Krakow is for Poland what Barcelona is for Spain – not a capital, but still the centre of all the attention. For a few years now, Krakow tops lists of most popular travel destinations in Europe, due to its rich culture and unique attractions. Filled with museums, art galleries and other cultural treasures, Krakow is a place where history and art really meet together. Krakow is also one of the few places in Europe that escaped destruction in World War II and maintained his medieval character. Despite its growing popularity, it’s still one of the most budget-friendly cities classified as “global”. Here are the top 10 must-see things in Krakow – crème de la crème that you shouldn’t miss!
Main Market Square (Stary rynek)
An excellent place to start stroll through the historic centre of Krakow’s Old Town is its Main Market Square (Starówka). It’s the most significant medieval market in Europe, but today functions as a centre of the social life of students, tourists and people from every corner of the world. Starówka is also a great place just to lose yourself it the stream of people enjoying architecture straight out of fairy-tale, cobbled streets, lovely cafes and cool bars. It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and it’s not hard to see why. Krakow Main Square is also a one, giant stage, where hundreds of Europe’s most creative street artists.
Renaissance Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)
Most recognizable landmarks of Krakow is Renaissance Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), and it’s located in the absolute centre of the Old Town Market Square. The building hosts a museum complete with paintings and sculptures from 19th-century polish art, while underground, exhibitions are dedicated to the old ways of life in Krakow. The elevation of the building is a mixture of Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance and Rococo elements.
St Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka)
Standing the central Market Square aloft, you just cannot focus on anything else then St Mary’s Basilica. It’s a 14th century, Gothic church and like other objects in Krakow Old Town, is a landmark protected by the UNESCO. It’s famous for a wooden altarpiece made by VeitStoss. But the most popular thing about the basilica is a trumpet signal played every hour to all four sites of the world. Visit the church, and you’ll know the reason why the message ends so unexpectedly!
Wawel Castle (Zamek Wawelski)
Wawel is one of the most impressive royal castles of Europe, composed of richly fitted residential buildings, art galleries, churches and defensive towers. It was the residence of most Polish nobility. Within the complex, there is also located the Wawel Cathedral, with the most massive bell in Poland. For every history buff, going into the Wawel Castle is essential, while visiting Krakow. Due to its size, it’s wise to prepare for at least 2-3 hours for exploring its grounds.
Kazimierz Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz)
In the first half of the 20th century, the Jewish community were the most significant and most important minority in Krakow. Nearby the Old Town, the historic Jewish Quarter of Krakow was once a separate city in its own right. Despite its tragic fate during WW2, the vibrant Jewish culture that has been there for hundreds of years, and is still very much alive and well. Not only does it gather the most bohemian pubs, great coffee, fresh art galleries, pretty bars, fascinating museums and more. This historic Jewish district is now a thriving, creative centre full of colourful street art, unique culture and vibe. On Kazimierz, you’ll find numerous synagogues, a vast annual Jewish Culture Festival, the Galicia Jewish Museum. The neighbourhood was also one of the main settings for legendary Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List.
Krakow’s Street Art
Hand in hand with popularity, Krakow is becoming a creative hotspot for local and international street artists. Talent to spray their colourful creations. Some of the best pieces include the Robot, Judah, Barcelona murals and the magnificent Ding Dong Dumb. The unofficial centre of Krakow street art is graffiti-covered Józefa Street and Plac Bawół. If you are interested in the meaning behind the work, there are maps, walking tours and even a free app.
Nowa Huta district
The pretty and historic centre of Krakow looks nothing like a brutalist district Nowa Huta nearby. Sure, everyone has an opinion and preferences, but this is one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in Krakow, easily. Built by the Soviets after WW2 as “one of the most renowned examples of deliberate social engineering”. Nowa Huta is one of two planned socialist realist settlements or districts ever built in the entire world. The Soviet intention was to make a flawless city. Its layout, street hierarchy, and monumentality of buildings resemble London or Paris. It’s filled with fantastic architecture, such as the Tadeusz Sendzimir Steelworks and Plac Centralny. I promise you will feel like an actor in an adorable movie set. Also wandering around Nowa Huta will give you insights about the eastern sense of architecture, style and engineering. Nowa Huta is also the greenest corner of Kraków.
The Kościuszko Mound (Kopiec Kościuszki)
So in 1823, a national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko was the leader of an uprising against foreign rule in Poland. To honour his namesake, this unusual-looking, 34 metres high hill was built, in the image of the ancient Pagan mounds. Climbing on the top may be a bit annoying, but views are worth it. Travellers enjoy sweeping panoramas of the city, while on a bright day, one can notice the Tatra mountains peaks in the south. Fun fact: Kościuszko Mound inspired Paul Strzelecki, Polish explorer, to name the most prominent mountain in Australia “Mount Kosciuszko”
The Wieliczka Salt Mine (Wieliczka)
This former salt mine is something you need to see with your own eyes, to believe in it. Because its own, salty micro-climate (!), visiting this salt mine might be right for your health. From the 13th century, up to 1996, the miners of the Wieliczka produced table salt provided Krakow’s economic growth. Today Wieliczka Salt Mine is an official Polish Historical Monument and a living museum of historic salt-mining technology. Its attractions include the labyrinthine passageways, an underground lake, four chapels and numerous statues carved by miners entirely out of the salt, such as breathtaking St Kinga’s Chapel. About 1.2 million people visit the Wieliczka annually, and I strongly advise you to be in that group! And by the way – did I mention that Krakow Wieliczka is on the UNESCO World Heritage list? Yet, another…
Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK)
If you are an art lover, MOCAK is the place for you. Situated three kilometres from the centre of Krakow, on a demolished part of the Oskar Schindler’s factory (yes, Schindler from the Spielberg movie). The purpose of the gallery is to present and support contemporary art and artists. Modernistic and innovative, MOCAK is a home for famous works from both local and international artists, such as Ragnar Kjartansson, Krištof Kintera, Maria Stangret end many more. Most popular artworks are Surrogate City Bike Station by Leopold Kessler, A Gift to Krakow from Gdańsk by Dorota Nieznalska and Berlin-Birkenau by Łukasz Surowiec.
Ojców National Park
If you are in Krakow and you just decided to spend a day away from the city, Ojców National Park is a great choice. Situated only 20 minutes by car outside of Krakow, it’s an escape “into the wild” style. Protected by the status of National Park of the second category is a home of rich karst topography, two rivers (the Prądnik and Saspówka), numerous limestone cliffs and ravines. Deep and beautiful valleys contain and over 400 caves. The park comprises many castles ruins, including a Gothic Zamek Ojców and a better-preserved Renaissance castle at Pieskowa Skała. Among tourists most popular is the Trail of the Eagles’ Nests.
First of all – Błonia is not a park, but a vast meadow, technically speaking. We call it park because in 2002 National Heritage Institute inserted Błonia on Register of immovable monuments. Why? Because it’s the historic centre of the city of Kraków, and it is a perfect place to spend time. The vast green spot, with an area of 48 hectares, is popular destinations for all kinds of activities: running, cycling, rollerblading, dog walking, you name it. Błonia Park also hosts popular culture events, such as concerts or annual student festival called Juwenalia.
Partygoers actually might be a refreshing change from the traditional way of exploring church-castle-monument routine. Any night of the year, at the Adam Mickiewicz statue exactly at 9pm starts the Krawl Through Kraków, a self-proclaimed and original pub crawl of Krakow, which means plenty of Slavic beers and shots of potent vodka. This highly-rated tour of the Krakow’s underground bars and clubs includes a whole hour of all-you-can-drink booze, free shots aplenty and entrance to some of the noisiest dives in the Old Town. Sure, castles and ruins can teach you about kings and queens, but learning about the city’s real culture, starts when the sun goes down.
This post is also available in: Русский (Russian)