Aside from the large attractions of Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mine on the outskirts of town, Krakow’s old town in particular offers visitors many different sights to admire, tastes to experience and atmosphere by the bucket load.
Polish folklore actually has it that Krakow was founded on the defeat of the Wawel Dragon, whose lair was a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill, by a shoemaker’s apprentice named Krak who asked the King if he could attempt to slay the dragon and if successful, marry his daughter. Krak defeated the dragon by stuffing a dead sheep with sulphur, then offering it to the dragon. Krak and the Princess married and he succeeded the King when he died. He built a castle on the top of Wawel Hill and around this hill the people built a city, which they named Krakow.
Here’s a suggestion of things to do in Poland’s ancient capital:
After that introduction to the city, it would be rude not to visit the political and cultural heart of 16th century Poland.
The Renaissance Palace is now a museum split into 5 separate sections – the Crown Treasury & Armoury; State Rooms; Royal Private Apartments; Lost Wawel; and the Exhibition of Oriental Art. But if you had to pick two to see, the State Rooms and the Royal Private Apartments are the most impressive.
St Mary's Basilica & Rynek Glowny (Krakow's Grand Square)
This striking church in the Old Town takes centre stage in Rynek Glowny, the city’s main public square. The red brick basilica features two towers of differing heights and form, the exterior draws mixed reviews, yet the interior will simply take your breath away.
Colours, patterns, stained glass and gildings as far as the eye can see – it may not be to everyone’s tastes but the excess is a feat in itself.
St Mary’s is Poland’s second-most important place of worship, after the cathedral at Wawel Castle.
While you’re in the vicinity, make sure you spend some time discovering the Krakow’s heart, and the largest square of all Europe’s medieval cities, Rynek Glowny. In fact, almost all of the 47 buildings lining the square boast considerable historical and/or architectural value.
You may have already visited Auschwitz but the interactive museum covering the Nazi occupation of Krakow in WWII should definitely be on your list. Housed in the former enamel factory of Oskar Schindler, ‘Emalia’, the museum features period artefacts, photos, documents and set-piece arrangements designed to create a full-immersion experience.
Try some authentic pierogi
You haven’t truly immersed yourself in a culture until you’ve tried its signature dish, and in Krakow you simply can’t go past Pierogi, the famous Polish dumpling. A staple dish in Poland, these miniature bites of joy resemble ravioli and are stuffed with a variety of different fillings, from traditional potato and cheese to sweet versions with fruits and ricotta.
There are so many different places to try but here is one you can add to your list:
Benerowska 14, 30-962 | +48796449886
Mon – Suni 10:00 – 20:00
Right beneath the main square lies an incredible series of long-forgotten underground chambers, medieval market stalls and an exhibition with a treasure trove of knowledge about Krakow’s past. Archaeologists began digging in Krakow’s main square in 2005 and found treasures from all across the globe, given its position as an important trading stop along the caravan route during the Middle Ages. The museum here is built on the original dig site.