Krakow City Guide travel tourist sightseeing attractions information

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Krakow History & Overview

The first documented evidence of Krakow’s existence is given the records of a merchant in the 10th century. Shortly after this the its Slavs and a Polan tribe living to the northwest of Krakow formed the first Polish state. At first the capital city was Gniezno but because of various conflicts there Krakow was designated the states capital.

In the next two hundred years many Romanesque buildings were built in Krakow and some examples of this architecture survive today. In the 13th and 14th centuries the city adopted western european influences including streets laid in grid form and Gothic architecture. In 1364 the original University of Krakow was founded.

By 1596 Poland and Lithuania had become one country and Warsaw became the Polish capital. Krakow remained the centre for religion and education in Poland. In the 17th century Poland’s sovereignty whittled away as its nobility tried to appease invading countries.

By 1795 Poland had been dissolved between Austria, Prussia and Russia and Krakow became part of the Austrian Hungarian Empire. Between 1815 and 1846 it was declared a ‘free city’ and during this time the medical city walls were taken down and the surrounding moat turned into the Planty ring garden which survives today.

20th Century Krakow

In 1918 -1919 the Treaty of Versailles gave Poland back its sovereignty and a regenerated Krakow grew fast and once against gained international fame for art and education. During WW2 Krakow like Prague was spared the fate of being razed to the ground as happened in Warsaw.

Oddly enough, many older locals believe that post war communism was more of t a threat to their life style by segregating the working and middle classes. It tried to do this by developing Nowa Huta on the outskirts of Krakow as the main industrial area and housing its workers in dozens of concrete housing blocks nearby. However the fall of communism affirmed that nothing is set in stone!

Sightseeing & Attractions in Krakow

This enchanting city dates back to the Middle ages when it was surrounded by a wall and protected by 55 towers. Some section of this remain today. For several hundreds of years it was the Capital of Poland and often referred to as the seat of Kings.Its very differing architecture reflects this history there is the Gothic Church – St Mary Basilica and from the Renaissance The Royal Castle (Wawel) to mention just two. It is estimated that Krakow has over 6,000 buildings of distinct architectural interest and in its Churches and Museum there are over two million artifacts. It is listed as 1 of 12 cities on the UNESCO World Heritage List

It is a very religious city – religious shrines can be found all over the city often beautifully decorated with flowers and candles. It is profoundly proud of the fact that the Late Pope John Paul came from Krakow. Many of its cultural festivals are religiously linked – The Lajkowik and Rekanka Festivities are the celebration of religious dates. Further information and advice on visiting Krakow can be found using the National Tourist Board link and Official Krakow City Tourist Office link – both of these are at the top of this page.

Krakow Market Square Rynek Glowny, Old Town -Krakow Market Square is in the Old Town of the city and dates back to 1257. The Square is home to some of Europe’s biggest and most spectacular parades and hosts some major festivals as well as their thriving Easter and Christmas Markets. Many regard Rynek to be the heart of Krakow and in recent years it has become a central meeting point for people in the city. In years gone by many of Poland’s traders would come to Rynek Glowny to do important business with other traders. There is a monument to 19th century Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, arguably the countries greatest ever poet. There are plenty of reasonably priced outdoor restaurants and cafes. You cannot forget St. Mary’s Basilica Church which is particularly famous for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss.
Kazimeirz [The Old Jewish Quarter] – The old Jewish quarter is just walking distance from the Old Town and the Wawel Castle. Kazimierz has become the kind of trendy centre of Krakow in recent years  with a burgeoning nightclub scene and nice restaurants all throughout the area. It was founded in 1335 by King Casimir the great who wanted to build it for his lover Esterka but she tragically committed suicide. King Jan Olbracht who reigned during the 15th century moved all the Jews in Krakow to Kazimierz. The Nazi’s wiped out the 45,000 population of Kazimierz during World War II but until then the Jews and Christians coexisted peacefully. The jewish quarter underwent a renaissance  in the new Millennium and business around the town has been booming ever since. The synagogues which were ruined by the Nazi’s have seen their art and architecture restored. The Quarter is fascinating and free to all to visit
St Mary’s  Basilica, Krakow Plac Mariacki 5 31-000 St Mary’s is a Brick Gothic church which was originally erected in 1347. It was founded by Casimir III the Great who  was King of Poland from 1333 till 1370.   St Mary’s is famous for its wooden altarpiece which was carved by Polish architect Veit Stoss. The Church which is adjacent  to the city’s main Market Square is a whopping 262 ft tall.  Every hour there is a trumpet signal called the Hejnal Mariacki which is played from the top of the taller of the two towers (see below) .  The Hejnal played at Midday is heard across the whole country and is broadcast live by  Polish National Radio 1 Station. Some English speaking readers may be aware of St Mary’s after it was spoken about in the 1929  Eric P Kelly novel, The Trumpeter of Krakow. Opening hours are  11.30 am till 6
The Trumpeter of Krakow 31-042, Krakow, Mariacki Church Each day at each full hour you can hear the famous bugle call from the top of the St Mary’s church *(see above) . The history of the trumpeter is an illustrious one, it dates all the way back to the 13th century when the trumpet was used to signal the locals that the Tartar invaders had arrived. It was also utilized to signal the opening and closing of the Krakow gates. The Trumpeter plays the melody four times on the hour, he first plays it in the direction of the King in Wawel Castle then to the west then south to greet the visitors coming from Barbican and St. Florians gate and finally it is played for the merchants in Market Square. The hourly trumpet calls have been broadcast live on Polish radio One ever since 1927
Wawel Castle 31-001, The Old Town, Krakow Wawel Castle also known as ”The Seat Of Kings”  is situated on Wawel Hill and is one of the City’s major attractions. Wawel is a spectacular royal residence  and many Poles are proud of this prestigious national treasure. The Castle was built in the 11th century but was burnt down by a huge fire in1498
and was rebuilt by a few Italian Artists which included the infamous Francesco the Florentine and Innicolo Caastiglione. Unfortunately another fire was to strike the castle at the beginning of the 18th century and Wawel was never to regain its true majestic beauty. Wawel was used as a Nazi headquarters during the second World War and was used by the notorious Nazi governor Hans Frank.
On the guided tour which can take sometime you will see the suite of the Governor of Krakow and for those with a keen eye for architecture and design there are original renaissance and baroque furnishings on show. For those looking for a something a bit saucy you can take a close look in to the private life of the King in his private chambers
Podgorze Podgorze is the 13th district in Krakow and is situated on the right of the bank of the beautiful Vistula River. Podgorze has a long and detailed history and in the present day it is a hotspot for young and fun loving tourists who are looking for a nice drink and a dance in a nightclub or a tasty meal in one of their many restaurants. In 1772 Podgorze was uncovered by the Austrians and in the middle ages it had been used as an industry base. Many visitors flock here to see St Joseph’s Church which was erected in 1909 and designed in a Neo-Gothic style. Podgorze officially became part of Krakow in 1915 but in 1941 thanks to the Nazis and World War Two it was turned in to ”Krakow Ghetto”.  A staggering 80,000 Polish Jews were horrifically murdered by the Nazi regime, most of them being killed in 1943Another main attraction of Podgorze is the two cemeteries, The Old Podgorze cemetery is the oldest burial ground in the city dating all the way back to the 1780’s
The Pharmacy Under The Eagle, Bohatera Ghetta 18, Podgorze = The Pharmacy is located in the Ghetto Heroes Square  and is a part of Krakow’s historical museum. It is a Non-Jewish institution but it was situated in Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto. The pharmacy was originally founded by Tadeush Panckiewicz who himself was not Jewish. Pankiewicz somehow managed to convince the Nazi’s to let the Pharmacy do business and operate throughout most of the day.
The Jews who were under siege from the Nazi’s would use the Pharmacy as a shelter at night. Pankiewicz was a brave man who deserves much credit for his courage in helping the some of the Polish Jews escape Persecution from Nazi soldiers. The pharmacist was also able to save some Torah scrolls as well and kept them in a special safe. The Communists took charge of the Pharmacy in the 1950’s and turned it in to a drinking establishment but in 1983 a museum was opened to the public courtesy of an aging Pankiewicz along with several war heroes. Sadly Pankiewicz died in 1993 but in 2004 famous Jewish film directors Roman Polanski and Steven Spielberg restored  and renewed the Pharmacy to make it more appealing and accessible
Mariacki Church, Plac Mariacki 5  31-042, Krakow The Mariacki Church [St. Mary’s] is in the Old Town district of Krakow and is arguably the second biggest attraction in the city after the Wawel Castle. The Church is not just a tourist spot but also a place for active worshippers who visit it daily to hear masses celebrated in Polish and Latin. The Kosciol Mariacki was erected in the 15th century and it replaced a Romanesque Church which had been there since 1222. Many marvel at The Churches’ Polish Gothic Architecture and churches  across Poland have since attempted to model their churches on St.Mary’s.
The Church is steeped with history and many wonder why the two towers outside the church are different shape and height to each other. The story goes that one they were built by two brothers and one was the superior architect whose tower was far bigger than his brother’s and this  lead the inferior brother to kill his own brother with a knife, realising what he had done he then climbed the higher tower of the church and plunged to his suicide from one of the windows. The Interior of St.Mary’s is nothing short of spectacular and even those who are not of a religious disposition can simply admire the design and architecture inside of the Mariacki. The Gothic and Baroque interior  and stained glass was made by three of Poland’s most brilliant artists.  You are free to visit any time but it is closed to tourists during mass and Catholic visitors say that attending mass at St.Mary’s is a monumental experience.
Places to Visit Close To Krakow

Wieliczka Salt Mine Krakow is a good base for visiting the salt mine at Weiiczka which is about a 90 minute drive away. Amazingly, this clinically clean establishment has carved out its own church come cathedral hundreds of feet underground which in itself makes the long walking tour worthwhile.  The Mining began in 13th century  and was the centre of Krakow’s industry. An incredible 1.5 million people a year come to visit this stunning attraction. The mine has the largest underground church and everything inside is carved out of salt. the Chapel Of Saint Kinga is a particular highlight for many who visit the salt mine.

The John Paul II monument salt monument is pretty spectacular and the mine can be a hugely enjoyable experience whether your religious or just interested in architecture and sculpting. There are English guided tours on offer and during your visit you can observe the beautiful underground lakes. One motivation for coming here which may surprise you is that those with upper respiratory health problems  can potentially benefit from the healthy air inside the mines. In 1978 the Salt mine was listed in UNESCO’s cultural and natural heritage list and this extraordinary attraction certainly deserves that accolade. It takes about half an hour to get from Krakow to Weilizka and trains leave every hour from Krakow Station.

Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp –  Krakow is and ideal base for anyone planning to visit Auschwitz. Though it is only an hour and half travelling time away you should allow a full day to make this trip.   Details of travelling to the camps from Krakow are given in our Auschwitz Guide

Restaurants in Krakow

The centre of the city is Market Square which is the second biggest square in Europe. (St Marks in Venice is the biggest). In and around the square are dozens of cafes and good restaurants where you buy meals from 5 – 15 euro for two people. The only thing that is expensive is the Guinness where available.

Especially notable and more expensive places to eat include: The Cherubino (Tomasza 15) which offers a rare mixture of Tuscan & modern Polish Cuisine. La Fontaine(Slankowska 1) a french restaurant famous for it snails in four specialist dishes and its exceptional deserts of which the creme brulee is a joy to sample. Pod Aniolami – Home of The Angel (Grodzka 35) is a good example of the more celebrated type of Polish food – including grilled cheese made out of sheep’s milk.

Crime and Personal Safety & Security In Krakow Krakow is one of Poland’s safest cities, but there are frequent incidents of petty crime in the city. Pickpocketers and muggers do patrol the Krakow streets, particularly in crowded toursist areas areas. You should avoid walking late at night in badly lit streets and as there have been isolated incidents in areas which are popular with tourists. Thieves also hang about ATMs, and on public transport especially at main railway stations.Many thefts occur when you board or leave a train. There is also a high risk of theft on sleeper trains. Do not accept food or drinks from strangers as they may be spiked.

There have been instances of anti-semitic behaviour ranging from verbal abuse to physical attacks. There has also been a increase in car crime in 2011 and 2012 with thieves breaking in and stealing the car radio’s. .As credit card fraud is on the increase do not let your cards out of sight. Some tourists are approached by criminals posing as plain cloth police officers who ask for credit card detail as proof of ID.

Krakow Clubbing & Nightlife for Krakow with club reviews please follow this link

Krakow’s Favourite Son – Late Pope John Paul – A Saint In Waiting

Poland will always remember Pope John Paul 11. Born in Krakow in 1920 he was studying at university when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 who sentenced him to hard labour in a stone quarry. At night in 1942 he secretly studied to become a priest. A year after Poland’s liberation and the horror of nearby Auschwitz was discovered he was ordained. In 1964 he became Arc bishop of Krakow. In 1979 he was elected Pope and he moved to Rome. As Pope, he was an enigma he will be remembered for his refusal to approve of the use of condoms in the battle against aids and his rejection of the ordination of women as priests.

Eight months after becoming the 264th Pope he returned to Poland and advised Poles that their ‘future was in their own hands’. The following year he repeatedly expressed his support for the Solidarity Movement which was born shortly after that visit. The communist rule of Poland was doomed but his support of Solidarity Movement resulted in a KGB assassination attempt in 1981. He forgave his assassin. Undeterred he criticised the ‘Godliness of communism and the materialism of the west’ which he described as the ‘entrapment of the human spirit’.

His influence in Poland and neighbouring countries is viewed as being instrumental in the fall of communism which subsequently echoed around eastern Europe. Throughout his papacy he actively promoted reconciling the divisions between different cultures faiths especially between Christians, Jews and the Palestinians. Catholicism in Poland is ;a very important part of the country’s culture but in Poland Pope John Paul’s death is not just a spiritual loss – it is also the loss of one of their greatest national hero’s.

Krakow Tourist Board

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Accommodation In Krakow

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