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Krakow or Rome; a vs city comparison and travel guide

Both Krakow and Rome 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 Rome and Krakow

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.

High-level summary for Krakow and Rome

Summary
Which city would I go to?
Rome
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Rome
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Krakow
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Rome
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?

Considering the sheer number of outstanding tourist attractions, Rome can be seen within two days. Three days allows for a more enjoyable visit to Rome, with time to absorb the culture. There can be long queues for the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum, so starting early in the day is essential for a two-day visit.

There are good day trips from Rome including the Roman ruins of Ostia Antica or the historic town Tivoli. Rome has excellent intercity trains, and it is possible to visit Florence or Naples, or even Pompeii (2 hours by train) as day trips.

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.

Most visitors head to Rome in the hot, humid and crowded summer months of July and August. Early spring or autumn are a much better time of year, and provides a much more agreeable climate, without the throngs of tourists. To truly avoid the crowds, consider November to March, but there is always the slight chance of rain and it can be chilly. Even if it does rain, head indoors for a long lunch.

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.

Rome’s appeal is ageless and timeless. It is no matter if you are going there for the perfect Instagram post of the Colosseum or on a religious pilgrim to the Vatican, the city will not disappoint.

Sadly, the years of austerity and political mismanagement are starting to wear through Rome, with an unkept and unloved mentality decaying around the edges of the city.

Rome in 48 hours
Below is an interactive map for 48 hours in Rome; day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights in grey.

Begin at the icon of Rome, the Colosseum, but also explore the Foro Romano with its many excellent Roman ruins. On the way to the historic centre of Rome passes the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, with its amazing viewpoint. For the afternoon explore the charismatic centre of Rome, taking in the Piazza Navona, the Fontana di Trevi and Piazza Colonna and the Pantheon. For the evening head to the Trastevere district on the western banks of the Tiber, for bars, late food and lively experience.

Start early on the second day to avoid the queues for the Sistine Chapel and Saint Paul’s Basilica. From the Vatican City, follow the River Tiber past the Castel Sant'Angelo, Mausoleo di Augusto to the Piazza del Popolo. For the afternoon explore the Villa Borghese park, before heading down the Via del Babuino, past the Spanish steps and into the Trevi district for a delicious meal. Before finishing in Rome part take in the tradition of passeggiata, an evening stroll wearing your finest clothes.

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.

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).

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