To see everything that a major destination has to offer, especially in a culturally and architecturally rich place like Poland, it is of course recommended to stay there for two weeks or more in order to enjoy it on a leisurely pace and to leave no stone unturned. However, who has the luxury of traveling for that long? That is why we have prepared this condensed city guide for you to ensure that you don’t miss anything vital during your stay in Krakow, no matter how short or long.  Now you too can visit Krakow in just one day and get away with it!

 

How to get to Kraków

  • Flight to John Paul II International Airport Kraków–Balice (KRK)
  • Train from Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Wroclaw, Warsaw and other cities to the Krakow Glowny railway station (Dworzec kolejowy) located just a bit north of the historic centre
  • Bus lines from various cities to the Krakow Glowny bus station (Dworzec autobusowy), located next to the railway station

Are you ready to hit the ground running? Great! Then read on for some tips about well-known places and for some surprising gems that you might not have heard about yet, such as the…

 

Church of St Michael the Archangel and St Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr and Pauline Fathers Monastery

Somewhat less known among the other world-famous attractions of Krakow, the so called Church on the Rock (Kościół Na Skałce or simply Skałka) is nonetheless an imposing part of the Vistula riverbank and is located a bit south of the historic centre and Wawel Castle. This serene and elegant building dates back to 11th century or even further and holds an important place in the spiritual history of Poland. It was expanded in Gothic style in 1472 and entrusted to the Order of Pauline Fathers. Over time, the church has received several redecorations, the last of which was baroque-style interior created in 1751.

Church of St. Stanislaus on the Vistula riverbankAccording to legend, this church is the place where the Polish saint Stanisław Szczepanowski (then a Bishop of Krakow) was murdered and dismembered by King Bolesław the Bold over Stanisław's criticisms of his brutality. As the tale goes, the slain Bishop's remains miraculously reintegrated themselves in a small pool in front of the church while guarded by four eagles which you can still see to this day, along with a small fountain and the following inscription encouraging the visitors to partake of the pure drinking water:

Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
- Rev 22, 17, 21

As for King Bolesław the Bold, the legend tells us that he was either deposed and then exiled to Hungary where he was assassinated by poison, or that he traveled to Rome to ask forgiveness from Pope Gregory. The Pope sent him to wander as a mute repentant and he reached the Benedictine Abbey of Ossiach in Carinthia, where he toiled away in penance until his final repentance and death. The tomb at Ossiach was found to contain the remains of an adult male and a Polish knight's armor from 11th century. Meanwhile, the remains of St Stanisław were interred in Wawel Cathedral and became a part of the coronation ceremony of almost every Polish king afterwards.

Speaking of tombs, the crypt beneath Skałka serves a function similar to the Pantheon of Paris, holding the remains of distinguished Polish people.  

Another landmark added to the courtyard in 2008 is The Altar of the Three Milennia, which features several statues of Polish saints along with a central memorial with similar engravings. John Paul II, who was the Archbishop of Krakow before becoming Cardinal and then the Pope, is featured prominently in the shrine.

The Altar of the Three Milennia, which features several statues of Polish saints. John Paul II is featured prominently in the shrine.

If you are looking for a place to start your tour of Krakow on a serene and peaceful note, be sure to not miss this incredible church. After it, you can take a 10 minute walk north to your next destination:

 

Wavel Castle

Wavel Castle - the most famous landmark of Krakow

The ancient seat of the kings of Poland (until 1609 when the capital was moved to Warsaw by King Sigismund), the Wavel Castle nested on a hill next to a curve in the Vistula river is the city’s most famous landmark and is easily visible from several directions. It was built during the 13th century and has experienced many upgrades and expansions over time to grow into a true Reneissance palace. Its tasteful style and imposing features became a model for several other state houses throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

Following a period of disrepair brought about by numerous foreign invasions and occupations, the castle was restored during late 19th century and, following WWI, named the official residence of the President of Poland. Finally, after WW2 the entire castle was turned into a museum, but the grounds and the Cathedral continue to see some use for various ceremonies.

 

Wavel Castle was built during the 13th century. Today is a museum.

Entry to the castle grounds is free of charge, while the interior buildings (such as the Treasury, State Rooms and Royal Apartments) require tickets that can be bought from the central reception inside the castle (where you can also find a cafe, several souvenir shops and a toilet).

Note that entry to these buildings is available only until the afternoon and some of them are accessible only as part of a guided tour. It is simply not feasible to see the entire castle in just one day, so instead of stressing over it we recommend a leisurely stroll around the walls and gardens, following by a tour of whichever building strikes your fancy on that particular time.

 

Wavel Castle: take a tour around the walls and gardens

 

While walking around, keep an eye out for the famous Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski), a mythological creature whose lair was reputed to lie at the base of Wawel hill (in an actual limestone cave that you can visit while there). According to legend, the dragon was slain by the hero Krakus, a Polish prince who founded the city and built his palace over the dragon’s lair.

 

Keep an eye out for the famous Wawel Dragon.

You will find the remains of the dragon in many places, starting from the entrance to the Cathedral (consisting of the bones of real prehistoric animals), as well as in cast iron statues watching from various buildings and towers, and finally the large statue erected by the artist Bronisław Chromy in front of the Dragon’s Den. To the delight of many onlookers, the dragon actually spews fire and produces a roar (powered by simple gas nozzles in the statue’s mouth – don’t tell your kids!) every few minutes. Also, it is unclear whether the dragon has six legs and a head or seven heads, so you’re free to interpret the statue in various ways!

After you’ve had your fill of the living history embodied in Wawel, take a 15-minute stroll along streets bustling with activity, art and souvenirs to reach the…

 

St. Mary's Church and Rynek Główny

St. Mary's Church (also known as Bazylika Mariacka) located at the main square (Rynek Główny) of Krakow was built between 1343 and 1496.

One of the major cathedrals of the world that has the ability to leave first-time visitors speechless due to its fantastic size and regal appearance, the St. Mary's Church (also known as Bazylika Mariacka) located at the main square (Rynek Główny) of Krakow was built between 1343 and 1496, replacing the previous wooden Church of the Assumption built in early 13th century. Despite being severely damaged in WWII, the church was reconstructed during the post-war years and is now in perfect condition.

Keep in mind that, unlike many famous churches around Europe, Bazylika Mariacka is a fully functional institution and is not meant for tourists other than during short periods of time when it is opened to tour groups. The Mass and other religious services are held every day, with the church accommodating up to 25 000 believers at a time. But don’t worry; the mere exterior of this magnificent building will take your breath away, especially as you struggle with fitting all of it inside your camera lens. You might need to go all the way to the other side of the square to achieve that feat!

St. Mary's Church located at the main square Rynek Główny

While strolling around the square, don’t forget to check out the Gallery of 19th century Polish Art in the central Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) building, a branch of the Krakow National Museum. It’s open until 6 to 8 pm, depending on the day, so you can leave it for the end of your sightseeing tour.

After you have sated your thirst for beautiful art, just walk a minute in any direction to exit the central pedestrian area and meet your Connecto Transfer or even an Uber back to your place (in all fairness, we don’t recommend local taxis in Krakow because they will rip you off the first chance they get – stick with more reliable options).

 

Bonus locations

Did you somehow manage to see all three locations in detail and your day is still not over? Other than recommending that you receive an award for the most dedicated sightseeing of the year, we recommend that you also check out any of the following places:

  • Kazimierz Jewish Quarter
  • Botanical Gardens of the Jagellonian University
  • Barbican fortifications north to the main square (complete with a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride from the main square)
  • Krakow ZOO

Take sightseeing tour at Krakow
The famous Auschwitz Museum and Wieliczka Salt Mine are major locations about half an hour to an hour of driving away and contain tours that are about 4 hours long, so it is not possible to visit them without dedicating an entire day to them (though it is, of course, well worth the effort). In order to avoid tangling with local buses to these places which can be quite confusing, consider using a transfer to get there right from your doorstep quickly and efficiently. Just contact us and we’ll arrange it for you!

 

Photo credit: 

Mercy Achieng Omondi via Instagram

Michela Simoncini via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

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