Krakow Old Town
Krakow Old Town offers a unique atmosphere with thousands of bars and delightful regional restaurants, many historic buildings, and horse-driven cabs. The main point of the Old Town is the iconic Main Market Square – a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is the biggest medieval old town square in Europe and is considered the most beautiful one in Poland.
Historically, Krakow as we know it was home to several towns and villages that emerged at different times and competed with each other, but in the 20th century, they all became part of one big city. In modern Krakow, there are as many as 18 districts (dzielnice). People visiting the city usually focus on three key areas: the Old Town, Kazimierz Jewish District, and Zwierzyniec. On the map of Krakow Old Town, the most popular part of the city, you can find several astonishing places worth visiting. Its location within walking distance from the Krakow Main Station (Krakow Główny) makes it easily reachable for tourists.
Main Market Square (Krakow Rynek)
For many centuries the Market Square, or as it is called by the Poles - the Main Market (Rynek Główny), was a shopping area and administrative center of Krakow. Today, around the largest medieval square in Europe, measuring 200 x 200 m (4 hectares), life is flourishing and booming. The Old Town Square itself is the perfect place to organize holiday fairs, various concerts, and festivals. Here in winter, you will find one of the most visited Christmas Markets in Poland, full of little stalls decorated with Christmas ornaments and selling mulled wine, sweets, meats, and all kinds of souvenirs. Throughout the year you can try traditional Polish food and drink Polish beer in the restaurants and bars located in Krakow Old Town, mainly on the Market Square.
St Mary's Basilica (Kościół Mariacki)
Almost immediately after entering the Old Town, you can see a powerful building, which is an important symbol of Krakow and the most popular touristic destination after the Wawel Cathedral - St. Mary's Church. The scale of the basilica is impressive. Inside the temple, there is a real treasure hidden - the world's largest wooden altar of the late 15th century made by the famous carver Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss).
St. Mary’s Basilica was built in 1322 on the foundation of the Romanesque church burned by the Mongols. It was continuously renovated and completed in the following years, gradually finding the features of a perfect basilica. The impressive interior, designed by prominent Italian, German and Polish masters, is a mixture of Gothic, Baroque, and Art Nouveau styles, and today attracts people from all over the world.
What is more, behind the impressive building there is a small St. Mary's Square (in the 19th century - a parish cemetery) and a charming small church of St. Barbara from the 14th century (formerly a funeral chapel).
Church of St. Adalbert (Kosciol sw. Wojciecha)
A small church in the middle of the square - the church of St. Adalbert. This small Romanesque building is one of the oldest architectural monuments in Krakow. Its beginnings date back to 10th century, even before the city was built, although today's appearance is the result of the 18th century’s reconstruction. According to a legend, the church was built on the site where St. Adalbert himself had preached. When you enter the church, take a look at the difference in the level of the floor, which is significantly lower than the Square’s grounds, showing how much it changed in the past centuries.
Krakow Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)
Another attraction centrally located on the Market Square is the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). It originated in the 13th century, but at that time it consisted of an ordinary double row of wooden booths filled with various shops belonging to cloth merchants. Under the reign of King Casimir the Great, a 108-meter-long Gothic hall was built, only to be destroyed in a fire in 1555. The Cloth Hall was restored as a representative house (the stairs and loggia were designed by Giovanni Maria Padovano) with a Renaissance-style attic decorated with mascarons. The final look was acquired in the 19th century after the reconstruction of the project by Tomasz Prylinski when the neo-Gothic arches were completed. An additional floor of Sukiennice was designated for the National Museum (Muzeum Narodowe). Inside, just like a few centuries ago, there is a thriving trade in stylish stalls.
Grey Tenement House (Kamienica Szara)
"Grey" tenement house - one of the largest on the market. The house was owned by many wealthy, noble families. Celebrations and luxurious receptions in honor of the kings took place here. This place also went down in history as the location of Tadeusz Kosciuszko's headquarters. Interestingly, according to a legend, the house once belonged to the mistress of King Casimir the Great - Sara. This is where, apparently, the name of this beautiful building originated from.
Townhall Tower (Wieża Ratuszowa)
The main administrative building on the Market used to be the Town Hall. It was erected at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries and completed a century later. Unfortunately, in the early 19th-century, as a result of a terrible technical condition, it collapsed together with the granary. Only the tower survived, which in artistic terms was a counterweight to the towers of the St. Mary’s Church, located in the northeast corner of the market. Today, inside the Townhall Tower there is a branch of the Historical Museum, and in the dungeons - the stage of the National Theater.
Florian's Gate and defensive walls
Florianska Street, leading north from the Main Market Square, starts at Florian’s Gate. It is one of the four tower structures which have survived the demolition of all the city's fortifications. They once surrounded Krakow for three kilometers and were equipped with 47 towers, 8 gates, and a moat. Named after the patron - St. Florian, the gate is considered one of the most important landmarks that have remained here since the Middle Ages.
Behind the Florian Gate, outside the City Walls there is a Krakow Barbican. It is a 15th-century outpost which was surrounded by a moat and connected to the Florian Gate by a so-called "neck". Its main task was to repel the first enemy attacks. The barbican had 7 observation towers with 130 windows for shooting. The thickness of its walls is more than 3 meters. This is the largest building of this type in Poland and the only well-preserved one in Europe.
Planty is the biggest park in Europe surrounding the oldest part of the city. These green lungs of Krakow arose on the site of the fortifications in the 19th century. This beautiful place takes 21ha and is an incredible urban solution loved by both city’s inhabitants and tourists coming to Krakow. In the warmer season, you can see many people here taking a moment to relax and enjoy the greenery of the city.
Saints Peter and Paul Church (Koscioł św. Apostołów Piotra i Pawła)
The Church of St. Peter and Paul was built on the initiative of Piotr Skarga at the expense of King Sigismund III Vase for the Jesuit Order. It was created by famous architects, in particular, Giovanni Trevano. In the crypt of this majestic building, under the presbytery, the remains of Piotr Skarga lie in a silver coffin. Moreover, the high dome of the temple made it possible to hang the pendulum of Foucault - a device which proves the Earth's rotation.
St. Anne’s Church (Kosciol sw. Anny)
St. Anne's Church is the largest Baroque church in Krakow from the late 17th and early 18th centuries, founded by professors of the Jagiellonian University. Its author is the Dutch architect Tillman Van Hameren. An interesting fact about it is that the builder designed the facade of the church so that even on a narrow street it appears in all its glory.
The Collegium Maius building, the oldest building of the Krakow University, was built in 1400 but has been rebuilt several times since then. A small quiet courtyard surrounded by 15th-century arches is one of the most charming corners of Krakow. It is worth paying attention to the internal gallery and visit the museum of Jagiellonian University with valuable library funds, the oldest rector's scepter, astronomical instruments, and unique collections.