The historic center of Krakow is located at the foot of the hill where the Wawel Royal Castle is located. The merchant city of the thirteenth century has one of the largest squares in Europe and numerous historical buildings such as churches, palaces, houses, fortifications, synagogues. Krakow among its tourist attractions also houses an ancient university and a Gothic cathedral where the kings of Poland were buried.
The city is famous for its historic center, almost completely pedestrianized with the large market square in the center. The historic center is completely surrounded by a well-kept strip of gardens, 50 to 100 meters wide, called Planty.
The rich presence of buildings of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture in the Old Town (Stare Miasto) testifies to the great past of this wonderful city, whose medieval part has been preserved almost intact.
Around the Old City was a mighty city wall, which was completely demolished during the Austrian domination. This except for a short surviving stretch near the Saint Florian Gate and the Barbacane. Along the ancient route of the walls today stands the beautiful Planty Garden.
KRAKOW TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: THE VISIT OF THE HISTORICAL CENTER OF THE OLD TOWN
Our visit starts right from the north entrance of the Old City where the Barbican (Barbakan) is located. This is a fortified outpost of the late 15th century. It is a cylindrical structure surrounded by a moat, with an internal courtyard and seven turrets. Just beyond the Barbican is the Saint Florian Gate (Brama Floriańska). This is the only gate left of the 8 that once defended the city. Built in the 13th century, it is topped by a Gothic tower over 33 meters high.
In addition to the Barbican and the Saint Florian Gate, all that remains of the ancient city walls are three towers (Baszty Pasamoników, Baszty Stolarska, Baszty Ciesielska) and a few dozen meters of wall. The walls (destroyed in the early 19th century) were over 3 km long and had 8 gates, and 39 towers.
THE MARKET SQUARE
Continuing the search for Krakow’s tourist attractions, we take the Floriańska street from which we arrive at the large central square, the Market Square (Rynek Głowny). This is one of the largest squares in Europe, a square of 200 meters on each side with the Textile Market (Sukiennice) in the center, which is surrounded by beautiful buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Including the Town Hall Civic Tower, the 14th century Church of Saint Mary (Bazylika Mariacka), the Church of Saint Adalbert (K. sv. Wojciecha). The buildings in the square house the Krakow Historical Museum, the International Center of Culture, many shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs. The square is a meeting place where concerts, parties, fairs and markets are held.
SUKIENNICE (CLOTH HALL)
Let’s now see in detail the main buildings that are located in the square: the building of the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), located in the center of the immense Market Square (Rynek Głowny), was built in the 14th century as a center of the textile trade. Due to a fire that destroyed the original building, the palace was later rebuilt in a Renaissance style. Today it houses the 19th century Polish Painting Gallery which is one of the sections of the Krakow National Museum.
THE BASILICA OF SAINT MARY
On the north-east side of the square is the Church-Basilica of St. Mary (Bazylika Mariacka). An imposing 14th century Gothic church, second in size only to the Wawel Cathedral which with its two tall towers is one of the symbols of the city. The facade of the church is characterized by its two tall towers that flank it, asymmetrical and with different heights, the lower tower measures 69 meters in height and is topped by a Renaissance dome. The tallest tower (81 meters), was used in the past as a watchtower, today, every hour, the Hejnał is played there, that is, the “gathering call”. It is played four times (one on each side of the tower) every hour on all days of the year.
The interior of the church has three naves with several side chapels, where the famous Gothic high altar is preserved, a masterpiece by Veit Stoss, master of Nuremberg, built between 1477 and 1489. It is a polychrome polyptych (13 meters 11 meters wide) composed of five carved, painted and gilded wooden panels in which the Dormition of the Virgin is represented in the presence of the twelve apostles and episodes from the life of Christ and the Virgin.
THE CHURCH OF SAINT ADALBERT
At the southern corner of the Market Square, there is the small Church of Saint Adalbert (K. sw. Wojciecha). It is one of the oldest churches in the city, its construction dates back to the 11th century, a century before the construction of the Market Square. In the seventeenth century the church was partially rebuilt in Baroque style, the crypt of the church houses a small museum on the history of the Market Square.
THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM
In Main Market Square is also the main seat of the Krakow Historical Museum (Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa) which is located in the Baroque Krzysztofory Palace. Maps, paintings, prints, old photos, portraits, weapons and watches are exhibited here. The building has stuccos by the Italian architect Baldassare Fontana. The museum is made up of several divisions located in buildings scattered around the city, which show the various aspects of Krakow’s history.
The Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa), houses the collection of photographs, it is the only remaining part of the city’s ancient municipal building (Ratusz) which was demolished in 1820. The Gothic-style tower was built in the late 13th century. century, from the top at 70 meters high you have a beautiful view of the city. In the square stands the monument, inaugurated in 1898, to Adam Mickiewicz (Adama Mickiewicza), one of the best known Polish poets and writers.
THE JAGELLONIAN UNIVERSITY
A short detour from the Market Square along Sv. Anny Street leads to the buildings where the ancient Jagiellonian University (Uniwersytet Jagielloński) is located, the second in Central Europe after Prague. Here are the Collegium Novum – built in 1887 and the seat of the rectors – and the most interesting Collegium Maius, which has been the seat of the college of professors since the fifteenth century. Subsequently it was the seat of the university library in the 19th century and today it is the seat of the Jagiellonian University Museum (Muzeum Uniwersytet Jagielloński). This museum displays an exceptional collection of ancient scientific instruments, as well as portraits of professors and university memorabilia.
THE FRANCISCAN BASILICA
Taking Via Bracka from the Market Square you reach the Franciscan Basilica (Bazylika sw. Franciszka), a 13th century Romanesque building, located in front of the Archiepiscopal Palace. Inside there are wonderful stained glass windows by Stanislaw Wyspianski (late 19th century). A multifaceted and versatile artist, considered in Poland as the Polish Leonardo da Vinci. The Franciscan Monastery (15th century) is annexed to the church with a beautiful cloister full of 15th and 16th century frescoes. The Wielopolski Palace is also located here, home to the Krakow City Hall since 1864.
THE BASILICA OF THE HOLY TRINITY
Not far away, along the Dominikanska street is the Basilica of the Holy Trinity (Bazylika Trojcy Swietej), an important Dominican Gothic church of the thirteenth century with a beautiful portal of the fifteenth century, numerous chapels and the large cloister of the Dominican monastery of the fourteenth century. Taking the ul. (via) Grodzka, which leads to the Wawel hill, is the Church of Saints Peter and Paul (K. sw. sw. Piotra i Pawla), a large baroque church from the 17th century. The Wawel hill can also be reached by taking the ul. (via) Kanonicza, an ancient characteristic road that runs parallel to ul. (via) Grodzka.
KRAKOW TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: THE WAWEL HILL
THE ROYAL CASTLE
We then reach the Wawel Hill, the other historical nucleus of Krakow, which rises south of the Old Town, on which the Royal Castle and the Cathedral are located. The Royal Wawel Castle (Zamek Królewski na Wawelu), is one of the most beautiful royal residences of the European Renaissance, it was the residence of the kings of Poland until the end of the 16th century. From the mid 11th century, the Wawel hill was the residence of the Polish rulers. In the 14th century, the castle was significantly enlarged by Ladislao I the Short (Władysław I Łokietek) and his son Casimir III the Great (Kazimierz III Wielki), who built a huge Gothic-style residence.
In 1499, a fire destroyed part of the castle, a few years after King Alexander Jagellone (Aleksander Jagiellończyk), commissioned the Italian architect Francesco the “Florentine” to rebuild the royal residence in the Renaissance style. He took care of the renovation of the castle, until his death in 1516, when another Florentine, Bartolomeo Berrecci, took over as court architect, who continued the work in the castle until 1537. After his death other Italian architects worked on the castle among these the Florentine Niccolò Castiglione and Matteo the Italian. The interiors of the palace were decorated by German artists with wooden sculptures and ceilings, while Flemish tapestries decorated the walls of the castle.
THE ROYAL CASTLE MUSEUM
Today the Royal Wawel Castle is a museum in which you can visit numerous rooms, including: the governor’s rooms, with their Renaissance ceilings. The famous audience room (or of the envoys) with a coffered ceiling decorated with 30 wooden heads; the senators’ room; the royal chapel; the royal apartments; the armory. Remarkable is the collection of 142 tapestries commissioned by King Sigismund II Augustus (Zygmunt II August) in Flanders. In the castle there are also paintings, fireplaces, stucco ceilings, Tuscan furniture from the 16th century, collections of oriental arts and weapons, and portraits of the Polish kings.
THE CATHEDRAL OF SAINTS STANISLAUS AND WENCESLAS
The second prestigious building on the Wawel hill is the Cathedral of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslas (Bazylika archikatedralna św. Stanisława i św. Wacława w Krakowie), located at the foot of the castle. Its construction dates back to the 14th century, for many years the coronations of the Polish rulers were celebrated here and the kings of Poland were buried here. The center of the nave of the Cathedral is occupied by the Mausoleum of St. Stanislaus, the patron saint of Poland, built in 1630. Eighteen chapels full of art treasures surround the Wawel Cathedral.
THE CHAPEL OF SIGISMUND
Among these is the Sigismund Chapel (Kaplica Zygmuntowska na Wawelu), a masterpiece of Renaissance art and architecture, and one of the most valuable architectural monuments in all of Krakow. The chapel was erected, at the behest of King Sigismund I (Zygmunt I Stary), between 1519 and 1533 by the Florentine Bartolomeo Berecci. It has a square plan surmounted by a golden dome and houses the tombs of the last Jagelloni rulers: Sigismondo I, Sigismondo Augusto, and Anna Jagellona. The interior sculptures, stuccos and paintings were designed by some of the most renowned artists of the time, such as the Florentine Santi Gucci. The chapel is considered the most beautiful work of Italian Renaissance architecture outside of Italy.
For a beautiful view of the city of Krakow, you can climb the 14th-century bell tower of the Cathedral, where the famous Zygmunt bell from 1521 is located. At the foot of the hill on the south-east side there are two churches: the Church of Saint Bernard (K. sw. Bernarda), baroque church of the seventeenth century and the Church of the Conversion of Saint Paul (K. Navrocenia sw. Pawla) of the eighteenth century.
KRAKOW TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: THE KAZIMIERZ DISTRICT, THE JEWISH GHETTO
Just a 10-minute walk east of the Wawel Royal Castle, the Kazimierz district, the ancient Jewish Ghetto, the center of religious and social life in Jewish Krakow until the mass deportation of the local Jewish community during the occupation Nazi. All the seven ancient synagogues of Krakow, all dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, are located in the old Jewish Ghetto. Two of them, the Synagogue Tempel (Synagoga Tempel w Krakowie, from the 19th century) in Miodowa street and the Synagogue Remuh (Synagoga Remuh w Krakowie, from the 16th century) in Szeroka street, with the annexed Jewish Cemetery of R’emuh from the 16th century, still serve the tiny remaining Jewish community.
Among the main tourist attractions of this part of the city of Krakow: the Old Synagogue (Synagoga Stara w Krakowie), is a Renaissance building from the 16th century, with a Gothic-style interior. This synagogue now houses a museum of Jewish history and culture. The Singoga Isaac (Synagoga Izaaka) from the 17th century. It was destroyed during the Nazi occupation and now rebuilt. The Kupa Synagogue (Synagoga Kupa) dates back to the 17th century. This was the ancient synagogue for the poor. Also worth seeing is the 16th century Wysoka Synagogue (Synagoga Wysoka), which has a Renaissance portal. The Popper Synagogue (Synagoga Popera) is instead a baroque building from the 17th century. Szeroka street was the central street of the Jewish quarter.
KRAKOW TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: OTHER DISTRICTS
At the limits of the Jewish quarter, between this and the Vistula, there are three interesting churches: coming from the Jewish Ghetto the first church to be found is the Church of the Body of Christ (K. Bozego Ciala), a Gothic church built in the mid-fourteenth century , with the adjacent monastery. A little further on, there is the Church of St. Catherine (K. sw. Katarzyny), a 14th century Gothic building, with a baroque altar inside, a 16th century mausoleum and a beautiful monumental cloister with medieval and Renaissance frescoes.
Closer to the Vistula is the Skalka Shrine (K. sw. Sw. Michala j Stanislawa), the most important sacred place in Poland after the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa. Here in fact, St. Stanislaus, the patron of Poland, was martyred in 1079. The church, flanked by the seventeenth-century Renaissance monastery, is in the eighteenth century rococo style. Inside there are three blood stains of the martyr on a wall. Since 1880, mausoleums have been built in the crypt of the church for the most illustrious Polish personalities.
Around Krakow are worth visiting: the Wieliczka salt mine, the Tatra Mountains, the historic city of Czestochowa, the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz, and the Ojcow National Park.
KRAKOW TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: MUSEUMS
Krakow is considered the cultural capital of Poland, the city has numerous museums, some of which are among the best in the nation. Among these, the National Museum of Krakow (Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie), divided into eight sections, is the main branch of the Polish National Museums and one of the main tourist attractions of Krakow.
KRAKOW TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: THE NATIONAL MUSEUM: Czartoryski and Arsenal Museum
National Museum of Krakow: Czartoryski and Arsenal Museum section (Muzeum Książąt Czartoryskich-Arsenał), it is one of the most important Polish museums. It has rich collections of ancient Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Etruscan art. European and Asian decorative art, European painting (Italian, Dutch and Flemish paintings), historical objects including armor, swords and halberds. Without doubt the work of art for which the museum is famous is Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM: Main Palace
The National Museum of Krakow: Main Palace section (Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie, Gmach Główny), located in the western suburbs of Krakow. There are 3 different permanent exhibitions: the 20th century Polish painting gallery, the section on decorative arts, and the section dedicated to Polish uniforms and weapons.
NATIONAL MUSEUM: Gallery of Polish art from the 19th century
National Museum of Krakow: section of the 19th century Polish Art Gallery in the Sukiennice (Galeria Sztuki Polskiej XIX wieku w Sukiennicach), is located in the Market Square and is home to the 19th century Polish Painting Gallery. In the art gallery there are works by painters of Polish romanticism and the Young Poland movement, including Michałowski, Malczewski, Gierymski and Jan Matejko.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM: Manggha Center of Japanese Art and Technology
The National Museum of Krakow: Manggha section Center of Japanese Art and Technology (Centrum Sztuki i Techniki Japońskiej “Manggha”). An important museum dedicated to Japanese art, the most valuable part of the collection is represented by around 4,600 wood engravings. The museum also features small ivory and wooden figurines, a collection of ornamental buttons called “netsuke”, almost 1,000 clothes, armor, weapons and military objects from the 16th-19th centuries.
NATIONAL MUSEUM: Museum of Emeryk Hutten Czapski
National Museum of Krakow: Museum section of Emeryk Hutten Czapski (Muzeum im. Emeryka Hutten-Czapskiego). A museum dedicated to numismatics with collections of Polish and European coins ranging from antiquity to the 19th century. Including the complete collection of Polish coins and paper money collected in the 19th century by Count Emeryk Hutten Czapski.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM: Jan Matejko’s house
The National Museum of Krakow: Jan Matejko’s House section (Dom Jana Matejki), the exhibition presents all the works of Jan Matejko. The most famous Polish artist of historicism.
NATIONAL MUSEUM: Stanisław Wyspiański Museum
National Museum of Krakow: Stanisław Wyspiański Museum section (Oddział Dom pod Krzyżem, Teatralny im. Stanisława Wyspiańskiego). The museum presents Stanisław Wyspiański’s collection of personal objects and works (paintings, stained glass boxes, architectural drawings, theater costumes, furniture). The most versatile artist of the modernist movement of Young Poland.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM: House of Józef Mehoffer
The National Museum of Krakow: section of the House of Józef Mehoffer (Dom Józefa Mehoffera). A biographical museum of this Art Noveau artist, with numerous works by the artist: paintings, prints, stained glass and stained glass designs, furniture.
KRAKOW TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: HISTORY MUSEUMS
Another important group of museums in Krakow is that of the city’s historical museums (Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa), the group is made up of 11 different museums:
The Museum of the History of the City of Krakow: Krzysztofory Palace section (Oddział Pałac Krzysztofory, Dzieje i Kultura Krakowa), located inside a baroque palace of the seventeenth century, the museum presents material related to the history of the city: icons, ancient views and city paintings, weapons, clocks.
The House at the Sign of the Cross
Krakow City History Museum: section “The House at the Sign of the Cross” (Dom pod Krzyżem – “Dzieje teatru krakowskiego”), museum dedicated to the history of the theater in Krakow.
Krakow City History Museum: Hipolitów House Section (Kamienica Hipolitów – “Dom Mieszczański”). The museum is housed in a three-storey house that belonged to an ancient bourgeois family, on the first floor there are stucco decorations from the late 17th century by Baldassarre Fontana. Then there are: an important collection of antique clocks, decorative works of art, decorations and decorations of a bourgeois house from the 17th to the first half of the 20th century.
Museum of Memories “Pharmacy under the Eagle”
Krakow City History Museum: Museum of Remembrance section “Pharmacy under the Eagle” (“Apteka pod Orłem”), located in an old Jewish ghetto pharmacy, the museum is dedicated to the Jewish Ghetto and the Płaszów concentration camp.
Krakow City History Museum: Old Synagogue section (Stara Synagoga – “Dzieje i kultura Żydów krakowskich”), it is an interesting museum of Jewish history and culture, the museum is located in the old synagogue of the Kazimierz district, one of the oldest in Europe.
Krakow City History Museum: section of the Silesian House, Krakow 1939-1956 (Ulica Pomorska – “Dzieje Krakowa w latach 1939-1956”), the museum presents the history of Krakow from the period of the Nazi occupation to the period of the Stalinist terror.
Celestat – The residence of the Society of Chosen Shooters
Krakow City History Museum: Celestat section – The residence of the Society of Chosen Shooters (Celestat – “Dzieje Krakowskiego Bractwa Kurkowego”), the museum presents the history of the bird brotherhood.
Cracow City History Museum: Barbican section (Barbakan), allows you to visit this fine example of military architecture.
Town Hall tower
Krakow City History Museum: Town Hall Tower section (Wieża Ratuszowa), allows you to visit the tower from which you have a beautiful view of the city.
Artistic Hall of the Zwierzyniec District
Krakow City History Museum: Zwierzyniec District Artistic Section (Zwierzyniecki Salon Artystyczny), hosts temporary exhibitions.
History of Nowa Huta
Krakow City History Museum: History section of Nowa Huta (Dzieje Nowej Huty), hosts temporary exhibitions relating to the history of the neighborhood.
KRAKOW TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: OTHER MUSEUMS
Among the many other museums: the National Art Collection (Zamek Krolewski na Wawelu) in the Royal Wawel Castle. In the rooms of the royal castle are exhibited: ancient Flemish tapestries, antiques, furniture, the treasure of the crown, jewelry, weapons, oriental art objects, Chinese and Japanese ceramics.
Cathedral Museum (Muzeum Katedralne). The museum displays objects of sacred art, memorabilia related to Pope John Paul II. The Jewish Museum of Galicja (Muzeum Galicja) is a historical museum related to the Jewish presence in Galicja. Archdiocese Museum (Muzeum Archidiecezjalne), exhibits paintings, sculptures, sacred objects.
The Museum of Archeology (Muzeum Archeologiczne). It is the oldest Polish archaeological museum, houses objects ranging from the Paleolithic to the present day. The Museum of the Collegio Maius of the Jagiellonian University (Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego Collegium Maius). Pharmacy Museum of the Jagiellonian University (Muzeum Farmacji Collegium Medicum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego), the museum presents the history of the pharmacy from the Middle Ages to the present day.