In 1850, the great fire of Kraków destroyed an astonishing ten percent of the historic city. Though reconstruction hasn’t been successful with some of the buildings, there are many solid foundations that survived and still stand today. We explored the city and devised a list of the best things to see in Kraków. Most of the buildings in the city were built with a purpose of religion across many centuries and in a variety of styles, from Gothic to Baroque to Renaissance. Kraków is one of the most beautiful cities we have ever seen, rich in history and pastel colours, it has an incredible underlying culture dating back to the 7th century. An increase in connecting international transportation and the city’s convenient location to the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz Birkenau has seen a massive increase in the city’s tourism in recent years.
A magnificent time of the year to visit Kraków is during Easter. The Main Square, Rynek Główny, comes to life as a variety of food and craft stalls move into traditional yellow stands in front of a wonderful collection of historical structures.
Musicians fill the square with joy playing traditional live music.
After grabbing a refreshing hot beverage, or a delicious snack from the market, sights such as the St. Mary’s Basilica and the Cloth Hall surrounding the square are practically inviting you to sit down and take a good look at them.
St Mary’s Basilica is distinctly recognizable with it’s unevenly sized front towers. Built in the 14th century in Gothic style, the church is famous for it’s hourly trumpet medley. Hejnał mariacki. The medley is played from the top of the tallest tower every hour, on the hour. This is one of the city’s most enduring traditions, the tune intentionally breaks off mid-way through in honor of a mythical trumpeter who was shot in the neck while belatedly warning the city of Mongol invaders.
The streets surrounding the church are full of wonderful colors.
Everything is historical from the cobbles on the ground to the lamppost on the streets, it’s like walking through an 11th century painting.
The Cloth Hall is one of Kraków’s most recognizable buildings and is a central feature of the main market square, Rynek Główny. The Cloth Hall was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. The building serves as an indoor market currently offering trade in all sorts of food and crafts. Back in it’s golden era in the 15th century, the hall was the central point of international trade acquiring exotic imports from the East including silks, wax and spices. Kraków’s most fruitful export was salt from the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
The Town Hall Tower (Wieża Ratuszowa) is the only remaining part of the old Kraków Town Hall (Ratusz) which was knocked down in 1820. The cellar of the building once housed the city prison complete with a Medieval torture chamber.
The Church of St. Adalbert also sits in the Main Square, Rynek Główny. This building has a 1000-year-old history going back to the beginning of the Polish Romanesque architecture of the early Middle Ages. It is one of the oldest stone churches in the whole of Poland.
Not too far away is Saints Peter and Paul Church. Opened in 1619, the church sits boldly on Grodzka 54 Street in the centre of Kraków as the largest church in the city in terms of seating capacity. Statues of Jesuit saints: Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Aloysius Gonzaga, and Stanisław Kostka line the entrance making this one of the most visually appealing buildings in the city.
The church is particularly appealing at night where the Saints are lit by a wonderful glow against a dark Polish sky.
Also located on Grodzka Street, the Church of St Andrew stands as a rare surviving example of a fortress church that was used for defensive purposes. The Romanesque church is enormous and was built between 1079 and 1098 by a medieval Polish statesman Palatine Sieciech.
The Church of St. Andrew was the only church in Kraków to withstand the Mongol attack of 1241. The small openings of its façade served as defensive windows at a time when the church was a place of refuge from military assaults.
It seems every corner you turn in the city there is a wonderful crafted church. The Church of St. Anne is a fine example of Polish Baroque architecture dating back to the 14th century.
St. Florian’s Gate is a distinctive feature in Kraków’s Old Town. Following the Tatar attack in 1241 which destroyed most of the city, construction of new city defenses began. Stone watchtowers were built alongside fortified gates and a moat was completed by 1285.
The gate became the main entry point to the Old Town. A Bas-relief of St. Florian is present on the gate tower, and is purposely situated so it is facing Ulica Floriańska (St. Florian’s Street).
Until the 19th century, Kraków was surrounded with medieval city walls and 47 watch towers, part of which still stand today.
The walls were built up to 10 meters high, before they were demolished. Now there are only three Gothic towers left in the whole city and remnants of the wall can be appreciated by visitors in the current day.
Collegium Maius, ‘the The Great College’ of Kraków, is well over 650 years old. One of the oldest building’s at the Jagiellonian University was built in the 15th century and stands beside the courtyard. At certain times of day, the a clock performs a show with wooden figures of kings and famous professors parading to solemn music.
The evangelical Church of St. Martin was built between 1637 to 1640 in Baroque style. The Gothic crucifix above the altar inside is one of the oldest in Kraków.
Just by the Church of St. Martin in between Castle Hill and the Main Market, a Monument of Piotr Skarga Poweski stand boldly in the centre of the street. Born in 1536, Poweski was a militant Jesuit preacher and writer and he was the first Polish representative of the Counter-Reformation. The memorial was erected close to the church crypt where his body is kept.
The 13th century Dominican church of the Holy Trinity is a fine example of Krakow’s Gothic architecture. It dates back to the mid-13th century and has been the stronghold of the Black Friars and their monastery ever since.
Dating back to the 11th century, Wawel Castle sits perched on top of a hill of the same name in the south of the Old Town. It is one of the most important collection of buildings in Poland and has long been a symbol of national pride and patriotism.
The Castle is now a museum open to the public containing five separate sections: Crown Treasury and Armoury, State Rooms, Royal Private Apartments, Lost Wawel, and the Exhibition of Oriental Art. Krakow’s most valuable painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Lady with an Ermine is also housed here.
Not far from the castle is a delightful park area, perfect for relaxation after extensive city exploration.
As if the wide selection of wonderful buildings across the city wasn’t enough, there are many tour companies offering trips to the nearby Auschwitz Birkenau, the former concentration camp of World War Two and the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine.
and our Wieliczka Salt Mine experience.
If you want to know more about Krakow and Poland, we recommend the following books: