Krakow Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Krakow

A unique entry on the list of the World Heritage Sights, Krakow is a recognized center of the academic, artistic and cultural life of Poland. Established in the 7th century as a tiny hamlet at the top of the Wawel Hill, overlooking the Vistula River, it is one of the country's oldest cities. Over the course of the next fifteen centuries it has evolved into the nation's second-largest urban area.

Its full official name – Stołeczne Królewskie Miasto Kraków – translates as the "Royal Capital City of Kraków", and is traditionally attributed to Krakus (Krak, Grakch), the legendary founder of the city and a ruler of the tribe of Lechitians. Therefore, Krakow essentially means "Krak's (town)".

By 965 Krakow had emerged as a busy trading center of Central Europe and, up until 1596, served as the official capital of Poland. With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the dawn of the Second Polish Republic in 1918, the city reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic hub.

After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany during World War II, the Jewish population of Krakow was forced into a ghetto and then exterminated, most of, in gas chambers. The city itself was spared from major bombing and was ultimately saved from total destruction by the Nazis – who wanted to blow it up – by the Soviets.

In 1978 Krakow gained fame through its former archbishop, Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II — the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

Today's Krakow is one of Europe's most beautiful and culturally richest tourist destinations, renowned, primarily, for its Old Town – the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site! The city's medieval core – ringed by Planty Park and remnants of the ancient walls – is undoubtedly the best place to start your acquaintance with Krakow. A must-see attraction here is the expansive Rynek Glówny (“Main Market”) square complete with the Renaissance-era Cloth Hall and the 14th-century St. Mary’s Basilica. If you're an architecture buff, you wouldn't want to miss other Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque jewels, such as the Wawel Cathedral and Royal Castle, and the Collegium Maius – home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest in the world.

To explore these and other popular sights in Krakow at your own pace, take this self-guided orientation walk.
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Krakow Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Krakow Introduction Walk
Guide Location: Poland » Krakow (See other walking tours in Krakow)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: ellen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Town Hall Tower
  • Rynek Główny (Main Square)
  • Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)
  • Underground Main Square Museum
  • Basilica of St. Mary
  • Florianska Street
  • St. Florian's Gate Tower
  • The Barbican (Barbakan)
  • Planty Park
  • Collegium Maius (Great College)
  • Basilica of St. Francis
  • Wawel Cathedral
  • Wawel Royal Castle
1
Town Hall Tower

1) Town Hall Tower

Slanting about 55 centimeters, the Town Hall Tower stands proudly as Krakow’s own Leaning Tower. This towering Gothic structure measures 70 meters in height and singularly garners the attention of those visiting the Main Square.

This lean structure adorned the city during the late 13th century and has stood ground ever since, enduring tribulations of passing time. The lonely structure that stands today was initially built to accompany a magnificent Town Hall that was demolished for the purposes of opening up the Main Square in 1820. Built in Gothic-style, the Town Hall was used as a prison and even contained medieval torture chambers.

The Tower's most attractive feature, its helmet, has been replaced thrice in the history of its existence. Initially, the Tower bore a beautiful Gothic top which was brought down by lightning in 1680. This was replaced by an ornate Baroque helmet designed by Piotr Beber which crumbled down in 1783. Post that, a smaller helmet replaced the tower top that presently covers the top of the Town Hall.

Today one can enjoy a hot brewed cup of coffee in the basement of the Tower that once contained outlaws of the city. The Tower also offers its visitors one of the finest views of the city and some vintage photographs that can take you through the history of Krakow.

Tip:
Fairly tricky climb up steps that are quite steep & deep so not for those with bad knees or little legs.
Don’t miss the giant bronze head located just outside the entrance.
View at the penultimate stop with pretty stained windows is great.
Free admission on Mondays!

Opening hours:
Mon: 10:30am-2pm; Tue-Sun: 10:30am-6pm (Mar-Oct); Mon: 11am-2pm; Tue-Sun: 11am-5pm
LAST ADMISSION 30 MINS BEFORE CLOSING TIME
The Town Hall Tower is closed on every 1st Tuesday of the month
2
Rynek Główny (Main Square)

2) Rynek Główny (Main Square) (must see)

The Main Market Square, popularly known as the Rynek Główny, is one place everyone is bound to visit in Krakow. Surrounding the Market are some of the city's most prized treasures like the Cloth Hall, St Mary’s Basilica, the Town Hall Tower, along with many others. The buildings surrounding the Main Square display the tireless effort and the appetite for rich architecture that the denizens of Krakow had. Contained by castles, palaces and historical monuments, the Main Square is probably the most vibrant place in the city.

The Mongol Invasion of 1241 which left the city in ruins, also gravely affected the Main Square. It was in 1257 that the foundation for this massive complex was laid and today it is Europe’s largest medieval market area (40,000 m). The main reason for setting up this market was to attract merchants to share their trade in the city – something quite important in those times.

Why You Should Visit:
The central spot for locals and tourists alike. Exciting and lively at any time of day/night. Many shops, restaurants & bars to enjoy a drink with the view. Great place for souvenirs as well.

Tip:
The square can be expensive but have a look down the side streets as there are many bars that are underground – some of which have a great atmosphere and serve cheaper food/drinks.
3
Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)

3) Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) (must see)

With its magnificent charm and timeless aura, the Cloth Hall welcomes you into its history of luxury, wealth, grandeur and trade. The most happening shopping complex of the medieval era, the Cloth Hall was the place where merchants and traders would meet to finalize deals and get the best bargains for the goods in the market. At first sight, the Cloth Hall puts time on hold. The opulence and splendor of the building is proof of the glory the city enjoyed in the medieval era.

If you are looking for gifts and souvenirs in Krakow, Cloth Hall is the place to find them. This wonderful building, situated in the middle of the Old Town Square, has been the main focus of trade since the 14th century. After a fire in the 16th century, it was rebuilt in a Renaissance style. There is plenty of amber jewelry, lace and embroideries as well as wooden souvenirs such as Jewish statues, ornately carved boxes, chessboards available here at good prices.

Tip:
Besides the souvenir stalls, don't miss the permanent exhibition of the National Gallery upstairs, displaying artworks of 19th-century Polish painters. Shops are open until 8pm. There are very clean 24/7 public toilets at one end of the building – on the right as you look from St Mary's church.
4
Underground Main Square Museum

4) Underground Main Square Museum (must see)

The underground central museum of Kraków is situated below the main square of the city and has an area of over 6000 square meters. The museum first opened on 24 September 2010, at the time only displaying regular exhibitions.

The main exhibit, “In the footsteps of Krakow’s European identity”, makes use of holograms constructed by using projectors alongside fog machines and several dozen screens and projectors to recreate the atmosphere of Kraków seven hundred years ago. The exhibition allows visitors to see six hundred models in three dimensions via thirty seven touch screens placed throughout.

Adjacent to the multimedia exhibit and underneath the Cloth Hall building lie the medieval tracts. Visitors explore the medieval exhibits by walking over glass ramps that hang above the area.

This part of the museum includes remains of medieval constructions including:

- A reconstructed 12th century workshop.
- Former waterworks (aqueducts).
- The remains of burned settlements, the oldest of which dates from the eleventh century.
- A reconstruction of a medieval merchant's stall.
- A map depicting distant trade routes.
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Basilica of St. Mary

5) Basilica of St. Mary (must see)

Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this basilica stands adjacent to the Main Square in Krakow as a beautiful illustration of the merger of different styles of architecture. Together, these styles brew a singular timeless piece of structure that stands as an example for several other churches in Poland.

The facade of the Church consists of two high raised uneven towers, of which one is constructed in Gothic style while the other has a Renaissance style. The Gothic tower boasts a magnificent spire built in 1478 that measures 81 meters and has a gold-coated crown. The other tower, measuring 69 meters, has a Renaissance roof and was constructed in 1592. The tower has five bells, two of which date back to the 14th century. On the front side of the Church is a beautiful Baroque designed porch that was constructed in the mid-18th century.

Not only is the exterior of the St. Mary's Basilica magnificent, but the interiors also make their mark in terms of grandeur and excellence. The basilica houses the famous altarpiece of Veit Stross, the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world, consisting of 200 figurines sculpted to the utmost delicacy and each limewood figure treated with color and gold foil. One of the national treasures of Poland, this ornate wooden altarpiece is a must-see on your visit to Krakow.

Tip:
Before going inside, you might want to make sure you're not wearing shorts and your shoulders are covered.
Don't forget to buy the camera ticket; otherwise, the camera spotting official will tell you to turn it off (not discreetly either!)...

Note that every hour/on the hour, a trumpeter comes out at the top window of the left tower to play a song out of each of the three windows up there. If you want to climb the tower, pre-book a time to go up (best to do it online). You can meet the trumpeters at the top and pose with them for a modest tip! The views are excellent.

Tour Hours:
[Basilica] Mon-Sat: 11:30am–6pm; Sun: 2–6pm
[Bell Tower] Thu-Fri: 10am–2pm (Apr-Oct); max 6 people; children not admitted for reasons of safety
[Bugle Tower] Tue-Sat: 9:10am–5:30pm; Sun: 1:10pm–5:30pm (Apr-Oct); Thu, Fri, Sat: 9:10am–5:30pm (Nov, Dec, Mar)
6
Florianska Street

6) Florianska Street (must see)

There's nothing like strolling the streets of a city to feel its pulse, and if you want to put your finger on Krakow's then take a walk down Florianska Street. This place gets its name from the famous Florian Gate at the north. Built in the 13th century, the street has managed to garner attention since its inception. Filled with structures that boast of beautiful facades, the Florianska Street is the best place to admire the change in styles of architecture of the buildings through the years.

While some buildings still brag of a stern yet intricate edifice displaying Gothic influence, other buildings showcase styles more modern ranging from early to late Renaissance to Baroque and Neoclassic. Nevertheless, the amalgamation of these different styles makes the street worthy of mention and visit.

Not only it is a must-see because of its rich architectural wealth, but each structure (that is given a serial number) also has a story of its own. There are even a few house museums you might want to enter for a short visit. Owned by some of the wealthier middle-class families in the earlier centuries, one can learn about each home and its inhabitants in detail.

Today, the Florianska Street is the most visited street in Krakow and rightly so, for it has so many stories to offer to its visitors.

Tip:
Be aware of the money exchange outlets located here – to be avoided or it will cost you.
7
St. Florian's Gate Tower

7) St. Florian's Gate Tower

You sense the history of Krakow when you try to imagine what it must have been like to approach its well-defended brick and mortar walls during medieval times. This tower, first mentioned in 1307, had been built as part of a protective rampart around Kraków after the Tatar attack of 1241 which destroyed most of the city. The new construction of city defense features stone watchtowers, fortified gates and a moat.

The gate named after St. Florian became the main entryway to the Old Town. It was connected by a long bridge to the circular Barbican (Barbakan) erected of brick on the other side of the moat. According to records, by 1473 there were 17 towers defending the city; a century later, there were 33. At the height of its existence, the wall featured 47 watchtowers and eight gates. Also, in 1565–66 a municipal arsenal was built next to St. Florian's Gate.

The Gate Tower is 33.5 meters tall. The Baroque metal "helmet" that crowns the gate, constructed in 1660 and renovated in 1694, adds another meter to its overall height. St. Florian's is the only city gate, of the original eight built in the Middle Ages, that was not dismantled during the 19th-century "modernization" of Kraków. The adjoining city walls and two additional, smaller towers had been preserved and today host street displays of amateur art available for purchase.

The south face of St. Florian's Gate is adorned with an 18th-century bas-relief of St. Florian. The tower's north face bears a stone eagle that was carved in 1882 by Polish sculptor Zygmunt Langman, based on a design by painter Jan Matejko. Inside the gate is an altar with a late-Baroque copy of a classicist painting of the Piaskowa Madonna.

Tip:
The Gate Tower is beautiful to see at night when it is lighted.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9am-6pm
8
The Barbican (Barbakan)

8) The Barbican (Barbakan)

The Barbican guards the city of Krakow. This mighty structure is an excellent example of a building that is deeply embedded in the history of the city and displays its lavish architecture. You can learn about Krakow as you walk along the 10 feet thick walls and stroll inside the inner courtyard.

The Barbican was built for purposes of safeguarding the city of Krakow from those who dared to put a bad eye on its security. With a 3 meter thick wall, it was well designed to accommodate 130 crenels in four rows. The lower crenels were used by artillery and the higher ones were used by archers and riflemen.

With seven turrets, the Barbican acted as the perfect outpost protecting the city. This Gothic-style fortification was built in the late 15th century and is more of the Arabic style rather than a European-style military structure. It was initially linked to the inner city wall.

Today one can take time to watch some of the finest exhibits the city has to display at the Barbican. From classical concerts to dances, exhibitions, and reenactments, the Barbican is the perfect place where you can enjoy the building’s immense historical presence while listening to music or watching a story unwind before your very own eyes.

Tip:
Make sure you book the outdoor shows in advance or you'll miss out!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10:30am-6pm (Apr-Oct); closed on every 2nd Monday of the month
9
Planty Park

9) Planty Park (must see)

Take a walk in one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in Krakow. If urban life and sightseeing are taking too much out of you, Planty Garden is the perfect hideout. This vast garden stretched across an area of 21,000 square meters (5.2 acres) and a length of 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) offers the perfect retreat from the hustle bustle of city life.

The Park was first built in the early 19th century when the Austrian authorities were redesigning the city of Krakow in order to make it more beautiful. The Planty Park was actually constructed on the site where once stood the fortification of the city. The fort wall was largely demolished, except for the small areas near the Barbican and St Florian’s Gate that were preserved. The man behind the plan of the Planty Park is believed to be Feliks Radwański Senior.

Construction of the Park was done in several stages and the finishing touches were completed over a long period of time. The resultant of all that effort is what makes the park picturesque, tranquil and elegant. The park is installed with several beautifully designed monuments raised in the memory of Polish writer Lilla Weneda, composer Grażyna Bacewicz, and poet Bohdan Zaleski.

Wander around more than 30 different styles of gardens and enjoy the beautiful flowers and greenery.

Why You Should Visit:
Scenically pretty all year round! In late spring and early summer, almost the entire length of the Planty is covered by a forest-like canopy of varying shades of green, with dozens of park benches along the way. Great place to relax and people watch.
10
Collegium Maius (Great College)

10) Collegium Maius (Great College) (must see)

The Collegium Maius (Latin for "Great College") is the first building in Poland that was used by a university. Located on Jagiellon Street, the building was gifted by King Wladyslaw II to the Jagiellonian University in 1400. By the end of the 15th century, the University had become popular and attracted students from all over Europe. Nearby buildings were added to the University and a courtyard was built while adding touches of Neo-Gothic architecture to the main building in 1517. By then, the University had seen some famous students like Copernicus, the Renaissance astronomer and polymath who would revolutionize European ideas about the universe.

Classes were conducted on the ground floor while the faculty occupied the higher floors as their residence. As the infrastructure grew, the Collegium Maius went on to become the first house of the University library. Today, the building is home to the Jagiellonian University Museum and exhibits the University's rich collection. Here, you can expect to see lecture rooms, communal halls, professors’ quarters, a library and a treasury containing rectors' Gothic maces and the Jagiellonian globe. Exhibits also include medieval scientific instruments, globes, paintings, collectibles, furniture, coins and medals.

Along with temporary exhibitions, the building also hosts an interactive educational show titled ‘The World of Senses’ which must not be missed. It elaborates the power of human understanding and you are sure to feel enlightened after watching the show.

Why You Should Visit:
It's free to look at the beautiful and ancient courtyard, but it's also well worth paying to take the English guided tour to see inside.

Tip:
Try and time your visit to be in the courtyard at an hour of the day between 9am and 5pm when the bell strikes the hour. There is a musical box effect with figures moving and music played, similar to other clocks in Munich and Prague.

Opening Hours:
[Full exhibition] Mon-Fri: 10am-2:20pm; Sat: 10am-1:30pm (Nov-Mar); Mon, Wed, Fri: 10am-2:20pm; Tue, Thu: 10am-5:20pm; Sat: 10am-1:30pm (Apr-Oct)
[Interactive exhibition] Mon-Fri: 9am-1:30pm; Sat: 9am-1pm
Visitors can enter the Museum courtyard each day before it is closed at nightfall
11
Basilica of St. Francis

11) Basilica of St. Francis

The city of Krakow is adorned with some of the most beautiful stained-glass windows in the world. The Basilica of Virgin Mary houses one of the most delicate examples of stained glass windows which attract connoisseurs of the art from far and wide. However, the greatest stained glass art piece stands at the entrance of the Basilica of St. Francis on Franciszkanska Street. Titled ‘Become!’ this stained glass window is better known as ‘Our Father’.

The window is a masterpiece not only of this art but also of the artist, Krakow's native son Stanislaw Wyspianski. It depicts Creation in a way no other art work in the world has been able to do till date. The fact that it adorns a basilica and is illuminated by natural light everyday belittles every living soul and forces us to pause every other thought and admire His Creation, the world we live in.

Don't be fooled by its plain red brick exterior. Step inside to admire the magnificent art noveau murals and beautiful stained glass - you will be impressed. It is no surprise that St. Francis is the first church visited by Pope John II after arriving in Krakow.
12
Wawel Cathedral

12) Wawel Cathedral (must see)

Wawel Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church and cathedral of the Archdiocese of Kraków. More than 900 years old, it is the Polish national sanctuary and traditionally has served as coronation site of the Polish monarchs. The church is also the main burial site for Polish monarchs since the 14th century. The crypts beneath the Wawel Cathedral hold the tombs of many national heroes, generals and revolutionaries.

The current Gothic structure is the third edifice on this site: the first was constructed and destroyed in the 11th century. The second one, constructed in the 12th century, was destroyed by a fire in 1305. The construction of the current one began in the 14th century on the orders of bishop Nanker.

There is a museum inside that was opened in 1978 by Pope John Paul II and is known for its superb religious art collection. There are many precious sculptures, paintings, golden monstrances, old crosses, and fancy reliquaries. Here you will see one of the most precious of things in Poland, King Sigismund II August’s ornate sword from the 16th century.

Given its history and national significance, Wawel Cathedral is well worth a visit on your trip to Krakow.
13
Wawel Royal Castle

13) Wawel Royal Castle (must see)

The Wawel Royal Castle is a castle residency located in central Krakow, and one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. Built at the behest of King Casimir III the Great, it consists of a number of structures from different periods situated around the Italian-styled main courtyard. The castle, being one of the largest in Poland, represents nearly all European architectural styles of medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. The Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally significant site in the country.

The castle is part of a fortified architectural complex erected atop a limestone outcrop on the left bank of the Vistula River, at an altitude of 228 meters above sea level. The complex consists of numerous buildings of great historical and national importance, including the Wawel Cathedral where Polish monarchs were crowned and buried. Some of Wawel's oldest stone buildings can be traced back to 970 AD, in addition to the earliest examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture in Poland. The current castle was built in the 14th-century, and expanded over the next hundreds of years.

For centuries the residence of the kings of Poland and the symbol of Polish statehood, Wawel Castle is now one of the country's premier art museums. Established in 1930, the museum encompasses ten curatorial departments responsible for collections of paintings, including an important collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, prints, sculpture, textiles, among them the Sigismund II Augustus tapestry collection, goldsmith's work, arms and armor, ceramics, Meissen porcelain, and period furniture. The museum's holdings in oriental art include the largest collection of Ottoman tents in Europe.

Why You Should Visit:
The Wawel Royal Castle was among the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites declared in 1978.

Tip:
You can walk around the grounds for no charge at all; what you choose to do dictates the entry price. Opting for the State Rooms and Royal Apartments is worth it as you see a lot of impressive and well-preserved interiors. The Sandomierska Tower will give you a great all-round view of the place and the Dragon's Den takes you to the underground caves, but note that these are seasonal (closed Nov-Mar).

Opening Hours: daily: 9:00 - 17:00
Sight description based on wikipedia

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