Visiting Kraków, Poland: Part 1

May 16, 2016,

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, Cathedral and Castle in Kraków, Poland // on happiestwhenexploring.comWawel

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.

St. Mary's church in Kraków, Poland [photo by Davis Staedtler] // on happiestwhenexploring.comPhoto 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).

Rynek Głowny in Kraków, Poland [photo by Jorge Láscar via Creative Commons] // on happiestwhenexploring.comPhoto 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 district in Kraków, Poland // on happiestwhenexploring.comKazimierz
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 in Kraków, Poland // on happiestwhenexploring.comPlanty Park
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.

Your turn! What are your favourite sites and places to visit in Kraków?
What makes this city special to you?!Visiting Kraków, Poland? Here are the main sites, from the waterfront to the largest medieval square in Europe on (PART 2: "Backdoor to Krakow" on blog, too!)

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  • Reply Ilena Ciricillo May 17, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    How wonderful to see how courageous a people the Poles are. Their country is beautiful! Thank you for-this back door tour.

    Have a great time discovering Middle Europe;))

  • Reply Celia May 17, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    Looks wonderful:)

  • Reply France Lamont October 8, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    This is rather thin information about Kraków. It would have been worth mentioning that around Main Market Square (Rynek Głowny), there are notable buildings amongst which The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) and the Old Town Hall Tower (Wieża Ratuszowa). As well, the defensive walls (Mury Obronne), Barbican and St. Florian’s Gate (Brama Florianska) are remarkable structures. It is unusual someone would not also intend to visit the famous Wieliczka salt mine and infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, while being in Kraków.

    • Reply Happiest When Exploring January 10, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      Hi France! Thank you for your input! Please remember that this is a travel blog but it is also personal – I share what I know and what I have learned.
      I also understand that most people visit the salt mines or Auschwitz but I made the decision to stay in the city and not rush the experience. I like to remind myself and my readers that we can’t see or do everything on our first or even second visit…
      Thanks for the information, I will keep this in mind for my next visit to Kraków!
      P.S. feel free to read part 2 🙂

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