Krakow’s museums are a delight! Every exhibition I saw in Krakow seriously impressed me with its high standards.
I knew little about the city and about Polish culture before visiting, but Krakow’s museums made the learning experience fascinating.
It’s the clever curation, the multimedia displays, the convenient explanations in English and the beautiful aesthetics that really make a world of difference.
Here’s my selection of the best museums in Krakow, if you’d like to learn about the history, art and culture of Krakow and Poland.
The National Museum in Krakow
The large building of the Krakow National Museum is just one of a few locations where this museum runs exhibitions.
The main location has several permanent collections plus temporary exhibitions. The permanent collections are spread across all three floors.
I highly recommend the massive collection of decorative art from Poland. It’s a spectacular display of glassware, porcelain, ceramics, fashion, furniture and so much more… There is even a little room for traditional musical instruments.
Downstairs there is another gallery dedicated to arms and uniforms.
The museum also has fascinating temporary exhibitions (the one I saw while I was there was about post-communist Polish design). The level of curation and presentation was really impressive.
One of the most famous pieces in the National Museum in Krakow is an oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci called “Lady with an Ermine.”
It was purchased by Poland in 2016 and is part of the museum collection. You can pre-book a ticket to see the de Vinci piece to avoid waiting in line.
I’d say this museum should be on your list of top 10 things to do in Krakow.
The Underground Museum in Krakow’s Main Square
Time flies when you visit this museum, literally speaking…
Just over 10 years ago, the main square of Krakow was dug up and archaeologists discovered artifacts from as early as the 11th century.
This museum is located right under Krakow’s market square and shows you the findings and tells you the story of the city of Krakow.
The entrance to the Underground Museum is from the main square. Go down the stairs. You can buy your ticket there or order a ticket online in advance.
I joined a guided tour by the excellent Walkative Tours, with a small group and a knowledgeable guide.
What to expect at Rynek Underground Museum
It’s dark inside the museum and you hear weird noises all around you… they come from the speakers above your head.
These are marketplace noises, people’s chit chat, shouting and horses, to get into the atmosphere of the market square in the Middle Ages.
That’s when you start to go back in time…
Krakow used to be a major trade centre and it’s interesting to see its extensive trade links with Europe and Asia.
Our guide took us through the massive collection of the museum, which helped a lot in focusing and not getting lost there, as there’s really so much to see.
We heard stories about life in the middle ages and saw the objects that were found in the excavations.
It’s really impressive to see how much was discovered. Everyday objects like coins, pieces of clothing, pens, jewellery, toys and even shoes are all on display.
It was great to go through the museum with a professional guide. I’d already taken two other tours with Walkative before I joined this one, so I expected it to be excellent.
With an incredible amount of knowledge, he led us through the Underground Museum, told us the stories behind the objects on display, answered all our questions and generally made the experience much more worthwhile.
Krakow’s Jagiellonian University Museum
Krakow is a student city. It’s know for that and it’s also quite easy to notice when you’re there.
As Krakow’s university grew, it spread to many different buildings around the city, while its original building became a museum.
Right in the city centre, above a beautiful courtyard, Krakow’s Jagiellonian University Museum documents the history of the university in interesting ways.
First you enter the room that used to be the library hall, through a stunning entrance.
It is still used today for monthly meetings of the university senate.
The famous mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus studied at this university in 1491-1495. Some astronomical instruments dating from that period are on display at the museum.
The grand finale of this museum is the Aula – the luxurious professors’ room that looks almost like a church.
This used to be a lecture room and today is used for ceremonies.
The sign above the door reads “Let reason rule not force”, the university’s motto.
The courtyard downstairs is quite magical (when not full of tourists) and right next to it is the Professors’ Garden.
The garden is well worth a visit. It’s a place to relax right in the city centre of Krakow. You can also learn more about the history of the place from the sculptures and the texts in English all around the garden.
Jagiellonian University Professors’ Garden
This is an excellent museums of contemporary art. It’s located across the river next to the Schindler’s Factory Museum and on the premises of what used to be that factory.
MOCAK has spacious galleries for contemporary art exhibitions, all with English texts and perfectly accessible to tourists.
I found the texts illuminating and the choice of artworks on display was very inspiring.
MOCAK – Museum of Contemporary Art Krakow
The temporary exhibition I saw was “Motherland in Art” and dealt with the way various artists from around the world interpret that concept. Unsurprisingly it was thought provoking and at times politically poignant.
I must say that the next time I visit Krakow, this museum will be one of the first paces I’ll want to visit again.
The Ethnographic Museum in Krakow
I’m so glad I came across this wonderful museum.
On the ground floor, you’ll see beautiful reconstructions of rooms from different time periods in Polish history.
You can walk into a room from 19th century Poland, see what workshops looked like and even visit a school classroom from the 1930s.
Along the corridor are detailed models of old buildings.
Krakow Ethnographic Museum – traditional Polish folk decorations in a restored room
Go up to the second floor for a gorgeous display of traditional costumes. But that’s just the beginning, there’s so much more to see there.
Room after room of historical objects, crafts, tools, textiles and just about anything else that makes a culture what it is.
I loved the display of old Polish musical instruments and the cute little room of Christmas decorations.
A particularly colourful room is dedicated to carolling and nativity cribs – that’s a very impressive collection.
Manggha – Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Krakow
The Japanese Museum in Krakow
This surprising find in Krakow, right by the river, is a museum dedicated to Japanese culture.
It hosts only temporary exhibitions and the one I saw was about Buddhism and was very well curated.
Krakow Japanese museum is housed in a beautiful building with a tranquil atmosphere and a balcony overlooking the river with a nice view of Wawel Castle.
Right next to it is the European – Far East Gallery hosting contemporary exhibitions.
Jozef Mehoffer House (A branch of Krakow’s National Museum)
The home of Polish artist Jozef Mehoffer was turned into a museum featuring his artworks and his art collection.
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Krakow, put this unique museum on your list.
It’s a big house with spacious rooms that you can stroll around leisurely and admire the small details.
The art at Jozef Mehoffer House has a mix of styles common in the 20th century, such as Art Deco and impressionism.
He specialised in stained glass and you can see some of his beautiful works around the house.
Stained glass at the Jozef Mehoffer House in Krakow
Right behind the house there is a really lovely garden and a cafe.
Tip! When you go back into the street, have a look at the huge mural on the wall of the house.
Free admission to museums in Krakow and the Krakow city pass
You’ll find the admission fees in Krakow’s museums are quite low and some also have free admission on certain days.
It’s worth checking the individual websites of the museums to find out more about their free days.
For extra convenience and to make the most of your time and money on a short visit to Krakow, you can get the Krakow Museums and Transport Official Pass.
It gives you free access to over 40 museums and historical attractions, as well as bus and tram travel.
The card is valid for either 2 or 3 consecutive days.
Some of the museums included in the Krakow city pass are:
Krakow National Museum
City Of Krakow History Museum
Museum of Archeology
Museum of Photography History Krakow
Museum of Contemporary Art. In Krakow (MOCAK)
Galicja Jewish Museum
You can buy the city pass online and collect it at one of several Tourist Information Points around the city or at the airport. It includes transport from the airport, so it’s a good idea to pick it up there, but make sure your flight lands within the office opening hours.
Krakow Museum Night
Museums in Krakow stay open until late at night once a year on museum night, a celebration of art and culture which taken place in May.
For a fee of 1 zloty, you’ll enjoy free entry to the participating museums and free public transport.
There are artistic talks, guided tours, film screenings, meetings with curators, workshops and other events on museum night.
This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to discover Krakow’s museums and its art scene.
This by no means a comprehensive list of museums in Krakow, just some of my favourites.
You will easily find more wonderful museums when you visit Krakow, including, of course, the incredible exhibitions at the famous Wawel Castle and the 19th Century Polish Art Gallery. I wrote in more detail about them and other things to do in Krakow in my full Krakow city guide.
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I’d like to thank Walkative Tours for inviting me on a tour of the Underground Museum. All opinions are my own.