For a city of its size, colourful and compact Krakow has a wealth of cultural experiences. The easily-navigable city boasts museums and galleries brimming with art and history. You can see contemporary Polish art in refurbished industrial spaces, historic artefacts in a Medieval castle, or 19th-century sculptures above a grand market hall—all without wandering too far from the city centre.
The Wawel Castle complex towers over the city centre, with its grand mint-green spires reaching towards the skyline. The sprawling complex includes five museums and the Wawel Cathedral. Their exhibitions and artefacts paint a detailed picture of the history and culture of Krakow. In the castle, you can find a collection of 10th-century archaeological finds from the Wawel Castle site, royal heirlooms, and opulent state rooms decorated with Italian Renaissance paintings. Stroll through the landscaped campus and marvel at the splendid architecture.
Underneath the castle complex farther down Wawel Hill is Smocza Jama, or the ‘Dragon Cave’. Legend says that Smocza Jama was occupied by a dragon that terrorised townspeople before a prince – or peasant, depending on the story – named Krak triumphed against it. The town was named after Krak, who became king. The site leans into this story with a large metal fire-breathing statue of the dragon, constructed in the 1970’s by a local artist. In medieval times, the cave served as a tavern. Now, you can explore the illuminated limestone chambers at your leisure, marvelling at the jagged underground rock formations.
In the wide-open market square of Rynek Glowny, you can see the familiar arches of Sukiennice, a Renaissance-era market hall. The structure is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site that envelops the entire Old City Centre. You can soak in the sights and sounds of the square at one of the sidewalk cafes outside of Sukiennice, while taking time to admire the ornate details of the historic building and looking out for the gargoyles that decorate the exterior. Make your way to the upper level, where you can find The Sukiennice Museum, a branch of Krakow’s National Museum. There’s an impressive permanent collection of 19th century Polish art, including paintings and sculptures.
If you need a change of pace and are interested in modern-day art and culture, weave your way through the bohemian and industrial neighbourhoods south of the Vistula River to find the Museum of Contemporary Art Krakow. The building is the opposite of the medieval splendour of the Old City Centre, with a modernist design inspired by the warehouses around it. Featuring striking works by international and Polish artists, the Museum is designed to be accessible to art enthusiasts of all ages. Take some time before or after visiting the museum to explore the funky, laid-back cafes and bars that dot the side streets of this trendy area.
You can tailor your Krakow experience to fit your interests, whether you’d like to see more art, learn more about Krakow’s 20th century history, or just pretend to be a city local. One thing is certain—this is a city where you won’t be bored.