I love Krakow. It’s one of my favourite European cities. Stunningly beautiful, this walled city is rich in history, with splendid architecture and lovely squares, and a largely pedestrianised centre that’s a delight to stroll. The old city of Kraków is a jem.
And it’s a city made for walking. This is one city where you definitely don’t need to use a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus. Just grab a map and wander.
The historic centre is so compact, you could explore the whole lot in a day, but it’s so charming that it’s a pleasure to return again and again to explore the back streets, which is what we like to do. The more times we amble along a street, the more we appreciate the finer architectural details, such as the intricacy of the decoration and the splendour of the statuary.
Our apartment is just outside the city walls and from here to the main market square it’s only a five-minute stroll, but instead there’s a walk that we like to do that can serve as a introductory walking tour for first-timer’s to the city…
A Walking Tour of the Old City of Kraków
Hike up to Wawel Hill, home to a sumptuous cathedral and monumental castle, that was the residence of Poland’s kings. Here, we like to take in the sweeping views across the Wisla river and city, before wandering around the grounds and castle courtyard and arcades.
We leave by the entrance beside the cathedral and take the stairs down to the old town and enter the historic centre via the Royal Road, the main street of Grodzka or the charming parallel lane (one of Krakow’s prettiest) of Kaninicza, from which we can take a right at the end onto Grodzka to the main UNESCO World Heritage-listed market square.
Krakow’s main market square, Rynek Główny, is Europe’s largest medieval marketplace. Surrounded by handsome palaces and townhouses, it’s home to the splendid Cloth Hall, which houses shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs, the imposing Town Hall Tower that was part of the old city hall, the diminutive white St Wojciech Church, and one of Europe’s most beautiful churches, the majestic Basilica of the Holy Virgin Mary, built in 1287.
After kicking back in the square for a while, we like to head to the rear of the cathedral and slip under the archway to the smaller market square, Maly Rynek, where there is a busy market in fine weather. From here we’ll take Szpitalna street to admire the Planty and Slowacki Theatre with its wonderful statuary, before taking a left onto Pijarska and a right through the city’s main entrance, the Florianska Gate. Make sure you walk almost to the road to look back to admire the fairy tale Barbican Gate.
Duck back under the gates and turn right onto Jana, and continue past the men selling paintings to the splendid white Lord’s Transfiguration Church. Here we like to take a right onto Marka then left on Slawkowska all the way down to the square, and then onto Bracka, which is home to atmospheric cafés and one of my favourite shops (more on that in another post).
On Domikanska we turn left and walk a couple of blocks to the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, built at the turn of the 13th-14th century, where we exit the old town, and walk through the park, that practically surrounds the city. We can take a right turn and we’ll be home in a few minutes, but if you’re doing this walk for the first time, take a left to do a complete lap of the old city, finishing where we started at Wawel Castle.