Charming Krakow has one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval city centers, with an Old Town that's deservedly been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A stroll through this area brings the city’s mythology to life, with fascinating relics of the past on every corner. Here are the top 5 historical sites in Krakow you absolutely must see.
Old Town Market Square
Get your bearings by starting out at the main market square (below). The largest medieval town square in Europe, this public gathering place dates back to 1257 and standing in the center, you'd be forgiven for thinking that little has changed since. Today the square is still an important hub in Krakow, hosting festive markets and outdoor concerts. It’s flanked by impressive architecture, including the looming spires of St. Mary’s Basilica and the medieval Town Hall Tower.
Don’t miss a visit to the Cloth Hall, built in the 14th century and filled to the brim with lace, amber and souvenir stands. Beneath the square lies the Rynek Underground Museum, established after an archeological excavation revealed a world long buried and forgotten. Stone paths dating back to the late Middle Ages lead between crumbling market walls and exhibitions of newly uncovered treasures.
Wawel Hill has been inhabited for 50,000 years, becoming a center of trade during the Bronze Age. It’s dominated by Wawel Castle, which has reigned over the hill in various incarnations for the past ten centuries – today, it's a Renaissance masterpiece. Located only a short walk away from our Radisson Blu Hotel, Krakow, over the centuries the castle has been sacked by Swedish, Prussian, and Austrian armies and even turned into a military hospital at one point. Yet its stately courtyard and elegant three-story architecture remain in place, surrounding what is now a stellar art museum.
Kazimierz Jewish District
To the south of the castle you’ll find one of Krakow’s most rapidly regenerating districts. Kazimierz is a maze of crooked streets and crumbling buildings, suddenly giving way to new bars and cafés. This historic Jewish District was founded by King Kazimierz the Great in 1335 and enjoyed a long period of prosperity before the Nazi invasion in WWII. The past decade has helped the district return to its roots and commemorate its history, with ornate synagogues and medieval squares surviving between the new businesses. Take the time to visit the Galicia Jewish Museum, where you can learn more about the region’s rich Jewish history and culture.
For a grand sense of Krakow’s medieval military defense system, take a tour of the city’s old walls and view the Great Barbican. Built in the 15th century, this massive Gothic military structure boasts thick stone walls protecting Krakow’s main entrance. Its structure includes seven turrets, with defensive slots that would once have been used by archers protecting the city. Today, the Barbican hosts special events including jousts and outdoor concerts.
Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque streets in Poland, if not in all of Europe, Ulica Kanonicza runs through the Old Town leading to the foot of Wawel Castle. This cobblestoned street retains its original Renaissance and Baroque architecture, with stately homes and hidden courtyards giving you a real sense of the historic noblemen who once lived here. At night, the colorful houses are beautifully illuminated, providing the perfect finishing touch for this idyllic corner of the city.