The grandeur of the historic city centre of Cracow is simply fascinating. You can stroll around the city centre for days and always discover something new. It has been beautifully restored, features many pleasant and rather cheap restaurants, cafes and bars, offers many parks where you can walk and relax or just sit on a bank and enjoy a beautiful spring day. We spent several days just walking around and enjoyed every single minute.
Rynek Glowny, one of Europe’s largest medieval squares, has always been the main tourist attraction. This Main Market Square is dominated by the former cloth halls that were originally built in the 13th century. Back then, it served as a covered market selling cloth and textiles. Now, the stalls are used as souvenirs and jewellery shops, specialising in selling amber.
The square is surrounded by elegant houses once owned by the city’s wealthiest merchants and aristocrats. Nowadays it is humming with locals and tourists strolling around the numerous flower stalls and colourful artistry shops. Cafes and elegant restaurants line the magnificent facades that reflect so many different architectural genres.
The old centre also features countless churches. The most impressive is the twin-towered St. Mary’s Church with its incredible altar by Veit Stoß.
A bit further to the south of the old centre, the majestic Wawel Royal Castle rests on top of a limestone hill, overlooking the Wisla River. Wawel Hill became the royal residence in 1038 under King Kazimierz the Restorer and watched many kings come and go until the capital was moved to Warsaw in 1609. Nevertheless it continues to hold the royal treachery and Royal apartments.
We only managed to visit the apartments which are all decorated with large wall hangings produced in Brussels in the 16th century and exquisite wooden furniture. Some rooms are adorned with wood-coffered ceilings and friezes. For us, who are used to Austrian baroque and its overloaded architecture, this was a nice experience.
On the other hand, the visit to the salt mines of Wielicka was rather disappointing. At no time do these huge halls within this former salt mine make the visitors feel that they are inside a mountain. Many of large openings are chapels – surprise, this is Poland – others are decorated with sculptures made from salt. These halls are connected by long passages, all squeaky-clean and again, there is never a touch of “hey you are a miner”. All this seems to be a desperate attempt to create a tourist attraction, a busy one though, with about one million visitors a year.