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Krakow or Copenhagen; a vs city comparison and travel guide

Both Krakow and Copenhagen 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 article will provide our unbiased opinions, 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?)

Introduction to Copenhagen and Krakow

Sleek yet historic, gritty yet creative, Copenhagen fuses all the contradictions of Scandinavia in one darn loveable city. Yes, it's pricy. But your money buys quality in these parts, whether that's the crispy Danish pastry in the morning, the single-origin coffee beans, or those craft beers in the independent drinkeries. On top of all that comes a town laced with fairy-tale vibes.
Once the home of Hans Christian Andersen, the city's Indre By – the historic core – is all weaving cobbled lanes and flower-strewn cottages from centuries gone by.

Meanwhile, over in districts like Christianshavn and Vesterbro, there's a buzz and energy about proceedings. Jazz bars, sculpture galleries, artisan collectives – there's all sorts popping up around the stone quaysides and tenement blocks. Don't forget that this capital is the veritable home of New Nordic cooking, putting foraged foods and mind-boggling flavour combos front and centre…

High-level summary for Krakow and Copenhagen

Summary
Which city would I go to?
Copenhagen
Which one would I recommend to my parents?Copenhagen
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Krakow (Copenhagen is too expensive for him!)
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Copenhagen
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!

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

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.

There are two sides to Copenhagen. There's the side that most visitors will aim to see, and that's all neatly packaged up for a quick two- or three-day break. Then there's the more local side. That can take weeks, or even months to enjoy to the fullest.
The upshot is that everything from short fly-in city breaks to longer jaunts are doable in the Danish capital – there's enough to keep you going, provided you've got the money to keep going!

In addition, it's worth thinking about what out-of-town excursions you might want to do from Copenhagen. These will inevitably add some time to the trip but are also downright tempting. The likes of the ancient Viking capital of Roskilde, and the Swedish city of Malmo, are both on the menu.

Copenhagen’s weather is not as dismal as most visitors initially presume, and not cold as the other Scandinavian countries it is often mentally lumped with.

Summer is Copenhagen's most beloved season. It's easy to see why. Scandinavia emerges from its casing of snow and ice to become a real outdoorsy gem. In the capital, that means the canal-side cafes of Christianshavn come alive with al fresco drinkers and the breweries spill into leafy gardens. This is also the time to enjoy the famous Brygge Harbour Bath and the other marina swimming spots in full swing.

Spring and autumn make good alternatives, particularly if you're on a tight budget. Already high prices can soar in Copenhagen during the summer months, and the streets of the Indre By get busy to boot. Winter has a peak around Christmas, when the Tivoli festive market starts smelling of gingerbread and mulled wine. It's cheaper in January though, and still likely to have enchanting snow cover.

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.

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.

Copenhagen is tailor-made for creative, 30s-something city slickers. Bohemian cafes meet cutting-edge beer halls and restaurants that are breaking the mould, while workshops, design studios, and galleries cram the old town. If you're culturally engaged and enjoy places that fuse the old and the new, you could hardly do any better.

Copenhagen is famously expensive. Expect to pay around the 60kr mark (€8/$9) for a beer in most places – and even that's a decent deal! Hotels will cost a lot, no matter the season, and eating out is off the cards for anyone on a shoestring budget.
You can mitigate that if you picnic and dodge the pubs, but it's not really the place for travelers watching the pennies.

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.

Krakow Vistula River

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.

Copenhagen offers so much for a fun-packed 48 hours. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow.

Day 1: Begin the first day in the Rådhuspladsen, where the ochre-tinged walls of the City Hall dominate the skyline. This is a beating hub of the city, and you might find concert stages or markets taking place on the plaza. The bustling shopping street of Strøget starts here. Hit that to move between high-street retailers and lively pubs. The walk will take you all the way to Nyhavn.

This is a charming, historic area with 17th-century canals. The painted houses are a favourite with photographers, and you can opt to do a canal boat tour from the docks. Lunchtime is over in the Bridge Street Kitchen. Sprawling across Greenlandic Trade Square, it's a casual food mecca, with hotdogs mixing with falafel pitas and sourdough pizza breads.

Full? Good – Christiania awaits. This gritty artist community come squat is a unique bohemian commune. There are some pushy drug dealers and lots of tourists, but it's worth a stop. The spire of the lovely Church of Our Saviour is sure to pull you down to one end of the area, before hopping back over to Slotsholmen for a sighting of the grand Christiansborg Palace, the home of the Danish parliament.

Latin Quarter Copenhagen

The side streets of the Latin Quarter (Latinerkvarteret) are a joy to explore

Day 2: If it's sunny, there's never a better way to kick-off a day in Copenhagen than down on the marina. Free to enter and bustling with life, the Brygge Harbour Bath lets you swim in the refreshing waters of the Baltic Sea right in the heart of town.
Dry off and then grab a Danish pastry on your way up to the Indre By, where you can get lost in weaving lanes of cobblestone. The vast Rosenborg Slot sits at the far end of the district. A mighty palace from the 1600s, it's packed with art and can take a few hours to explore.

Nearby Torvehallerne will do nicely for food, with its array of local Scandi dishes. A hop across the water to hipster Nørrebro is great if you're craving a beer or a coffee – Brus is a good option.
Then head back south to Frederiksstaden district. It's crowned by the Rococo Amalienborg Palace, sports stunning churches, and buts up to the old town, where you'll find loads of bars and eateries to cap off the evening.

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).

Copenhagen has many hotels and accommodation options, but the city has one of highest occupancy rates of Europe (a yearly average of 81%). That means booking early is key. We'd recommend trying to score somewhere in the Indre By area.
The old core, it's close to all the main sights. If you're on a tighter budget, going north to Nørrebro might offer a few extra deals. Meanwhile, the Vesterbro district is an up and coming area, which is trendy and a touch edgy. Frederiksstaden is a more refined and contains many of the smarter hotels.

If you want to get around like a real CPH local, then there's nothing for it but to rent a bike. These are cheap and easy to find in pretty much any area of town. A full day's cycling should cost around 150 DKK (£22).

Copenhagen is a very safe city, especially for a capital. People are often eager to help and there are good public services in general. Be more wary if you're venturing off the beaten track. Certain corners of Nørrebro and Christiania can be sketchy, particularly after dark.

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