Have a wander on Wawel Hill, where Polish history and culture come in concentrated doses. As well as the former royal castle and the cathedral, in which you can admire the royal chambers and tombs respectively, make sure to visit the Smocza Jama or ‘Dragon’s Den’ (closed Oct–Apr), a large cavern inhabited (by humans) from the Stone Age to the 16th century, but according to legend the lair of a fire-breathing beast who ate local livestock and virgins.
For a really grisly outing, take the family to the crypt of the Franciscan monastery and adjoining church of St. Casimir’s in central Old Town, where the peculiar microclimate has mummified its residents.
Take a break in one of the cafés on the Rynek, listening out for the Hejnal Mariacki, a live trumpet signal given out every hour, ending abruptly in memory of a watchman shot through the neck by a Tatar arrow in the 13th century.
Take in a show at Groteska children's theatre on ul. Skarbowa ('Treasures Street'), usually involving traditional puppets. Works are in Polish, but they’re strongly visual and generally based on well-known classics (think Pinocchio or Little Red Riding Hood), so the language barrier shouldn’t put you off. Or if you can’t make a performance, at least come see the building, embellished with murals by surrealist artist Kazimierz Mikulski.
Explore the undergound maze of passages, caverns, lakes and chapels and the subterranean mining museum of the UNESCO-listed Wieliczka salt mine 10km southeast of the city. Younger kids or those carrying them will find the multitude of steps tiring.
Venture out to Krakowski Ogrod Zoologiczny, Krakow’s little zoo in the midst of Las Wolski forest, 10km west of the centre. Among its almost 300 species (many endangered and the subject of breeding programs) are pygmy hippopotami and white camels. There's also an aquarium in the centre of Krakow.
Have a splash around in the indoor aqua-park of Park Wodny, with nearly 1km of slides and the ‘Wawel Dragon’ fountain. Jordana Park is useful for its several good playgrounds including one with a wooden castle, plus its lake with paddleboats and canoes
Another good back-up for family holidays is Kryspinow beach on a huge lake 12km from Krakow, with a guarded swimming area, children’s playground and adventure zone with a high-ropes course.
Lastly, day-tours are available from Krakow to Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum – clearly, these are unsuitable for young children but may be appropriate for older teens studying history.