Poland’s second largest city, Krakow, located in the country’s south, is a city of legends and mythical wonders. Soon after arriving you will realise that its like Krakow has been lifted from the pages of fantasy stories.
The city’s historic centre was the first of its kind to be named a UNESCO World Heritage listed site in 1978 largely because it was lucky enough to come through WWII almost untouched. This makes it the perfect place to find yourself surrounded by original Gothic and Renaissance architecture, some of the best in the world, as you wander out from the Main Market Square through the cobblestone streets of the Stare Miasto (Old Town).
There is an abundance of things to do in Kraków as well as some really interesting and thought-provoking half day trips to places just outside of the city. And because it’s not a big city, fitting in most of, or even all its key attractions can easily be achieved in just a few days.
Main Market Square
The Main Market Square, or Rynek Glowny in Polish, is Europe’s largest medieval square and is surrounded by mostly neoclassical buildings containing restaurants, bars and shops.
Throughout the year the square is used for a number of public events and festivals and you will find it full of people all year round.
The square is dominated by the The Cloth Hall in the centre and the brick St Mary’s Basilica that towers over the square.
Address: Rynek Glowny, Kraków
The Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall in the centre of the the Main Market Square is one of the city’s most recognisable buildings and one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture to be found in the city.
The Hall was originally used as the centre of Kraków’s medieval clothing trade but these days you will find an arcade with stalls selling locally made souvenirs and crafts on the ground floor and the Sukiennice Museum, a branch of the National Museum of Krakow, on the upper floor.
Address: Rynek Glowny, Kraków
Cost: Free for the main arcade
St Mary’s Basilica
The brick St Mary’s Basilica towers over the Main Market Square with its two towers of different heights. It was originally built-in 1220 but later destroyed and re-built over time into its current form.
Its interior is quite spectacular with lots of intricate detailing and well worth a look. During summer you can climb one of the towers for spectacular views across Kraków.
Address: Rynek Glowny, Kraków
Cost: Adults 10zł, Concession 8zł, Child 5zł
Hours: 11:30-18:00 Mon to Sat, 14:00-18:00 Sun
More Information: http://www.mariacki.com/
The former Jewish district of Kazimierz is a great place to take in picturesque streets and Renaissance buildings. During a walk around this area (see my suggested guided walking tour below) you will come across many churches, synagogues and museums.
The deportation of Jewish people from this area by the Nazis during WWII saw the loss of the areas life and atmosphere. Luckily today, Kazimierz is thriving with life from the slow rejuvenation that has happened for many years.
While you’re in the area be sure to have a meal at one of the traditional Jewish restaurants. My recommendation is Polakowski. This tiny family run self-service style restaurant, open since 1899, serves cheap and delicious meals typical of Poland. The locals love it which means it must be great!
Address: Kazimierz district is just south the Old Town. Polakowski – ul. Miodowa, Kazimierz, Kraków
A short walk south from the Main Market Square is the area of Wawel and the Wawel Castle. The palace that you see today was re-built in the 16th century in the renaissance style and is surrounded by a beautiful arcaded courtyard.
There are a number of attractions within the grounds of the Castle for you to explore with the main one being the State Rooms which served as the residence of the governor.
Similar is the Royal Private Apartments which were used by guests of the King. Both are decorated as they would have been in their time giving you an interesting glimpse into the past.
You can also visit a few exhibitions such as the Crown Treasury and Armoury, Oriental Art and The Lost Wawel, an archaeological site. Finally the best way to end your tour of Wawel Castle is to exit through the Dragon’s Den. This cave was once believed to be home to the legend of the dragon of Wawel.
Address: Wawel 5, Kraków
Cost: Unfortunately no one ticket can be purchased for all attractions in the castle. Check the website for prices for each attraction.
Hours: Hours change regularly, check the website for details.
More Information: http://www.wawel.krakow.pl/
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Auschwitz and Birkenau are two separate sites located roughly across the road from one another. I have taken a paragraph from Auschwitz Memorial and Museum website that sums up its history perfectly;
“At first, the German’s held Polish political prisoners in the camp. From the spring of 1942 Auschwitz became the largest site for the murder of Jews brought here under the Nazi plan for their extermination. More than 1,100,000 men, women and children lost their lives here.”
I know a lot of people are unsure about visiting a place like this where so many atrocities have occurred, it really can be very hard to handle and understand while you’re there. Despite this, I believe that visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau (or similar former concentration camps in Europe) is extremely important so we can remember the mistakes made in history and make sure that similar mistakes and atrocities are not repeated.
If you do decide to visit, prepare yourself for what you will see and learn.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is located just over one hour drive outside of Krakow and is best visited on a half or full day trip which can be done independently on public transport or on a guided tour (see my recommendation below).
Address: Stanislawy Leszczynskeij Str. No.11, Oswiecim
Cost: Entry to Auschwitz is free however joining a guided tour is priced at Adult 45zł Under 26 35zł if visiting independently. If you are visiting independently, bookings in advance are recommended as most tour sell out prior to the day.
Hours: Open 8:00 daily, closes 19:00 Jun/Jul/Aug, 18:00 Apr/May/Sept, 17:00 Mar/Oct, 16:00 Feb, 15:00 Jan/Nov and 12:00 Dec.
More Information: http://www.auschwitz.org/
Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Wieliczka Salt Mine has been in existence in some form or another for over 700 years and is one of the oldest salt mines in Europe.
Inside this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage listed mine you will find carvings of important figures, monuments and altarpieces which have earned it historical importance.
You’re tour begins by descending into the mine via 380 odd steps (make sure you look down the small gap between the staircases at the top). Then your guide will slowly take you further into the mine via passageways, galleries and enormous chambers. One pretty gross thing a lot of visitors to the mine like to do is lick the walls to taste the salt.
Unless you have your own car, the best way to reach the mine is by organised tour from Kraków. Tours pick-up and drop-off in Krakow and run for about four hours.
Address: ul. Danilowicza 10, Wieliczka
Cost: Entry 79zł
Hours: Apr-Oct 7:30-19:30 and Nov-Mar 8:00-17:00
More Information: http://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com/
The Czartoryski Museum was founded in Pulawy in eastern Poland in 1796 by Princess Izabela Czartoryski and has since been moved to Kraków, via Russia and Paris due to conflict in war times.
Its impressive collection of world-class art and artefacts includes items from Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle, a fine collection of European paintings and antiques as well as an armoury and impressive jewel collection.
Princess Czartoryski had a rather odd fascination with the misery of human life and collected items like fragments from the graves of Romeo and Juliet along with ashes from El Cid and Ximena from the Cathedral of Burgos.
Address: ul. Sw Jana 19, Kraków
Cost: Adult 9zł Concession/Child 5zł – Free Sunday’s.
Hours: Closed Mon, 10:00-16:00 Tues to Sun
More Information: http://www.muzeum-czartoryskich.krakow.pl/
Housed in a 14th century renaissance building in Kazimierz is the Ethnographic Museum. Inside you will find the permantent exhibition showing reconstructed interiors of traditional Polish peasant workshops and cottages, nativity scenes, folk costumes, traditional paintings and woodcarvings and exhibit of crafts.
Address: Plac Wolnica 1, Kazimierz, Kraków
Cost: Adult 13zł Concession/Child 7zł – Free Sunday’s.
Hours: Closed Mon, 10:00-19:00 Tues to Sun
More Information: http://etnomuzeum.eu/
Where to Stay in Krakow
Here are three accommodation options in Krakow to suit all budgets that I recommend you check out. All are centrally located, highly rated and come with excellent facilities.
Budget – Evergreen Hostel Krakow
Mid-Range – ApartHotel Maria
Luxury – Hotel Unicus Palace
Or why not book an Airbnb stay. Use this link to get up to $45AUD off.
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