One of the most precious treasures of the world put on the UNESCO list of objects that constitute the World’s Cultural Heritage,
the Old City of Cracow is a perfect example of the Middle Age architecture that remained unchanged. Cracow was the capital of
Poland until the 17th century but still for many people remains the centre of culture, history and meetings. The city’s special
atmosphere is created by the traditional customs such us a bugle call played every hour in a window of St. Mary’s Church tower.
Sightseeing walks in Cracow start at the Barbican and walk along the Royal Route through the Main Market Square towards Wawel Hill called the
“Polish Acropolis” since in the Wawel Cathedral, Polish kings had been crowned and buried. The most interesting sights on this route are:
- Czartoryski Museum with the most precious painting - “Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci;
- St. Mary`s Church with its beautiful wooden alter [one of the biggest in Europe] made by Wit Stwosz in the 15th century;
- The Cloth Hall located just in the heart of the Main Market Square which was the largest city square in the Medieval Europe. Like in the past, the Cloth Hall is lined with hundreds of stalls with souvenirs and handicraft;
- Collegium Maius - the oldest preserved building of the Jagiellonian University. It houses the Jagiellonian University Museum with its rich collection including the objects related to Mikolaj Kopernik [Nicolas Copernicus], old Arabic astronomical instruments and the 16th century globe with a representation of America;
- Wawel Royal Castle was the principal seat of Polish kings until the early 17th century. The arcaded Renaissance courtyard is an example of architecture of the “Golden Age of the Polish Culture”. The Royal Castle houses one of the world’s most precious collections of decorative tapestries;
- Wawel Royal Cathedral is the most unique place, important for the Polish history. It is here, where most Polish Kings were crowned and buried. The most beautiful chapel of the Cathedral is the Sigismund`s chapel called “the pearl of the Renaissance art”. Above this chapel, there is the biggest bell in Poland called “Sigismund”;
- Kazimierz-Jewish Heritage - this district is located at the foot of the Wawel Hill. Every corner of Kazimierz witnessed the history of Polish Jews who lived here from the early Middle Ages. Evidence of Jewish presence includes the synagogues, Jewish cemetery, the typical system of narrow streets, the abundance of markets, small tenements etc. It is here, where Steven Spielberg shoot “Schindler`s List”, a multiple-Oscar winner movie.
Cracow is a cultural city with numerous museums and galleries. A Cracow artist, who left a legacy of this style in Cracow, was Stanislaw Wyspianski - a
genial artist - dramatist, designer, painter interested in medicine and nature. During the tour, you will have a possibility to admire Wyspianski best
stained-glass window and wall paintings at St. Francis Basilica - one of the most charming and original Cracow churches. The tour includes a visit to
the Stained Glass Gallery and Museum - the only “live museum” with large workshops where the visitors can observe the process of making contemporary
stained glass windows, exhibited along with historical archives. The tour ends at Jama Michalika Café (Michalik’s Grotto) - the patisserie opened in
1895 which fast became the best known cabaret in Cracow, attracting the city’s intellectual and artistic elite. The décor of the place preserved as
one of the few remaining interiors in Art Nouveau style. It is a superb example of a synthesis of all artistic disciplines: architecture, woodcraft,
painting, drawing, decorative arts, stained glass etc. Cracow National Museum located in the Cloth Halls is exhibiting its unparalleled collection of
the 19-century Polish art, including Jan Matejko's famous movie-like giant paintings. National Museum in Cracow is Poland`s richest museum, with branches
scattered all around Cracow's downtown. It is the chief venue for temporary exhibitions - sometimes sensational, always interesting. The gallery of the
20th-century Polish art upstairs is a permanent display of its best examples, including the matchless collection from the Young Poland period, Cracow's
amazing eruption of genius at the turn of the century. Also permanent are two other exhibitions: of decorative art and of the Polish arms and army uniforms.
Other worth visiting museums are:
- Rynek Underground - the exhibition presents not only Cracow’s rich history but also the connections between the city and mediaeval Europe’s chief centres of trade and culture;
- Oskar Schindler's Factory – the exhibition Cracow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945 is located in the former administrative building of Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory at 4 Lipowa Street. The exhibition is primarily a story about Cracow and its inhabitants, both Polish and Jewish, during World War Two;
- Museum of Contemporary Art - MOCAK’s important aim is presenting the art of the two last decades in the context of the post-war avant-garde and conceptual art.
Out of town, there are located following highlights:
- Wieliczka Salt Mine - one of the most ancient mines in the world registered on the UNESCO list of the world heritage of material culture. The tourist route open for visitors reaches 135 m under the surface. Along the route you can admire numerous chambers with the interesting interiors consisting of the sculptures in salt carved by many generations of miners-sculptors. The most beautiful one is the Chapel of St. Kinga with astonishing relief sculptures, salt altar, chandeliers made of salt crystals and the figure of the Pope John Paul II made from a single block of salt;
- Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp - the biggest concentration camp in Poland formed by Nazis in 1940. The place was known as the “death factory”. Here, about 3 million prisoners were exterminated. Most of them were Jews [90%], others were Poles, Gypsies, Russians and prisoners from 28 countries of Europe, people of all nationalities;
- Wadowice - a small town 55 km out of Cracow, known as the birthplace of Pope John Paul II. Worth seeing is the building where the Wojtyla Family lived, now a museum devoted to the Pope;
- Kalwaria Zebrzydowska – the Polish Jerusalem - a pilgrimages destination thanks to the Basilica and Culture and Landscape Complex of Bernardino Monastery [UNESCO];
- Benedictine Abbey of Tyniec - the monastery, founded by King Boleslav the Brave, built in the second half of the 11th century, very quickly became a centre of spiritual and cultural life only 10 km from the city centre of Cracow;
- Czestochowa - Jasna Gora Monastery - the principal centre of religious traditions to which millions of pilgrims from all over the world come every year to pray before the miraculous picture of Black Madonna - Our Lady of Czestochowa. Jasna Gora sanctuary has been spiritual hub for six centuries;
- Pieskowa Skala - one of the most beautifully situated castles in Poland called Eagle Nest. The Renaissance castle built on a limestone rock houses the museum of interiors as a branch of Wawel Royal Castle.
- Niepolomice Royal Castle - the Renaissance castle with a fantastic courtyard used for many open-air events including opera performances.