Krakow is one of the oldest cities in Poland and today also the second largest. It has witnessed some of the greatest achievements in Poland’s history, from political and religious events to cultural and artistic. All of that has put Krakow on the top of many “Top things to see/visit” lists for Poland – and it ensured a place on my Baltic Explorer tour! And after my visit, I can say that it has earned that top spot!
The Old Town is the heart of Krakow and despite the tragic history of the second World War, the Old Town presents itself beautifully restored. No matter from which side you approach it, you will wander through cobblestoned alleys with old, nicely restored houses lining both sides. The streets are busy with visitors, local and foreign, taking in the sights. Eventually, you will make your way to the Main Square. And while most medieval town squares are small and crowded, Krakow’s main square will shock you with it’s size – it’s massive, one of the largest I’ve seen in Europe! At the center sits the old Cloth Hall, with its arched walkways and a market hall with domed ceilings inside. Between the restaurants lining the outside, the market stands on the inside and the colorful umbrellas all around, it is a lively place, making it fun to just walk around and take in the sights and watch the crowds. Off to one side, you’ll have the lonely town hall tower (the town hall didn’t survive) and on the other the St. Mary’s Basilica. I was lucky to enjoy some sunny weather on my late-summer visit and it is a great place to hang out. Many of the streets surrounding the square are pedestrian streets, inviting you to continue your stroll. If you could use a break from your walk, there are lots of restaurants and cafes all around town to take a break over coffee or a meal. If you’d prefer to relax in a more peaceful setting, the Old Town is surrounded by a lovely park with walkways and benches for a break!
Just South of the Old Town is the most popular attraction in Krakow – the Wawel Royal Castle. It sits on top of a hill, overlooking the Wisla River. Whether you just go to take a look around the large castle with its palace, church, courtyards and fortifications, or take in some of the many museums housed in the castle, it’s certainly worth a visit. The castle was the seat of Polish Kings for centuries and is one of the most important cultural sights in Poland. It has grown over the generations from a simple fortification to a castle with more and more buildings added over the years. Just walking up through the entrance gate and around the huge courtyard inside is very impressive. But if you are interested in history at all, you should check out some of the museums on offer. You can learn about the history of the castle, see the Royal Apartments and staterooms or wander through the massive church inside the castle walls! I promise it will make for an eye-opening tour!
All of this makes for a wonderful visit of Krakow. While you can see it in a hurry (which many visitors seem to do), the character of the city lends itself to a more relaxed visit, staying in the city for a few days and enjoying live!
One of the less enjoyable, but very important reasons for me to visit is situated outside Krakow and an important place I urge you to visit: Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was raised with the wisdom that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana) and anybody who has the chance to visit Krakow should visit this memorial to one of the darkest episodes of mankind’s history! Over a million people were killed at Auschwitz during the holocaust and the memorial and museum have much to teach every generation following the holocaust!
Whether you enjoy the beautiful Old Town and Wawel Castle or visit the darker history, I’m sure you will have a very memorable stay in Krakow and I’m certainly glad it was on my itinerary! Click on my map to get an idea of the Old Town layout and its sights: