Exploring Poland: The City of Krakow

by Arūnas
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The 6 most beautiful Gothic churches in Poland

The extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture makes Krakow (Polish: Kraków) the most popular city in Poland and one of the most visited places in Europe.

Krakow – the second-largest city in the country – possesses the richest complex of historical monuments in Poland. Between the 11th and 18th centuries, it was the seat of Polish and Lithuanian monarchs, and until this day has remained the treasure trove of national tradition and the center of culture. In 1978, the Old Town of Krakow has declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Krakow Tours & Activities

Krakow Map

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Historical facts about Krakow

  • The first traces of human settlement in the present-day area of Krakow date back to the Stone Age.
  • The city was first mentioned by Ibrahim ibn Yaqub, a Jewish envoy of the Caliph of Spain, in 965.
  • In 1257, Bolesław the Chaste, High Duke of Poland, granted Krakow a municipal charter.
  • From the 11th to 16th centuries, the city was Poland’s capital.
  • In the year 2000, Krakow was the European City of Culture.

Top sights in Krakow

Wawel Royal Castle

The Wawel Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski na Wawelu) is one of the most historically and culturally important sites in Poland. Today it houses a historic residence museum with over 70 exhibition rooms.

Kraków: The most popular city in Poland for travelers
East view of the Wawel Royal Castle and its Danish Tower (middle right)

The earliest part of the Gothic structure was built between the 11th and 12th centuries. Prince Casimir I the Restorer (1016–1058) was the first Polish ruler to choose the Wawel Castle as his permanent residence.

During the reign of Jadwiga, the first female monarch of the Kingdom of Poland, and Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, the castle was enlarged and two towers – the “Danish Tower” and the “Hen’s Foot” – were built on Wawel Hill.

In the 16th century, Sigismund I the Old, Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, invited to Krakow the best local and foreign craftsmen, including Italian architects and sculptors, as well as German decorators, who converted the castle into a Renaissance palace.

Kraków: The most popular city in Poland for travelers
Southeast view of Wawel Royal Castle Renaissance courtyard; Senator Tower, built in the 15th century, in the background

Address: Wawel 5, 31-001 Krakow

Wawel Cathedral

The Wawel Cathedral (Katedra na Wawelu) is a proud symbol of Poland’s religious heritage and political power. From the 14th to 18th centuries, it was the main ceremonial place for coronations, weddings, and funerals of Polish and Lithuanian royalty. Wladyslaw the Short was the first Polish King to be crowned (1320) and also the first ruler of Poland to be buried (1333) in the temple.

Architecturally, the Cathedral is a brick and stone basilica with a transept and ambulatory lined with chapels. As the rulers added additional burial resting places, the building was expanded and rebuilt many times.

Kraków: The most popular city in Poland for travelers
South view of Wawel Cathedral

Address: Wawel 3, 31-001 Krakow

The Gothic Basilica of St. Mary

The Church of St. Mary (Kościół Mariacki) is an aisled Gothic basilica with a transept, completed before 1320. Two towers rise above the façade of the church on the Market Square side, the taller of which is called the Bugle Call Tower – it is 80 meters (262 feet) high and is topped with a late-Gothic cupola from 1478.

You can hear a solitary bugle call from the taller tower at the beginning of each hour. In summer, visitors can climb to the observation deck of this tower. The deck offers stunning views of the city.

Kraków: The most popular city in Poland for travelers
Northwest view of St. Mary’s Church

Address: Plac Mariacki 5, 31–042 Krakow

The Renaissance Cloth Hall

The Cloth Hall is the most famous medieval trading hall in Poland. The Gothic building was built in 1380–1400, integrating the stalls where imported cloth had been traded before. In 1555, the Cloth Hall burn down. In the years 1556–1559, the building was reconstructed, given a Renaissance appearance and crowned with a parapet featuring a row of mascarons designed by the Italian architect Santi Gucci.

The Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art is housed on the upper floor of the Cloth Hall.

Kraków: The most popular city in Poland for travelers
Southeast view of the Cloth Hall
Kraków: The most popular city in Poland for travelers
Under the Cloth Hall arches, with the Gothic brick Town Hall tower (built in the 15th century) in the background

Address: Rynek glowny 3, 31-042 Krakow

The Baroque Church of Sts. Peter and Paul

The Jesuit Church of Sts. Peter and Paul was the first Baroque temple built in Poland. Modeled on the highly theatrical architectural style of the churches in Rome, it was erected in 1597–1633 under the supervision of the Italian architects Giovanni Maria Bernardoni and Giovanni Battista Trevano.

The decorative fence with the figures of the Apostles was designed by the Polish architect Kacper Bazanka in 1712–1715.

The Baroque Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Krakow
Facade of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, with the statues of the Apostles in the foreground
The Baroque Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Krakow
Interior of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul

Address: ul. Grodzka 52a, 31-044 Krakow

Jagiellonian University

The Jagiellonian University is the second oldest university in Eastern Europe, after Charles University in Prague, Czechia. Founded by the Polish King Casimir III the Great in 1364, it was re-established by Jogaila, Lithuanian Grand Duke and Polish King, thanks to a bequest made by his wife, Queen Jadwiga, in 1400. Collegium Maius (15 Jagiellonska Street), is the oldest building of the University.

Collegium Novum (Gołębia Street, 24) was built in 1883–1887
Collegium Novum was built in 1883–1887

Address: Gołębia Street, 24, 31-007 Krakow

Juliusz Slowacki Theatre

Juliusz Slowacki Theatre (Teatr im. Juliusza Słowackiego), erected in 1891–1893 following the design of the Polish architect Jan Zawiejski, is one of the historical landmarks in Krakow. It has an eclectic architectural style with a predominance of Neo-Baroque. The theatre was the first building in the city that had electric lighting.

Kraków: The most popular city in Poland for travelers
Southwest view of Juliusz Slowacki Theatre

Address: Plac Świętego Ducha 1, 31-023 Krakow

St. Florian Gate

A double ring of walls and several dozen towers, that originally surrounded the town, were constructed in the Middle Ages. In the first half of the 19th century, the fortifications were badly pulled down and only St. Florian Gate (Brama sw. Florianska), dating from the 14th century, and three the 15th-century towers survived.

St. Florian Gate (A UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Musicians at St. Florian Gate

Address: Floriańska Street, 31-015 Krakow

Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory

Oskar Schindler (1908-1974) was a Sudeten German, a member of the Nazi party NSDAP, and an agent of the German military intelligence service for the Wehrmacht from 1920 to 1945. He is credited with saving as many as 1200 Jews from death in the Nazi labor camps by employing them in his enamel factory at Lipowa Street in Krakow.

The story was made famous by Schindler’s List, the 1993 Steven Spielberg film adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s 1982 historical fiction novel.

Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory
Reconstruction of an apartment in the Krakow ghetto

Nowadays, the former factory houses a permanent exhibition “Krakow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945”, which is one of the most interesting exhibitions to visit when in the city. 

Address: 4 Lipowa Street, 30-702 Krakow

Banks of the Vistula River

Weaving through the city and stretching 1,047 km (651 mi), the Vistula is the longest, largest, and most famous river in Poland. An important trade route through Krakow’s history, there are plenty of important cultural landmarks dotted along the riverside.

You can take a stroll along the banks – there are almost 20 bridges over the river in Krakow, so you are guaranteed a few good views as you cross. There is also a possibility to drift down the Vistula on board a river cruise.

Father Bernatek Footbridge
Opened in 2010, the Father Bernatek Footbridge links the districts of Kazimierz and Podgórze
Sunset over the Father Bernatek Footbridge
Sunset over the Father Bernatek Footbridge

Official website: Magiczny Kraków

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