Famous Krakow Sights to Visit
This is an introductory guide for amazing and popular places to visit while in Krakow depending on the length of your time here. This fantastic city has been delighting people since the 11th century and still offers many beautiful places to see old and new and an incredible amount of things to do. Here are some of the best tourist spots, landmarks and attractions for you to experience in Krakow.
Main Market Square
“Rynek” as it is called in Krakow is Europe’s largest square at roughly 40,000 m2 . Translated Rynek would be the Draper’s Square as it was a silk and textile centre in the 12th century. The impressive monuments and superb architecture of the Sukiennice museum and the surrounding cafes, restaurants, pubs and hotels. You can also take a city tour on the many horse & carriages that line the square. The market square is host to a feast of entertainment throughout the year with the Dragon Parade, Easter Fayre, Summer time Music & Theatre productions and Christmas market being the most popular.
Rynek Underground Museum
The Podziemia Rynku Museum which depicts the daily life of Cracovians through its long history with a number of fascinating exhibitions on display. Entry to the museum incurs a small cost or you can buy the Krakow Card for free entry and public transport for many of Krakow’s tourist attractions. One unusual artefact on display is the huge lead ball in this 6,000m2 interactive museum, not to be missed.
Kosciol Mariacki or St. Mary’s Basilica
Situated on the main square this 13th century Polish Gothic church is a formidable sight with its two towers and clock. You will hear a trumpeter from the tallest tower signal every hour of the day by playing Hejnal Mariacki which is abruptly interrupted midstream to commemorate the bugler who was shot in the throat with an arrow during the Mongol invasion.
Brama Florianska or St. Florian’s Tower Gate
The main fortified entrance to Krakow is through this imposing tower archway and leads directly to Rynek the main square. It is also the start of the Royal Thoroughfare which eventually finishes at the Wawel Royal Castle. All those of royal status or important dignitaries were brought through this tower gate in ceremonial style. When you pass through the gate to enter the centre to the right displayed on the rampart walls paintings by local artists are exhibited.
Wawel Royal Castle
If you want to get a feel of life in medieval times then a visit to Wawel Castle is the place to go. The castle reflects many different styles in its architecture from medieval, renaissance, gothic and baroque with Italian influenced courtyards. This is where all Kings, Queens and Heroes are buried in the adjoining Wawel Cathedral. It is also one of Poland’s main collective gallery museums, ten different areas exhibiting everything from art to arms of varied periods in its history and listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Wawel and its castle were considered a powerful state in the past much like the Vatican City in Rome. Built on top of Wawel Hill near the Vistula River this foreboding monument will certainly intrigue you especially the Legend of the Wawel dragon.
Wawel Dragon’s Den
The legendary tale of the Wawel Dragon will lead you on a mini tour of the city beginning with Wawel Castle as over the main door to the Wawel Cathedral hangs an unusual bone, a dragon bone. Further following the story you will visit the Wawel Dragon lair at the foot of Wawel Hill below the castle. Enter at your own peril! There is also a fire breathing dragon statue close to the cave’s entrance in honour of the Wawel Dragon defeated by a humble apprentice shoe-maker called Dratewska. He fooled the dragon with a sulphur filled sheep, when the dragon ate it he had to drink from the nearby river and consequently exploded.
Kazimierz or Jewish Quarter
A popular part of Krakow with its pre-WWII architecture, synagogues & museums celebrating the Jewish heritage. The area is full of pubs, clubs & restaurants and featured in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. Today Kazimierz is a vibrant and bustling hive of activity day and night with its markets, festivals and attractions. Podgorze or Krakow Ghetto which is part of the area was made into a ghetto in 1941 by the Nazi regime and a memorial on Plac Bohaterow Ghettow of oversized chairs pays homage to the tragedy and nearby the recently renovated Schindler Factory Museum that also featured in Spielberg’s film.
Everyone should be made to visit and witness the horrors of these Nazi concentration camps. No need to say much more except that organised visits are available to pay your respects to the souls that lost their lives there.
Kladka Ojca Bernatka or Father Bernatka Footbridge
Spanning the Vistula River connecting the Old Town to Kazimierz is where loving couples dedicate their undying eternal love for each other by attaching a padlock to the railings and throwing the key to it in the river. There are literally 1,000s of them of all shapes, colours and sizes.
A beautifuly landscaped park in the Podgorze area opened in 1896 and initiated by Wojciech Bednarski a local school headmaster. The park used to be an industrial quarry but today you can walk in its array of flowers and fauna and discover an inner peace with nature and all its splendours.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
A wonderful insight to how salt was an important commodity especially in the past. You get the chance wander the many kilometres of tunnels & caverns as a real Salt Miner for a while. When you meet a fellow miner you must say ‘God Be With you’, it’s a traditional custom.
You can also hire a cavern for a dinner party if you wish or just take in the sights of all the salt carved monuments and statues, truly, a fascinating place to spend some time.
Ojcowski National Park
A short distance from Krakow this magnificent national park with forests and rugged limestone rock formations will give you a sense of nature you have never experienced. There are two castles, Kazimierz & Pieskowa Skala to discover via the hiking paths. There are restaurants and places to sleep overnight plus Off Roading activities to reserve should that be your thing. Few foreign tourists know about this attraction- if you’d like to find out more about it visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ojc%C3%B3w_National_Park
Krakow Bar Crawl
Also a great way to discover Krakow and have fun at the same time is by joining an organised Krakow Pub Crawl or Walking Tour. Apart from viewing the landmarks and monuments you can also experience the many locally brewed beers of which there is plenty of choice. The Pub Crawls are especially lively in the evenings as they also include Dance Club Entry, free drinks and Karaoke along with dedicated Vodka Tasting with platters of drinking snacks.
Vistula River & Cruises
If it’s a sunny day then it’s definitely worth taking a stroll down by the river. There are also a number of boats offering cruises with different attractions on board from a relaxing lunch to full blown boat parties available. There are also a number of stationery boats moored along the river bank which have been converted to bars and restaurants which make them the perfect place to sit outside and enjoy a cold beer whilst sitting in the sun.
You can visit majority of the above places and attractions on your own- since Krakow is a compact city everything is at hand within a short walking distance. That said taking a private guide and generally organising your tour services via a professional Polish travel agency will save you hassle and enhance your experience.