Krakow's Market Square: a practical guide to discovering it
No tour of Krakow would be complete without a visit to its iconic Market Square, but what exactly will you find here? Find out below everything you can do on your excursion.
Although many tourists visit this historic site to learn about the experiences and activities that take place around Krakow, such as visiting the Auschwitz concentration camps from Krakow, the truth is that in the old town itself you will find hundreds of interesting corners.
Specifically, in this article we focus on everything you can see and do when you visit the Krakow Market Square, famous throughout the world for holding the title of the largest medieval square in Europe.
1. Basilica of Santa Maria
Start your visit to the Market Square by getting to know what is perhaps the most emblematic monument in the whole area and, perhaps, the most important religious center in all of Poland. St. Mary's Basilica is characterized by the uneven towers of its front facade and the intricate stories surrounding its construction.
However, the interior of the basilica is more impressive than its facade and the legends surrounding it. This fascinating work of Gothic architecture, you will find that both the walls and the central nave of the basilica are filled with plumes of blue and gold paint. They make their way from the walls climbing up into the apse and the Gothic niches. The perspective from the human eye is, to say the least, impressive.
Get as close as you can to the altar area to get a closer look at the Veit Stoss Altarpiece; it is the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world and a national treasure in Poland. During the German invasion the work of art was stolen by the Nazi army, it was recovered in 1946 in a cellar in the castle of Nuremberg.
- Opening hours: Except on public holidays the basilica is open to the public every day from 11.30 am to 6 pm.
- Admission fee: The entrance to the church is free but if you want to admire closely the works of art inside the entrance ticket is about €3.75.
- Duration of the visit: 50 minutes are enough to tour the interiors and appreciate the works of art.
2. See the exteriors of Sukiennice
No trip to Krakow's Market Square would be complete without a visit to see Sukiennice in Polish or Lonja de Paños as its Latin name. This is a space dedicated to trade since the very foundation of the city, here gathered the most important merchants of the fifteenth century to bring from distant lands spices, silk, leather and wax; Krakow for its part exports textiles, lead and salt extracted, of course from the salt mine of Wieliczka.
The iconic building was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sits in a privileged position right in the middle of the central square. It presents a beautiful and elegant structure, so you can not leave Krakow to take a postcard picture from the arches of the cloth market. You can take advantage of the visit to buy all kinds of souvenirs and travel souvenirs.
- Hours: Lonja de Paños is open to the public every day from 10 am to 7 pm.
- Admission fee: Admission is completely free.
- Duration of the visit: You can spend as much time as you want exploring the stalls that catch your attention.
3. See Wieza Ratuszowa
Wieza Ratuszowa is the Polish name for the iconic Town Hall Tower located on the Market Square. The Tower is all that remains of the old Warsaw City Hall, a historic building that long dominated the southwest side of the Square; after many fires and repair days the structure was demolished in 1820.
In honor of the old building, a magnificent Gothic tower was preserved, inside which is an extension of the Historical Museum of Krakow; the permanent exhibition is focused exclusively on telling the history and evolution of the square and is worth a visit.
- Hours: The museum is open to the public in two seasons. From April to October, from 10.30 am to 6 pm and in the months of November and December from 12 pm to 6 pm.
- Admission fee: The entrance fee to the small museum is approximately 3€.
- Duration of the visit: It is a small museum so 30 minutes will be enough to see the exhibition and climb to the top of the tower.
4. Explore the Rynek Underground museum and subway market
The Rynek Museum is not visible from the Market Square because it is located underneath it! Visiting the city's immersive museum is definitely one of the best things to see and do in Krakow. The entrance to this peculiar museum is located just inside the Cloth Market.
As you enter you descend several meters underground to discover extensive archaeological excavations that reveal the medieval trading quarters of Krakow's Old Town. You can find large sections of roads from as far back as the Roman era, all preserved in an impressive state. Through displays and stories the museum educates us about the customs of medieval life in Krakow. The experience is educational and interesting in equal parts, ideal if you plan to visit Krakow with children.
- Hours: Open to the public from 10 am to 8 pm every day, except Tuesdays, when it opens only until 2 pm.
- Entrance fee: The entrance ticket has a price equivalent to 6€ per person, approximately.
- Duration of the visit: Approximately 1,30h will be enough to enjoy the interior of the museum in its entirety.
5. St. Wojciech Church
Although less known than St. Mary's Church, St. Wojciech's Church is one of the most beautiful churches in Krakow and is located on the southeast side of the Main Square. It is also possibly the oldest building in the whole square as its construction dates back to the middle of the 11th century, so it was erected even before the current square.
It is a small church adorned with green roofs made up of baroque domes that converge on its harmonious Romanesque façade. The temple is used for certain celebrations, so if you decide to visit it, be sure to respect the solemnity of the place.
- Opening hours: The temple is generally open to the public from Monday to Saturday from 09h to 17h.
- Entrance fee: Entrance to the temple is free.
- Duration of visit: You can stay inside as long as you like.
6. Get to know Polish art: Sztuki Polskiej XIX gallery
On the first level of Sukiennice is the Gallery of Polish Art of the 19th century; a museum entirely dedicated to honoring talented Polish artists who presented the world with fabulous works of art in different pictorial styles.
Regardless of your knowledge about art in general or more specifically art in Poland, it is a visit I highly recommend. Inside you will find huge, beautifully lit rooms. Many of the works on display are of impressive size and the level of detail in the workmanship will leave you in awe. The art of the Sztuki Polskiej Gallery is displayed on colorful walls painted in bright colors that add a lot of life and dynamism to the place.
Useful information: Sztuki Polskiej Gallery
- Hours: Monday closed; Tuesday from 10 am to 7 pm; Wednesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm.
- Admission fee: The entrance ticket costs approximately 6,60€.
- Duration of the visit: 1.30 hours will be more than enough time to tour the installation and admire all the artwork.
7. Take a picture of the Adam Mickiewicz Monument
Adam Mickiewicz is one of the greatest romantic poets of Poland, a historical figure much loved by locals because besides being a poet he was a passionate columnist and political activist who even from his exile declared himself as a visionary and lover of the homeland. His life and struggle were focused on the preservation of the customs and language of his native Poland, which throughout history suffered several foreign invasions.
In almost every Polish city you can find a statue of Adam Mickiewicz because he is considered a national hero. The one in Krakow is located in a place of honor in the Market Square right between two of its most important buildings: St. Mary's Basilica and Sukiennice.
Get close to the monument and take some nice pictures!
8. Take a photo of Eros Benato
One of the most famous sculptors in Poland, Igor Mitoraj made the famous work Eros Benato in 1999 and decided to give it to the city in 2010. The sculpture represents the Greek god of love Eros with a cloth covering part of his eyes and mouth; the symbolism represents that both the desires and ideas of the mythical character have been curtailed. According to records the artist made four similar works, two are in the United States, one in the Krakow Square and the last one in the Reform Square in Lugano, Switzerland.
Being able to see up close and take pictures of an important work of art is really a great opportunity. Many tourists have fun going inside the large sculpture and peeking their heads out of the eye holes for fun photographs.
9. Join the most important events of the year
As the only and main square in Krakow, the Market Square lends itself to the realization of important events in the city. If you have already decided what is the best time to travel to Krakow and it coincides with one of these, do not hesitate to join the celebration, you will have fun for sure!
If you visit Krakow in April: Easter Market
In the month of April, in the weeks before Easter Sunday, a market is held in the main square of the city. You will see the whole place full of seasonal flowers and traditional Polish decorations wherever you look. You can't miss the hand-painted eggs and wood carvings. During the holiday this space is also the scene of folk parades and other religious processions.
If you visit Krakow in June: Lajkonik Parade
In the summer in Krakow, one of the most unique traditions of Krakow takes place in the main square of the city. According to historians, the ritual dates back to the invasions of the 13th century, when it was believed that the payment of dues would ensure good fortune throughout the coming year. As a result, Lajkonik, a Mongolian warrior on horseback rides through the old part of the city entering all the stores to demand the payment of a ransom in cash.
If you visit Krakow in June: Great dragon parade
Also in the month of June, the Great Summer Dragon Parade was held; a myth linked to the very founding of ancient Krakow. Large kites and dragon floats take to the streets, fireworks explosions are seen at the Wawel Castle and in the waters of the Vistula River. The Square is used as a parade ground and stages are set up to play live music.
If you visit Krakow in December: Krakow Christmas Market
In the month of December in Krakow you can enjoy the captivating Krakow Christmas market. Beautiful and picturesque stalls are temporarily erected around the statue of Adam Mickiewicz on the east side of the square. As you walk around, the smell of cinnamon buns and sizzling Polish blood sausage fills the air; all kinds of wares are traded at the stalls and tourists and locals alike stroll from place to place.
10. Know the best restaurants in the area
In the Market Square itself, specifically in Sukiennice and the nearby surroundings you can find some of the best restaurants in Krakow in the old town of Krakow. Take advantage of your visit to book a lunch and enjoy either traditional Polish food or other types of cuisine, variety is guaranteed in this area! If you are looking for ideas for inspiration I share with you some of my favorites.
- La Grande Mamma. Specializing in Italian cuisine
- Dobra Kasza Nasza. Specializing in Polish cuisine
- Restauracja Wentz. Specializing in international European cuisine
- Chopin Restaurant. Specializing in Polish cuisine
- Restauracja Sukiennice. Specializing in Polish cuisine
11. Know the best bars in the area
Krakow is famous for its bars rooted in Polish traditions like no other place in Poland. Take advantage of your visit to check out some of the best bars and clubs around the Market Square. If you don't know where to start, here is a list of my personal favorites.
12. Consider booking a guided tour
Most of the activities I have presented can be easily combined with a guided tour and I think it is the best alternative of all. Getting to know the city and the Market Square from the hand of a real citizen able to guide us through the most interesting places and corners.
- Price: This type of experience is available from 36€.
- Duration of the excursion: It varies a lot depending on the itinerary, but you could estimate an approximate time between 2 or 4 hours for a complete tour.