The Historic Centre of Kraków comprises three urban ensembles that illustrate its growth from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Kraków was founded in 1257 and grew harmoniously to encompass the medieval chartered City of Kraków, the Wawel Hill complex, and the town of Kazimierz. It has Europe's largest marketsquare and numerous medieval buildings. Its important role in Polish history is symbolized in the Royal Wawel Castle, a site of royal coronations and royal funerals. Kraków also has one of the world's oldest university buildings and the Kazimierz district contains many Jewish memorial sites.
Map of KrakówLoad map
In the series “Revisiting the great cities of Europe”, I present Krakow. My first visit to Krakow was in early February 2005, and in the few pictures that I have left the buildings look gloomy and there’s a layer of snow on the ground. So I planned this return trip for April, confident in catching a few warm and sunny Spring days. Oh, how wrong I was! It was freezing. But I came prepared with a list of things to see gathered from previous reviews and other sources. And I read the original nomination file (1978), which has become available since it was attached to the 2010 minor boundary modification.
On my first afternoon, I joined a Free Walking Tour covering Kazimierz. No less than 36 foreign tourists showed up, which confirms Krakow as a popular city trip destination. The tour still milks the success of the Schindler’s List movie which dates from 1993. Fortunately, the group was split in 2 with a guide each. We walked a lot, also to the former ghetto across the river (outside of the WHS core zone). Several 16th and 17th-century synagogues and a cemetery have survived in Kazimierz, although hardly any Jews returned after WWII.
The next morning I set out from my hotel at 8 a.m., lured outside early by blue skies and sun. I started by walking anti-clockwise from Hotel Polonia to Wawel via Planty Park. This park isn’t located in the core of the city but encircles it following the outline of the old defensive walls. To the left are the impressive towers of the city wall and the well-preserved Barbican, when you look to the right (outside the core zone) you’ll see fine Art Nouveau buildings and even some Art Deco.
At Wawel Hill, I skipped the Castle but did enter the Cathedral (24zl). At first, it feels a bit cluttered, as it was expanded over and over again by successive rulers in a variety of styles. But if you take your time you’ll enjoy Sigismund’s Chapel and the Crypt. I also climbed up to see the Sigismund Bell.
Back in the city center, I visited:
- St. Andrew’s Church: the oldest remaining Romanesque building.
- St. Adalbert's Church: pretty one on the main square (2nd photo).
- Basilica of the Holy Trinity: very gothic, also the interior.
- St. Mary’s Church: a masterpiece of brick gothic, with a colourful interior (15zl).
- The exterior of St. Barbara Church next door.
- Collegium Maius: I took the tour in English here (18zl, entrance was free Wednesday afternoon), has a good collection of historical scientific objects.
While walking around, I enjoyed recognizing the special connections Krakow has to offer, such as the Jagiellonian globe (ca. 1510) with its early representation of America (somewhere near Madagascar), the Moorish revival architecture of the Temple Synagogue, the Zygmunt Bell. And I even found some more: an obelisk, Italian architects outside of Italy (Sigismund’s Chapel - "the most beautiful example of the Tuscan Renaissance north of the Alps"), domes also, an equestrian statue at Wawel, Art Nouveau (Palace of Art), theatres (Juliusz Słowacki Theatre).
I spent 1.5 days exploring the city, walking 22 km but did not manage to finish all that I had wanted to see. I really enjoyed my time, so I upgraded my rating from 3.5 to 4 stars. Compared to Prague or Budapest, Krakow is more intimate and has a heavier focus on the medieval. It’s also more ‘itself’: less cosmopolitan but also less sleazy. Its streets and buildings can be a bit grey (especially when the sun doesn’t shine), but it does have pretty Italian-style Renaissance squares, ornate church interiors in different styles, and the magnificent Cloth Hall which easily could have been a WHS on its own merits. Positive from a visitor perspective also is that the historic city center is almost car-free. And when you have to cross a main street, cars will invariably stop at pedestrian crossings or even when you just linger at the curbside – this to the visible amazement of the tourists from countries where this cannot be counted upon.
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I agree with other reviewers that Krakow is a great city, a perfect destination for a weekend trip or even for a few days more - plenty of remarkable sights, friendly people, a lively night life, and a hotspot for WHS enthusiasts. We spent seven days in Krakow in August 2014. We had a great time visiting friends who live in the outskirts and exploring the highlights of the city and in the surrounding.
Krakow was the capital of Poland until the 16th century, and the locals still consider it the secret capital and the cultural and academic centre of the country. For five hundred years, the Wawel Castle was the royal residence and the Cathedral was the burial site of the Polish kings. The Wawel is still the symbol of Polish national identity and very popular with tourists, so it was no surprise that there was already a queue at the visitor centre when we arrived a quarter to nine in the morning (the ticket booth opens at nine). We had to wait half an hour to get our tickets for entry at 10.45 to the State Rooms (self-guided with audioguide). So we had plenty of time to visit the Cathedral first. The interior of the cathedral is a sequence of tombs, chapels and memorials, interesting and of historical significance, but it is not stunning. But I loved the exterior, a mixture of various shapes and colours, the different architectural styles are clearly visible. The same with the castle: I'm not very enthusiastic to visit the interior of castles and palaces, it is always more or less the same sequence of rooms, and the Wawel has not changed my mind, although the collection of tapestries is quite impressive. But I liked very much the beautiful arcaded courtyard. We also bought tickets to Leonardo Da Vinci's "Lady with an Ermine", which is currently shown at the Wawel Castle during the renovation of the Czartoryski Museum. It might be inappropriate to charge an extra entrance fee just to see one painting (10 Zloty or 2.40 Euro), but it is truly an amazing work of art.
The second main sight in Krakow is the Rynek Glowny (Main Square), the heart of Krakow where all streets of the historic centre start or end. The guidebooks describe it as the largest and most beautiful square in Europe, and rightly so. The square is surrounded by noble townhouses, and its centre is dominated by the unique Renaissance Cloth Hall with arcades and adorned gables. And not to be overlooked the St Mary Basilica, where I found what I had missed in the Wawel Cathedral: a magnificent interior. The Basilica is most famous for the altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss. The admission is free for the main entrance (prayer entrance), but if you want to take a closer look to the chancel and the altarpiece you have to pay a fee for the side entrance.
There are many more interesting sites to visit, I want to highlight three:
The Church of St. Francis, a unique combination of Gothic architecture with mural paintings and stained glass windows in Art Nouveau, it has a very special atmosphere. The Collegium Maius, the oldest building of the Jagiellonian University and home of the University Museum, worth seeing are the beautiful courtyard and the historic rooms. And finally the Temple Synagogue in Neo-Moorish style in the Kazimierz district, it is richly decorated in red and gold (photo).
We were pleasantly surprised by the vibrant night life: plenty of locals, tourists and students from all over the world, bars and pubs are open until late at night. Most restaurants and pubs are at the Rynek and the streets north of the square, around the university and in the Kazimierz quarter.
Local specialties are pierogi (stuffed dumplings), bigos (stew with sauerkraut and meat), and Oscypek, a smoked cheese. Polish cuisine is delicious, but be aware that it is dominated by meat dishes - no country for vegetarians.
I visited this WHS in September 2014. I spent 5 days in this beautiful city and used it as my base for other nearby WHS. It really is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Not too big, not too small and still not too crowded although I visited in the summer months. My hotel was overlooking the Vistula River and the Wawel Hill so it's the first place I visited in Cracow. You can easily spend a whole day here as there's quite a lot to see. The different spires of the Wawel Cathedral immediately catch your attention especially on a bright sunny day. Next to it is the Wawel Royal Castle with its beautiful tiered courtyard. Both are worth visiting although I'd suggest visiting the interior around lunch time when most of the tourist groups are away. The best place to have a panoramic view is from the Sandomierska Tower. It only costs 4 zloty to visit and there are only 137 steps to climb. Next I headed towards the Rynek Główny which is the largest medieval town square in Europe. The centre of the square is dominated by the Sukiennice or the Cloth Hall and the Town Hall Tower. Again I felt like climbing to have a panoramic view of Cracow and so I paid 7 zloty to go up to the top of the Town Hall Tower. The Cloth Hall now houses an interesting museum on the top floor, several handicraft stalls in the gallery and an underground trading hall. The horse-drawn carraiges really add to the overall atmosphere even though a bit touristy. In front of the Cloth Hall is the unique St. Mary's Basilica with its two different towers. Every hour the Hejnał Mariacki is played from the top of the tallest tower. The trumpeter stops abruptly to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. Another very interesting part of Cracow is the Kazimierz district, especially the Jewish part, with several synagogues, a Jewish cemetery, lots of interesting Jewish graffiti and cool bars and restaurants. The Jewish ghetto is in the Podgorze district and the main sights there are the Memorial on Ghetto Heroes Square and the Schindler's Factory, which had saved nearly 1200 Jews from the concentration camps. Don't forget to try the local pierogi (dumplings) when you stop for a quick snack.
Visiting Krakow was the highlight of my visit to Poland. I enjoyed the city itself, especially Kazimerz, the Jewish Quarter with its synagogues and Jewish restaurants. Then there was Wawel hill, with the cathedral and castle, and the view over the Vistula. But the best was the Rynek with its stately architecture and the fantastic food stalls.
From Krakow I also visited, Bochnia, Auchwitz, Wieliczka, Kalwaria Zebrydowska, and the wooden churches in Debno and Powroznik.
Whilst many buildings have been restored in recent years, most obviously Ulica Grodzka, which leads towards the Wawel and is one of the oldest streets in Krakow, gimmicky new additions have blighted the centre. The new "Crystal Fountain" which is not just a fountain but a banal glass pyramid glows in different colours at night, has ruined the view outside the Mariacki Church and detracts from Krakow's old world ambience. Krakow's Rad Miejska should be held accountable for failing to preserve the city in accordance with the UNESCO criteria making it a World Heritage site. It is an international disgrace that the Rynek has been blighted like this. Shame.
It really is a cheap tawdry gimmick and lovers of Krakow should demand its prompt removal. It's already one the annual Archi-Szopa Award for being the worst piece of new architecture in Poland
Krakow is unique, bohemian, artistic and creative, original and historic - I think that is the best short description of my experiences in the city. Its like this hidden treasure of Europe, emerging on the global scale. The main old town square and the old jewish district of Kazimierz have probably the most unique ambience , truly a World Heritage site, where even today one can experience not just Polish, but European and World culture. One should remember to try the local food, and if possible avoid the modern shopping malls and explore more the traditional stores where you can find authentic and original products from the region.
I spent 6 days staying in a Kazimierz appartment in Jozefa street. When we arrived in the area my initial thoughts were what on earth have we came to as the place looked a bit run down, after a few hours we soon realised that the place is bursting with atmoshere. The bars came alive and eating places were fantastic and very reasonably priced.
Kazimierz doesnt appear to have been altered much in the past 70 years. Anyone visiting Poland must take the time to go to Auswitch and Birkenau...I came out a different man than the one who entered the place.
Raghunandan B H
Kraków is one of the amazing cities of Europe. I am one of very few people to visit Kraków from India. Polish people are very polite and friendly, with a few exceptions though.
The main market square is a tourist heaven, because of this most of the people who own shops in and around market square speak good english.
I was fascinated by seeing many historical monuments which have survived all the wars, and in quite good condition. The government is making good efforts to restore those in poor condition and maintain them.
I would like to recommend more people from India to visit Poland
Cracow is a wonderful, well-preserved city and one of the jewels of Central Europe, definitely on a par with Prague. Although I only had a half day to explore the town, I liked the atmosphere a lot (it's also less touristy and crowded than other similar cities). The Wawel Hill with the cathedral and the palace is very interesting, and the main square is one of the most beautiful squares in the world. The many remnants of the Habsburg Empire were an added bonus. Also very interesting is the Kazimierz district, with its remnants of the once vibrant Jewish life. Cracow is of course not a hidden gem anymore, but I do think that more people should visit it.
I agree with everyone saying Cracow is a great city. I think so too. I would like to focus my review on my visit to Kazimierz - the Jewish ghetto which was very exciting for me as a Jew. Cracow's Jewish district is amazing in that it is one of the only Jewish ghettos that survived WWII essentially intact (like in Prague or Venice). The reason why the ghetto was not destroyed was the horrid Nazi idea to turn the place into an open air museum documenting the downfall of a race (der Untergang einer Rasse). Thanks to this we can still admire this quiet neibourhood which still houses a small Jewish ultraorthodox minority (how amazing!) and which otherwise became Cracow's number one night life centre. The Jewish past is not being forgotten and you can go out to some traditional restaurants where you can enjoy Kosher food and Hassidi music often played by non-Jewish bands.
There are quite a few synagogues in Kazimierz and it is unnecessary to visit them all. I would recommend to first visit the Jewish Cumminity Centre where you can get a map of the ghetto and some additional information. Sometimes they also offer cultural events connected to Cracow's Jews. The oldest synagogue in Cracow is the Isaac Synogogue (and not the Old Synagogue! which is much newer). It is a bit empty and there isn't much to see inside but it still offers a special atmosphere. Conversely, the Tempel Reform Synagogue is beautifully decorated in is very much recommended to visit as an architectural piece of art. The Old Synagogue is home to the museum of Jewish history of Cracow. Nearby Remuh Cemetery is an old Jewish cemetery reminding of Prague's. Another museum nearby - the Galicia Museum - exhibits photos and films documenting Jewish life in Poland. It is very different from the Jewish museum in the Old Synagogue and I would recommend a visit to bothe of them.
Above all, try to visit Cracow's famous Jewish Festival which takes place annually during summer in Kazimierz.
There is no doubt that Krakow is lovely, but it does need some restoration. Many of the buildings are in a poor state of repair, and need more than a lick of paint.
Wawel Hill is fantastic, and is in wonderful condition.
The main square is truly charming as well.
It is rapidly catching up with Prague for tourists, so see it before it gets over-run!
Cracow's historical centre can be easily explored on foot. It was snowing a bit when I walked around (that's why the photos look somewhat bleak). At Wawel, the Castle, I joined a tour inside the Apartments. These living quarters exhibit many Renaissance decorations and furnishings. Some Dutch china (with oriental themes), Flemish tapestries, and Italian majolica chimneys. It got me thinking about the originality of many sites, and that I should stick to visiting the "originals" (Rome instead of "The Second Rome", Venice instead of "The Venice of the East", Jerusalem instead of "Polish Jerusalem").
The most impressive monument of Cracow is the 14th-century Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), situated at the centre of the square. It's a huge building with a very distinctive shape: all gables wherever you look. There are little (souvenir) shops inside now. On the first floor, there's a fine exhibition of large paintings by Polish artists from around 1900.
On Sunday morning I picked a walking tour from my guidebook and went to the old Jewish neighbourhood Kazimierz. Already a considerable number of people were present at the clothes market on Plac Zydowski, although it was freezing and before 9. There are a number of synagogues in this area, all a bit more decorated on the outside than usual (perhaps to rival at least somehow the exuberant Catholic churches in Cracow). The Jewish community in Cracow has been minimalized for a long time, so these synagogues and the adjacent Jewish cemeteries are merely reminders of the past.
I have done a lot of traveling in the world (also part of my job), especially Europe, and I have to say Cracow is in the top two of my favourite places (my home Prato is of course the other one :)). I love Warsaw, it is very dynamic and wonderful (plus, less tourists, it seemed), but Cracow is more a center of history. I know that other Central European cities are getting popular, but I can say that while Prague and Budapest are nice, Cracow is better! As someone said to me, Cracow's castle is older, the piazza is larger and the city is cultured (and clean!) -- not like in the other cities where you have dirty streets and sleazy sex shoppes everywhere. The food is also very delicious. I also very much liked the museums (Leonardo's ``Lady with an ermine'' is here). It is a very beautiful, fairy tale city, and people (when they are not tourists -- especially the British and Germans, which are the worst!) are very nice, like in most of Poland.
I very much recommend it.
Now for practical advice. If you are a student, I recommend getting a private room in a hostel. They are very cheap, clean, comfortable and well furnished, and the staff is very helpful. You can meet people from different countries in them if you want to do that. The hotels are too expensive for students (something like 80$-200$/night), plus, who needs more than a place to sleep when you are gone for most of the day exploring this magical place. Ask the hostel staff for advice where to go.
Krakow is a fantastic place, I really loved my visits here, and the centre is very well preserved and oozes history. The main square and Wawel hill complex are highlights of central Europe and contain enough history to keep anyone entertained. The Jewish quarter is very interesting as well, but I must admit the though of what went on during the Nazi occupation of the city really hit home when I was walking around it on a very very cold winters night.
The main sights are easy to get between and they are supported by a network of underground bars which are fantastic, especially in the Jewish quarter, they all seem to be in caves a massive fire risk but really interesting and cheap none the less. I would also strongly recommend CW Bruwar's which sells beer by the metre!
Krakow is very interesting and a great base for exploring the nearby UNESCO sites; Auschwitz, Wieliczka and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (although I did not get to the later the others are easily accessible from the central train station)
If you are in Central Europe then Krakow is a must!
Krakow is a truley stunning place, the main square and the Wawel are lovely and it is worth the time to wander around the Jewish quater aswell much better than Pragues. The night life here is also astounding (i honestly never thought i would say that about Poland!) try some of the many bars in caves around the main sqaure especially CW Bruwar, which sells beer by the metre!! Krakow also makes a great base for exploring the other nearby sites on the UNESCO list Auschwitz Birkenau, and the Wieleczka Salt mines both a short train ride from the main station.
I visited Krakow this past Christmas (2003) and found it to be a delightful and charming city. The people there are so helpful and kind to strangers. Of course, there was a lot of activity going on especially for Christmas, but I was never at a loss for something to do or something I should see. I had a marvelous three days and would like to do it again for a longer period of time.
As we walked toward the city center of Kraków, Poland, we heard the famous Kraków bugle call from the tower of the Church of St. Mary. During a war with the Tartars (from western Asia) in 1297, while the Polish bugler was sounding a call, an arrow was shot through his throat, stopping the call in mid-note. In a few moments another soldier picked up the horn, and continued the call, and that is what you hear today — a bugle call, an interruption, then the bugle call continues.
At noon on Saturday the bugle call is sounded over radio stations in Poland. One year as we sailed the Atlantic from Rotterdam to Montreal on the TSS Stefan Batory, at noon on Saturday, the bugle call sounded over the ship’s PA System.
Krakow is one of the most beautiful cities on the world, considered the most beautiful city in Europe. Its old traditions, wonderful and rich architecture, magic unusual atmospheare, history and friendly people makes Krakow especially nice.
Krakow is not like Prague, it is better! Krakow has a good potencial to become a most popular destination of Europe...
For many visitors Krakow bacame a favourite city. I am one of them:)
Cracow is, in short, awe inspiring. Unlike Prague, which sold it's soul and compromised it's cultured beauty with white-wash and sparkling red roof tiles, Krakow retains its atmospheric, laid back charm, yet at the same time manages to offer the visitor everything that Prague does, minus perhaps the sleazy sex shows. Krakow seems, on the whole, much more refined and artistic, ranking with the sleazy Prague and bustling Budapest as a Central European jewel.
Wawel Castle and Cathedral, Market Square, Old Town, St. Mary's Basillica, Florianska Street and Jewish Quarter give any beautiful European city a run for it's money. Don't miss this spot, you'll be impressed by it's charm and delightful beauty will have you wanting to know more and perhaps visit again.
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2013 Name change
From "Cracow’s Historic Centre" to "Historic Centre of Kraków".
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