Arriving upon Kraków’s main market square or 'Rynek,' you are now standing in the heart of Poland with your finger on its pulse. Historically, culturally and spiritually the Rynek and Wawel may be the two most important sights in the country (sorry Warsaw). The largest medieval market square in Central Europe, Kraków’s Rynek is 200 metres square and functions as the city’s social gravitation point. Lined with cafes and restaurants, filled with people, pigeons, street performers, musicians and horse-drawn carriages, this is a place of festivals, concerts, parades and other events. At its centre lies the impressive Cloth Hall or ‘Sukiennice’ – a neo-Gothic structure which has served as a market for merchants since the Middle Ages, and whose history you can now learn in the Rynek Underground museum housed beneath it, not to mention the wonderful 19th Century Polish Art Gallery on the first floor. Directly before you as you’re leaving Floriańska is St. Mary's Basilica - or Mariacki Cathedral – one of the most dazzling cathedrals in the country famed for its incredible altarpiece and stained glass. It’s from atop the taller of the two cathedral towers that a bugler plays an abbreviated tune every hour on the hour – don’t miss it. On the other side of the square you’ll find the Town Hall Tower, with a viewing platform at the top (open in season) and a theatre and bar in the former basement prison.
Leaving the Rynek follow the kings down ul. Grodzka to pl. Wszystkich Świętych. To the right is St. Francis’ Basilica with an Art Nouveau interior by Stanisław Wyspiański that should not be missed, while directly before you are three more incredible stained glass windows by Kraków’s favourite son in a specially-made modern building. Ulica Grodzka leads you past the Church of Saints Peter & Paul with its striking sculptures of the 12 disciples posed before it. Cut across the small square to your right and you’ll find yourself on one of Kraków’s most handsome streets, ul. Kanonicza. The late Pope John Paul II’s former residence is at numbers 19-21, which now house the Archdiocesan Museum. Kanonicza lets out directly at the foot of Wawel Castle, the city’s defining landmark. A source of great pride, patriotic and spiritual strength, Wawel is worth spending half a day exploring, as well as the Wisła riverbanks below.
Other Old Town highlights include the fabulous 20th century art collection on the top floor of the main building of the National Museum. The Old Town is also home to the second oldest university in Central Europe. Jagiellońian University’s Collegium Maius is the school’s oldest building and was the studying place of Copernicus. Take an hour out to see the incredible library and lecture hall, as well as the oldest surviving globe in the world to depict the Americas. Finally, anyone looking to do some bizarre bargain hunting should head to one of Kraków’s catch-all marketplaces, with Stary Kleparz and Hala Targowa – especially during the latter's Sunday morning flea market - being bona fide cultural experiences in their own right.
The Wawel Dragon monument, Kraków; photo by Anna Lurne
For Tadeusz Kantor fanatics exclusively, this small gallery right in the Old Town has been a part of Cricoteka since the 1980s. Afte
Kraków’s oldest church sits not unlike a lost orphan at the southeast corner of the m
Pope John Paul II lived here, twice. Once as fledgling priest Karol Wojtyła, and later in grander, adjacent rooms as Bishop of Kraków. Today a