Kraków - medieval capital

Kraków has grown from a stone-age settlement to one of the largest and most important cities of Poland. Until 1795, Kraków was the official capital of Poland (now Warsaw is the capital). Spectacular reminders of the prehistoric times of Kraków are two mounds called Krakus and Wanda (the names of a legendary king Krak and his daughter). Similarly to other ancient structures such as Stonehenge in UK, the mounds are believed to be constructed with astronomy and religious beliefs in mind. The present old town was located in 1257 based on Magdeburg law, and since then it was growing and constantly being rebuilt to a large urban system of relatively small buildings and narrow streets, dotted with churches and small monasteries. The very center of Kraków (now the Main Square) was dedicated to a trading market, culminating in the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), now one of architectonic attractions of Kraków. The market of Kraków was once an important distribution hub for salt trading, with the nearby royal mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia as the main source of this precious good. Now visits to Kraków are usually combined with a one-day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, the UNESCO world heritage.  

The city of Kraków was many times plundered by alien armies, which forced its citizens to surround the city with massive walls connected to a modern (at that times) system of fortifications and defensive barriers. One of them, a circular fortified outpost called the Barbican, is one of the few such structures in the world that survived until present. The city walls were removed in the 19th century to manage the city (now the walls are replaced by a circular green area called Planty), but their parts with the St. Florians gate still face the barbican. The gate was once the main entrance to the city, and it starts the so-called Royal Road, which travels across the old town, along Florianska street, The Main Square and along Grodzka street, to the Royal Castle on the Wawel hill (note, in Polish you pronounce W as V in English). The Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally important sites in Poland. It used to be the residence of the kings of Poland and the symbol of Polish statehood. Some also believe that the cave that goes deep into the Wawel hill (you can visit the cave) was once the home of a gigantic endemic predator called Smok Wawelski (eng. Wawel Dragon).

The modern Kraków is much larger than the old town, and it has grown from assimilation of surrounding villages and towns. The remains of this expansion are small Christian shrines that can be unexpectedly encountered throughout Kraków or distinct districts of the city that look like separate towns (the old Jewish town called Kazimierz, the forgotten Podgórze, or a Stalin-style Nowa Huta). This way a walk in Kraków crosses Polish history together with distinct places once inhabited by completely different communities.   

Main Square area

The Main Square (Rynek Główny or just Rynek in Polish) is the heart of an old part of Kraków. Now this is a gigantic meeting and walking place, outlined by restaurants (the most famous is the Wierzynek restaurant (very expensive), dating to medieval times!), coffee bars and pubs. Summer is superb for drinking a cup of coffee here, watching the street life.

This rectangular space, one of the largest medieval city squares in the world, is surrounded by historic townhouses and palaces. Right in the center of the square there is a stunning renaissance-style building of the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), now converted to tourist shops, restaurants and two important museums. The Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa Rynek Podziemny is one of the newest museums of Kraków, but takes you to the oldest parts of Kraków, located some meters below the surface of the Main Square. As you go down, you start to walk between the walls of medieval building that once stood on the Main Square, but with time they were buried by dust, accumulating over centuries and raising the surface of the Main Square to the present level. Beware of ancient graves of people who were accused to be vampires and therefore decapitated. Yes, you are still right in the center of Kraków. Sukiennice building also hosts an important gallery of old Polish paintings, which is a branch of the National Museum in Kraków. One of the most famous are gigantic paintings of Jan Matejko, who lived and worked in Kraków (his house is now turned into a museum, which is a nice place to see how people of Kraków lived in the 19th century).

On one side of the Cloth Hall there is the Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa), the rest of the town hall has not survived to present. On the other side is a small but lovely 10th century Church of St. Adalbert. It was much taller hundreds years ago, but with time the level of Main Square rose, and the entrance door was moved to upper parts of church walls (you can still see the primary level of the church through the glass platform, outside  the church walls). Ask around, there are regular concerts of classical music in this small acoustic church with thick walls. The other side of the Square is dominated by two towers (unequally tall) of the gothic St. Mary's Basilica (Kościół Mariacki). The wooden altar made by the famous German sculptor Veit Stoss is stunnig! The towers of basilica are famous for another taste of Kraków – the trampet call (in Polish Hejnał Mariacki). It is played every hour from the top of one of the towers, and commemorates complicated history of Poland.  

Apart from seeing and visiting icons of Kraków on the Main Square, most people who come to Kraków just wander around, walking narrow streets that radiate from the Square to all directions until they reach the green park surrounding the old town, called Planty (do you remember that in the 19th century Planty replaced city walls?). While walking around you cannot miss two places. One is the oldest building of the Jagiellonian University, called Collegium Maius, another place is the gallery of church icons in the National Museum on Kanonicza street.

The building of Collegium Maius is lovely, with a courtyard surrounded by red walls that served as home for professors and teaching space for students. The museum of the Jagiellonian University inside Collegium Maius is small but very pretty. You go through medieval corridors and rooms, learning how universities were organized in the past. The spirit of the former student of the Jagiellonian University, Nicolaus Copernicus who "stopped the Sun and moved the Earth" is still present in Collegium Maius. The Jagiellonian University was erected in the 13th century by the Polish king Kazimierz, but would collapse without the future donation of the Hungarian princess Jadwiga (Hedvig), the wife of the king Władysław Jagiełło (the name Jagiellonian University comes from the name of this Lithuanian dynasty of Polish kings – once Poland and Lithuania united to form one of the largest political structures in Europe). Thanks to the kings of Poland, Jagiellonian University belongs now to one of the oldest universities in the world.     

The second not-to-miss place in the old town is Kanonicza street, which is regarded one of the most atmospheric streets in old Kraków. Another reason to walk here is a lovely museum of church icons in the building called Pałac Biskupa Ciołka (a branch of National Museum in Kraków). Here you will see a completely different style of art, especially characteristic for ortodox church of eastern Europe (from Greece in the south to Russia in the north)

Wawel Royal Castle

The Royal Castle on Wawel hill is one of icons of Kraków, and it has played an important role in the Polish history. For centuries, it was used by Polish kings as the main official residence. The history of the old city of Kraków and the Royal Castle (Polish people say just Wawel) are tightly linked, as once were the two places through a uniform system of fortifications. The official entrance point to the castle started in the barbican at St. Florians gate. Then, travelers were taking a road through the old city, now called the Royal Road, which led through Floriańska street, the Main Square and Grodzka street until the walls and gates of Wawel. It is now a pleasant 20-minute walk through the most attractive parts of the old city of Kraków. Wawel sits on a limestone hill with the famous Wawel Dragon cave at the bottom. Once the hill was almost surrounded by the Vistula river, but now the river just passes the foot of the Wawel hill, which gives you another pleasure – a walk along boulevards of Vistula river to look from different angles at the castle and other attractions.

Visiting Wawel with all its museums, a cave, walls and architecture takes the whole day, but you can adjust your visit to your interests. The most popular approach is to visit the cathedral with kings' tombs and the gigantic bell called Dzwon Zygmunta. If you are lucky to hear Zygmunt bell during your visit in Kraków, it will be the sign of unusually important things that have just happened (ask around, they can be good or bad news). You can climb the cathedral tower to see the bell, touching the bell is believed to bring luck (100% guaranteed!). To explore Wawel you have to go to royal chambers, walking through the rooms and corridors once reserved only for the kings. One of the largest attractions of Kraków and now also of Wawel is the Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci. The unusually melancholic face expression makes her one of two most world-famous Leonardo's ladies: Mona Lisa stays in Louvre in Paris, and the Lady with an Ermine stays in Wawel in Kraków.

Vistula river boulevards

Walking or riding a bike along boulevards of Vistula river is a frequent activity of people in Kraków. The best entry point to the boulevards is situated just at the foot of Wawel hill. From here you can take any direction along the Vistula river and walk one or two kilometers in either direction.   

Going upriver, you will reach the Wolski Forest with well visible Kościuszko Mound (see below our section dedicated to nature walks in Kraków). The forest is a popular place for small treks in Kraków. Before the forest you will see the old Monastery of Norbertines. For the best view of the monastery cross the Vistula river (use the Dębnicki bridge overlooking Wawel).

Going down the river is much more popular. On the way you will pass the Pauline Fathers Monastery on Skałka. It is a peaceful area where you can hear the fathers singing. But watch out, once a bishop of Kraków was slain here by the order of one of the kings.

The walk along the Vistula can be combined with a cup of coffee or dinner in one of barges, on-water restaurants that stay here year-round. You can even find accommodation on some of them. One of the most atmospheric barges is called in Polish simply Barka. In summer, the river is served by small boats, which you can use for cutting the way.   

The region of Barka is a convenient entry point to either Kazimierz on the same bank of the rivers or Podgórze on the other side of the river. Podgórze is conveniently likned to Kazimierz by a nice-looking pedestrian bridge called Kładka Ojca Bernatka - in Polish the name sounds funny!

Kazimierz & Podgórze

Kazimierz and Podgórze could be called the Cinderella of Kraków, and now these districts receive a growing number of visitors. Kazimierz has a bohemian atmosphere and the charm of Podgórze is in its non-touristic atmosphere.

There are two ways to access Kazimierz from the old town of Kraków. One way is to walk the boulevards of Vistula from Wawel to Barka barge (20-30 minutes) and then start walking away from the river (you are immediately in Kazimierz). The other way is to walk from the Main Square of the old town of Kraków along Starowiślna street into the direction of Vistula river (also 20-30 minutes, or take a tram #3, 19 24).

Kazimierz is an amazing place that competes for the interest of tourists with the old town of Kraków. The foundation of town Kazimierz dates to medieval times, and for most of its history it was a Jewish town, which is now visible in a form of distinct architecture - you simply feel the unique style of old Jewish towns. Now, the Jewish community in Kraków is very small, but it was different before the Second World War. You can learn more about the tragic history of this nation during the War during your visit in the Nazi concentration camp in Oświęcim, which is a one day trip from Kraków, and it is one of major tourist destinations (though sad). If you instead want to stay in Kraków, you can visit a Jews' culture museum in the old synagogue in Kazimierz, or go deeper into the history of Polish Jews in Podgórze.

The central area of Kazimierz is Szeroka street that actually forms a square surrounded by atmospheric buildings. If you like old Jewish cemeteries, the entrance to the oldest one is from Szeroka. Another historic Jewish cemetery, called the New Jewish Cemetery, is on Miodowa street, a short walk from Szeroka, outside Kazimierz. The visit is highly recommended!

Szeroka is also a popular place to get dinner in one of Jewish-cuisine restaurants, but you will also find here an Indian restaurant with lovely tandoori dishes. Apart from Szeroka, you have an enormous choice of different cuisines and standards in Kazimierz.

Podgórze is on the other side of Vistula river, and you can walk there from Kazimierz by one of three bridges. The best entry-point to Podgórze is via the pedestrian bridge near Barka. Apart from its distinct off-the-beaten-track atmosphere, Podgórze remains an important place for the history of Polish Jews: after the invasion of Poland, Nazists built a ghetto in Podgórze and transfered there all Jews from Kazimierz. You have probably heard about Schindler's list, the movie made by Steven Spielberg. During the occupation of Poland by German Nazists, Oscar Schindler arrived from Germany to Kraków and established a factory in Podgórze. By employing Jews from the nearby ghetto, he managed to save the lives of more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. Now his factory, called Schindler's factory, hosts an interesting museum that is high on the list of any sightseeing tour in Kraków.

Kraków - practical tips

The venue of the Congress is located just near the heart of the old town of Kraków. General information of how to arrive to Kraków and locate the Congress center is also given here. Information of hotels which book accommodation for ICCPB2015 participants is given here. All hotels suggested there are located within a walking distance from the Congress center and the old town, in some cases you can cut the way by taking a tram or a bus.

The old town with the surroundings and Kazimierz are the best places in Kraków to find accommodation, go for lunch, dinner, beer and coffee, and to do basic shopping. The area of the old town also serves as a major transportation hub in the city.

Money, payments

You can use your bank account card or credit card in most shops and tourist spots in the town (though smaller shops may want to charge your card only if your bill exeeds a certain minimum level, usually 10-20 PLN). ATM machines are widely available all over the town center. If you want to exchange foraign currency, you can do at at the airport (though expect lower rates), or in many moneychangers or bank offices situated all over the old city. 


Kraków is a heaven for those who like going out for lunch or dinner. Density of restaurants and bars in the old town and Kazimierz is enormous, so just browse and choose. In general, you can expect higher prices in the old town, especially in the area of the Main Square, and lower prices in Kazimierz. Of course much will still depend on a standard of restaurant you go. We do not make specific recommendations, but you will find a lot of Polish-cuisine restaurants, together with Italian, Asian, Indian, etc. Poles have a distinct cuisine, so we recommend to taste some of Polish icons such as: pierogi, bigos, żurek. If you happen to visit a food shop, you can try Polish sausages (usually smoked). White cheese (a kind of cottage cheese) is also often eaten by Poles and you must try some of the Polish traditional kinds of bread. Kraków is famous in Poland for obwarzanki, a kind of bagels sold from small stalls on streets. 

Public transport         

Public transport (called MPK in Polish) in a form of trams and buses is well developed in Kraków. Before embarcation, you have to buy a ticket either in small newspaper shops called KIOSK or in ticket machines (Eglish available) at some bus/tram stops. Most trams and buses have also on-board ticket machines. Only the newest machines accept credit cards, so it is better to have some change in your pocket. Use the ZONE 1 tickets (basic) to commute between places directly connected with the congress or sightseeing (check if you travel really far away from the city center). All trams and buses show their number and destination and timetables are available at bus stops and online. Remember after embarking a tram or bus you are expected to punch a ticket in a special machine that registers the timing of your embarkation. Depending on a type of ticket you have, you can travel by a single bus/tram (a single entry ticket), or travel multiple trams and buses within a given time period (time-restricted tickets). 

Cheap taxi is also widely available in Kraków and all taxis have meters, in most cases you should be able to pay your bill with a credit or debit card but ask before entering. Taxis are taken from the street or by calling (e.g. Taxi Barbakan). 


The area of Main Square of the old town is the most popular place to get souvenires (especially Sukiennice - the old Cloth Hall standing right in the center of the square). Small food shops can be found in the old town and Kaziemierz. For more serious shopping you can visit one of the two big shopping malls, one in Kazimierz (Galeria Kazimierz) the other one - Galeria Krakowska near the main railway station, very close to the old town. The specialists in camping and trekking equipment are PolarSport on Sienna street and Wierchy on Stolarska street, both right in the old town. Pharmacies (in Polish apteka) are frequently found on streets all over Kraków.

Long-distance travel

If you arrive to Kraków or want to go out of Kraków you can either use the Balice Interantional Airport in Kraków, or take a train, or else travel by a long-distance bus. The main train and bus stations are located very close to the old town, and are almost fused into a single complex together with the shopping center Galeria Krakowska. Timetable of trains is available online.


If you need a doctor you can contact one of hospitals listed here.

One-day trips from Kraków

  • Medieval Salt Mine in Wieliczka (for details go here)
  • Nazi concentration camp in Oświęcim (for details go here)
  • Ojców National Park (for details go here)
  • Jura Krakowsko-Czestochowska (for details go here)
  • Tatra Mountains (fo details go here)
  • Horse-riding and Hucul culture (for details go here)

Birdwatching in Kraków and around

Right in the city

Staw Bagry, Staw Płaszowski – reservoirs created by filling closed gravel pits with water. Many interesting species can be observed there, especially migrants and wintering birds, eg. velvet scoter, smew and other ducks, loons, grebes and many gulls. Some of these species are rarely seen inlands. In the breeding season there are grebes and ducks.  

To get there: from the city center take the tram #20 or bus #127.

City section of the Wisła (Vistula) river – most interesting in winter. Each year hundreds individuals of mute swan, many coots and ducks (mostly mallards) winter here. Individuals of rarer species, as whooper swan, red-crested pochard, white-headed duck, common scoter and loons have been also seen there.

To get there: take a walk from Wawel Castle along riverbanks in the direction of Kazimierz.

Close to Kraków

Complexes of fish ponds near Kraków (Łączany, Zator, Spytkowice) – ca. 80 breeding species: black-crowned night heron and other heron species, ducks, grebes, species inhabiting reed beds. On migrations, rare species have been observed, eg. pygmy cormorant, white-tailed lapwing and long-billed dowitcher.

To get there: take a range of private mini-buses from the city center.

Wolski Forest, Kościuszko Mound, Piłsudski Mound– small forested hills within borders of the city, well visible from many points of Kraków. A very pleasant place for a short walk or mountain biking, with a possibility of observing woodpeckers (green, grey-headed, black, lesser spotted), tawny owl or collared flycatcher. There is a Zoological Garden right in the middle of the forest and close to Piłsudski Mound, open daily between 9:00 and 15:00. 

To get there: from Salwator (near Vistula river) take bus #100 to Kościuszki Mound or walk uphill; from ICE Congress Center near Grunwaldzki Bridge take bus #101 to Kościuszki Mound; from Cracovia hotel (near National Museum in Krakow) take bus # 134 to ZOO and Piłsudski Mound.

Niepołomice Forest – this forest complex near Kraków is not very large but abundant in bird species. Nearly 200 species were recorded from which ca. 115 breed there. Among breeding species, ural owl, European nightjar, collared flycatcher (one of the largest populations in Poland), common crane, European honey buzzard are worth mentioning.

To get there: take private mini-buses or a train from the Main Railway Station in Kraków (get off at the station "Kłaj").

Dulowska Primavel Forest -  this forest with its marshes is the remnant of the old primeval forest stretching between Kraków and Przemsza. There are numerous game species, even moose can be found in the more remote marshy areas of the forest. In the middle of this forest complex you can find the romantic ruins of the early medieval Tenczyn Castle, which is an excellent trekking destination.   

To get there: take a train from the main train station in Kraków to Krzeszowice town (half an hour) and from there take a private mini-bus from near the station in Krzeszowice. An interesting option to explore Dulowska Forest is to organise one/two day trip on a horsback from Nielepice near Kraków.