Ever since I first made it to Poland, Krakow’s been one of my favorite places in Europe. Some might say that it’s getting a tad too popular these days (shall we call it the Prague curse?), but there’s something special about the cultural hub of Poland that’s truly easy to love.
Maybe it’s the day trips or the craft beer (yes, I love that Polish craft beer!); most likely though, what’s gets me goin’ about good ol’ Krakow is its historical sites.
As the former royal capital, Krakow’s got some pretty amazing historical sites that are must-sees when visiting Poland. Seemingly, you could spend years in Krakow without checking everything out.
Since I doubt you’ll stay that long (or maybe you’ll want to?), trim your list down to these must-see historical sites that shine above the rest…
As much as I love strolling around Old Town, the former Jewish district of Kazimierz gets top spot on my list of most interesting places in Krakow. The historical district of Kazimierz was once home to a vast Jewish population during the 15th century. This was main cultural center of the Polish Jewry for many centuries.
What makes Kazimierz so great now is that, despite all its struggles in history (and there were lots, as you probably well know), this district is alive and well. There’s a flea market and a number of bars & restaurants that rank among the best in the city. As an added bonus, you won’t (always) have to deal with drunk tourists here in Kazimierz in the same quantity as you might in Old Town.
Plaszow Concentration Camp
We’re all aware of that Krakow faced a lot of hardship, trauma and suffering during World War II. Nowhere does that ring more true than at the Plaszow Concentration Camp. This historic site was built during in 1942 during the Nazi occupation of Poland on top of two Jewish cemeteries.
Fortunately, there’s a bit of a bright side here. This site became famous for being the stage for the defiance of Oskar Schindler who rescued over 1,000 Jewish prison labourers here. As you tour the area, including Schindler’s Enamel Factory where there now sits two museums, you’ll get to hear plenty more about this harrowing story.
The Ghetto Heroes Square
This not-so-subtle historic site in the district of Zabłocie is an all-out in-your-face reminder of Krakow’s tumultuous past. The Ghetto Heroes Square has iron chairs all around the square to remind visitors of what happened during the Nazi regime in Poland.
This square was infamous for being the place where Jewish residents were kept while waiting to be transferred to Nazi concentration camps like nearby Auschwitz. The empty chairs symbolize these prisoners sitting and waiting for their impending doom.
Though it’s nothing short of depressing, historic sites like The Ghetto Heroes Square must be seen & felt so as to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
St. Mary’s Basilica
In case it wasn’t obvious from a first walkabout, Krakow is home to some pretty interesting churches. None of them, in my opinion though, holds a candle to St. Mary’s Basilica in Old Town.
With dual towers and a spire that has a gold-plated crown with Gothic features, St. Mary’s is absolutely breathtaking. The church was originally built in 1666 and still has the same striking effect that it did back then.
Even if you’re not religious, the structure alone’s enough to stop you dead in your tracks. You could easily spend an hour just taking in all the details on the outside—never mind the inside!
Rynek Glowny (Main Market Square)
The pulse of Old Town beats around Rynek Glowny, the main market square of Krakow. Rynek Glowny consists of almost 10 acres of medieval history. It’s actually the largest medieval city square in all of Europe, sprinkled with a number of 16th-century architectural wonders.
From the Renaissance Cloth Hall (home to the interesting Rynek Underground museum) to the horses, carriages & performers that frequent the square, you’re guaranteed to have fun here—even if it’s a tad kitschy at times. With all that goes on in Rynek Glowny, it can be easy to get turned around especially when Krakow’s famous Christmas Market (one of the best in Europe, I might add) is in session.