warsaw or Kraków better? It Depends

This is the truth of making a decision to visit a specific place in Poland. Poland is a very beautiful country with lots to offer, and it can be hard to pick which city you want to start with. In my opinion, if you can save time for a longer trip, visiting both Warsaw and Kraków makes for a perfect Poland trip, with the cities connected by a 3-hour train ride. But, if you can only pick one, pick Kraków if you like history and beautiful buildings, and are especially interested in leaving the city for day trips to Auschwitz. Pick Warsaw if you want a European capital experience, and especially like top-notch museums and food. 

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