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Old Town Krakow

Visit the Historic District of Poland's Most Popular Destination City

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St. Mary's Church, Krakow

St. Mary's Church, Krakow

Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Old Town Krakow is one of Poland's most-visited historic districts. This attractive, sprawling city section of streets and squares offers plenty to do, see, and experience. Integral to the historic development of Poland and a prominent Polish cultural site, Krakow's Old Town is a welcoming, memorable, and photogenic travel destination.

Krakow's Must-See Sights

Krakow's sights recall a city of a bygone era. With the Main Market Square acting as the central hub for sightseers, it's easy to envision medieval Krakow. The stately St. Mary's Church, with its tall brick tower, overlooks the square; a bugler sounds notes cut short by a ghostly Tatar arrow. The remnants of the Old Town Hall cast a shadow over the Cloth Hall, where traders offer a variety of wares just as generations of predecessors did.

Old Krakow extends outside the square, so be sure to set out on foot and explore. Follow Florianska Street to catch a view of Florianska Gate, through which visitors to Golden Krakow entered. Beyond are the remnants of the wall that once fortified the city against attack. Wawel Castle and its surroundings are also rich in history. The trendy Kazimierz District, which has undergone dramatic transformation in past years, preserve's Krakow's Jewish heritage.

Things to Do in Old Town Krakow

Visitors to Old Town Krakow will find plenty to do. Visiting the sights is the most obvious option. Take a tour or follow a map to prioritize the most interesting sights. Once you've seen Wawel Castle, Main Market Square, and other sightseeing attractions in the vicinity, you'll find plenty to occupy your evenings or a rainy day.

Main Market Square and its side streets offer plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars for eating, drinking, and simply taking in the atmosphere in Old Town Krakow. Try famous Polish dishes, sip vodka on a restaurant terrace, enjoy an ice cream, or patronize one of the city's oldest and best-known establishments and be a part of a longstanding Krakow tradition.

If you're into shopping, the Cloth Hall is a great location to buy souvenirs. As you wander Old Town Krakow's side streets, you'll encounter shops selling everything from art and antiques to apparel and crystal. Shopping malls and centers have also sprung up in Krakow.

Not surprisingly, the old town is full of museums and art galleries that educate visitors about the city's – and Poland's – past. A new museum underneath the main square uncovers archeological secrets about Krakow. The museum at the Royal Castle and the City of Krakow Historical Museum are good options if you want to learn more about old town life. The Czartoryskis Museum is the famous home of Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine, but it preserves other masterpieces as well. The Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art focuses on art from the 1800s produced by local artists.

Old Town Krakow at Night

When evening descends on Old Town Krakow, the historic district takes on a new life. Concerts on the square fill the air with music. Light displays beam and pulse off of architectural facades. The city's student population spills into the streets, ready for fun after a day of classes and studying. Bands entertain crowds in pubs and bars. After touring Old Town Krakow by day, you must see it by night if you want a complete picture of this lively European city.

Events in Old Town Krakow

Each season brings with it a series of annual events to Old Town Krakow. Wianki is the ultimate summertime event, which celebrates Poles' connection with their pagan past and gives everyone an excuse to enjoy the warm summer nights. Krakow's Christmas market on Main Market Square is one of the most popular in East Central Europe, and its arrival is accompanied by complementary holiday events. In late winter or early spring, the drowning of Marzanna welcomes warmer weather in another fun pagan ritual. Easter in Krakow is a special time that mixes religion and fun. May brings Juwenalia festivals, which are celebrated particularly enthusiastically by Krakow's large student population.

Hotels in Old Town Krakow

Hotels in the historic district can be expensive, but they'll provide you the convenience of being near the action around the clock. A variety of hotels are also located around the perimeter of the old town and Kazimierz. Be sure to book well in advance of your trip if you wish to stay in or near the historic district because these can fill up fast, especially during the summer or around significant holidays!
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Day Trips from Old Town Krakow

The attractions around Krakow offer even more to see and do. Descend underground into the Wieliczka salt mines to see incredible rooms and sculptures made by the generations of miners who worked there during the mine's long period of use. The Tatras Mountains, and one of its popular resort towns, Zakopane, can also be reached from Krakow.

An important sight for visitors to Krakow is the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau museum. Though the visit to this former Nazi camp is emotionally taxing, its story – and the stories of those who were sent there and perished there – emphasizes the scope of Hitler's human extermination efforts.

Daytrips from Krakow can easily be arranged from hotels and information stations within the old town. If you have a few extra days in this cultural capital, select one or two and see more of Poland.

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