Hoorah! You are coming to Krakow for a weekend break or holiday. So, you want to know where to go and what to see during your stay in Krakow. 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 in Krakow. Here are some of the best tourist spots and landmarks to add to your we are in Krakow list.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 Heynal Mariacki which is abruptly interrupted midstream to commemorate the bugler who was shot in the throat with an arrow during the Mongol invasion.
4. 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.
5. 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 the 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.
6. 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 sulphur filled dead sheep when the dragon ate it he had to drink from the nearby river and consequently exploded. You can also visit the shoe-makers dwelling in the centre, Mr. Vavelski Cellar Pub & Beer Garden. Crawling on the wall and ceiling is a giant steel smoke-breathing dragon and you can order a house special vodka cocktail called the Exploding Sheep, beware of the dragon though unless you want to be smoked!
7. 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. The area was given the name by King Kazimierz III The Great in 1335. Today Kazimierz is a vibrant and bustling hive of activity day and night with its markets, festivals and attractions which include the Jewish cemetery and Galicia museum along with important synagogues.
8. Kladka Ojca Bernatka or Father Bernatka Footbridge
Spanning the Vistula River connecting the Area of Kazimierz with Podgorze is particularly enchanting when lit up at night. 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, that is a lot of love declared very similar to other bridge locations such Ponte Vecchio in Florence and Pont des Arts in Paris. Running parallel to the footbridge is the bicycle-only version and between the two bridges, angels are positioned on the structure.
9. Bednarski Park
A beautifully 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.
10. Podgorze or Krakow Ghetto
Like Kazimierz the are Podgorze were independent cities before being absorbed by Krakow. 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. The Krakow Mound which you can ascend via the spiral walkway is the supposed resting place of King Krak the founder of Krakow. Once again Spielberg’s Schindler’s List prompted the renovation of the original factory and is now a museum.
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.
12. Wieliczka Salt Mine
A wonderful insight into how salt was an important commodity especially in the past. You get the chance to 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.
13. 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 & Piaskowa Skawal 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.
This mountain town is very popular all year round. In the winter it’s a ski & snowboard resort while in the Summer a perfect city getaway to hike the mountain ranges. Excellent facilities and great local cuisine. There are many Spas and well-being centres in the area plus natural thermal baths. You can hire all your skiing & snowboarding equipment and may try some snowmobiling too? No matter what time of year you go Zakopane will surprise you.
15. AK 47 Shooting
This activity is a must especially as a part of a Krakow stag do ! A high octane, adrenalin pumping 2hrs of firing live ammunition from up to 5 different weapons, one of which is the famous Russian AK 47, exhilarating! Dedicated companies offer this activity with return transfers included for individual travellers, as well as for the organised groups.
16. 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. The river can be easily reached on foot from the centre of Krakow.
17. Tyniec Monastery
Reach this blissful Benedictine Abbey built on top of a river rock face in the neighbouring countryside by land or river to enjoy a leisurely lunch in the restaurants while exploring the surrounding areas. The monastery dates back to the Middle Ages.
18. Christmas Market on Rynek
Krakow’s exceptional and famous Christmas Market period has visitors coming from all over the world. The local artisan products and Nativity Stall will enhance the Spirit of Yuletide no end. It’s all there, gingerbread, fudge, chocolate in unusual forms, the great Polish sausage varieties, homemade flavoured vodka, hot mulled wine, lots of knitted clothing from socks to bobble hats and handmade Christmas tree ornaments. Christmas in Krakow will warm the cockles of your heart.
19. Easter Market on Rynek
Easter is a very important occasion in Poland and the Easter market should you visit it will pleasantly surprise you with traditional painted eggs called pisanki and homemade bread in the shape of chickens, rabbits and lambs, also, iced gingerbread in the same forms. Many local artisans offer their wares to celebrate the Easter Holiday and give you a new experience of this religious festival.
20. Cracovian Delicacies
Krakow has a doughnut culture, yes, they are baked fresh every day and come with a wide range of fillings and toppings. The pączek (pon-check) in Polish is consumed in huge quantities on Fat Thursday. Another popular delicacy is the plaited or twisted bread ring called obwarzanek (ob-var-zha-nek) sold daily to people on the way to their workplace and school children. The most popular smoked cheese delight comes from Zakopane and is sold all over Poland, Oscypek (os-chi-pek) is much sought after.
When you come to Krakow expect that little surprising extra in this charming and historic city and when you drink vodka be sure to say ‘To your Health’ or Na Zdrowie (Naz- draw-v-eh).