Krakow's Five Stunning Historic Landmarks

Krakow's Top 5 Historical Landmarks

Krakow, Poland's cultural capital, is the country's most well-known and visited city. Its Old Town is one of the best-preserved historical sites in Europe. This second-largest city after Warsaw, dating back to the 7th century, has gorgeous Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture and rich Jewish history.

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Krakow was the capital of the Vistula tribe of Western Slavs before the establishment of the Polish state. From the 10th to the 16th century, Polish monarchs ruled in Krakow. UNESCO designated its Old Town, together with Wawel Cathedral and Wawel Royal Castle, as the world's first World Heritage Site in 1978.

In addition to Warsaw, Krakow fascinates me so far, albeit for a different reason — its architectural and historical heritage. I even call the city "Little Prague." There is plenty to see and do in Krakow, 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. Here is my list of five stunning historic landmarks in Krakow, with brief descriptions.

5 Stunning Historic Landmarks in Krakow

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 permanent and temporary exhibitions, 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. The two-story structure has three wings with rooms, a courtyard with arcade galleries, an entrance gate, and five residential towers. The beautiful colonnades in its 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
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
Website: Wawel Royal Cathedral

3. St. Mary's Basilica

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

Probably Poland's prettiest sacral building is St. Mary's 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
Website: St. Mary's Basilica

4. 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 Krakow'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 Café Noworolski, with its exquisite Art Nouveau décor.

Address: Rynek Główny 1/3, 31-042 Kraków
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 Krakow by seating capacity. This excellent example of the early Baroque architectural style in Poland is a great addition to any sightseeing excursion in Krakow, rich in Gothic and Romanesque architecture.

Its two-story decorated façade is evocative of Rome's Santa Susana Church and the main Jesuit church of the Gesù. 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 in 1722; they stand outside the gates.

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

You might also like: Sts. Peter and Paul Church – Krakow's First Baroque Sacral Building

Krakow Map

Where to Stay in Krakow offers a wide range of lodging options, various discounts, and exceptional customer service. For a list of places to stay in Krakow, click here.

Krakow Old Town Guided Walking Tour

On the Krakow Old Town Guided Walking Tour, explore the UNESCO-listed landmarks of Krakow'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 Cloth Hall.

Have you visited any of these stunning historic landmarks in Krakow? Feel free to share your thoughts in the section below.

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