Krakow has so many good museums! 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 make 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.
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Here’s my selection of the best museums to learn about the history, art and culture of Krakow and Poland.
The Ethnographic Museum
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 the 19th century, 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 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.
Krakow Ethnographic Museum – Nativity crib
The Underground Museum
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 museums shows you the findings and tells you the story of the city of Krakow.
Enter the museum from the main square and go down the stairs. You can buy your ticket there or order it online in advance.
I joined a guided tour by the excellent Walkative Tours, so I went with a small group and a knowledgeable guide.
It’s dark inside 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 you 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.
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 museum, told us the stories behind the objects on display, answered all our questions and generally made the experience much more worthwhile.
The National Museum in Krakow
View from the fron t – National Museum in Krakow
The impressive 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 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.
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 buildings around the city, while its original building became a museum.
Right in the city centre, above a beautiful courtyard, the 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.
Aula (source) 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.
It’s well worth a visit. It’s a place to relax and you can also learn more about the history of the place – there are texts in English all around the garden.
Jagiellonian University Professors’ Garden
Museum of Contemporary Art Krakow aka MOCAK
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.
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.
It’s a beautiful building with a tranquil atmosphere inside 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
This is another 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.
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.
When you go back into the street, have a look at the huge mural on the wall of the house.
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 Wawel Castle. I’ll write about a few more of those in my next post about things to do in Krakow.
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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.