5 Things To Do In Magical Kraków
With majestic architecture, stunning churches and the vast Rynek Główny (Europe’s largest market square), Kraków certainly deserves its title as Poland’s cultural capital. A medieval city steeped in history, a magical atmosphere pervades Kraków, felt most whilst wandering its streets with your lover, especially during winter. A renowned tourist destination, here are my top five places to see in Kraków...
Rynek Główny (main square) is Europe’s biggest medieval town square, situated in the heart of Old Town Kraków. Stretching approximately 200m by 200m, the square is adorned with numerous bars, cafes and restaurants. The most central and striking feature of Rynek Główny is the Renaissance Cloth Hall that has stood for over 700 years. The 15th century Town Hall tower (which you can climb) also remains standing, however the Town Hall itself, unfortunately, has not survived to the present day. A beautifully decorated horse-drawn carriage (albeit tourist trap) will take you from market square to Wawel Hill, for around 150zł (around £30).
ST. MARY'S BASILICA
The first time you walk into Kraków’s main square, you can’t help but stare at the soaring, Gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basilica. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is one of the most beautiful churches in Kraków, and is worth venturing inside. Every full hour, a trumpet appears just below the highest spire of the Basilica, and plays a melody (a bugle call that dates back to the Middle Ages) that is suddenly cut short. This abrupt ending is said to commemorate a trumpeter, who was shot through the throat (after sounding a warning call) by a Tatar archer in 1241, when the Mongols besieged the city.
WAWEL ROYAL CASTLE
Wawel Royal Castle is a potent symbol of national identity. In 1499, the castle burnt down and Sigismund I the Old (1506-48) commissioned a new residence - within 30 years, the palace that stands today was in place. Glorious in both grandeur and presence, the castle encompasses architectural styles of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. Wawel Royal Castle was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, and is now a museum with five sections: Crown Treasury and Armory, Lost Wawel, Royal Private Apartments, State Rooms and the Exhibition of Oriental Art. Folklore (and Game of Thrones) fanatics will revel in the myth of Wawel Dragon, whose prominent statue lies at the foot of Wawel Hill.
WIELICZKA SALT MINES
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in Wieliczka in southern Poland, lies within the Kraków metropolitan area. The historic salt mine opened in the 13th century (over 700 years ago) and is still preserved in pristine condition. Its eerie passageways and glistening chandeliers attract over a million tourists every year. The mine has a labyrinth of tunnels, about 300km distributed over nine levels, the deepest being 327m underground. The mine is open to the public via a guided tour, and really is a must on your list of things to do.
AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU MEMORIAL & MUSEUM
In the history of the world, the Holocaust is the worst atrocity to happen to the human race. Auschwitz was the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres. Located in Oświęcim, Poland, a trip to Kraków should include a visit to Auschwitz memorial and museum, if out of respect only. The awful silence stays with you.
Fly from London Heathrow to John Paul II International Airport Kraków-Balice in just 2 hours and 30 minutes with British Airways
Words + Images: Holly Lowson