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Krakow The Cradle of Polish History & Culture

Krakow The Cradle of Polish History & Culture
Exploring Krakow with a local guide offers an in-depth look into its history and culture, along with recommendations on the best places to eat and museums to visit.

Krakow is Poland’s second-largest city and was the formal capital of the country until 1795. Its significant role in the annals of Polish statehood and the evolution of national culture has made it an invaluable repository of knowledge and historic sites.

Unlike Warsaw and many other cities, Krakow emerged from World War II relatively unscathed. Its unique charm, stunning architecture, and the compact size of its historical centra make it a destination for travellers from around the globe. This article will give you tips on how to best explore this city!

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Top sights in Krakow

The heart of Krakow is undoubtedly the Main Square, one of Europe’s largest mediaeval squares. At its stands the Cloth Halls, constructed in the 13th century and modified over subsequent centuries. Its present look, a mix of Gothic and Renaissance elements, stems from renovations in the latter half of the 19th century. The Cloth Halls have retained their mercantile character to this day, now housing souvenir shops and local craft stalls.

In the square’s corner stands St. Mary’s Basilica, the city’s paramount church. With a history spanning 800 years, it’s home to treasures such as the immense and intricately detailed late-Gothic altarpiece by Veit Stoss and polychromos by 19th century Polish artists Jan Matejko, Stanisław Wyspiański, and Józef Mehoffer.

A popular legend associated with the Basilica is the hourly bugle call, known as the Hejnał mariacki, which abruptly stops in mid-play. This tradition, dating back to the 14th century, signalled the opening and closing of city gates and warned of threats. The story behind the bugle call’s sudden end is
familiar to every Polish child and is something you’re sure to hear about while wandering the city.

Another of Krakow’s landmarks is Wawel Hill, featuring the Royal Castle and Cathedral, evidencing Poland’s long history. The castle’s interiors host museum halls showcasing a wealth of art, including the
beloved 16th-century tapestries of King Sigismund Augustus.

📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out 8 Reasons to Visit Poland.

It’s also the burial site of kings and notable citizens. Despite its defensive origins, the castle doesn’t lack visual appeal, especially its Renaissance-style arcaded courtyard. At the hill’s base, the Wawel Dragon sculpture breathes fire, a figure from another popular legend, delighting especially the youngest visitors.

Krakow’s old fortifications extend beyond Wawel Hill, with city walls still standing in parts of the Old Town. The most impressive section is the Barbican, a structure from the late 15th century. Krakow also boasts one of Europe’s oldest universities, the Jagiellonian University, established in 1364. Its oldest building, Collegium Maius, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with a stunning courtyard, is a sight to behold.

From a traditional Jewish quarter to a cultural centre

Kazimierz, the former Jewish district with origins in the 14th century, is unique in Europe. It houses  seven preserved, pre-war synagogues on a relatively small area. Besides these, there are also
magnificent Catholic churches, museums, artisan workshops, and art galleries.

Kazimierz is a perfect place for leisure, brimming with dining spots, cafes, and pubs where you can sample local cuisine and relax during or after sightseeing. The district’s street art is another attraction not to be missed

Krakow The Cradle of Polish History & Culture
Over the past century, Krakow bore witness to numerous dramatic events. Today, many sites that testify to the city’s varied and often tragic history remain.

Reminders of Poland’s tragic history

Over the past century, Krakow bore witness to numerous dramatic events. Today, many sites that testify to the city’s varied and often tragic history remain. One of them is the area of the former Krakow Ghetto created by the Nazis during World War II, a place of persecution and death for many members of the pre-war Jewish community.

The Ghetto Heroes Square and the Eagle Pharmacy commemorate the tragedy that unfolded here. A visit to Oskar Schindler’s Factory, famously depicted in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film “Schindler’s List,” shot in and around Krakow, is a must. The museum within its former administrative building narrates the story of Krakow’s residents during World War II.

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Check out this TRAVEL TIPS page for the best tricks to get the most out of your journey.

Free walking tour around Krakow

Exploring Krakow with a local guide offers an in-depth look into its history and culture, along with recommendations on the best places to eat and museums to visit. The “free walking tours” organised by Walkative! are ideal for individual tourists, couples, families, and small groups of friends.

The tour’s cost isn’t fixed upfront—participants decide how much to compensate their guide at the end. To join, simply book a spot online and show up at the meeting point at the specified time.

Disclosure: This blog post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission for any purchases made through the links. Your trust is important to us, and we ensure that all products or services we recommend meet or exceed our editorial standards.

Last Updated on March 20, 2024

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