Ringed by the leafy grounds of Planty Park and the remnants of the city’s medieval walls, Krakow’s Old Town is renowned for its well-preserved medieval core. Home to Europe’s largest market square, the area is the historical heart of the southern Polish city and is bursting with cultural escapes. Stroll through the cobbled streets lined with restaurants and low-key pubs and drink in the vibrant atmosphere. Here’s seven great reasons you should spend your next weekend away in Krakow’s Old Town.
The oldest of its kind across Central Europe, the bustling medieval square is the main hub of the city’s historical area. Originally designed in 1257, the grid-like layout of the Old Town hasn’t undergone much change meaning its authentic charm is still alive and well. Lined on either side by elegant townhouses, the square is the host for annual Christmas and Easter markets as well as numerous festivals and outdoor concerts throughout the seasons. Built in the 14th century, the centrepiece of the plaza is Cloth Hall which was effectively the world’s first ever shopping mall. Wander through the colossal building and spend time browsing over the rows of stalls packed in to the space selling everything from amber to lace and woodwork. The market space is definitely one of the best things to do in Krakow.
Dating back as far as the 14th century, the foundations of the colossal Church of St. Anne are a fine example of Polish Baroque architecture. Acting as the collegiate church attached to Jagiellenian University, masses are held here to signal the beginning and end of the academic year. The building is fronted by massive columns and decorated in expertly designed stuccoes inside by Italian artist Baldassare Fontana. Take in the enormity of the space and look up at the soaring ceiling of the airy domes overhead. A truly spectacular monument, the Church of St. Anne is the largest Baroque church in the city.
Sitting on the most vibrant and lively street in Krakow Old Town, the Pharmacy Museum is more interesting than it seems. Founded in 1946, the exhibition rooms span across five floors from the penthouse to the basement. Offering the rare opportunity to journey through the medical past of the city, the museum showcases a plethora of old drug containers, busts, inscriptions, snakes in jars and even full-scale reproductions of ancient apothecary shops. Built inside a classical 15th century building, the display has a dedicated area to the work of Tadeusz Pankiewicz who operated a pharmacy in Krakow Ghetto during WWII. Interesting and immersive, the museum is an experience you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
One of the best examples of Polish Gothic architecture, the basilica stands above the main market square and is among the most important religious structures in the country. Built in the 14th century, the Gothic brick church is just as impressive inside as it is out. Boasting an altarpiece so detailed it took twelve years to complete, magnificent stain glass windows and a blue, starred ceiling, the place of worship doubles as a work of art. Featuring the city’s watch tower, the 80 metre high structure plays the hejnal mariachi, the city’s famous bugle call, on the hour every hour. Standing as a symbol of Krakow’s medieval past, the basilica plays an important role in the culture and history of the popular Polish destination.
A hidden paradise for both art enthusiasts and graphic designers, the Polish Poster Gallery was created on the basis of the private collection of Krzysztof Dydo and was founded in 1985 by the man himself. Featuring over 2,500 Polish posters the gallery promotes the culture around the craft and dedicates itself to understanding the graphic routes of the city. Focusing on areas such as cinema, theatre, painting and literature, this is the only gallery in the country specializing in the promotion and selling of Polish posters. As well as preparing their show space for exhibitions, the gallery owners spend their time printing catalogues, posters and postcards. Regularly organising thematic poster competitions, the museum is yet another cool way to explore a different side of the Krakow Old Town.
Acting as the showpiece of the city’s medieval defences, the Barbican is the historic gateway leading to the Old Town. Built in 1499, the structure is nicknamed the saucepan for its incomplete circle shape. Once a small fortress linking St. Florian’s gate to the outside world, the building is renowned for its arrangement of defence features and seven tall magnificent towers. Looks are deceiving with this monument, as it’s actually much bigger on the inside than it appears to the unsuspecting eye. Sitting detached in the grounds of Planty Park, the Gothic citadel is a great place to take a picnic and relax on a sunny day.
Venture into the depths of the city and discover the underground vaults of the Main Square. Spanning across 4,000 square kilometres, the hi-tech immersive museum unravels the turbulent past of Krakow via a series of interactive displays and recovered artefacts. Showing a varied collection of old weapons, trading goods, coins, clothing and other earthly remains, the museum is nestled four metres below the surface of the medieval market square. Limited to an admittance of only 300 people at a time, book your tickets before visiting to make sure you get to see what’s lurking beneath the great Gothic hub of Poland.
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Flights to Krakow
- Lucy Norris