Introduction With a history filled with elegance and pain, Krakow is a destination in Poland that simply can’t be skipped. From medieval castles that inspire awe, to the centre of one of the worst war crimes in humanity’s history, you will experience a full range of emotions during your visit to this corner of Central Europe.
Exploring Wawel Castle is a great way to spend your first day in Krakow, as its many attractions will keep admirers of art, architecture, and obstinate displays of wealth busy through much of it.
Constructed in the latter portion of the 14th century for Casimir III the Great, it eventually became the principle residence of many Polish kings in the centuries that would follow, thereby making it a cultural icon for many Poles.
These days, it serves as one of Poland’s foremost art museums, containing many significant paintings from the Italian Renaissance Period.
Another sight worth seeing here are the Polish crown jewels, which are displayed alongside a number of artifacts related to the rule of various monarchs over the course of this nation’s history.
Though there are many branches throughout Poland, the main branch of the Polish National Museum can be visited in Krakow.
Containing visual and decorative art pieces, along with military artifacts from over 800 years of the armed force’s existence, the 750,000 pieces that this institution holds will fill you in on the history and cultural heritage of one of Central Europe’s most important countries.
While you will enjoy attractions like Krakow’s Old Town and other attractions, there is one ugly aspect of this region’s history that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.
Little more than sixty kilometres from the centre of Krakow, Polish and eventually, Jews from elsewhere in Europe were sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp as part of Hitler’s Final Solution.
Whether they were executed in the gas chambers, or worked to death, this shameful place played a huge role in the Holocaust, which would prove to be one of the worst genocides the world has ever known.
In the present day, people of all creeds travel here to pay homage to the victims of this senseless slaughter, which has largely been left untouched since the end of the Second World War, from the prisoner’s barracks to the crematoriums.
It might not be a fun place to visit, but it is vital to understand the darkest places that humanity has gone, so that we might never venture there again.
Other Attractions As a visitor to Krakow, one of the places you’ll end up at inevitably is the Main Square, as it is a place where locals and tourists come to socialize. In addition to being surrounded by numerous cafes, restaurants and bars, there are a number of culturally significant structures facing onto this public courtyard. St. Mary’s Basilica is one of them, as it is a 14th century Gothic church that is famous for a recording of a trumpet piece that gets seemingly gets cut off mid-note, which is rumored to be a tribute to the trumpeter of Krakow that was killed by an archer during a Mongol attack on Krakow in the 13th century. Another structure is the Kraków Cloth Hall, where city-based merchants met their foreign counterparts to conduct international trade. The ground floor mostly deals in tourist souvenirs these days, with the upper floor hosting an art museum specializing in 19th century Polish art. One of the domestic products put up for trade at the cloth hall was the seasoning procured from the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine, which operated from the 13th century straight through to 2007. In addition to being a museum dedicated to the business of telling the tale of how one of the world’s most popular seasonings was hewn from the Earth, there are a number of sculptures and chapels that were carved out of the salt rock over the years. These also serve as a draw for the increasing numbers of visitors that make the trip underground every year. Finally, the aviation nuts in your life will find a side trip to the Polish Aviation Museum to be a great way to spend a few hours, as the planes and engines found at the defunct old airport for Krakow are among the world’s best according to international travel media sources. Numerous planes, helicopters, gliders and engines (some of them being very rare) can be found here, so plan to spend a while here if aircraft is an interest of yours.