02 April 2024

Krakow's world heritage Market Square

Kraków’s Market Square is the centre of the city’s medieval Old Town, designed in 1257 when Kraków won its charter. The grid-like layout of the Old Town and its central square has changed little in the following centuries. Always active, this 40,000 sq ms grouping of café’s, museums, clubs, pubs, music centres, historical landmarks, hotels, shows some of the best medieval architect­ure in the city. Because the med­ieval Rynek/market is surround­ed by elegant town­houses, all with their own names and histories, the import­ant histor­ical, cultural and social significance is largely intact.

The two towers of St Mary’s Basilica

Veit Stoss’ altarpiece
behind the C13th high altar of St. Mary’s Basilica 

In summer, umbrella shaded cafés sat along its sides, shaded from the sun by the looming gothic spires of St Mary’s C14th Basilica. The basilica had an imposing façade, flanked by 2 differently sized towers. Its crowning glory is Veit Stoss’ altarpiece. In snowy winter, the square is full of Christmas markets. Visit the square on each hour when St Mary’s Church bugle calls.

At its centre is the long medieval Sukiennice Cloth Hall, Kraków’s hist­or­ical hub of trade in Eastern Europe. Built in the C14th, this huge hall may have been one of the first shopping centres in the world, packed with market stands. The hall was later rebuilt in a Renais­sance style, housing the stalls of local merchants selling cloth products, handicrafts, amber, lace and woodwork like oriental imports.

 Sukiennice Cloth Hall

On the eastern side, the coffee shops are crowded with tourists enjoying a front row view of the Cloth Hall’s br­oadside and 70 m leaning Town Hall Tower. This tower is only remaining section of Krak­ów’s or­ig­inal C14th town hall, after fires and renovations. Visitors climb the sta­irs up to the 3rd floor through Gothic vaulted rooms which contain 1960s photos of Kraków and offer a grand panoramic view over the market. The tower is the only part of the former Town Hall that still stands. At the top is an observation deck from which visitors get a beautiful view of Kraków.

Gothic tower over
St Florian's Gate

St Florian's Gate is one of the best-known Polish Gothic towers, and a focal point of Kraków's Old Town. It was built about the C14th as a rectangular Gothic tower of wild stone, part of the city fortifications against Tatar attack. The gate became the main entryway to the Old Town.

The square’s eastern side is home to street entertainers that set up at the foot of the Basilica’s red towers. There is the small C10th Church of St Adalbert to the south, an old stone structure that is one of the few well preserved remaining examples of early Christian, Romanesque build­ings in Poland. It is next to the middle Gothic arches of the Cloth Hall. 

Town Hall Tower, leaning

Today many of the building façades that line the Main Square have Polish Baroque architecture, despite their med­ieval begin­nings. For example see the Krzysztofory Palace on the N.E corner, now home to the central divis­ion of the Historical Museum of Kraków.

Krzysztofory Palace
Now Historical Museum of Krakow

Enclosed by elegant townhouses and Medieval palaces, the square is one of the city’s main meeting points for both locals and tourists. It is bustling with life all day long. Apart from its picturesque terraces, the beautiful horse carriages await their next customers.

Directly next to the Sukiennice stands Poland’s most eminent scribe: Adam Mickiewicz, and a huge, striking bronze statue of Polish C19th romantic poet on the square's eastern side. Ironically this much loved bard never visited the city un­til after his death when his remains were transferred to the Wawel Cath­edral crypt, but this didn’t stop the statue from bec­om­ing one of Krak­ów’s best loved monuments.

Citizens used to witness many public events in the square, including royal cer­emonies and public executions. Even now grim tour­ists might enjoy the very grim set of metal neck chains dis­played on St Mary’s the side door, used to punish philand­ering women. But the worst was during German occup­ation when the square was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz and Nazi rallies attended by Der Führer himself took place.

Kraków’s medieval market square is one of the few places in the city that can chronicle Kraków’s history as concisely; from its medieval origins, through its dark C20th conflicts, to a vibrant modern European city. No wonder its beautiful buildings and history made the square a perfect choice for UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1978.


Deb said...

Goodonya. My parents were Polish but from a small town. Yet they loved Krakow because it was large, with cultural centres and lots of tourists. They loved revisiting the synagogues, even years after they moved to Australia.

roentare said...

I would love to visit Sukiennice Cloth Hall where I could spend days photographing this place!

jabblog said...

How nice to see a place that hasn't been overwhelmed with modern glass and steel constructions.

Andrew said...

European squares are wonderful and after reading this, Krakow's must have been among the best, and the oldest.

Hels said...


Of course your parents loved the city :) I would have thought that Krakow in general and the central market square in particular would have been extremely attractive for Poles and visitors before the two world wars. But I assumed bombing might have ended the beauty, as in Warsaw. Some of medieval Krakow had to be rebuilt over the centuries of course, but fortunately the city was not razed to the ground by bombs.

Hels said...


Sukiennice Cloth Hall is truly extraordinary, from the exterior and inside. You will love even the coffee tables and umbrellas in the square alongside the Hall, especially in summer.

Hels said...


even though UNESCO’s World Heritage Listing didn't take place until 1978, the city council knew enough to protect the city's central medieval beauty. There ARE some tall, modern buildings in Krakow, but historical sites around or near the square cannot be destroyed.

Hels said...


I always loved large European city squares as well, like Museumplein in Amsterdam or Charles Square in Prague. So when Melbourne was getting its city square in the mid 1970s, I was looking forward to having Melbourne look like Prague. What a disappointment :(

Fun60 said...

Krakow is one of my favourite Christmas markets. It is a beautiful city and I loved all the glasswork.


Me encanta el casco antiguo de las ciudades, es donde se ve la parte antigua y que tiene especial encanto.
Me ha enantado ver la arquitectura tan importante, que hay en esta ciudad.

Katerinas Blog said...

Wow, beautiful city and square. Thanks Hels for the photos and information about Krakow! I would love to be there Christmas!!

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

What a beautiful place, sadly not a place I will ever get to visit

CherryPie said...

I always love to visit old Market Squares. This one looks beautiful.

Hels said...


I normally don't like cold weather, but I agree that Krakow’s Main Square is full of colour, activities and fun leading up to Christmas. It is said that amongst all the Christmas market stalls is the beautiful twin-towered basilica of St Mary’s, adding to the special atmosphere.

Hels said...


agreed. Of course you are delighted to see such important architecture in Krakow.. the city has carefully preserved its history, to the very good fortune of modern generations. If you are ever going again in Polish summer, drop me a note and we can meet up for coffee in the square :)

Hels said...


I am still envious :) 2 hours flight from your place to Krakow!
Have an amazing trip if you go this Christmas!

Hels said...


in 1970 I made a long wish-list of places I would visit one day, assuming I could continue flying until insurance ran out at age 85. I was doing very well until heart surgery and covid lockdowns meant flying was dangerous. So I really do understand that not everyone can visit every place they might have thought about.

Hels said...


Like I said to Katerina, I am so envious of people who can hop around Europe, the Middle East and the Mediterranean easily. Which other market squares have you loved?

Joe said...

You are right about Charles Square in Prague. The architecture is fascinating, starting with the 14th century Gothic Church of Our Lady, and its very tall towers. St Nicholas Church looks much more baroque. The Kinsky palace and town hall look grand. But I don't remember any sociable coffee tables and umbrellas in the centre of the square.

Hels said...


I love historical architecture too. But socialising is almost as much fun :) Krakow's eating, drinking and meeting people in the square is wonderful, whether it is privately arranged between friends, or publicly organised with walking tours. One example is a long tasting tour, going to 4 local restaurants to try 11-13 different dishes, plus vodkas and craft beers.

River said...

This is one place I would like to see in person if I ever got the chance.

Hels said...


absolutely! The 18 best cities to visit in Eastern Europe, according to World of Wanderlust, include Budapest, Dubrovnik, St Petersburg, Prague, Krakow and Bratislava - all of which I would really like to visit for the first time or visit again.

Margaret D said...

Very beautiful buildings, the architecture is just amazing. Wouldn't it be good to see in person, but seeing it this way is better not having seen it at all Hels.
Good to know more about Poland.
I had a Polish girlfriend in senior school, we were inseparable at that time.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - I used to work with a Polish friend, who'd escaped ... they now live in the States - but back in the day she invited me to visit Poland and Krakow with her - life wasn't easy for me and so I never made it - a regret I have to this day, and to losing track of the family. She and my mother got on really well - and she was able to visit my mother in Cornwall. Memories ... cheers Hilary

Hels said...


My own family was Russian and my in laws were Czech, but most of the students in my year at school was either born in Poland or born in Australia to Polish parents. Since all the siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles had been killed during the Holocaust in Poland, none of my friends' parents would ever visit Poland again. Yet by the time I was making travelling decisions by myself, the fear of Polish history had ended. Not only is Krakow really beautiful, but so are Lublin, Gdansk, Poznan and Lodz.

Hels said...


agreed.. it is important to keep in contact with old friends, even if she lives abroad. With the internet it was relatively easy to me to find old friends in Brazil and South Africa, students I had been very close to back in 1966. Now we swap photos and facebook stories monthly.

Even if the time wasn't good for you, I am very glad she invited you to go to Poland with her.

Bucketlistly said...

Here are the top 9 things to do in Krakow, Poland in 2024
Nowadays Krakow has become the new trendy hotspot for travelers to visit in Central Europe, and for good reason. Unlike Warsaw, even though Krakow is a big city, being there will make you feel like you are in a warm, closely-knit neighborhood. The charming little district of the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz), the stunning Wawel Cathedral surrounded by the Vistula River, and the colorful St. Mary's Basilica - there is no shortage of things to see in Krakow

March 16, 2024

mem said...

It is a very lovely place partly because it is authentic and not a pastiche of imitation old .
Modern squares are hard to do because we have such large buildings and we seem , as humans to warm more to buildings of a human scale . I think that the thing that saves modern squares is lots of planting of trees. I think the that Fed Square is pretty good with its beautiful stone paving and its human scale . My husbands family come from the Polish town of Karlisch which also has a really beautiful town square .

Hels said...


love the blog's name :) Thank you for specifying how Krakow became the trendy tourist destination. I hope people read the details in your post before they travel.

Hels said...


I agree that one thing that saves modern squares is planting of plenty of trees, surrounded by fresh air that is unpolluted by cars and buses.

Looking up your husband's family town of Karlisch, the first thing you notice is a stunning town square, surrounded by really lovely historical buildings. Why didn't I hear of this town before?

mem said...

Its actually a very significant place in Jewish Polish History . When we visited a few years back , we were very moved by the beauty of the place and how the Rapke family must have felt leaving that city and coming all the way to Australia.

Mandy said...

I've visited Warsaw before but haven't been to other cities in Poland. I'd very much like to - Krakow has always been high on my list and I think you've convinced me with this post!

The inside of St Mary's Basilica looks exquisite.

You mention the grim past of the square. This is actually the reason we've not visited Krakow yet. We want to visit and bear witness to Auschwitz during that trip but need to be ready for that. Soon, I hope.

Hels said...


as I said to Margaret, my own family was Russian and my in laws were Czech. So I had no personal pull to Poland, and in any case, post-WW2 trips to Poland were avoided wherever possible. But the more I studied architecture, galleries and museums in Eastern Europe as a middle aged student, the more excited I was to travel there.

Even when the cities' memories are a mixture of beauty and grimness, you will truly value your travel. Not Auschwitz, probably.