Main Square Krakow Old Town Sunset
So, here you are! Krakow, the medieval, wrapped in time city of poets and artists, the old Polish capital, lie in front of you like an opened oyster – and its high time to explore it. Krakow Old Town has many sights – one can even say it’s too much for a single visit – and there is some truth in it. To explore this city really well you need to visit it a couple of times (or, just like us, simply move here…). You will find here countless, magnificent and richly ornamented churches, a medieval castle, 600-years old market and breath – taking galleries, hosting pieces of art by most renowed polish (and not only) artists.
But, above all, Krakow is known as a city where culture is the most important thing – yes, Cracovians are most proud not on their economy or history, but their artists. Name any important polish poet or painter – would it be the famous 19th century painter Jan Matejko, genius writer Wyspiański, naughty an ironic poet Ignacy Gałczyński or modern bards such as Marcin Świetlicki (decadent Krakow’s own version of Tom Waits) and romantic Grzegorz Turnau – each of them was inspired by the city’s narrow lanes, medieval houses and the evening mist that covers whole city with scent of secrets. So, visiting this city do not forget to have an eye on their heritage – is it can be found almost everywhere.
So, where should you start your Krakow sightseeing? Of course, at the foot of the famous Mariacki Chorch, known officially as the Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady – right in the middle of Krakow Old Town. It is one of the most known and portrayed churches in Poland. One can only guess what is more impressive – its magnificent silhuette with recognizable two towers or its interior. Sizing 69 and 81 meters, towers are the symbols of Krakow city. The lower one, topped with an impressive Reneissance dome, serves as a bell tower, while the other is owned by the city and is a watchtower. Yes, if you hear the characteristic trumpet-played signal, which suddenly stops, it is played from the top of this tower.
Krakow Old Town Mariacki Church
Once you enter the church, through the ornamented Baoque entrance, you will be simply awe – struck by the decor. Most impressive pieces of art from different ages can be seen here. Look at the huge, stained-glass windows above the altar, which have been made in 14th century – an at the opposite side, above the organ lift you will find stained-glass even more impressing, created in Art Noveau style by Wyspiański&Mehoffer tandem. Wall paintings are equally amazing – and they have been designed by one of Poland’s most renowed painter Jan Matejko. However, it’s not the windows or wall paintings that are the biggest gems of the church – but the giant. Gothic style altar. Created by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz), it is one of the biggest in Europe, sizing 13 meters high and 11 wide. Its multilevel structure full of fascinating, full of life figures depicts life of Christ, Virgin Mary and saints.
Gothic Altar – Wit Swosz – Mariacki Church Krakow
After visiting the church you should give yourself time to wander around Krakow Old Town Main Market Square. Full of people of almost any time of day an night, it is officially the biggest medieval town square in Europe – and, for us, the prettiest. If you look at the colorful neoclassicist facades of the merchant houses, you may think that the square is not that old. But as you enter the basement of any house, you’ll discover the underworld labirynth of Gothic style tunnels and cellars built in medieval times. The most impressing building you can see at the Main Market Square is the medieval Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) – the place where merchants have used to trade since early 14th century. The Krakow Cloth Hall’s beautiful arcades between which you wander today have beed added way later – in 19th century. Today the Krakow Cloth Hall is a vibrant place, without a doubt the best one to buy famous polish handicraft and baltic amber.
Cloth Hall – Krakow Old Town Shopping
A short walk from the Main Market Square you will find a historical monument – original fragments of medieval Defense Walls with huge and picturesque Florian gate and unique Barbican. This old round-shaped defence building is one of the last remaining pieces of the old Krakow. Krakow Barbican is one of the best preserved in the whole Europe – and, as any guide will tell you, the most beautiful. From its tall walls, soldiers used to protect the city during many sieges since 16th till 19th century.
Krakow Barbican – Old Town
It’s high time to get seduced by the art – an visit Poland’s oldest historical museum – Prince Czartoryski Museum. Originally founded in small village Puławy in 1800, it was brought first to Paris in 1830, and then to Krakow. It is a must-see place – mostly due to its huge art collection. You will find here Poland’s biggest art treasures – Lady with an Ermine by Leonardoda Vinci and Landscape with the good Samaritane by Rembrandt! From here it is good to famous Collegium Maius – the main building of Poland’s oldest university, founded in 1364 by the king Kazimierz the Great. It’s an amazing, Gothic style building, with vast and elegant arcaded courtyard. You can visit about ten old scholar rooms, where one can admire for example unique astronomilac instruments from 16th century and the oldest existing globe showing the American continent. For anyone interested in magic visiting authentic alchemy chaber will be surely an amazing experience. Collegium Maius can be visited with a guide – english-speaking tours depart twice daily at 11am and 1pm.
Krakow Collegium Maius – Jagiellonian University
After such intensive sightseeing it’s time to rest and have some delicious pierogi (polish traditional duplings) at one of the countless small bars and restaurants around Krakow Old Town – for example in Grodzka street. After this mouth-watering meal you should go slowly along old-charmed Kanoniczna Street towards Wawel Castle which overlooks the city from the hill. Wawel is said to be the heart of polish kingdom and a place of huge importance for polish people. It will take a half day tour to see it properly as there are dozens of chapels and royal chambers that attract the tourists. To start with you should visit the Wawel Cathedral, a giant – sized buildng, which is one of the most important places in Poland’s history. It was here where kings have beed coronated and here their funerals took place for over 500 years. Although the main part of the Cathedral is a beautiful Gothic, many attached chapels have been built in different styles. One should see its two most prominens chapels – the Holy Cross Chapel with amazing Byzantine frescoes decorating the walls – and a true gem – the Sigismund Chapel. It is said to be the most beautiful Reneceissance chapel located north of Alpes – and it’s true! You will see here adorned by many Poles Tomb of St. Queen Hedwig (Jadwiga) and richly ornamented St. Stanislaus shrine – a Baroque gem. Above all a huge bell tower was construced, where you can admire the Sigismund Bell – a true giant, weighting 11 tonnes. To move (and ring it) one needs eight people. You will have to climb 70 steps to see it, but the panorama visible from the top is really worth it! From the top of the tower the route goes down – really deep down, right to the Royal Tombs. It is a place of the last rest for polish kings and important personalities. You will find here tomb of the King Jan III Sobieski,Tadeus Kosciuszko and Józef Piłsudski.
Krakow Old Town Street Kanonicza
Your Krakow sightseeing sould end with visit to the Wawel Castle. Ornamanted corridors with royal chambers and kings’ private apartments, beautiful Hall of Senators are just a few highights to see here. The latter strucks with its size and amazing wall paintings, a well as with 16th century Arrases showing biblical scenes with every detail. The Crown Treasury and Armoury on the other hand shows unique pieces of swords, lances and halberds from many ages. The most important piece of armoury is the Jagged Sword, which has been using during coronations since 1320.
Wawel Hill Krakow Old Town
The tour ends at the Dragon’s Den below the Wawel Hill. Yes, you will see here the scarying Krakow Dragon himself who scares locals and tourists with the fire burning from its mouth. If you want know more about the Dragon’s story and find out what is he doing in the cave below the castle, read our folklore&legends related article „Welcome to Krakow”!