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Kraków - Magical City

Kraków is considered one of the finest cultural capitals in the world. The city, which was once Poland’s capital, dates back to the seventh century and is chock full of ancient treasures for visitors to explore. With a full roster of remarkable sites both past and present, you’ll walk away from Kraków with a deeper understanding and appreciation of arts, history, culture, religion, and architecture.

The Old Town section of Kraków is one of Poland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is an honor usually reserved for specific buildings or landmarks, but the Old Town is so full of outstanding sites of cultural and historical significance that the entire region was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978, making it one of the first places to make the list. Walking through the ancient capital, with its medieval urban layout, is like taking a walk back in time, with well-preserved churches and monuments that can convey a sense of history in a way that merely reading books could never accomplish.

Kraków’s Old Town actually managed to escape much of the damage that ruined historical landmarks in other parts of the country during times of war. This stroke of luck enables Kraków to gift visitors with a seemingly endless list of interesting places to visit. All told, the number of Poland’s historic sites that can be found in Kraków is in the thousands! If you begin in the center of town and walk outward, you can actually walk through architectural history just by observing how the styles of buildings changed over the years.

Kraków’s Market Square dates back to the 1200s and is a traditional European market square. As a place for meeting, eating, shopping, and strolling, it can’t be beat. It’s easy to envision people convening here in ancient times as an air of antiquity still hangs over the square. The world’s oldest shopping mall, the Cloth Hall, is unlike any other mall you have ever visited. This is also where you’ll find the internationally acclaimed Rynek Underground Museum. This museum gives visitors a glimpse of how the market looked hundreds of years ago by showcasing the remains of buildings, stalls, and other artifacts that were unearthed below the market square using interactive displays.

St. Mary’s Church is near the top of the list when it comes to memorable gothic churches. The intricately carved wooden altarpiece and colorful stained glass are considered masterpieces, and the amount of gold on display is staggering. A trumpeter regularly plays a tune from the tower in keeping with a longstanding tradition.

Wawel Castle is a popular stopping point for all who visit Poland. Its highlights include the treasury, armory, luxurious staterooms and royal apartments, all decked out with extravagant furnishings. The collections of weapons and Flemish tapestries are particularly memorable. Also on the grounds is the Wawel Cathedral, with its remarkable Tomb of Saint Stanislas, the crowning site of many ancient kings.

The Jewish quarter of Kazimierz is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This section of Kraków is home to seven synagogues, a Jewish museum, and a cemetery that dates back to the 16th century. Kazimierz hosts a renowned Jewish Cultural Festival each summer. The movie Schindler’s List was filmed in this atmospheric town.

Travelers who have a keen appreciation of history and culture will be awestricken by the staggering number of monumental sites to explore in Kraków. There is plenty to see in this magical city and even more to learn. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to know this richly layered city.

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