Krakow may not be the first place that comes to mind at the mention of the words “European vacation”. However, it is a place full of rich history and beauty and these are our seven suggestions for must-see sights when in Poland;
Visit Wawel Castle, the home of Polish Monarchs from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries. When Warsaw took the capital status from Krakow, foreign powers occupied and stayed in the castle. Several wars saw several different foreign residents. Because of this, there is a mixture of architectural styles in the castle, as well as a large courtyard.
Auschwitz and Birkenau
The sites of Auschwitz and Birkenau are also something that should be taken in while in Krakow. German Concentration Camps are a darker part of Poland’s history, but still very significant. Visitors to the Nazi camp may take a guided tour, or they can buy a booklet and show themselves around. Signs in the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau are in both English and Polish. A guided tour is recommended if the visitor is less familiar with the history of the German Concentration Camps. Somber and thought-provoking yes, and something all visitors should experience.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Wieliczka Salt Mine began operations somewhere in the year 1040. It was in operation for several centuries before closing as an active mine and opening to tourists. Catholic services were held in the mines because of the amount of time it took Catholic miners to leave and return to the mine for their religious devotions. There are carved cathedrals and statues in the mine that are simply breathtaking to behold.
Take time to discover the Jewish Quarter, which is an important part of Polish history as there was a large Jewish population in Poland at one time. Isaac’s Synagogue is the oldest one in the Jewish Quarter, dating back to 1638. It houses a media presentation of the life and history of Polish Jews. While the Jewish quarter has largely become a student hangout, locals recommend it for the food that can be eaten there. According to locals, the Jewish Quarter has some of the best, and least expensive, food in Krakow.
Krakow Market Square
Wander around Krakow’s Market Square which is the largest medieval market place in Europe. It is dominated by the Cloth Hall, which was established in 1555. The Town Hall Tower is one of the attractions that can be visited in the Market Square. There are also several churches, and older buildings that can be visited.
St. Mary’s Church
For an intriguing religious sight, add a stop at St. Mary’s Church to your list of things to do in Krakow. St Mary’s is home to the oldest Gothic wooden altar in Europe. The church was built over the remains of an old Romanesque church sometime between 1287 and 1320. The wooden altar is opened once daily for tourists and spectators to view. In in, life size figures depict the death, assumption, and crowning of the Virgin Mary.
The Cloth Hall is another fantastic place to visit. It could be considered the oldest mall in the world. It was a place where fabrics and furs were sold, and was first covered in 1300. The building itself retains its beauty and saw renovation in 2010. It still serves as a shopping center of sorts, hosting a craft market on the first floor. It is one of Krakow’s more stunning attractions.
Krakow is a Polish city that is rich in history and beauty. While not all of its history is pleasant, Krakow is certainly an extraordinary city that is a must visit for anyone touring Europe.
By Julie Bowman