Krakow is the most popular tourist destination in Poland. In 2019, before the Coronavirus Pandemic, over 3 million foreign tourists visited the city. So what are the most interesting things to see in Krakow?
Best things to do in Krakow – walk around the Old Town
Compared to other Polish town, Krakow was relatively little destroyed. Although some buildings were hit or collapsed during the liberation in January 1945, the main part of the Old Town survived. Krakow Old Town is surrounded by “Planty”, a green park set up in the beginning of the XIX century, on the ruins of city fortifications. In 1978 Krakow Old Town was put on the UNESCO Heritage List, and in 1994 it was recognized as a Monument of History. Krakow Old Town is now not only a historical area – this is also the social centre of Krakow – with a lot of restaurants, bars, universities cinemas and theatres.
St. Mary Church
It’s hard to overlook as it is located in Rynek Glowny – the main square of Krakow. St Mary Church is one of the most important churches in Poland. It is built in gothic style, and its construction started at the end of XIII century, but was later rebuilt for centuries. From the higher of the two towers, every hour, a trumpet-call is played. Inside the St. Mary Church, there is an altar made by Wit Stwosz, one of the greatest gothic sculptors
Rynek underground Museum
In 2010 a new museum was opened – just below the surface of Rynek Glowny. It shows, how this place looked like hundreds years ago. This museum is modern and uses many multimedial features, including touch screens and holograms. Visitors walk around using glass ramps, which enable them to see the remains of medieval constructions including: reconstructed 12th century workshop, aqueducts, remains of burned settlements and reconstruction of a medieval merchant’s stall. There is a limit of people visiting this museum at one time, so book your ticket in advance.
Things to do in Krakow – visit Wawel Royal Castle
Wawel Royal Castle is a former Royal Residence, now serving as a castle and art museum. It was built in XIV century and later expanded, so now we can notice many architectural styles throughout the complex. During the Second World War Wawel Castle was the residence of the German governor of the General Government – Hans Frank. After his evacuation from Krakow in January 1945, many paintings disappeared from the castle. Many of them yet remain to be found, including Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man.
But even without it, the collection of paintings and other art kept in the Wawel castle is impressive. One of the most important things to see in Krakow Royal Castle is Szczerbiec, the sword believed to be part of the medieval Polish crown jewels – used in the coronations of Polish monarchs from 1320 to 1764.
Wawel is an important place in Poland because of the people who are buried in the castle’s crypt. Among the most important are several Polish Kings, President Lech Kaczynski and general Wladyslaw Sikorski.
In November 1939 German entrepreneur Oskar Schindler took over a metal item factory in Krakow. He employed Jews living in Krakow Jews ghetto, and when the ghetto was liquidated, he organized their movement yo to Plaszow concentration camp – to the part where they were relatively safe from German camp guards. Schindler also saved them from being sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. Steven Spielberg’s Oscar winner “Schindler list” was based on that story. In the museum, you’ll see what Krakow looked like during the Nazi occupation.
Things to do in Krakow – visit Kazimierz district
Kazimierz district is located not very far away from Rynek Glowny, just behind Wawel Royal Castle. Kazimierz used to be a separate town until it was incorporated into Krakow in 1800. Until the Second World War it was inhabited by large Jewish community. During the war they were relocated to ghetto, and most of them were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.
After the war, this part of the city was neglected, but after the fall of communism in Poland, life came back to Kazimierz. Cafes and restaurants were opened, buildings were renovated, including old synagogues. Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” also contributed to the growing interest in Jewish culture. Now Kazimierz is a very popular part of Krakow, not only among tourist but also students and inhabitants. What you’ll find here are the remains of Jewish culture in Krakow (synagogues, cemetery), some important catholic churches (Church on the Rock), and many restaurants and bars.