Essential Kraków

Essential Kraków
Untouched by the fiery fate shared by most Polish cities at the end of WWII Kraków’s historic centre has largely survived in its original form, and today ranks as one of Europe’s great unspoiled cities. If you are short on time here are the essential sites you really ought not to leave Kraków without seeing. Each essential point has been bolded with a map reference and more info on each can be found in our 'what to see' section. The places themselves can be found by referring to our handy index in the rear of our print guide.

Most essential sites can be seen while taking a walk on what is known as the Royal Road which starts at (D-2) Floriańska Gate and leads into the Market Square (C-3, Rynek). Take a small diversion at the start to the Czartoryski Museum (C-2, ul. Św. Jana 19) where you will find one of only five Da Vinci paintings on display in the world – the Lady with an Ermine (please note that the Museum is currently closed for renovations and the Lady with an Ermine is on-tour). Getting back onto the Royal Route, the Market Square (C-3 Rynek) was originally designed in 1257, the year Kraków was awarded its charter and the gridlike layout of the old town and its central square has changed little in the years that have followed. Measuring 200 x 200m, the Rynek ranks as one of the largest medieval squares in Europe. It is here that you will find two of Krakow’s defining buildings – The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) and St. Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka).

Continuing down the Royal Route takes you along (C-4) ul. Grodzka where you pass the church of (C-4) St. Peter and Paul.  Moving off to your right, fans of the late Pope John Paul II should take a walk around his former residence nowadays housing the  Archdiocesan Museum (C-5, ul. Kanonicza 19-21). The walk concludes at (B/C-5) Wawel Castle, the defining landmark of the city, and itself worthy of several hours of exploration. For Poles this castle and cathedral complex is a symbol of national strength and patriotism; the ancient home of kings, and the material embodiment of Polish resistance and culture. Perched on top of a 50m-high rock on the edge of old town, it is today remarkably intact and accessible to visitors, though in an effort to preserve the exhibits only a limited number of visitors are allowed to enter each day.

Further on is (D/E-6) Kazimierz, the district that housed Kraków’s Jews for some 500 years. In the last decade it has been rediscovered, and its hollowed-out Jewish culture gradually reintroduced. Peeling façades and wooden shutters hide dozens of smoky cafes, each one effecting an air of pre-war timelessness.
This is an area of Kraków that cannot be missed.
Crossing the river will take you to the (J-5) Podgórze district, the site of the former Jewish Ghetto. Today fragments of the Ghetto wall can be viewed, and Oskar Schindler’s factory (K-4, ul. Lipowa 4) now houses a museum detailing the realities for both Jews and Poles in Kraków under Nazi occupation.

If you can afford a little more time in the area make sure to check out the incredible sights to be found in the Wieliczka salt mines and take a tour in a socialist-era Trabant of the only centrally-planned new city outside of the Soviet Union – Nowa Huta.

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