Every European big city has its one or two symbols for which it’s popular and most of the travelers visit these overly popular attractions. What you don’t know about Krakow is that very often tourists can’t decide which places to go and visit first. And if you’re planning to make a trip to Poland don’t even think that two days would be enough for doing all the best FREE things the city has to offer.
The main Market Square of Krakow is the most recommended start point for any budget traveler and for any other tourists. Its outstanding Gothic architecture is so characteristic that everyone who’s visited the place will forever be able to distinguish them from any other architectural sites. This square is the biggest medieval district in Europe and its 13th century elements are carefully combined with modern arrangements, making you feel like a trippy time traveler unsure of the exact time he’s landed on. The plaza is also linked to the most culturally significant buildings of the city, and it’s also ground zero for all the important cultural, social and political events taking place in the cultural capital of Poland.
Always hustling with both local and tourists, it’s not only the cultural artifacts that keep it alive, but the diversity of restaurants and pubs as well. Another reason to visit it are the numerous festivals happening here during all year long and if you’re a fan of outdoor events you should plan your trip taking into account the festivities you’re going to attend. Other than just admiring the surroundings, what you can do in Rynek Główny is watch the artistic live performances in their great variety, from experimental theater to the live local bands.
St. Mary’s Basilica
Every touristic attraction has a top, the kind of place you’d hate yourself for missing and the one that’s going to be your top of mind whenever you’ll think of that trip. For Krakow, Bazylika Mariacka is that touristic zenith. Since the beginning of the 13th century, this sanctuary has reigned upon the main square. And since the trumpeter who was shot in his throat for trying to appease the citizens during an attack in the 13th century, a recording of Hejnal Mariacki is played every hour to honor his memory. The iconic, legendary piece of Gothic architecture isn’t only historically fascinating, but it’s almost impossible not to let yourself soaked in.
And this is what makes the monuments of the square so special – the stories they tell make any tourist get lost in the medieval atmosphere. Also, from May 1st to August 31st on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays the tourists can get in the tower and admire the amazing city panorama. Right next to the basilica there’s St. Adalbert Church, another place that I would recommend visiting. You don’t have to be religious, not an architect either, to like it. The very simple outside with a very elegant, refined, simple and outstanding interior is what you’re going to find here. It’s the kind of place where you would come at least once a month if you’d permanently stay in Krakow. To pray, to relax and introspect. The type of place that would make you want to praise the gods even if you don’t believe in any.
Las Volski Forest
There are many ways in which you can enjoy the very best recreational forested wonder around the city. It’s weird how thousands of thousands of people visit the city every year and yet it’s so easy to detach from the crowd. The place is one of the locals’ most favorite especially because of this fact and also for what it is in itself – the cheapest and most healthy way of spending your free time, away from the city rush. Very close from the Krakow Zoo (another place that’s really relaxing and worth visiting, but won’t make it to your priority list if you’re in a rush or you’re a budget traveler), the forest offers trails for those of you who want to take a pre-planned route and take it as a proper climbing day rather than a good place to walk on a nice, sunny afternoon; and it’s a great idea to do it the classical way because of the variety of tracks – there are eight marked hiking trails. Of course, there’s the other option as well – wandering aimlessly just for the sake of enjoying a very dazzling landscape without having to leave the premises too far.
They’re not to miss either, especially if your trip in Krakow is longer than two days. Most of the museums have a free admission day every week, and they’re an absolute exception – even if you’re not a fan of typical traveling you should give them a chance and you’ll be impressed, not only for the outstanding, elaborate architecture, but for the amazing facts and the manner of presentation as well. For instance, Rynek Underground Museum is free for visitors every Tuesday except for the first one in a month when it’s not open. The place was discovered accidentally a few years ago and it’s one of the most exquisite modern museums in Europe, gathering historical facts and artifacts since prehistoric times – giving you the possibility to see the old streets and arrangements of Krakow and even an old cemetery. Because of the very high standards followed in its creation, this place is one of the top visited and a very good idea would be to phone and book in advance, this way making sure you won’t have to queue.
Another must in matters of museums is Schindler’s Factory, whose history was very well surprised in the movie Schindler’s List. Just in case you haven’t seen the movie, the place covers the Nazi occupation during the WWII in a very creative and innovative manner. This history lesson is one of the most touching practical and educative exhibitions. The exposition is held in the same building that witnessed part of the horrifying, abominable tragedy. Many of the scenes remembered in the movie actually took place in this same building. The museum is free every Monday except for the first Monday every month, when it’s not open to the public.
Located in Kazimierz, is the place where you can buy all your souvenirs from and it’s not far from the Main Square either. It’s also a very good alternative for eating, especially if you’re a budget traveler. And even if you’re not, you just have to try zapiekanki – a local pizza baguette to get you through the day. This living side of Krakow, somehow rustic but very different from any other side of the city is a way of experiencing the complexity of the city. The hip and trendy locals are the loyal customers keeping the atmosphere alive day and night, at the stalls as well as in the pubs, talking over beer and coffee or partying until the morning.
Oases of Skalki Twardowskiego and Zakrowek
The old limestone in Skalki offers a wonderful sight even for the most picky of us and, if you don’t have too much time and you’d have to choose between coming here or going to Volski Forest, my advice would be to clearly come here and admire the Caribbean-like turquoise of the oasis. Besides the fairy surroundings, you can also go biking or hiking. Once you’re at the top, you’ll have the entire city of Krakow to wonder at, right at your feet.
You don’t have to go jogging every night to want to have a nice walk along the Wisla River. This is one of the things that you have to do at least once – the scenic view is perfect for any activity you could think of from romantic walks, to picnic or reading a good book in peace. The boulevards stretch from one end of the city to the other one and there’s plenty of place that you should take photos of, from Wawel Hill, to Salwator and Kazimierz or Podgorze. If you happen to be around during the Wianki Festival happening at the summer solstice, here’s where you should spend some of your time in Krakow!