Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the whole of Europe, Krakow is the second-largest city in Poland after Warsaw. Located on the banks of the Vistula River, the former capital has long been an important center of art, commerce, and culture in the country, and is still a vibrant and bustling place to this day. As it has been invaded, destroyed, and rebuilt numerous times over the centuries, Krakow boasts lots of different architectural styles, with Renaissance and Baroque churches lying next to Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings.
The one-time home of the Polish kings and queens of yore also has a wealth of fantastic bars and restaurants for you to check out, and lots of cultural events and festivals take place here over the year. Due to the many enticing tourist attractions, Krakow is a popular draw among tourists. Many people use it as a base from which to visit Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mine, both of which lie nearby.
Located just outside of the Old Town, the distinctive red-brick Barbican building is remarkably one of only three surviving such outposts in the whole of Europe. Built all the way back in 1498, it was once part of a chain of formidable fortifications that surrounded and protected Krakow.
Now, however, it is the only gatehouse still standing. Inside, there are some interesting exhibitions for you to check out; these tell you all about the Gothic-style Barbican and the role it played protecting the city from the Austrians, Russians, and Swedes.
14. Historical Museum of Krakow
While the main part of this captivating museum is found in Krzysztofory Palace, other collections and exhibitions can be found in places such as the Barbican, Schindler’s Factory, and the Old Synagogue. This is because the Historical Museum of Krakow actually protects and preserves 14 major historical and cultural sites around the city.
The delightful Baroque palace, however, hosts some of its most impressive and important artifacts; these document the history of Krakow. With old maps, paintings, and photos on display alongside astounding artworks and militaria, the museum is a great place to head to if you want to learn more about the city’s illustrious past.
13. Planty Park
One of the largest parks in the city, Planty Park completely encircles the Old Town and is located where the old medieval city walls used to be. These were taken down in the early 1800s, with fountains, trees, and flowerbeds taking their place. A relaxing spot to go for a stroll, the green belt has lots of benches and refreshment stands on offer, with monuments of famous figures such as Copernicus and King Wladyslaw II Jagiello scattered about here and there.
Very popular among locals and visitors alike, Planty Park’s series of landscaped gardens lie just a short walk away from almost all of the city’s most famous sites of interest.
12. Basilica of St Francis
Dating back to the 13th century, the Basilica of St Francis exhibits some fine architecture and is particularly renowned for its exquisite Art Nouveau interior. Besides its colorful walls, which display gorgeous floral and geometric patterns, the church also sports a number of beautiful stained-glass windows.
Designed by Stanislaw Wyspianski, these distinctive features really do make the interior lovely to wander around. Another highlight is its enchanting and iconic centerpiece. Often overlooked by most tourists to the city, the Basilica of St Francis is well worth visiting for its unique designs and art that take inspiration from the saint’s love of nature.
11. Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
One of, if not the, earliest Baroque style buildings in Poland, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul was built between 1597 and 1619 by the Italian architect Giovanni Maria Bernardoni. Its imposing facade is adorned with statues of various Jesuit saints. Peeking out from behind it, you can just make out the church’s cupola-topped dome.
Although much of the interior is quite austere in design, there are some nice features, such as the stuccoes overhead, its 18th-century high altar, and its impressive Foucault pendulum – the longest in the country. In the evenings, the church often hosts classical music concerts, and it certainly makes for a very atmospheric venue.
10. Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)
One of the most recognizable buildings in the whole of the city, the Krakow Cloth Hall – as it is known in English – lies right at the heart of the main market square in the lively Old Town. As such, you can hardly fail to notice its magnificent arcades or exquisite Renaissance-style architecture when passing through.
For centuries, the Cloth Hall played a prominent role in not only Krakow but Central Europe’s trading network. Everything from silks and spices to textiles and salt was bartered and sold here. Nowadays, you can buy all sorts of souvenirs, arts and crafts, or religious icons at the stalls that line its interior. On the second floor, the Sukiennice Museum hosts a brilliant collection of 19th-century Polish artworks.
9. Polish Aviation Museum
Located in the east of the city where the Krakow-Rakowice-Czyzny Airport once lay, the Polish Aviation Museum is widely considered to be one of the best such museums in the world. With over two hundred aircraft for you to peruse, its extensive collection will delight aviation aficionados with all that it has to offer.
Besides its pre-war Polish planes, which are the sole such survivors on Earth, the museum also has bombers, fighter jets, and helicopters, as well as a vast array of jet engines. Its interactive displays and exhibitions are as informative as they are interesting and entertaining. Visitors are sure to come away having learned a lot about all things to do with flying.
8. Collegium Maius
Meaning ‘Great College’ in Latin, Collegium Maius is the oldest of Jagiellonian University’s buildings and was built in the 14th century. Located just off the main market square in Krakow’s Old Town, the red-brick building has some wonderful Gothic architecture on display, with its arcaded courtyard the undoubted star of the show.
Its finely decorated interior is just as marvelous to explore, with elegant ceremonial halls and lecture rooms found alongside a beautiful old library and professors’ common room. Nicolaus Copernicus – the renowned Polish astronomer and mathematician – studied here; some of his manuscripts, works, and instruments can still be seen in its small museum when on a tour of Collegium Maius.
7. Schindler’s Factory
Named after Oskar Schindler – the German industrialist who infamously saved over 1,200 Jews’ lives during the Second World War – this one-time enamel factory is now an enthralling museum about his life and the Nazi occupation of Krakow.
Immortalized in the film by Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List,’ his heroic story is told in the museum through various memorabilia and photos. His list, which helped protect Jewish laborers from the Holocaust, is the star attraction. In addition to this, there are lots of moving exhibitions depicting what life in Krakow was like during WWII for the city’s Jewish citizens.
6. Wawel Cathedral
Consecrated all the way back in 1364, Wawel Cathedral has long been the national sanctuary of the country. It is here that many of Poland’s kings, queens, and nobles have been coronated and buried. Mostly built in a Gothic style, there are various Renaissance features – such as the gorgeous Sigismund’s Chapel – popping up here and there. The current cathedral is actually the third to stand on the same site, as two earlier versions were destroyed.
While wandering around its beautiful interior, you’ll find lots of tombs, chapels, and crypts dedicated to some of the most important and influential people in Poland’s history. With a plethora of amazing art and architecture on show, it really is a fantastic place, and its eclectic exterior is just as delightful to gaze upon.
For most of its history, Kazimierz was a separate city – until the filling in of part of the Vistula River incorporated the former island into Krakow itself. Named after Casimir III the Great, for centuries, it was considered to be a ‘Royal City.’ Its important location on the way to Wieliczka Salt Mine meant that wealth flowed to its streets.
Following a fierce fire that ravaged much of the Old Town in 1495, Krakow’s entire Jewish population was moved to Kazimierz; this is what gives the historic district its Jewish flavor today. While walking around its old cobbled streets, you’ll come across a number of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, with a couple of monuments and museums also on offer. A lively part of town, Kazimierz has lots of great restaurants and bars for you to check out, as well as a bustling weekend market.
4. St Mary’s Basilica
Towering above the main market square, St Mary’s Basilica is the most recognizable symbol of the city – you can hardly miss it when visiting Krakow. Built out of red-brick in 1347, its two towers, which differ in height, reach over 80 meters. From the top of the tallest one, you can enjoy marvelous views out over the Old Town.
Its interior is no less delightful, as stained-glass windows lie alongside colorful wall paintings and a stunning Gothic altarpiece. Featuring some of the finest examples of Polish Gothic art and architecture, St Mary’s Basilica is lovely to wander around and is still used to this day by worshippers.
3. Wawel Royal Castle
Lying on the banks of the Vistula River, the looming Wawel Royal Castle was once the political and cultural center of Poland. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries on the orders of Casimir III the Great, it is still in remarkably good shape, considering that it was sacked numerous times by the Swedes and Prussians.
Located around a large courtyard are many beautiful buildings for you to explore, with highlights being its Renaissance palace, Gothic crown treasury, and, of course, the fantastic Wawel Cathedral. With its gorgeous architecture and substantial collection of artworks and militaria, Wawel Royal Castle certainly has something for everyone to enjoy.
2. Wieliczka Salt Mine
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the whole of Poland, Wieliczka Salt Mine is an incredible place to visit. It lies just 15 kilometers outside of Krakow under a town called Wieliczka. Stretching for just under 300 kilometers, its labyrinth of tunnels, passages, chambers, and churches are exhilarating to explore. At their deepest, they lie 327 meters below the surface.
Opened in the 13th century, it was one of the longest and oldest operating salt mines until it closed in 2007. Now, tourists can take a variety of tours below ground and see and taste the glittering salt streams for themselves while marveling at the huge tunnels miners carved out from the rock.
Some of the most impressive features are the churches, chapels, and statues that were sculpted by the miners, with the vast Chapel of St Kinga being the undoubted highlight.
1. Main Market Square
Lying in the center of the Old Town, the Main Market Square is the beating heart of Krakow. Lined by beautiful buildings and historic townhouses, it is remarkably the largest medieval town square in Europe and is a hive of activity at any time of day.
While its primary purpose throughout its centuries-long history has been trade and commerce, nowadays, it is tourism; tour groups assemble here, and people sit to eat and drink at its multitude of cafes and restaurants or shop at its souvenir stands.
Its two main features are the spectacular St Mary’s Basilica, which towers over the square, and the Krakow Cloth Hall that lies right in its center. Particularly atmospheric to visit at night, one can hardly fail to attend the Main Market Square when exploring all that Krakow has to offer up.