Kraków's Top 5 Landmarks

Krakow's Top 5 Historical Landmarks

Starting with the beginning of the High Medieval Period, the Polish monarchs ruled in Kraków until the 16th century. Therefore, the city is home to Poland's richest historical landmark complex, inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List in 1978.

Considered the cultural capital of Poland, Kraków is the most famous and most visited city in the country. Its Old Town is one of Europe's best-preserved historical sites. Dating back to the 7th century, this second-largest city, after Warsaw, has beautiful Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, as well as centuries of Jewish history.

I adore Warsaw, but Kraków also fascinates me, albeit differently – for its architectural and historical heritage. I even refer to the city as "Little Prague." There is plenty to see and do in Kraków, including a medieval Old Town with a castle, barbican, towers, and churches, as well as a modern downtown with many great shops and restaurants, the picturesque Vistula River, and stunning surroundings due to its location in a valley at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. The following are my top five most iconic Kraków landmarks, with brief descriptions of each.

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Kraków Map

Top 5 Landmarks in Kraków

1. Wawel Royal Castle

Kraków Landmark
Wawel Castle's Italian Renaissance courtyard

The Wawel Royal Castle, a symbol of Polish statehood, is Poland's most important historical and cultural landmark. For many centuries, it was the place of coronation and the seat of the Polish kings. The castle now hosts both permanent and temporary exhibitions, also symphony and chamber music concerts, opera, and courtly dance performances.

Today's castle complex is a fascinating combination of architectural styles: Romanesque, Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque. This two-story structure has three wings with rooms, a courtyard with arcade galleries, an entrance gate, and five residential towers. The beautiful colonnades in the inner courtyard are architectural marvels, and the treasures within the castle add honorably to Krakow's merited standing as a world-class city.

Address: Wawel 5, 31-001 Kraków, Poland
Website: Wawel Royal Castle

2. Wawel Cathedral

Krakow Landmark
View of Wawel Cathedral from the south

A proud symbol of Poland's religious heritage and political power, the Wawel Cathedral stands next to the castle on Wawel Hill. It was the site of Polish kings' coronations during the Middle Ages and, with a few exceptions, is the last resting place of all post-14th century monarchs.

The construction of the Wawel Cathedral, which is currently under the patronage of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus, began with the creation of the Krakow diocese in the year 1000. The church is a three-nave basilica with three towers, made of brick and white limestone. Its façade and interior have Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Neo-Gothic features.

Address: Wawel 3, 31-001 Kraków, Poland
Website: Wawel Royal Cathedral

3. St. Mary's Basilica

Krakow Landmark
View of St. Mary's Basilica from the northwest

St. Mary's Basilica is possibly Poland's prettiest church. It has one of Europe's most ornately designed church interiors. Its altarpiece, stained-glass nave windows, and blue, starry ceiling will take your breath away no matter how many times you see them. 

Polish King Casimir III the Great began construction on the Gothic basilica in the 14th century. Francesco Placidi, an Italian architect, rebuilt the church's interior in the Baroque style in the 18th century, replacing all 26 altars, equipment, furniture, benches, and paintings. The towers took on their iconic shape in the early 15th century when the northern one was raised to 81 meters / 266 feet in height and converted into a city watchtower. The lower tower, built-in 1592, has a Renaissance-style roof, stands 69 meters (226 feet) tall, and houses five bells.

Address: plac Mariacki 5, 31-042 Kraków, Poland
Website: St. Mary's Basilica

3. Cloth Hall

View of the Town Hall Tower through an arch of the Cloth Hall

The Cloth Hall is a large market hall structure built in the 13th century, extended in the 14th century in Gothic architecture, and then remodeled in the mid-16th century in Renaissance style. It is one of Kraków's most distinctive and well-known landmarks.

Aside from the architectural marvel, this market has dozens of stalls selling reasonably priced amber jewelry, cloth handicrafts, lacework, sheepskin rugs, wood carvings, and various Polish souvenirs. The National Museum's Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art at Sukiennice is on the upper floor of the Cloth Hall and houses the largest permanent exhibit of 19th-century Polish painting and sculpture in four grand rooms. On the 1st floor, there is the iconic Café Noworolski with its exquisite Art Nouveau décor.

Address: Rynek Główny 1/3, 31-042 Kraków, Poland
Website: The Sukiennice Gallery

5. Sts. Peter and Paul Church

Kościół św. Piotra i Pawła
Sts. Peter and Paul Church's façade, with the Apostle sculptures in the foreground

The Jesuit Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is the largest religious building in Kraków by seating capacity. This excellent example of early Baroque architectural style in Poland makes a great complement to any sightseeing excursion in Kraków, rich in Gothic and Romanesque architecture.

Its two-story decorated façade is evocative of the church of Santa Susana and the main Jesuit church of the Gesù in Rome, Italy. The interior is less impressive than the exterior, but there are still attractive details, such as the stucco dome and gold-engraved marble altarpieces, that are worth a glance. Dawid Heel, a Jesuit sculptor and woodcarver of German origin, carved the 12 Apostle sculptures, standing outside the gates, from limestone in 1722.

Address: ul. Grodzka 52a, 31-044 Kraków, Poland
Website: Kościół św. Piotra i Pawła

Kraków Old Town Guided Walking Tour

On the Kraków Old Town Guided Walking Tour, see the UNESCO-listed landmarks of Kraków's oldest area, visit the Royal Route and the Wawel Castle complex, and enjoy architectural treasures such as Sts. Peter and Paul Church, St Mary's Basilica, and the Cloth Hall.

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