The historic center of Krakow Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see of the city.
In this post, I share everything you can see and do in the center of Krakow. I recommend starting with a guided and free walking tour of Krakow on your first trip.
What to See in the Krakow Old Town
You can visit the center of Krakow on your own or with an English-speaking guide. You have several options. Choose the one that best suits your travel style.
- Tour of the Old Town and Jewish Quarter of Krakow
- Free walking tour of the center of Krakow
- Book a ticket to Poland here!
The Market Square of the Krakow Old Town
The apartment was close to Market Square (also called Rynek Główny), so it was the first place we visited. Although we returned to it repeatedly, it comes in handy as a reference point to get to know the Krakow Old Town or Stare Miasto.
The old town is called Stare Miasto in all Polish cities because its translation is “old city.”
You may have heard that Krakow’s Market Square is the largest in the world. This is not true, but at 40,000 square meters, it is one of the largest in Medieval Europe. You would like to do a walking tour.
Make sure you get the best travel shoes for this trip! This pair of shoes is perfect for on-the-go trips and shopping, especially when you stay near Market Square like us.
Although, it has the building of the cloth market in the middle of the square, making it look smaller than it really is.
- Read: What to See in Krakow
There is a lot to see in the market square, and it is the liveliest place in the city.
So although we took a simple walk that night to see what we would find the next day, we quickly realized that we had to return another day since we had time. Besides, many places were already closed.
However, we could go to the food stalls behind the cloth market, next to the cathedral, with lots of tasty and warm food. We had a couple of plates of meat made on the giant skewers that are typical there.
The Cloth Hall
The first place we visited was the cloth market, a market with stalls to buy souvenirs today. There are still some stalls with furs or clothes. You will see many stalls selling amber.
It is typical of this area, and although it is not cheap. It never is. There were many good quality and very original pieces. The truth is, they make you want to buy them all…
The Basilica of Santa Maria in the Krakow Old Town
We pass through the cloth market and the stalls of the previous night and go to the Basilica of St. Mary in Krakow.
This basilica was declared a World Heritage Site in 1978 when the historical center of Krakow was declared.
This basilica has several peculiarities. The first is that the two towers are of different sizes and finishes. One of the towers was designed as a watchtower and is taller, while the other served as a bell tower.
The second is the trumpet call from the higher of the two towers. It is done by a firefighter from Krakow, and it is an honor to be chosen to carry it out. It is made in commemoration of the security guards who watched over the city.
In the Middle Ages, a melody called Hejnał Mariacki was played from the highest tower, which opened and closed the city gates at the beginning and end of the day, or in case of enemy attack.
In the 13th century, one of these watchmen, while playing to warn of a Tartar enemy raid, was killed by an enemy arrow and could not finish playing the last note. For this reason, when they play it today, they leave the previous note half-finished.
The third is the huge 5-leaf wooden altarpiece behind the altar. It dates back to the 15th century and is his most prized piece. They open it for tourists to see but then close it for the celebration of the Eucharist.
It is never closed by a man but always by a nun.
It was dismantled and hidden during World War II to protect it from the Germans.
Podziemia Rynku. Krakow Old Town Underground Museum
It was not swept or picked up in medieval squares to remove waste or filth. It was much easier and simpler to cover it up. To learn more about the underground museum, you can book a guided tour.
This led to the accumulation of soil layers that were small in thickness but ultimately added up. And it adds up! Every century, the ground level of the square rose more than one meter.
This means that as the years went by, what was the first floor became a basement, and the pavement was laid over the one that was there before.
This has made it possible to preserve many remains and items from the daily life of the ancient cities, which help know how people lived and what happened in this same square in the past.
It is a very interesting and worthwhile visit. The museum is very interactive, like all the ones we visited in Poland, and we liked it very much, more than recommended.
The Tower of the Old Town Hall and the Head of Eros Brendato
When you enter the town hall square, one of the first things that catch your eye is the tower of the old town hall.
You can go inside and climb the steps to see the view from up there, but we could not do that.
Near its base is the sculpture Eros Brendato, representing a woman’s head. It is hollow inside, and you can enter it. It is a well-known place in the city and a common meeting point.
The University of Krakow
You can walk between Swietej Anny and Wilsna streets from the market square because this is where the University of Krakow is located.
It had two illustrious students, Nicolas Copernicus, who revolutionized the study of astronomy by formulating the theory that the planets revolve around the sun, and the late Pope John Paul II, who studied at this university in hiding.
In addition, this university experienced a terrible Nazi episode among its professors when the director wanted to start classes without consulting the Gestapo.
The director and teachers received a notice to have an informational meeting that was a trap to carry out a mass arrest of teachers.
The rector, all the teachers who came, and even some poor students who were just passing by were arrested. Many died in concentration camps.
The Pope’s Window. Okno Papieskie
As the name suggests, the pope’s window is the window of the room where John Paul II stayed when he traveled to Krakow on Franciszkansa Street.
Pope John Paul II had great love and affection for Krakow as he lived and grew up there for many years, becoming Archbishop of Krakow.
When he traveled to Krakow, he would go out to greet the young people waiting for him every time he stayed in that room and usually gave a speech. Today there is a picture of the pope illuminated at night.
The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is one of the oldest churches in the city and one of the first to be built of brick.
But what is essential about this basilica are its stained glass windows, especially the one you see in the photo.
It is said that the artist who made these stained glass windows, Stanisław Wyspiański, was very demanding with his work and never liked how a work looked the first time he made it, except with this stained glass window. With this stained glass window, he saw it and said, “it’s fine,” just like that.
The City of Wawel
One of the most important pieces in these museums is the Lady with the Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci.
In the cathedral, you can enter without paying, but in the rest of the museums and the castle, you have to pay.
Climbing Wawel Hill is almost mandatory if you go to Krakow. For centuries, this castle was the residence of Polish kings and later was the residence of the Nazi governor.
You can see the royal apartments, weapons room, and guest or Senate Halls inside the castle. There is also an exhibition of what Wawel was like 1000 years ago.
You can exit through the Dragon Cave, which is the part that overlooks the river, and where there is a dragon that throws fire from its mouth from time to time.
This cave is associated with a legend of a young shoemaker who killed a dragon by stuffing a sheepskin with sulfur to win the hand of the princess. The dragon swallowed him and burned him to death.
Planty Park of the Krakow Old Town
A wall entirely surrounded the city of Krakow. But at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, it was decided that having a wall no longer made sense and was useless.
For this reason, it was removed, and in its place, a park was created known as Planty Park, surrounding the Stare Miasto except at one point, where the Barbican is located.
The wall, the gate of St. Florian, and the towers of the cabinetmakers and carpenters were kept here.
Where to Stay in Krakow?
Travel Insurance for Your Krakow Old Town Trip
Traveling to Krakow’s Old Town was one of the experiences we can never forget. Besides the beautiful scenery, it was one of our safest places.
The beauty of Poland continues beyond Krakow. If you want to feel safe and be ready for health emergencies during your travel, get travel insurance. Using this link will get you 5% off.
Then, rent a car to take a tour at your own pace.
Plan Your Trip to Poland
- 1 Week Itinerary in Poland
- Best Things To Do in Warsaw
- What to See in Krakow
- Where to Sleep in Krakow
- Visit the Salt Mines
- Visiting the Auschwitz Concentration Camp
- What to See in Zalipie and Tarnow
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Last Updated on 7 September, 2023 by Veronica
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