Krakow is composed of so many unique attractions that trying to pick its cherries in an unbiased way can make you experience real vertigo. Steeped in history, the enchanting city of Krakow has had each formative era affecting it and each genius residing within its city walls left their mark on its current shape you can now admire. Visit Krakow and discover the most representative hallmarks of the city – its museums, art galleries and buildings of historical value that are inherent part of Polish and European heritage. Here are the top 12 attractions of Krakow – crème de la crème of this fine city you should never miss!
1. MAIN MARKET SQUARE
The unquestionable leader on the list of top Krakow attractions, oozing with charm and history whatever part of it you rest your eyes at. The largest urban space of Medieval Europe with such iconic buildings as the 10th-century Church of St. Adalbert, Gothic St. Mary’s Basilica or the Renaissance jewel of Sukiennice Cloth Hall, is a place which defines Krakow best. The square is full of scenic hallmarks, quality pubs and gourmet restaurants, commercial spaces operating in ancient interiors, creative street performers and venues where both mass and high cultures coexist. An ideal spot for chilled-out people-watching, just as perfect to join a pub crawl, the Main Market Square of Krakow is the most recommended attraction there is!
2. HISTORIC OLD TOWN
Placed on UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, the Medieval district occupies a space encircled by extensive Planty Park, growing where the former moat would serve its defensive purposes. As you enter the Barbican, you will find out more about the currently residual fortifications of this former capital of Poland. With the Main Square located at its very heart, the historic Old Town of Krakow provides comparably attractive views to its visitors – an impressive play of light on the facades of aristocratic buildings, the architectural details of Slowacki theatre, the blissful charm of Little Market Square, the cosiness of traditional artisan shops run in its medieval cellars or long shadows cast by the tower of Town Hall or imposing statues of this history-ridden district. It’s a great place to start your walk along the Royal Route leading straight to Wawel Castle.
3. VIRGIN MARY CHURCH
This Gothic church of brick is one of the most picturesque landmarks of Krakow. It is composed of two sky-high towers of 69 and 82 metres and the latter one is where the traditional melody of Hejnal Mariacki is played by a bugler once per hour, as perfectly heard in all the corners of the Old Town. It is possible to climb the wooden stairs of St. Mary’s Basilica to admire the panorama of Krakow and collect a couple of Cracovian legends or to marvel at the largest wooden Altarpiece in the world, chiselled by Veit Stoss between 1477 and 1484. Don’t miss it and take a chance to hear some anecdotes on what certain parts of the masterpiece symbolise or ridicule, despite its sacral dimension.
4. LOST SOULS ALLEY
One of top floors of a building in Florianska street is where your Krakow adventure will become blood-curdling: visit this top recommended Krakow house of horror to discover the flexibility of time, as each of the 20 minutes spent where the most atavist fears become palpable will take infinity to pass! This bizarre place is a special type of an exit-room facility, but you will hear no laughter inside – there will only be the sound of accelerated heartbeat of your companions. Check your limit of fear at Lost Souls Alley, meet bloodthirsty psychos and see the dark places where they do their hideous things to those who got lost there. Be a daredevil and take part in one of the most original diversions Krakow provides!
5. WAWEL CASTLE
The residence of Polish kings that tops Wawel Hill is a massive complex with 71 impressive chambers open to the public. You will see the sumptuousness of royal private apartments, the noble state rooms where foreign envoys were received, impressive collections of paintings and sculptures commissioned to foremost European artists and the tombs of Polish royals made of the most valuable materials. Separate exhibitions of ancient tapestries, armoury, arms, goldsmith’s artefacts or oriental spoils of war looted from the troops invading Europe will relate to the past of Wawel, when it would also serve as a stronghold. If you ever wondered what to do in Krakow, Wawel Castle is among the top choices to recommend. It will give you a one-of-its kind chance to see the masterpiece of Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci while visiting, not to mention the dragon you will surely come across while leaving.
6. POLISH AVIATION MUSEUM
Located only slightly off the beaten track and a few kilometres away from Krakow city centre, Polish Aviation Museum will pleasantly surprise even those who don’t consider themselves as aviation enthusiasts. Over 140 aircrafts on display in the open zone of a former airport will teach you a lot of the fascinating art of aviation across decades, with a variety of models presented and instructive background information you will receive. Considering that Poland has rich traditions in the field of aeronautics, Krakow is a perfect place to house reportedly the largest collection of aircrafts in the world as open to external visitors. This top-rated Krakow attraction is surely something to try!
7. SCHINDLER’S FACTORY
You may know the inspiriting story of Jew-saving Oskar Schindler from the blockbuster by Steven Spielberg, but a visit to the real enamel factory where the story happened for real during wartime will become unforgettable. The museum operating in former Schindler’s Factory is among the most worth-visiting museums in Poland, as devoted to the subject of Nazi occupation of Krakow and the fate of Jews whom the industrialist gave his helping hand. A great exhibition with scrupulously reconstructed apartments, squares or streets of WWII era and instructive guidance will let you forget of the 21st-century reality behind the entry to this highly recommended venue. Learn about the past where the past course of events had its actual setting, with a great choice of modern multimedia helping you understand what happened.
8. THE JEWISH DISTRICT
Kazimierz district, a.k.a. «the Jewish Quarter», is a truly unique place on a European scale, with the unbelievable diversity it offers that not only hipsters will appreciate. Between the 14th and 20th centuries, it attracted plenty of Jews fleeing from different parts of Europe, giving them fertile grounds to thrive and build their comfy enclave. Its synagogues, cosy cafes, antiquarian bookstores and artisan shops operating as if left intact since World War II, the tiny and tight-fitting buildings with the names of previous Jewish owners placed on their facades, make up a special atmosphere Jewish Kazimierz emanates with. Taste delicious cuisine served in cobbled Szeroka or Jozefa streets, drop in for a drink while in Estery street or reach Miodowa street to sightsee the Tempel Synagugue or Jewish cemetery. Have a zapiekanka – a tasty local specialty served at Nowy Square, where a traditional public market operates in the «Okraglak» venue of wood. Wondering where to go in Krakow to discover the cultural diversity it was so proud of in the past? Visit Kazimierz and let yourself be enchanted!
9. THE FRANCISCAN CHURCH
Church of St. Francis of Assisi is what you may come across on your way to Wawel. Never hesitate to enter, not to miss one of the top-rated attractions of Krakow! This early-Medieval shrine has a one-of-its-kind interior that was co-created by foremost Polish artists. The unimaginably colourful Art-Nouveau decor of the vault, beautiful statues and altars placed at the Presbytery or impressively large stained-glass Biblical scenes by Stanisław Wyspianski serving as the windows of the church, alone make it worth crossing the step of this stunning Basilica. Visit the Franciscan Church in Krakow to provide yourself with a feast to the senses that both believers and non-believers will enjoy.
10. STAINED GLASS MUSEUM
Prepare yourself for probably the best play of light and colours to experience in your lifetime as you visit one of the most original museums of Krakow: Stained Glass Museum. You may notice that numerous venues of the city have stunning works of stained-glass inserted instead of typical windows, as the city used to be an Art-Nouveau mecca for artists dealing with this beautiful field of art, Like Jozef Mehoffer or Stanislaw Wyspianski. Learn how stained-glass masterpieces are made, see the top works of Polish artists displayed inside the museum that represent a variety of modern or post-modern styles and decide to take part in the workshops to have a try at creating your own tiny stained-glass piece of art.
11. JAGIELLONIAN UNIVERSITY
Visit one of the oldest universities in the world, established in Krakow in 1364 and providing humanity with its notable alumni. The amazing arcaded courtyard of Gothic Collegium Maius will let you see an ancient clock with figurines of wood moving along the melody of Gaudeamus Igitur each two hours. To realise why the place is a real must-see of Krakow, visit its lecture halls, academic libraries, the rooms of professors and the university’s treasury. Enrich your knowledge on the medieval educational system as you see the scientific paraphernalia of the period (the ones Nicolaus Copernicus would use included), old textbooks and furniture used for academic purposes, as well as one of the oldest globes where the New World was finally included. Absorb the medieval atmosphere of Jagiellonian University and stimuli your imagination with the images of the past of Krakow!
12. MUSEUM GALLERY OF THE 19TH CENTURY POLISH ART
This marvellous gallery is located inside Sukiennice Cloth Hall and occupies the 2nd floor there – the limited space makes the collection composed of the foremost masterpieces only, created by such outstanding Polish artists, as Jan Matejko, Jacek Malczewski or controversial Stanislaw Witkiewicz. Each of the 200 items of this fascinating exhibition will give you a great insight into the reality of 19th century Poland and its rich heritage in the field of art. It’s definitely worth devoting an hour or so to thoroughly explore this top Krakow place to see, with its perfect location in the middle of Main Square and inexpensive tickets for the delight experienced.