Legend has it that Krakow was founded by the mythical ruler, Krakus, who built the city high above a cave occupied by the fearsome Wawel Dragon, Smok Wawelski . In fact it was built in the 7th century and is one of the oldest cities in Poland.
Today, Krakow attracts around 10 million tourists every year, who are keen to explore the beautiful medieval old town and soak up the city’s buzzing, artistic vibe.
Here’s our guide to what to see and do in and around Krakow.
Explore the old town
Krakow’s old town is a dedicated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is made up of a network of cobbled streets, historic architecture and Polish monuments. The old town is home to a buzzing nightlife scene, with more pubs and bars per square meter than anywhere else in the world (even Dublin!).
tart your self-guided tour at the main market square, one of the largest in Europe. Admire the grandeur of St. Mary’s Basilica, a gothic church with an 82m high tower (and another slightly shorter 69m tower). Listen out for the trumpet call – Hejnał mariack – played every hour from the top of the taller tower, and poke your head into the interior of the church to marvel at the 15th-century main altarpiece made by the famous German Sculptor, Veit Stoss.
Next head to The Krakow Cloth Hall (or “Sukiennice”), a 19 th century building that serves as the central feature of the market square. It was once a major trading centre of exotic goods such as silk, leather and spices.
You can walk in the footsteps of these great artists, viewing their works of art and even visiting their homes. The House of Jan Metejko at 14 Florianska Street is the oldest biographical museum in Poland. It has been renovated in recent years and houses a collection of 6,000 items including letters, books and artworks belonging to Matejko, who was born, raised and even died here.
Today, the ground floor harbours a vast selection of stalls selling cloth, Polish handicraft and souvenirs. The upper floor houses a gallery of Polish sculptures and paintings that date to the 19 th century.
At Happy Hour, head to one of the old town’s jazz bars for some live music and a glass of chilled Polish
For a entirely unique experience, spend your second day exploring the caverns of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, located just 40 minutes by train from the city centre. The salt mine was opened in the 13 th century and produced table salt up until 2007, making it one of the world’s longest operating salt mines. Reaching a depth of almost 327m, visitors can explore this incredible underground labyrinth, exploring 20 different chambers and learning about the construction and history of the salt mine. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the salt chambers are also said to have healing properties, helping to sooth visitor’s respiratory problems and allergies.
Follow in the footsteps of the great Polish artists
Krakow has produced its fair share of celebrated artists. During the 15 th and 16 th centuries in the city’s “Golden Age” many works of Polish Renaissance art were displayed in the city, and can be enjoyed by visitors to this day, particularly at Wawel Royal Castle and its golden-domed Sigismund Chapel.
Poland experienced a second “Golden Age” in the 19 th and 20 th centuries, with artists such as Jan Matejko, who painted the sad jester, Stańczyk , and the multifaceted Witkacy, whose life and death are shrouded in mystery.