The death of a dragon gave birth to this city: its bones reside in the castle to this day (or so history claims). Such a legend suits Krakow, from its Royal Castle down to its most artsy of cellar cafes. If you visit, spend a week: saturated with sights, galleries, and museums, Krakow never leaves one bored. If arm-chair sightseeing is your thing, there are plenty of opportunities in the restaurants ringing the square or outside it. After a good dinner, dance it away at a night club or wash it down at a pub. If that doesn’t appeal, there’s always the opera. After a week here in your excellent hotel (we recommend Tango House Bed & Breakfast near the Market Square), venture out of the city where there is as much to see as within it.

For centuries, Polish kings lived and died in Wawel Castle. Even after the seat of political power moved to Warsaw, the kings continued to be crowned and buried here. Joining them are a number of Polish heros and poets, promoting this site to near-pilgrimage status for Poles. Wawel captures the heart because its history closely mirrors that of Poland itself; it declined and fell, then revived, then fell again, until today it enjoys another period of glory.


Every city has its story, and Krakow’s commences in the 7th century with a hero and a dragon: when Krak (the hero) poisoned the dragon (which was terrorizing the people), the happily liberated town took his name. That story — immortalized by the fire-belching look-alike which stands to one side of Wawel Castle — imaginatively stretches the truth. In reality, this area has been settled since the Stone Ages, long before Krak showed up. Regardless, imagination continued to play a role in Krakow, which grew from a crossroads trading town into the intellectual and cultural center of Poland.

Krakow’s first big break came when the first Polish dynasty relocated here. Somewhere around the 1030’s, the Piast king moved the capital to Krakow, and from then until the late 1500’s, Krakow flourished. Initially a typical fortified town with castle included, Krakow built and built again until it could lay claim in the 1300’s as one of the most beautiful and cosmopolitan of European cities. One Polish king in particular pushed Krakow beyond the progressive pale: Kazimierz established Poland’s first university here in 1364, he created a eponymously-named second town where the newly-welcomed Jews settled, he straightened out the legal system, and in his spare time built a few more architectural gems.

But alas, Krakow suffered a fate similar to Poland itself. Its decline began when Poland formally teamed up with Lithuania in 1569. The Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, was a bit too far from Krakow, and the capital again relocated to the more conveniently placed Warsaw. This blow was deepened by the Black Plague and the Swedish invasions in the 17th century; both wiped out a fair portion of the population and the city itself.

Down, but not out, Krakow revived in the 19th century. Unlike the rest of partitioned-Poland, Krakow initially retained pseudo-independence as a ‘free city’ (from 1815-46), and even when it lost that, its Austrian masters proved rather lenient. Said leniency provided fertile ground for counter movements: Krakow nurtured the Polish culture and its rebellious adherents until Poland regained independence in 1918.

That short-lived independence ended in 1939, and Krakow once more became the capital of (pseudo) Poland under the guidance of Hans Frank. The oft-told events which followed (which are respectfully acknowledged, but not included here) stripped the city of its cultural and intellectual elite, leaving it fair game for the communism which followed. After the war, the communists attempted to finish what the Nazis began by industrializing the region. The smoke-belching, acid-rain producing Nowa Huta steelworks proved a failure in this regard, but unfortunately left their polluting taint across Krakow. But, that time passed, and Krakow has again emerged to become a center of artistic, cultural, and intellectual life in Europe.

Sights: Barbakan Area

The Barbakan
This isolated creature is all that remains of the impressive defenses that surrounded Krakow. The Barbakan structure, built in 1498, strikes the eye as unusual: its design is Arabic instead of European.
Florianska Gate
A reminder of Krakow’s past as a city worth defending, the Gate marks what little exists of the old defensive walls pulled down and replaced with trees.
Gate Artists
If you want a pictorial souvenir of your trip to Krakow, you’ll find numerous choices adorning the remains of this 14th century defensive wall.
The Juliusz
Slowacki Theater
‘The theater’ in Krakow, this late 19th century beauty drew design inspiration from the Paris Opera.
Collegium Maius
The oldest of Krakow’s academic institutions, the Collegium got its start in the 14th century, marking the beginning of a long intellectual tradition in Krakow.
Jagiellonian University
The Collegium slid into semi-existence when its founder died, but was revived again by another thinking king, Jagiello, who developed it into a strong university which today bears his name.
The Battle
of Grunwald
This stupendous monument memorializes an equally stupendous battle: at Grunwald the Poles with a little help from their friends broke the strength of the apparently unbeatable Teutonic Knights.
meets New
Less common than it once was, this juxtaposition of renovated buildings with the still-yet-to-be makes a basic point about Krakow and Poland in general: the past is either being retrieved or rebuilt.

Sights: Main Market Square

The Sukiennice
Dating back to the Middle Ages, and still dominating Krakow’s square, the Sukiennice began and continues as a market. Inside, you can buy to your hearts content or appreciate some local art in the upstairs gallery.
Statue of Adam Mickiewicz
A popular resting spot in the square, this statue pays homage to Poland’s best-loved Romantic poet.
Birdseed anyone?
This most common sight – more pigeons than you can shake a stick at – in the square has become a rite and almost symbol of Krakow.
Piwo, anyone?
Buy a Bagele
Not quite the bagel known and consumed elsewhere, this Krakovian contribution has taken hold in Poland. Don’t worry if you don’t buy one immediately: carts dot the streets here and in Warsaw (with a higher price, of course).
Horse and Carriage
Tired of walking, try a buggy ride through Krakow.
Try a
faster mode
If the buggy ride doesn’t appeal, you always patronize the newer version, courtesy of that oh-so-American invention.

Sights: Religious Sites

St. Andrew’s Church
Guarding the entrance to the church, the sculptured 12 apostles gaze down at passers-by in an almost life-like manner. The church itself apparently protected, successfully, locals fighting against invading hordes of Tartars in the 13th century.
Church of the Holy Cross
One of the finer and more interesting examples of a Gothic Church, be certain to catch a mass and enjoy the unique interior (open only during services).
Mariacki Church
Another Gothic structure you cannot miss, the original dates back to 1222 but this version replaced it in 1355 (due to Tatar invasion-induced damage). Its dissimilar towers also share different ages; the younger and taller of the two houses a trumpeter who marks each hour with a truncated trumpet call. Said call owes its brevity to legend: during yet another Tatar invasion, the trumpeter attempted to raise the alarm and earned an arrow through his throat for his trouble.
I heard the trumpeter
And so famous is that tradition that an entrepreneurial capitalist offers you the proof on paper that you’ve heard it: get your own bona-fide certificate that you can show to the world.

Sights: Wawel Castle & Cathedral

Wawel Castle
Wawel Cathedral
With fragments of its 11th century origins still tucked away here or there, this Cathedral comes loaded with history. Note the bone collection when you enter: these bits are credited to the dragon Krak and hold all responsibility for the cathedral’s existence. If the bones go, so does the cathedral.
The Zygmunt Chapel
Since the majority of Poland’s rulers are encrypted in the Wawel Cathedral, they politely made way for one another by building their own side chapels. Zygmunt’s gleams gold because its pollution-damaged cap was recently replaced. The remaining chapels tell the long architectural story of Poland – rarely is so much gathered into one site of worship.
Ground plan of Wawel Castle
To give you some sense of the size of the castle, check this usefully-marked map out.
Wawel Castle Courtyard
This Italian-designed courtyard reflects a twist of the architect Berrecci’s imagination. The first two stories offer the standard look, but the third extends upward without including the expected entablature, leaving a sense of openness or absence.
Bounce around Wawel
And they’ve now added something for the kids.


Visiting Hours
tel. 422 16 97
Treasury, Armory & Royal Chambers
9.30-16.30 Tue-Fri; 9.30-15.30 Wed-Thur; 9.30-15 Sat; 10-15 Sun; Mon closed.
Lost Wawel
9.30-15.30 Mon, Wed-Thur; 9.30-16.30 Fri; 9.30-15 Sat; 10-15 Sun; Tue closed.
Dragon’s Cave
open daily
Cathedral, Zygmunt’s Bell, Royal Tombs
9-17 Mon-Sat; 12.15-17 Sun, holidays


Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski)

National Museum (Muzeum Narodowe)
Al. 3 Maja 1, tel: 634 33 77, hours: 10-15.30 Tue; 10-18 Wed; 10-15:30 Thur-Sun

This museum contains a diverse collection of art. Along with an exhibit on Middle Eastern art and Polish military memorabilia, it contains one of the largest collections of Polish modern art covering many periods. Many artists displayed come from the Krakow region.

Museum of Archeology (Muzeum Archeologiczne)
ul. Poselska 3, tel. 422 71 00, 422 75 60, hours: 9-14 Mon-Wed; 14-17 Thur; 11-14 Sun; closed on Fri & Sat

Situated in a former prison, this museum exhibits a large collection of art from paleolithic to medieval ages, an equally large collection of Krakow regional archaeological artifacts, and permanent exhibits which focus on medieval Malopolska and prehistoric Nowa Huta.

Museum of the Archdiocese (Muzeum Archidiecezjalne)
ul. Kanonicza 19, tel. 421 89 63, hours: 10-15 Tue-Sat; closed on Sun, Mon & holidays

Located in a 14th century canonic house, this museum displays sacral art from the Krakow Archdiocese along with paintings from the 13th century. Of particular interest is the special Pope John Paul II room with authentic furnishings.

Museum of Ethnography (Muzeum Etnograficzne)
ul. Wolnica 1, tel. 656 56 01, 656 28 63, hours:10-18 Mon; 10-15 Wed-Fri; 10-14 Sat, Sun, & holidays; closed on Tue, free on Sun

This museum displays Polish folk art, concentrating on customs, paintings and ceramics. Of special interest are the decorated Easter Eggs and Krakow’s very own creches.

Pharmacy Museum (Muzeum Farmacji)
ul. Florianska 25
tel. 422 05 49,hours: 15-19 Tue; 11-14 Wed-Sun; 11-14 on the 2nd to 4th Sat of each month; closed on Mon & holidays

This unique museum covers the history of the pharmacy nicely demonstrated with interiors of old drugstores and pharmacy laboratories.

Museum of the History of Photography (Muzeum Historji Fotografii)
ul. Jozefitow 16, tel. 633 06 37, 634 59 32, hours: 12-17.30 Tue; 10-15.30 Wed-Sun; closed on Mon

Photographic history illustrated with photographs and postcards from the 19th and 20th centuries along with a collection of old cameras.

City History Museum (Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa)
several branches, most popular are at Old Town Square 35 and Old Synagogue (see below), tel. 422 99 22, hours: 9-15:30 Wed, Fri-Sun; 11-18 Thur; closed on Mon, Tue and on 2nd Sat & Sun of each month

Spread throughout 3 merchant houses, the museum displays objects from the city’s beginnings (1257). It also contains a gallery of portraits and a collection of old clocks.

Old Synagogue (Stara Synagoga)
ul. Szeroka 24, tel. 422 09 62, hours:9-15.30 Wed, Thur, Sat, Sun; 11-18 Fri; closed on 1st Sat & Sun of every month

Situated in the oldest synagogue in Poland (15th C), the museum exhibits the religious and cultural history of Polish Jews with a special focus on Krakow’s Jewry. Objects of every day use, medals, photographs and paintings.

Stanislaw Wyspianski Museum (Muzeum Stanislawa Wyspianskiego)
ul. Kanoniczna 9, tel. 422 83 37, hours:10-15:30 Tue-Wed; 9-17 Thur; 10-15:30 Fri-Sun

This museum is dedicated to this famous 19th century Polish playwright, painter and poet.

Czartoryski Museum (Muzeum Czartoryskich)
ul. Jana 19, tel. 422 55 66,hours:10-15:30 Tue-Fri; 10-18 Fri; 10-15:30 Sat-Sun

European paintings from 14th to 18th centuries. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Woman with Weasel” is a must see.

Jan Matejko House (Dom Jana Matejki)
ul. Florianska 41, tel. 422 59 26, hours:10-15:30 Tue-Thur; 10-18 Fri; 10-15:30 Sat-Sun

Housed in the home where Matejko was born and died, this museum exhibits many of the paintings, drawings and even costumes designed by this most famous of 19th century Polish masters.

Jozef Mehoffer House (Dom Jozefa Mehoffera)
ul. Krupnicza 26, tel. 421 11 43, hours:10-15.30 Tue, Thur-Sun; 10-18 Wed

Visit another house of another famous Polish painter but of this century.

Center of Japanese Art and Technology Manggha (Centrum Sztuki i Techniki Japonskiej Manggha)
ul. Konopnickiej 26, tel. 267 27 03, hours:10-18 Tue-Sun

Founded in 1994 by Poland’s famous movie director Andrzej Wajda, its main exhibit derives from one of the finest European collections of ancient Japan gathered together over the years by the Polish traveller Feliks Jasienski.

Nature/Botanical Museum (Muzeum Przyrodnicze)
ul. sw. Sebastiana 9, tel. 422 89 37, hours:10-14 Tue-Fri; 9-13 on Sat-Sun

This natural museum displays fauna and flora from Poland and around the world. Main exhibits include exotic insects, domestic birds, and sea shells.

Jagiellonian University Museum (Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagielonskiego)
ul. Jagiellonska 15, tel. 422 05 49, hours: 11-14:30 Mon-Fri; 11-13:30 Sat

This intriguing museum covers the history of the oldest university in Poland, and contains a collection of astronomical instruments along with a portrait gallery.

“Pharmacy Under Eagle” Museum (Muzeum Pamieci Narodowej Apteka Pod Orlem)
pl. Bohaterow Getta, tel. 656 56 25, hours: 10-16 Mon-Fri; 10-14 Sat

This unique museum focuses on the Krakow Ghetto of World War II, with photographs and art complemented by every day objects.

Zoology Museum (Muzeum Zoologiczne)
ul. Ingardena 6, tel. 633 63 77 ext.414, hours:10-14 Tue, Wed, Fri

This museum displays animals from around the world, especially butterflies and sea shells.

Polish Aviation Museum (Muzeum Lotnictwa Polskiego)
al. Jana Pawla 39, tel. 412 78 55, 412 90 00, hours: 9-16 Tue-Fri; 10-15 Sat; 10-16 Sun

Like a good aviation museum should, this one includes airplanes, helicopters, airplane engines and experimental rockets.

Outside Kraków

 Auschwitz and Kazimierz

The past draws us in myriad ways. We pay homage to its vestiges, seeking a point of reference from the remnants of incomprehensible events. So it is with the remains of the concentration camp Auschwitz. Yet today, revisiting Poland’s Jewish past is more than paying respects to the dead; the centuries old Jewish community of Kazimierz relives, little by little, each year.

 Wieliczka Salt Mine

Truly a wonder of the world, and worth every minute of the hours long tour, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is enormous, beautiful, and still in business.

 A trail of Eagles’ Nests

Past grandeur is still palpable in this ring of ruins which formerly protected Poland’s southern border. One of the many fortresses constructed in the 14th century still stands – Pieskowa Skala – but the remainder top the peaks in a tumbled down array of glory passed.