Visiting Kraków, Poland: Part 1
Kraków is a magical city – with its beautiful river, the Vistula (Wisła), a charming historical centre, green spaces, a grand castle, hundreds of cathedrals, and the former Jewish quarter, Kazimierz; there is no shortage of sites to visit and places to explore. Touring the city is a pleasant by foot, but there are also plenty of streetcars to get you around if needed. I recommend staying at least a full 3 days to really get a feel for the city – to explore its quieter corners, its local hotspots (in addition to the main sites!), and its legends.
In this post (part 1), we will “visit” the main sites of Kraków. Part 2 is more of a “backdoor” tour of Krakow, highlighting the local haunts, and fun stuff like the legends of the city.
Let’s visit Kraków!
Wawel Hill is at the heart of the city, right by the Vistula river. Once at Wawel, you can visit both the Wawel Cathedral (free) and the Wawel Castle. When visiting the castle, choose what you want to visit. Each is charged individually – be it the State Rooms, Royal Private Apartments, Crown Treasury and Armoury, etc. I opted for the State Rooms – inside were awe-inspiring tapestries from Brussels (including the Story of Noah) and rooms covered in cordovan (material). For more on each exhibit, you can visit this site and make an educated decision! The story of Wawel is that the pagan ruler, Krak, founded Kraków when he built a castle on Wawel Hill.
Photo by Davis Staedtler via Creative Commons
St. Mary’s Church
In the heart of the historical centre, you will find the Gothic church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The main altarpiece is breathtaking – and happens to be the largest altarpiece in the world (gothic).
Photo by Jorge Láscar via Creative Commons
Main Market Square (Rynek Głowny)
The main market square, Rynek Głowny, is the largest market square in Europe. The market square is almost like a meeting point in the city – you will find everyone at the square – from locals, to tourists, even school children, and couples. Take a seat and people watch. Bonus: St. Mary’s church sits in the square – watch the bugle call (trumpet) every hour from the higher of the two towers. The young (and the old!) wave gratefully at the bugler. It’s quite sweet!
Kazimierz is the former Jewish quarter in Krakow. The area was abandoned after World War II, but now, it has become one of the most sought after neighbourhoods, with quaint cafés and independent boutiques. (More on Kazimierz in part 2!)
Vistula River (Wisła)
Once a commercial route, the Vistula River is now home to boat tours, paved riverside paths full with bikers, runners and walkers.
Planty Park is a breath of fresh air – a peaceful haven, right at the outskirt of the busy historical centre. The park actually surrounds the historical centre: it stands where the fortification walls used to. The park is lush, lined with trees, bushes and flowers, paved pathways, statues and fountains, and lovely bridges.