Churches, manors and mounds
Several voluminous books have already been written about Krakow's sacred monuments. Let's just say that the number of historic churches amounts to... 360! The most valuable are those located in the Old Town: St Barbara's church, St Adalbert's church (in its basement there is an exhibition related to the history of the Market Square), St Anna's church (one of the most beautiful Baroque buildings in Poland), Franciscan Basilica, Holy Cross church, St Andrew's church, Sts Peter and Paul's church (once the seat of the authorities of the Republic of Krakow), the Piarist church, St Mark's church, St John the Baptist's church, and St John the Evangelist's church (one of the examples of the towerless style popular in Krakow), as well as St Martin's church. All the churches listed above are located in close proximity to the Main Market Square, so visiting them is really easy. The most important sacred object of the Old Town is of course the Gothic St Mary's Basilica, built in the 14th and 15th centuries, rising on the plate of the Main Market Square. Inside the basilica, you can admire, among others, the altar from the 15th century by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz), beautiful stained-glass windows and a Renaissance treasury. It is from the basilica tower that Hejnał Mariacki (trumpet call) – one of the symbols of Krakow – is played every hour.
Choosing a walk along the Grodzka street, we get from the Main Market Square to another unique place. It is the Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Wenceslaus, located within the area of the Wawel Royal Castle. It was here that Polish kings were crowned, and also buried, moreover it is a burial place of their families and other important Poles, including Adam Mickiewicz, Tadeusz Kościuszko and Józef Piłsudski. Wawel crypts are open to visitors.
Another very important site is the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Krakow-Łagiewniki. People used to go on pilgrimages to the place where the sanctuary was built already in the 1940s. Former chapel of St Joseph flourished after the beatification of Sister Faustina and her subsequent canonisation, and thanks to the pilgrimages of Popes: John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. Today it houses the historic monastery complex, a modern basilica and a chapel, among others. The John Paul II Centre “Do not be afraid!” was established nearby.
Tourists are also encouraged to visit places of worship of other denominations: the historic Greek Catholic Orthodox church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (church of St Norbert) and the Orthodox Church of Dormition. In turn, the Kazimierz district is an area where you can visit the Jewish temples: the Old Synagogue, the Remuh Synagogue and Cemetery, the Synagogue of Isaac, Kupa, Popper, Tempel and the High Synagogue. They represent various architectural styles (from Gothic to early modernism) and together with the whole of Kazimierz were inscribed on the first UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978.
Krakow and its surroundings can also be visited following the monastery route. In Mogiła there is a Cistercian monastery, on Skałka a Pauline monastery and the Basilica of St Michael the Archangel and St Stanislaus the Bishop, in turn in Bielany – the Camaldolese monastery, which, according to the rigorous order of the monastery authorities, can be visited by women only for a few days a year. Particularly noteworthy is the charmingly situated Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec – the oldest monastery in Poland located on a limestone hill by the Vistula. Enthusiasts of active leisure can get here by bike using the Vistula Bicycle Route.
Cemetery tourism is one of the unusual but certainly intriguing ways to explore the city. In addition to the Wawel Crypt mentioned above, it is worth paying attention to such places as: Crypt of the Meritorious (in the basement of the Church on Skałka are buried such personalities as Jan Długosz, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Stanisław Wyspiański and Czesław Miłosz), as well as the cemeteries: Rakowiecki (in its Alley of the Meritorious, there are tombs of Marek Grechuta, Wisława Szymborska or Jan Matejko, and in another part of the cemetery - of the family of Karol Wojtyła), Podgórze, Bronowicki, Salwator.
Searching for treasures of religious architecture, we can also go outside of Krakow. Let's start with Książ Wielki, located 50 km from the city. There interesting local sites include the Augustinian complex with the church of Holy Ghost, church of St Adalbert and church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary located in Książ Mały with a historic wooden belfry. Going back to Krakow we will pass through Miechów, where we can find the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the stops on the Małopolska Trail of the Holy Sepulchre Order (a route that brings tourists closer to the history and role played by the Holy Sepulchre Order in the history of the Church and Polish culture). You can also visit the War Quater from the First World War in Miechów, where over 600 soldiers are buried. Just 7 km away, in the Church of Our Lady Mother of the Church in Przesławice you can admire the late Baroque altars and the wooden belfry standing next to the temple, while in the nearby Wysocice – the church of St Nicholas (one of the oldest and best preserved defensive type Romanesque rural churches). In search of religious monuments, we can also follow the route Niepołomice – Okulice – Hebdów. In Niepołomice you can admire the Sanctuary of St Charles Borromeo and the War Cemetery of the First World War, and in the nearby Staniątki – the Monastery and Church of Benedictine Sisters. From Niepołomice we set off to Okulice to see the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Okulice. The route is crowned with the monastery complex of Piarist in Hebdów.
Visiting Krakow and its surroundings can be carried out with the use of very interesting prepared themed routes. One of them is the fourth section of the Wooden Architecture Route in the Małopolska region, which consists of about 40 wooden churches in Krakow and around the city, including All Saints' Church in Krakow – Górka Kościelnicka, church of St Bartholomew in Krakow-Mogiła, chapel of St Judith and St Margaret in Salwator, buildings of Wola Justowska, hermitage with chapel in Krzesławice, the “Seclusion” Manor House in Miechów or the church of the Holy Trinity in Iwanowice. Another interesting idea is to try the Małopolska Romanesque Route presenting monuments of Romanesque art and architecture (with St Mary's Basilica in the forefront). We also recommend a trip along the Cistercian Route, which in the vicinity of Krakow includes, among others, the above-mentioned abbey in Mogiła.
In addition to impressive sacred architecture, Krakow can boast of secular monuments, which are by no means less attractive. It is enough to say that Krakow's Old Town together with Wawel, Kazimierz and Stradom were the first in Poland to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Krakow's Market Square (one of the largest in Europe) is where the heart of the city beats, there are also several exceptional tourist attractions located in its close vicinity. But first, let's go underground. Under the surface of the Main Square there are underground open to tourists with an area of over 6,000 square metres, constituting one of the branches of the Museum of Krakow. It is also worth visiting the most famous cellar in Poland, i.e. the iconic cabaret “Piwnica pod Baranami”. When visiting the Old Town, special attention should be paid to the Kanoniczna street (where Renaissance and Baroque buildings with decorative portals have been preserved) and the historic tenement houses – “Under the Eagle” at 22 Szewska street, “Grey” at the Market Square, tenement house at 7 św. Gertrudy street and 53 Karmelicka street. Buildings of the oldest Polish academia, the Jagiellonian University, namely: Nowodworski Collegium, Collegium Novum and Collegium Maius, are also worth seeing.
Searching for monuments, we set out from the Main Market Square along Grodzka street, so to see, after a walk of several minutes, one of the symbols of the former Polish capital - the Wawel Royal Castle. Wawel offers visiting the beautiful courtyard and, for a fee, also rich interiors including royal chambers. From one of the towers you can admire the panorama of the city, and touch on the way up the heart of Sigismund Bell, which, according to legend, is supposed to bring luck. From Wawel, we head to the former Jewish district in Kazimierz with several must-see sites: Mykwa Wielka (a historic building in the basement of which you can see the ritual bathhouse), the Old Jewish Cemetery, and New Cemetery at Miodowa street, as well as Nowy Square with its “Okrąglak” – round building in the central point. This historical building once housed a poultry slaughterhouse but today is associated mainly with the famous takeaway bar. From Kazimierz we set off to Podgórze, which also offers several noteworthy sites, including Podgórze Market Square with the church of St Joseph (one of the most beautiful in Krakow), the impressive Ghetto Heroes Square (with a meaningful monument consisting of 33 metal chairs, symbolising the tragedy of the displaced residents of the Krakow ghetto), the Zucher Jewish House of Prayer, the historic church of St Benedict and a very original attraction – colourful stairs on Tatrzańska street. Those who are interested in history should definitely visit the site of the former Krakow-Płaszów labour camp, later transformed into a concentration camp. Today you can see here, among others, the “Grey House” (in the basements of which the SS-men who lived here arranged a torture chamber), Goeth's villa and the Monument to the Victims of Fascism – also called the “Memorial of Torn-Out Hearts”. The story of the monuments of Krakow would not be complete without a visit to Nowa Huta – a district that was once a separate city, built for the workers of the emerging Lenin Steelworks. Here you can feel the atmosphere of an industrial district from the socialist-realist period.
Krakow and its surroundings have also unique mansions in which distinguished guests once lived or stayed. Particularly noteworthy are: Białoprądnicki Manor House (today housing a Culture Centre), Jan Matejko's Manor House in Krzesławice (currently the seat of the Museum of Souvenirs after Hugo Kołłątaj and Jan Matejko), the manor houses in Branice, and Goszyce, as well as the fortified manor house in Jakubowice. Interesting estates are also located near the battlefield in Racławice, including the historic manor houses in Janowiczki and Jabłonowy Sad. In the close vicinity of Krakow there are also several castles and defensive monuments worth mentioning, e.g. the Palace and Park Complex in Krakow Prokocim, the Royal Castle in Niepołomice or the Mirów Castle in Książ Wielki. If you like exploring fortifications, we recommend the following forts: Grębałów, Kosocice, Krzesławice, Prokocim, Rajsko, Tonie and Wawel. One of the most important monuments of this type are the defensive city walls of the Krakow Old Town (which once surrounded the entire city). A small section of them has survived to this day and consists, among others, of the defensive towers, St Florian's Gate and the characteristic Barbican, erected in 1499.
One of the interesting attractions of Krakow are the mounds from which you can admire the panorama of the city. Worth mentioning here is the Kościuszko Mound, located near the Liban quarry, the Krakus Mound, the Piłsudski Mound (the highest in Poland) and the Wanda Mound located in Nowa Huta.