Read about the city

Beautiful and charming Krakow is Poland's former royal capital and one of the country's absolute cultural strongholds. The city has cozy streets and squares that belong to the most charming of any European city. You will find an abundance of beautiful buildings and fine churches and much more.

The old royal and cultural center was the castle Wawel, where the rulers were forward thinking as one of the major cities in the country and region with, for example, one of Central Europe's oldest universities. Krakow's large and beautiful market square is another of the many places to visit while in the city.

Of recent history, Krakow is a place to experience 20th century wars and ideological history. The Jewish district of Kazimierz is located just south of Krakow's Old Town. Here you can walk the Jewish ghetto from World War II with monuments and synagogues. The Nowa Huta district is from another era; it is an example of a city built according to communist planning.

The surroundings of Krakow have something for every interest; the history is emphasized in Auschwitz, while the mountains in the south are attractive for both hiking and swimming as well as skiing in the winter. The UNESCO inscribed Wieliczka salt mine is also a great place for a day trip from Krakow.

Other attractions

Sukiennice Cloth Hall, Krakow

  • Kraków Cloth Hall/Sukiennice: In the middle of Krakow's market square, Rynek Główny, you can see the long market hall Sukiennice. It was built around the year 1300 to cover the many stalls here selling cloth but also of leather, wax, salt, and other items.
  • Czartoryski Museum/Muzeum Czartoryskich: The Czartoryskich Museum is a museum founded in 1796 by Princess Izabela Czartoryska. At the museum there are paintings by Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci, ancient art and much more.
  • Juliusz Słowacki Theater/Teatr im. Juliusza Słowackiego: The beautiful Juliusz Słowacki Theater was built according to Jan Zawiejski's design in the years 1892-1893 with the Paris Opera as a model. The theater's decoration is rich and beautiful.
  • Town Hall Tower/Wieża ratuszowa: The 70-meter/230-foot-tall town hall tower on Krakow's Market Square originates from the town's old town hall, which was demolished in 1820. There is access to the tower, from which there is a fine view of the town center.

Florian Gate, Krakow

  • Florian Gate/Brama Floriańska: The Brama Floriańska is a gate building that was built as part of Krakow's Gothic-style defensive wall around the year 1300. The gate stands as the only one preserved from the original medieval fortifications.
  • Barbakan: Medieval Krakow was surrounded by city walls and moats, which can still be seen in some places in the city. Barbakan is a part that was built in the year 1499 as both a fortification and the city's main entrance.
  • Krakow National Museum/Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie: This is one of the city's leading museums and part of the Polish National Museum. The exhibition consists mainly of recent Polish art, which i.a. counts cubism, expressionism and avant-garde art.

Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Krakow

  • Church of Saints Peter and Paul/Kościoł św. św. Piotra in Pawła: Church of Saints Peter and Paul was built in distinguished Baroque architecture in the years 1596-1619 with inspiration from several churches in Rome; including the famous Church of the Gesù. The church is also one of Krakow's largest.
  • Church of St. Francis of Assisi/Kościół św. Franciszka z Asyżu: This church was built as the monastery church of the Franciscan monks in the 13th century. In the church you can see beautiful stained glass windows and a copy of Jesus' shroud stored in Turin.

Kazimierz, Krakow

  • Kazimierz: Kazimierz is a neighborhood that has been Krakow's Jewish district for over 400 years. That story ended abruptly during World War II, but you can still see several synagogues and other buildings telling the Jewish history of Kazimierz. Parts of the walls that surrounded the Jewish ghetto during World War II have also been preserved.
  • Skałka Church and Monastery/Kościoł in Klasztor na Skałce: Along the Vistula River you can see Skałka Church and Monastery, one of Poland's most important places of pilgrimage. It was here that Bishop Stanisław Szczepański was killed in 1079 by King Boleslav II.

Schindler's Factory, Krakow

  • Schindler's Factory/Fabryka Schindlera: Schindler's Factory is a department of the Krakow Historical Museum, which is housed in Oskar Schindler's Historical Factory and is dedicated to the time in Krakow in the years 1939-1945.
History overview

    Read about city history

    The founding of the city
    In the 8th century, activity arose, among other things, with an established trade between the Wawel area and the Roman Empire, a permanent settlement in the Krakow area, which came into existence during the end of the century during the Great Empire. In 965, Krakow is first mentioned by the Arab Ibrahim Ibn Jakub.

    The settlement in Krakow came under the leadership of Mieszko I, and the city became the capital of the Polish piaster kingdom. About 992 they introduced Christianity into the kingdom.

    Krakow became the bishop's seat in the 11th century and the first cathedral was erected. The city was the dominant Polish city, and Kazimierz made Krakow the capital of Poland.

    Polish division
    At the request of King Boleslav, Poland was divided into independent duchies in 1138, and Krakow became an independent province whose nobility had a special status in the Polish countries.

    From 1241 and 40 years on, Tatars invaded Poland three times. After the first invasion, Krakow was almost completely destroyed, but to the city's luck, Castle Wawel still remained. The partially walled city walls were rebuilt around Krakow to protect against future invasions.

    In 1257 under Boleslav, the city gained its market town rights, which at the same time applied to the citizens of the city and the trading conditions of the merchants. At this time, today's Krakow city plan with squares and streets was constructed.

    Development from the 13th century
    Kazimierz the Great ruled from 1333-1370, and he made much progress for the city with its expansion of cultural institutions, among other things. Wawel was expanded and rebuilt in Gothic style, and in 1364 the University of Krakow was founded.

    Kazimierz's reign became the basis for centuries of economic, political and cultural growth for Krakow and for Poland. After the wedding of King Jagiello and Queen Jadwiga, the Polish-Lithuanian Empire was established.

    In 1410, the Polish-Lithuanian forces stopped the German Order in the Battle of Tannenberg. The German Order was particularly penetrated in former Polish areas in the areas along the Baltic Sea.

    Boom and Warsaw's time
    The 16th century became the pinnacle of the Polish-Lithuanian Empire. Culturally the country flourished and, among other things, the later world-famous astronomer, Nikolaj Copernicus, studied at the University of Krakow.

    The end of the 16th century marked the beginning of Krakow's decline in significance in Poland. In 1596, King Sigismund Vasa moved the Polish capital from Krakow to Warsaw, which also became a royal residence city. Krakow's political role was minimized.

    In Krakow, the 17th century was marked by stagnation. The city fell victim to a plague epidemic, invasions and economic downturn that accompanied Sigismund Vasa's move to Warsaw.

    Polish decline from the 18th century
    Poland-Lithuania was greatly weakened in the 18th century. The country was at the center of neighboring countries' war actions, including during the Great Nordic War of 1700-1721, and the expansionary plans of Russian tsar Peter the Great.

    Politically, the decline of Poland-Lithuania ended with the divisions of Poland in the decades around 1800. After the second division in 1792-1793, in 1794, Krakow became the center of the Polish uprising against foreign rule. The failed rebellion was led by Tadeusz Kosciuszkos.

    In 1795, the southern Polish territories, including Krakow, came under the rule of the Habsburgs, Austria. However, the alien rule again created a boom for the city, as the Austrians allowed the continuation of Polish culture, which quickly found its natural capital in Krakow.

    In 1807-1815, Krakow became part of the Napoleonic Duchy of Warsaw, and after the Vienna Congress in 1815, Krakow was established as an independent kingdom, but in 1846 was incorporated into Austria.

    1900's wars and development
    Between World War I and World War II, the major industries in southern Poland were established, including in and around Krakow. Thus, it gained an important strategic importance during World War II, in which the Jewish ghetto in 1941-1943 was created and eliminated. The war did not destroy Krakow like other Polish cities, with the Red Army conquering the city by surprise attack.

    After the war, and as a counterbalance to Krakow's cultural intelligentsia, the new Soviet-planned working and industrial city, Nowa Huta, was constructed, concentrated around the colossal Lenin steel mill.

    Krakow in recent decades
    In the 1970s, Krakow's John Paul II was elected the new pope of the Catholic Church, thereby helping to put the Polish city on the world map. John Paul II was the first Slavic pope in the history of the Catholic Church.

    In recent decades, Krakow has undergone a major restoration that has brought out the splendor of the past, and at the same time, Krakow has on several occasions hosted major international events such as the European Football Championships in 2008.
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Rynek Główny, Kraków, Polen

Top attractions

St Mary's Basilica, Krakow

  • St Mary's Basilica/Kościoł Mariacki: Maria Church was originally Krakow's medieval parish church, but extensions through the 14th and 15th centuries have made it a magnificent church and one of the city's most famous sights. The interior of the church is extremely beautiful, and here you can see Veit Stoss' altar from the 15th century.
  • Main Square/Rynek Główny: With its 3.79 ha / 9.4 acres, Krakow's central square is the largest medieval square in Europe. It was laid out in 1257, and today there are countless sights on and around the square.

Church of St Anne, Krakow

  • Church of St Anne/Kościół Św. Anny: The Church of St Anne in Krakow is one of Poland's most beautiful and impressive Baroque churches. It was built by the Dutchman Tylman van Gameren in 1689-1703 and offers a distinguished interior.

Kanonicza, Krakow

  • Kanonicza Street/ul. Kanonicza: The street Kanonicza is the southernmost stretch of the Royal Road, which runs from the Florian Gate to the Royal Palace. Kanonicza is today considered one of Europe's finest Renaissance streets.
  • Wawel: Wawel is the name of the limestone mound in Krakow on the banks of the Vistula River. The strategically located location has made Wawel a place of residence and fortress for centuries, and today the city's large castle complex is located here.

Wawel Cathedral, Krakow

  • Wawel Cathedral/Katedra na Wawelu: Wawel is Krakow's cathedral and was completed in its original form in 1364. The church offers many beautiful details in architecture, and most Polish kings and national heroes have been buried here over time. They are located in the church crypt.
  • Royal Castle/Zamek Królewski: The Royal Castle on Wawel was founded under the rule of King Casimir III in the 14th century. In the early 16th century, King Sigismund I had the castle rebuilt in the contemporary renaissance, and the castle is today open as an interesting museum.
Trips in the area

Nowa Huta, Krakow

  • Nowa Huta: The district of Nowa Huta is located east of the center of Krakow, and it is Poland's first communist city to follow the ideas of urban planning in Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. That is why the district is a special experience that is not seen in many places in the world.
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine/Kopalnia Soli Wieliczka: Krakow's Salt Mine in Wieliczka has been in operation for 900 years, and in recent centuries it has been one of Poland's major attractions. The mine reaches a depth of 300 meters / 1,000 feet underground, and on a trip you see the large halls that the miners have carved into the subsoil.
  • Auschwitz/Oświęcim: Auschwitz was originally built as a Polish barracks. It developed into the infamous concentration camp when the Germans in 1940 set it up to gather political prisoners. The remains of the camp are today a museum.

Katowice, Poland

  • Katowice: Katowice is a large city in the industrial area of Silesia and has about 300,000 inhabitants. Due to the architecture, the city was called Little Paris around the year 1900, and today you can see architecture from many different eras and styles in the city. Attractions include Silesian Theater and Christ the King Cathedral.
  • Zakopane: The town of Zakopane is beautifully situated at the foot of the Tatra Mountains south of Krakow, and with its surrounding nature it has attracted tourists since the 19th century. From that time you can see fine wooden houses in the town today, and then of course it is also nature, the mountains and the area's hot springs that are popular for visitors.
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