Krakow isn’t your average tourist spot. You could take a year and not have time to explore the rich vibrancy and wealth of architecture and culture within this city.Knowing where to start, and what the unmissable starts are can seem like a tall order. Our list of the 13 Things You Must See and do in Krakow aims to make the impossible do-able. A visit to Krakow simply wouldn’t be complete without spending time at these places.
13 Things You Must See in Krakow
1. Wawel Royal Castle
Watch out for queues at this number one site in Krakow. Head in early in the day, or alternatively later on to avoid wasting precious touring hours standing in a queue. Nonetheless, any waiting and crowds are worth it for this historic gem that is the Polish State Art Collection. There are 5 separate collections, each a museum in its own right, all situated around a central courtyard. Nestled atop the Wawel hill, the dominance of the Royal Castle in Krakow embodies the history of Poland itself. History and culture come alive here in the 5 unique exhibitions:
The Royal Chambers: offer visitors the chance to dwell upon historical interiors with a wealth of artistry and antiquity. There is the incredible tapestry collection of Sigismund II Augustus features alongside royal portraits, Italian Renaissance furniture as well as Italian and Dutch paintings from the 14th to 17th centuries. European history and art is showcased in this splendid collection.
Royal Private Apartments: It is impossible not to come face to face with the history of Krakow as the former capital of Poland and the divergence of Polish history whilst exploring the rooms where the Polish royalty lived. The rooms are a representation of all that Krakow was, with period furniture and art.
Crown Treasury and Armoury: Krakow has long stood central to Europe and has seen history in all its military glory. The Crown Treasury and Armoury houses a complex collection of regalia, jewellery, precious weapons alongside the expected suits of armour featuring items of both Polish and Western European origin.
Oriental Art : In contrast to the previous exhibitions, the Oriental Art Collection brings something of the mystical and blends Poland’s position between the East and the West with Turkish tents and banners, Turkish and Persian weapons and carpets as well as Chinese and Japanese ceramics.
The Lost Wawel: is an archaeological and architectural wonder preserved from the early 11th-century church of St. Felix and Adauctus’ along with its surroundings. There are objects excavated by archaeologists on the Wawel Hill as well as ornate stove tiles of the 16th and 17th century. Not to be missed is the multimedia presentation of the Wawel Hill’s history.
2. Wawel Cathedral – The blend of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque
It’s impossible not to be awed with a sense of majesty and a sense of occasion stood within the walls of Wawel Cathedral that has played host to a range of state coronations and funerals. History and religion merge as you gaze around at the variety of art around you. Over 1000 years of history are held within these walls. The blend of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and even modern art somehow harmoniously blend and will delight any visitor. This is the resting place of heroes, poets, saints, royalty and bishops, and the atmosphere reflects this.
Striking and dominant is the 1630 mausoleum of St Stansilav, the Patron Saint of Poland. Visitors will also marvel at the excellent 15th Century late Gothis sarcophagus of King Vladislav II Jagiello, memorable in red Hungarian marble.
Around the central heart of the Cathedral are 18 chapels full of art treasures such as the white tomb of Queen Jadwiga, affectionately dubbed the ‘Pearl of Renaissance’ for its artistic beauty, as well as the Sigismund and Vasa chapels. Also memorable is the Chapel of the Holy Cross with its Russian murals dating back to 1470.
Climb to the top to enjoy spectacular views of Krakow, alongside the two belfries housing 10 historical bells.
3. Dragon’s Cave
The Dragon’s Cave is entwined with the legend of Krakow itself that tells of Prince Krak who rid his city of a dangerous beastly dragon. This mysterious cave under the castle can be accessed by visitors from a turret atop Wawel Hill, down a winding spiral staircase that allows you to see three chambers of the 200 ft long natural cavern.
The cavern is well-lit and you exit via the mouth of the cave itself. At the exit is a life-sized bronze dragon sculpture that amazes visitors by breathing fire on demand – by text message!
4. The Main Square – Rynek Glówny
Young and Old alike will find themselves wiling away time in Europe’s largest market square. Impressive not only for its sheer size but also for its surrounding architecture, this is the thriving heart of Krakow. Modernity meets antiquity and somehow remains truly beautiful and rich.
Forty-Seven buildings surround the Main Square, each and every one an architectural splendour in itself. There is the 16th Century Renaissance Cloth Hall taking a central pride of place alongside the 13th century Gothic Town Halls Tower, 14th Century Basilica of St Mary’s and the tiny but impressive 11th Century church of St Aldabert’s.
Beneath these impressive facades is a wealth of shops, restaurants and cafés bustling with the contemporary and varied life of modern Krakow and marking it out as a tourist highlight. The Square itself hosts numerous open air events from concerts to enactments and political affairs. This is the heart and soul of Krakow.
5. St Mary’s Basilica
This immense Basilica, off the Market Square, sees visitors move from the bustling bright city in to the peace and awe of this most famous Polish church. Inside is an immense chamber of faith and antiquity combined.
Without a doubt, visitors come to look upon the Gothic altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss in the 1400s with its remarkable artistry, but don’t miss the wealth of art and history around you including the three surviving huge stained glass windows.
A visit to St Mary’s Basilica wouldn’t be complete without giving attention to the two towers. The tallest, at 81m, has a Gothic spire topped with a 16th Century gold-plated crown. From here a bugle sounds out on the hour, the ‘Krakow Signal’. The lower tower, at 69m, is home to five magnificent bells.
6. Sukiennice Cloth Hall
Arguably, Sukiennice is the world’s oldest shopping mall! Situated in the centre of the Main Square, holding a dominant position, back in the 1300s a roof was put over the two rows of buildings to ultimately create Cloth Hall – the home of Poland’s textile trade. Extended again in the 14th Century to add the imposing Gothic Style you see today this is a unique building in the heart of Krakow. The picturesque stairs at either end of the Cloth Hall shouldn’t be missed. On the lower level are a myriad of shops, mostly selling Polish wares to international visitors. Upstairs has been home to the Krakow National Museum since the 1880’s where you can delight in a wealth of Polish art including Jan Matejko’s giant and imposing canvasses.
Fantasy imaginations could easily start with an image of Krakow’s Barbican. Built to be the mainstay of the city’s medieval defences, it was built at the end of the 15th Century and served the city of Krakow well, proving impenetrable. It is connected to the Florianska Gate with a drawbridge over the moat and the three metre thick walls make for this being the most well-preserved building of its type in all of Europe.
The seven turrets atop the magnificent walls dotted with 130 defensive slots for use by archers or riflemen make it a real-life stage for children to re-enact history, or for visitors to get away from the hustle and bustle of Krakow itself. The inner area is now used for medieval pageants and jousting, making for a fun and vibrant place to take in Krakow’s changing history.
8. Galicia Jewish Museum
Poland hasn’t witnessed the easiest of times in modern history, but we mustn’t shy away from our collective past. Home to a permanent photographic exhibition by the phot-journalist Chris Schwarz, who has sought to capture the haunting and sobering images of cemeteries, synagogues and death camps, making up the Jewish history of southern Poland and the Western Ukraine. This post-Holocaust collection sits inside a converted warehouse and is also home to a large, Jewish-interest bookshop.
9. Czartoryski Museum
Dating back to 1801, and located in three old buildings on the northern side of Krakow’s Old Town, next to the city walls, is the Czartoryski Museum. It is made famous for being home to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine”, but there are four parts of this magnificent museum in total: The Gallery of European Painting; European Decorative Arts and Pulawy Memorabilia; Armoury; and Gallery of Antiquities.
The Gallery of European Painting: houses the famous Da Vinci works alongside paintings by Rembrandt and other Western European artists, documenting works from the Middle Ages up to the 18th Century.
The European Decorative Arts and Pulawy Memorabilia: showcases impressice masterpieces of Western European pieces and art from the Renaissance up to the Baroque periods. You can view a wealth of decorated goods, porcelains, furniture, tapestries and glassware all associated with the powerful figures of Poland’s past.
The Armoury: The Armoury of course displays an eclectic collection of ancient weapons and armour, not only from Poland but also further afield in Europe and from the Orient.
The Gallery of Antiquities: Truly step back in time within this gallery to explore artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Roman Empire.
10. Juliusz Slowacki Theatre
If you’re in Krakow seeking culture then your visit won’t be complete without a visit to this impressive theatre which is home not only for thespians but also opera, and a venue in general. Renovated in the early 1990s, the building is imposing and remarkable, drawing on design roots in the Gran Paris Opera. The huge painted curtain depicts theatrical scenes and is a sight to behold in itself.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is truly outstanding and extraordinary. The Salt Mines have existed over 900 years and consist of a subterranean labyrinth of caverns, lakes, chapels, sculptures and other carvings from the rock salt. You can even stay underground here in the Slowacki Chamber or the Easter Mountains Stable Chamber. Situated on the South East outskirts of Krakow, the Salt Mines welcome visitors to explore its depths on a 3 hour tour of approximately 2000m of the mines. In addition, famed for its health-giving benefits, you can experience the wellness spa and various therapies and relaxation treatments available.
12. Church of St Francis of Assisi
Native Stanislav Wyspianski has created interiors in this church that are unlike any other. Dating back to the 13th Century, making it the first brick building in the city, the interiors showcase an Art Nouveau colourful style that blends geometric patterns and florals alongside 8 impressive stained glass windows that will linger in the memory.
This is a comparatively tiny church, but don’t let that fool you. It is an immersive piece of art in itself and the stained glass windows are famed the world over. Their modern style is unlike the majority of stained glass, and for that it is memorable and worth a visit.
13. Nowa Huta
Nowa Huta was a planned socialist city tied to the enormous steelworks that are adjacent to it. Building began in the late 1940s but was never completed. It is one of only two entirely pre-planned socialist cities, the other surviving in Russia. The concentric areas blend public spaces and houses in a style that sits in stark contrast to the artistry, history and culture of central Krakow itself. Nonetheless, Nowa Huta is well worth the visit for its striking reminder of Polish history. You can easily hop on public transport to explore Nowa Huta and see what this conceived city was meant to be.
Here is also additional list of things to do in Krakow