For thousands of years Kraków has been the centre of culture, arts and science in Poland. Krakow was the capital of the Crown Kingdom of Poland from 1038 to 1569; the Polish - Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1596; the Free City of Kraków from 1815 to 1846; the Grand Duchy of Kraków from 1846 to 1918; and Kraków Voivodship from the 14th century to 1998. It has also been the capital of Lesser Poland Voivodship (Malopolskie voivodship) since 1999.
Now that you know how to get to Poland, when to come and what money is needed, it's about time to focus on what you can do in Poland. If you are just transiting Poland, than for sure you may get to pass either Warsaw or Kraków - the most transits when it comes to airports and buses go through these 2 lovely cities. If you pass through them, try to put some money and time aside to have a short trip. Today I will share with you what you can do in Kraków in one single day :)
Kraków dates back to the 7th century and has not been destroyed by the Germans retreat during the WW2. The city was lucky enough to have an admirer in the General Hans Frank. Kraków became part of the General Government - separate administration region of the Third Reich - in September 1939, and from 4th November (same year) it's capital. Although the city was pillaged when the army was retreating, Hans Frank disobeyed Hitler's order to blow up the city. He was too much in love with it, to let it be destroyed.
Kraków is one of the few medieval towns in Poland that does not have a historic Ratusz town hall in the Main Square, because it did not survive the Partitioning of Poland. The city was included as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978. If you have only one day to spare I recommend you to get up early, have good walking shoes and a map of the city center and Jewish district (called Kazimierz).
For many centuries Kraków was the royal capital or Poland. The route that you should follow, for your one - day tour of Kraków can start from the Royal Road - the coronation route that the kings of old used to take, the Kings of Poland. The route starts outside the old city walls, in the Planty area, at the Barbican (Barbakan) of Kraków - build in 1499, it is one of the 3 such fortified outposts in Europe, and the best preserved. The Barbakan was linked to the city walls but now it is separated. The passage took the people through the St. Florian Gate - the second checkpoint for entering the city.
From the Florian Gate, passing though the old city walls, go straight forward to the Florianska street - one of the most expensive streets in Europe. The road is not long and it will take you to the Main Market Square, but the first thing you will lay your eyes upon will be the magnificent St. Mary Church (or as the locals call it, Mariacki Kosciol). Make sure you get there at a fixed hour - each hour, on the dot, there is a bugle call from the tallest tower. There are 2 stories related to the church, but maybe I will tell you them another time ;) Go inside the church and enjoy the view - look at the ceiling and imagine yourself under the sky full of stars or climb the several hundred steps to the tower and enjoy the view (open only in summertime).
As you are now in the Main Market Square - the biggest main square in Europe - take your time and breathe in its culture and charm. Kraków historic center is one of the 13 places in Poland that are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The architecture manages to live on from the medieval times. The Old Town is home to about 6000 historic sites and more than 2.000.000 works of art! Every house in the main city centre has a 15th century cellar and guess what? Most of them are refurbished into coffee shops or pubs that you can enjoy! Maybe have a stop here and also enjoy the oldest bookstore in Europe - at Rynek Główny 23, Matras Bookstore.
Get inside the Kraków Cloth Hall (Sukiennice ) as it is one of the city's icons. As the name says, it was a centre of trade - during its "golden age" in the 15th century, the hall was the source of a variety of exotic imports: spices, silk, leather and wax. On the other hand Kraków was very popular as well in the export of textiles, lead and -most important- salt from the mines nearby (both Wieliczka and Bochnia). Just as a small fyi, the Sukienicce had many distinguished guests, such as Charles, Prince of Wales and Emperor Akihito of Japan. Now it holds 2 things that are a must, if you visit Kraków for more than one day: the Cafe Szal on the 1st floor (lovely coffee shop, not for smokers, with a lovely view over the Main Market Square) and the National Museum - Gallery of the 19th Century Polish Art on the 2nd floor (Jan Matejko paintings included + the lovely, and my fav, painting called Frenzy of Exultations by Wladyslaw Podkowinski). In the lower side, you can see handmade beauties done by the locals - buy some amber broch for the one you love, or a handmade wooden box with the Kraków symbols.
Walk out a bit and have a look at the square, on the left side you will see the St. Mary Church towering over you - in the middle you will see the statue of their national writer Adam Mickiewicz - and on the right you will see a small white church: St. Adalbert. It is said the building was done in the 11th century by the martyred missionary Saint Adalbert. The place of worship preceded the square by nearly a century! The interior is rather claustrophoby-inducing, relative to its larger exterior. If you have a look outside, on the side going to Grodzka street, you can see that the floor level is situated under the actual present level of the square. It was not uncommon at those times to replace a place of worship for multiple gods to a place of worship for the newly Christian believers... the switch was easier for the people.
The Royal Road continues from the Main Market Square up to the Grodzka street, that leads straight to the main attraction of Kraków: Wawel Castle. But don't wonder off quickly to the end of the street... enjoy the walk there - you will be passing 3 lovely churches but I would like you to focus of a specific one, called St. Peter and Paul Church. It is the Church that has always reminded me of Rome - and after point this detail to my friends, they all agreed ;) with the 12 apostles at its gate, it reminds me of the Vatican City, the square in front of the Cathedral of Saint Peter. To be noted, of you reach it on a Thursday, going inside is a must! You will be able to see Foucault 's pendulum working there - it is recommended to stay there at least one hour to perceive the movement. This is the Church where I got married to my beautiful Polish lad, but also this is the Church where St. John Paul the 2nd (the Polish Pope) parents got married :) also it is the first baroque architecture building in Poland!
Once you are ready, go further on to the Wawel Castle - you could also make a small detour to the street called Kanonicza. Many museums and historical organisations reside on this street, as well as the Catholic Archbishop. The street is one of the oldest ones in Kraków and it is made out of cobblestone. On the street the is also the house where John Paul the 2nd lived there, for a couple of years, when he was the Archbishop of Kraków - he lived on Kanonicza 19-21 from 1951-1963. The street also has a very nice coffee shop - bookstore called Bona (I may have mentioned it before half a dozen times ;))) ) so I recommend it highly! Kanonicza will bring you to the foot of the Wawel Castle.
I recommend getting up the hill and quickly having a look around the Castle with its inner gardens and the Cathedral. Begin by checking out the Cathedral and it's main doors. Above the doors you will be able to see, what it is believed to be the bones of the last dragon that lived in Kraków. In the inside of the Cathedral, in its highest tower, you will find the Sigismund Bell - it weights 13 tons and it takes at least 12 people to ring it! It usually rings only on special occasions and national holidays. This is the end of the Royal Route, but I suggest going forward, exiting the other way in the Castle and reaching forward to the Kazimierz region.
Kazimierz abounds in renaissance buildings and very small and quaint streets. Kazimierz is the old Jewish district of Kraków, founded in the 14th century. By the 1930s, Kraków had officially 120 registered synagogues and prayer houses. The oldest synagogue building standing in Poland was built in Kazimierz - either in 1407 or 1492, different sources show different dates. The Old Synagogue can be visited still. Also, in 1993, Steven Spielberg filmed the Schindlers List here... in Kraków 's own heart. Each year at the end of June, there is the Jewish Culture Festival. It is Europe's largest Jewish festival or culture and music. You can visit the remains of the Ghetto Wall and/or drop by the amazingly well done museum Schindlers Factory (Museum). I believe the museum is a must for everyone visiting Kraków. I went there, in 4 years, for at least a dozen times (if not 2!).
Just walking from the Barbakan to the Schindlers Museum, not stopping, not looking sideways and getting distracted by the wonderful architecture, you could get there in under a hour... but take your time and enjoy Kraków. Have a coffee on the 1st floor of the Sukienicce, have some icecream at the Bona coffee - bookshop next to the St. Peter and Paul Church, lay down on the grass next to the Vistula, eat a fresh Zapiekanka in Plac Nowy ;) and visit the museums at your own pace. I can tell you that for sure you will want more ;))) so go now and check our more about the accommodation in Kraków.
- entrance fee to the Barbakan and the Old City Walls - 8 PLN (6 with discount)
- entrance fee to the Sukienicce museum on the 2nd floor - 14 PLN (8 with discount)
- coffee on the 1st floor of the Sukienicce - Cafe Szal - around 15 PLN
- getting up-up in the St. Mary Church tower - not sure about this one, to tell you the truth, I have not yet done this (when I wanted to do this it was under renovation for 2 years, but I know now it is open again)
- lemonade and homemade lemon cake in Bona coffee - bookstore - the lemonade will be around 12-15 PLN and the homemade cakes can be between 10-15 PLN as well, but they are yummy! :)
- entrance in the Cathedral of the Wawel Castle - 12 PLN (7 with discount)
- entrance to the Old Synagogue - 9 PLN (7 with discount)
- entrance to the Schindlers Museum - 21 PLN (with discount, if you are a student, 16 PLN)
- traditional zapiekanka in Plac Nowy, Kazimierz - around 15 PLN
TOTAL of the Possible expenses = around 139 PLN (approximately 30-40 EURO).
NOTE!!! Prices were taken as of end of August 2015. Please note that the prices may have slight changes, as the seasons shift - also please check the opening/closing hours.
- Free Walking Tour Kraków - Old Town - around 2-3 hours, no pre-booking needed, runs everyday at around 10 am and 3:30 pm (during Spring and Summer; during Fall and Winter it may be even earlier so check their FB page to have the latest date/time)
- Free Walking Tour Kraków - Jewish district - around 3 hours, no pre-booking needed, runs everyday at around 11 am and 2:30 pm (during Spring and Summer; during Fall and Winter it may be even earlier so check their FB page to have the latest date/time)
- Free Walking Tour Kraków - Foods of Krakow - Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2 pm and Saturday at 10:30 am (date may change in different seasons so check their FB and Internet Page).
NOTE!!! For all the 3 tours above the starting point is in front of the St. Mary Church (Mariacki) in the Main Market Square. The tours are free but the tour guides have to make a living, so it is accustomed to leave a tip at the end of the tour route. The team usually has a little red bag that they hand out at the end, when they also hand out the Free Walking Tour Map Guide, with discounts - make sure you get one as it will come in handy!
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If you have any other questions that I have not managed to fulfill, please raise a hand / drop me a line on Facebook - Instagram - Tumblr - Twitter / wave a flag or send me a messenger pidgeon :) I will be more than glad to help you discover magical Kraków.
The Twisted Red LadyBug that loves Kraków