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The best Krakow historical sites

Krakow’s history dates back over 1,000 years. During that time, all manner of conquests, cultures, wars, and renaissances have shaped it into one of the most historically significant cities in Europe. If you want to get an insight into Krakow’s past, here are 10 places worth putting on your itinerary

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10 Krakow Historical Places You Must Visit
Wawel Castle is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Krakow.

History buffs love Krakow, and indeed there’s no shortage of Krakow historical sites for tourists to visit. However, we’ve done our best to narrow it down to out ten that we think will be the most appealing. (And if you’re wondering why we’ve left Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mines off our list, it wasn’t some glaring error – we just wanted to focus on places in the city itself and save those landmarks for separate articles where we’ll explore them in greater depth!)

Oldest Krakow Historical Sites

Rynek Underground Museum

Opened to the public in 2010, the Rynek Underground Museum offers visitors a completely new perspective on the history of Krakow. 

Uncovered beneath the Old Town by archaeologists, a visit to the Museum will allow you to walk through the archaeological site itself, meaning that you’ll feel like the city’s history is coming alive right in front of you.

Krakow’s Mounds

The beauty of Krakow is that even when you venture out to nature, you’ll still find yourself encountering fascinating aspects of the city’s history. This is particularly true if you head out to any of the four famous Mounds which are dotted throughout the city. 

The Kosciuszko and Pilsudski Mounds were constructed to commemorate Polish national heroes of the 19th Century, while the Wanda and Krakus Mounds have a more ancient history. In fact, historians aren’t exactly sure of the origins of these latter two Mounds but believe that they may be related to some ritualistic burial practices from Poland’s ancient past. 

Medieval Krakow Historical Sites

Market Square and Sukiennice (Krakow’s Cloth Hall)

A meeting place, a medieval landmark, and a medley of bars, chic cafes, and top-notch restaurants, the Market Square is your ready-made starting point for getting to grips with Krakow’s history. 

The Market Square dates back to the 12th/13th Century, and at the center of it is Sukiennice, Krakow’s Cloth Hall, which is cited as Europe’s oldest shopping mall. This area will give you an insight into the city’s, cultural, commercial, and architectural history.

St. Mary’s Basilica

10 Krakow Historical Places You Must Visit
Family photo shooting at the Market Square in Krakow,

As well as being one of Krakow’s most instantly recognizable buildings, St. Mary’s Basilica is also a great place to get familiarized with the city’s religious and architectural history. 

On top of that, on a visit here you’ll get an insight into how the original Church was destroyed during the 13th Century Mongol invasion of Krakow, a startling fact that shows just how much this city has been at the crossroads for a wide range of different cultures and empires. 

Wawel Castle

the best krakow historical sites
A couple chilling at the Vistula River enjoying Wawel castle view.

Even a cursory look at Wawel Castle from the outside lets you know that this building is steeped in history. The Castle was the seat of Poland’s Royal Family from the 13th Century until the 17th Century, before the country’s capital was moved to Warsaw (although the Castle’s full history dates all the way back to the 11th Century). 

Since the mid-20th Century, Wawel Castle has been open to visitors as a national museum, where you can gain an insight into Poland’s monarchical heritage and the riches once held by the country’s royal family. You can find treasures everywhere when you venture into the sprawling Castle estate.

Collegium Maius at Jagiellonian University

Founded in the 1300s, the Collegium Maius is Poland’s oldest university building and has accrued historical significance for being the place where mathematician and astronomer Copernicus studied. 

We recommend getting a tour of the university. It’s very hands-on, and you’re invited to explore one of the rooms which feature instruments from the era in which Copernicus studied there.

The Barbican

The Krakow Barbican is, quite literally, your gateway to the Old Town. The Barbican was constructed in the 15th Century as a fortification which would be used as an outpost to protect the Old Town from attack. 

Today, it remains one of Europe’s best examples of a mediaeval defensive barbican, with a complex network of turrets, slots and barriers. Its intricate architecture — which was originally to do with wartime functionality — has made it oddly beautiful and beguiling in the present day. 

The Barbican is perfectly suited for war history buffs.

Krakow historical sites from WW2 & Communism

Kazimierz Jewish Quarter

As Krakow’s Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz is naturally steeped in history and offers plenty for visitors to explore. 

Chief among the historical sites to visit are the Remuh Synagogue and the Galicia Jewish Museum. But honestly, just a brief ramble through this area will give you an insight into Krakow’s Jewish heritage. 

Plaszow Camp

Plaszow Concentration Camp is not to be overlooked, even if you’ve already got Auschwitz on your itinerary. The proximity of the camp to the city center offers a terrifying, eye-opening look at how the Nazis brutalized Krakow during WWII. The Museum also offers unique, thoughtful memorials to the victims of the atrocities during this war.

Nowa Huta

Constructed after the Soviets came into power in Poland following the Second World War, Nowa Huta was one of the largest planned settlements ever built and acted as a showpiece for Stalinism. 

Today, the area is a piece of living, breathing socialist history. A guided tour of the Nowa Huta will tell you as much about Soviet government planning, Soviet realism, and day-to-day life under communism as any history book could.

Embrace every aspect of Krakow’s history if you get the chance

While most travel sites will direct visitors towards Auschwitz and the Salt Mine to learn about Krakow’s past (for good reason, of course), we thought it would be wrong to have tourists thinking that there isn’t more to this city’s history. Krakow is a wonderful city with a multifaceted heritage. 

So, if you’re here looking to explore, be like the archaeologists excavating underneath Rynek Square.

Dig a little deeper….