Chosen for the inaugural UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978, Stare Miasto, Kraków’s Old Town, is the city’s historic center and one of the most beautiful sites in Central Europe.
A busy medieval center in the 10th century, the main square (Rynek Główny) is the largest medieval town square of any European city and includes a number of historical buildings and unique architecture. Old Town was encompassed by military defensive walls that extended all the way to Wawel Castle, but most of these fortifications were destroyed by the Austrians during occupation in the 1800s. The moat surrounding the walls was replaced with a green space–Planty–that is known as “the lungs of the city”.
My recommendation is to wander the main square and Stare Miasto’s winding, cobblestone streets, finding all your new favorite literary cafes, pierogi spots, and stop for homemade vodka. If you prefer a more intentional wandering, I’m here to help! I’ve made a map of all my top sites.
I recommend spending time in the square and walking around Planty before heading down to Wawel Castle.
There’s so much to see in Kraków’s historic center!
Main Market Square (Rynek Główny):
The legendof the dragon that terrorized residents of pre-Kraków settlements is an interesting part of the city’s history:
From that day on there was no peace in the village. Daily, the dragon would appear to carry off a victim. Sometimes a sheep, or dreadfully, a child or even a grown man. The villagers called the hideous creature “Smok”. Men banded together to try and slay the dragon, but their primitive weapons were no match for the thick scales of the dragon. Many men died in the attempt to rid the village of this terrible curse.
In the same village lived a wise man named Krakus. Some thought him something of a magician, for he would mix herbs to heal the sick. The villagers came to Krakus to ask for his help. Krakus thought for a long time, studying his jars of herbs and things, and all the while murmuring to himself. Then he started to mix up a paste. He summoned the villagers to bring a sheep to him. He covered the poor sheep with the unpleasant mixture and carrying it up the hill, threw the sheep inside the cave.
After several suspenseful moments, there came the sound of the great dragon roaring and bellowing its way down to the Vistula River. The mixture that the sheep had been coated with caused a great burning inside the dragon. It drank and drank until it began to swell. Some say it drank half of the Vistula River that day. Still it drank to quell the relentless burning in its gut. Suddenly, there was a great explosion and the dragon burst!
The people rejoiced at the demise of the fearsome creature. They were so impressed with the wisdom of Krakus that they invited him to rule over them. They built a stronghold at the top of the hill and below it, the city prospered under his rule. The city was named Krakow in honor of Krakus. When Krakus died the people gave him a magnificent burial, and erected a mound over his tomb, bringing the dirt with their own hands. It has endured throughout the centuries as a lasting monument to their wise and brave King.