We take pride in providing authentic travel recommendations based on our own experiences. We may earn a commission when you purchase a product or book a reservation. Learn more ›
Deciding whether to visit Warsaw vs Krakow? Check out our guide to the differences between Poland’s two largest cities.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I left the train station and emerged into the brisk nighttime air. The bright lights of the Palace of Culture and Science appeared before me.
The purple and blue of the high-rise buildings guided me toward my apartment and let me know I had nearly made it home.
Or at least to my temporary summer home in Warsaw, Poland. Living in Warsaw for three months, that is what the city had become—a home. I loved the thrill of traveling all over Europe and exploring different cities within Poland.
But whenever I made it back to Warsaw, I just felt an instant sense of comfort. Nowhere else I visited in or out of Poland during my travels gave me the same feeling.
Yet, upon returning to the United States, I was shocked to learn that Americans talk more about the city of Krakow. To me, Warsaw was the place to think about first and foremost.
Naturally, I’m a little biased, having spent time living there. Everyone is a little bit biased towards a place where they spend more time. So, what are the key differences between the two largest cities in Poland? Here are some things to know to make a well-informed decision on where to travel.
The History of Warsaw vs Krakow
Warsaw was over 90 percent destroyed during World War II. Today, in Warsaw, you see an Old Town that was rebuilt using pictures of the former town to replicate the town as closely as possible. There is also a modern city that was rebuilt during Communism and the years following.
However, Krakow is one of the few Polish cities that were not destroyed during World War II. The General Government declared Krakow as their capital during World War II. Krakow became a territory governed by Nazi Germany.
This allowed the city to escape the damage that was the fate of most other cities in Poland. The architecture in Krakow has been preserved for centuries, and the original building remains.
Both cities have plenty of history to learn about—the history is on every street. It is simply a question of whether you would rather experience history in a place reproduced to look like an original or whether you want to walk the streets with a view of buildings that witnessed the history themselves.
While Warsaw is the capital of Poland today, Krakow was the capital at different points in history. Unsurprisingly, there are many reasons to visit both cities—both have been academic, economic, and cultural centers.
See Related: Ways to Book the Cheapest First Class Flights
Warsaw vs Krakow Population
Warsaw has a population of approximately 1.8 million residents. It is the only city in all of Poland to have over a million residents. The population of Krakow is approximately 770,000 residents. This means Warsaw is over twice as large as Krakow in population.
Like many large cities, business people and students make up a good percentage of the population of Warsaw. Krakow, however, is Poland’s most popular tourist destination—no wonder Americans speak more often about Krakow than Warsaw.
See Related: Top Most Beautiful Cities in the World to Visit
Warsaw vs Krakow Size
Warsaw is by far the largest city in Poland regarding its space. The city is spread out and covers 199.71 square miles. Krakow is more compact and smaller but extremely tourist-friendly. The city covers 126.3 square miles. Even though Krakow is smaller than Warsaw, it is still the second-largest city in Poland.
See Related: Best Travel-Size Cologne Options
Food Comparison in the Two Cities
As an international city, Warsaw has every type of restaurant you could possibly want—Indian food, Italian food, Chinese food, and, yes, Polish food. From breakfast to dinner, if you are a picky eater, Warsaw will not fail to provide you with something to eat.
The food scene in Warsaw is very receptive to newer forms of eating—there are many vegetarian and vegan restaurants throughout the city.
For any chocoholics, Warsaw is home to a Polish candy company. Wedel Pijalnia’s, essentially cafes focusing on the chocolate dot the entire city—do I need to say more than that?
If you want to try local food unique to Poland, Krakow will attract your attention. Krakow has a broader range of Polish cuisine than Warsaw, where international flavors often get mixed in. Obwarzanek krakowski is one of the specialties of Krakow. Street stalls sell food items everywhere in the city.
A braided, ring-shaped bread that is boiled and sprinkled with a topping such as salt or poppy seeds, it resembles a bagel on the outside but tastes like a soft pretzel.
Obwarzanek krakowski is best when eaten fresh out of the oven. They only last a few hours before getting stale—but they make for the perfect snack on the way to and from locations.
Warsaw and Krakow have traditional milk bars and cafeterias where you can get an entire meal of Polish food cheaply.
As long as you don’t care what food you are served, milk bars are a fun experience–the people who work at milk bars usually do not speak English.
See Related: How to Become an Online Travel Agent
Entertainment and Night Life
Warsaw and Krakow have plenty of museums and castles to keep you busy for days. Warsaw is home to famous museums such as the Warsaw Uprising Museum, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and the Copernicus Science Centre.
A hidden gem of the city: the rooftop garden above the University of Warsaw library…a great place to escape city life while maintaining the city views.
Check out these other top things to do in Warsaw.
Additionally, Warsaw has tons of green spaces. Lazienki Park is the most well-known place to hang out for fresh air. This is the largest park in Warsaw has acres of green land, and is where you can visit the Royal Castle.
Krakow has museums such as the ones inside the Wawel Royal Castle, Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory Museum, and a number of museums inside pre-World War II synagogues.
Planty Park surrounds the Old Town of Krakow and is a nice place to sit and people-watch. Check out these other top things to do in Krakow.
While Warsaw’s Old Town is not the place to go for a night out since it is usually quite late in the evenings, Krakow is famous for its unique, old cellar bars and clubs in the center of the historic Jewish district, Kazimierz.
See Related: AARDY Travel Insurance Review
Warsaw and Krakow both have international airports. Both cities are extremely walkable. Getting around Warsaw and Krakow is very easy. Although Warsaw is certainly walkable, there are definitely places farther out in the city that will require you to take public transportation.
Warsaw’s public transportation system consists of multiple options: buses, trams, and a metro. Validate your ticket while on public transportation to avoid a fine.
On the other hand, in Krakow, most of the main tourist locations you will want to visit won’t be far from one another.
Krakow’s public transportation system consists of buses and a tram. There is no underground metro, but you don’t need it anyway. You can get an entire visit in Krakow without ever using public transportation.
See Related: How to Spend 48 Hours in Zagreb
Overall, no matter where in Poland you go, Poland is an extremely cheap and affordable travel destination. You will quickly notice how far the American dollar can take you in Poland. One of the reasons Poland is so affordable is that Poland uses its currency called Zloty and does not use the EU’s standard currency, the Euro.
Due to Warsaw being a cosmopolitan city, Krakow is the cheapest of the two cities. (It is all relative, considering how cheap Poland is).
The prices at restaurants and hostels might be slightly higher in Warsaw than in Krakow–maybe one dollar more expensive. You won’t find much cost difference between the two cities in the summertime.
When choosing which city to travel to, I wouldn’t worry much about which location is cheaper. There is not much of a difference in pricing between Warsaw and Krakow. You will be astonished at how cheaply you can get a good-quality meal in both cities.
See Related: Credit Cards for Travel Perks
Living in Warsaw vs Krakow
If you like an urban setting, you will feel most at home in Warsaw. But, if you prefer the charm of a smaller (but still pretty big) town, then Krakow may be the place for you.
While Warsaw is more of a business city, Krakow has more of a cultural feel. But since Krakow is filled with tourists, if you prefer living without the rush of tourists, then Warsaw may be a better place to live.
See Related: Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) Review
What’s Better to Visit Warsaw or Krakow?
Warsaw might always be one of my homes, but next time I’m in Krakow, I’m certainly excited to spend more time there and give the city a better chance.
Both cities have so much to offer. If you can, rather than decide between the two, you are better off just visiting both cities. The narrative of the country feels incomplete without learning about both locations.
You can travel from one city to another in 2.5-3 hours via train. But if you don’t have the time and must choose between the two cities, hopefully, this guide will help you figure out which city is more for you.
There are unique components to both Warsaw and Krakow. Deciding where to travel ultimately comes down to what you hope to see and get out of your trip.
- What to Expect Living in Poland: Key Tips to Follow
- London vs Paris: What’s the Difference
- Kyoto vs Tokyo: Differences You Need to Know
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Blake is a highly experienced travel writer working for a number of publications providing insights about his experiences around the world.