Krakow Poland, also known as the pearl in the crown, jewel of Poland, and jewel of central Europe is a city not to be missed when visiting Europe. It is the second largest (and one of the oldest) city in Poland and a former capital of one of Eastern Europe’s largest countries. For centuries Krakow has been a leading center of Polish cultural, academic, and economic life.
My family all come from Krakow area and I was born in a small town not too far away – today my parents live in a Krakow suburb. So, naturally, we were not going to miss visiting this amazing city on our 3-week tour of Poland this year.
And if you are visiting Europe, you should not miss it either.
Some interesting facts about Krakow Poland:
- Poland’s most visited city – 10 million visitors in 2015.
- Europe’s largest Gothic altar is in St. Mary’s church.
- City of churches – 120 according to our city guide.
- Krakow historic center is listed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Has Europe’s oldest medieval town square (Rynek Glowny)
- Wawel Royal Castle is one of the most fascinating royal castles in Europe.
- Krakow was uniquely preserved from Nazi bombings because they chose it as the seat of German General Government in 1939.
We didn’t have enough time to see everything we wanted to see in Krakow because we split our time between three cities: Krakow, Gdansk, and Warsaw. But, we decided that we needed to save a few things for next time anyway 🙂
We spread out our sightseeing in Krakow over several days. We visited Rynek Glowny first, where the famous St. Mary’s church and Sukiennice (Cloth Market) are located.
I highly recommend taking either a golf cart tour or a carriage tour around the old town. We did a golf cart tour and it was worth every penny. Beware though, that the guides like to negotiate. When they see foreigners, they give a high price. If you say it’s too much and start walking away, they will lower the price by as much as 50%. In fact, if you walk up to multiple tour providers (they are usually lined up in a row), they will see that you are shopping around and you will get the best deal.
Things to see in Stare Miasto (Old Town) Krakow:
- Rynek Glowny (town square)
- Wawel Castle and Cathedral
- St. Mary’s Church
- Kazimierz and Jewish Ghetto
- Many beautiful churches
- Walk around the park that surrounds Old Town
- See the Barbican, St. Florian’s Gate, and the fortification wall
We went up to Wawel hill but were only able to enter the Cathedral (which was amazing!) but not the Royal Castle because the lines for tickets were way too long! They also ran out of audio-guides. I would recommend that you get there early because by 11:00AM the wait is at least 2 hours long.
The Wawel Cathedral was simply amazing. We absolutely loved seeing the tombs (this was an extra charge) and the beautiful art. The climb up the bell tower is really worth doing for the amazing views; it’s also the only place inside of the Cathedral that you can take pictures.
Also, a trip to Krakow would not be complete without a visit to the old Jewish quarter Kazimierz. Here I recommend the golf cart tours as well. I loved checking out the area and seeing how the Catholic and Jewish cultures merged.
There is not much left of the Jewish Ghetto but you can see the wall that surrounded the ghetto and some other mementos of the very grim time of Krakow’s history. Notice the tops of the wall (below) are shaped like tomb stones – very sad.
Be sure to take a break and shop at Sukiennice, there are some great souvenir shops there and it’s fun to walk around and see all the cool Polish stuff. Of course, don’t miss out on taking a break in one of the many restaurants that surround the town square and give the great Polish food a try.
Oh yeah, and try one of the 0.5 liter beers! They are cheap! In fact, much cheaper than most of the other, non-alcoholic drinks.
In general, expect there to be crowds. I mean, 10 million visitors is a lot of people and nearly all of them visit the Old Town. However, the atmosphere is very cool, especially on the weekends. You will see vendors, street performers, mimes, and artists. You will also hear music everywhere. It makes for a very nice experience.