Kraków and Warsaw

Crakow Dragon

Explore the rich history of Poland. Cities: Krakow and Warsaw

Having already equipped you with sites to see located rather in minor towns of Poland, now it is time to turn our attention towards definitely more obvious, however as exciting and memorable positions placed in polish biggest cities – Krakow and Warsaw! In this part of the article, we’ll get through historical sites that are mandatory to visit while being in either the former or present capital of Poland.

Kraków Old Town
Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw

Kraków - Way more than Auschwitz tours, Salt Mines and Zakopane enroute stop

Kraków is considered to be one of the most prominent polish cities regarding the historical heritage it contains within its borders and proximity! Being very well commuted with Tatra Mountains, it’s very easy to travel from Krakow to Zakopane, however the former Poland’s capital not only provides possibilities of sightseeing surrounding sites! Of course, visiting Krakow salt mines such as Bochnia or Wieliczka, or booking an Auschwitz tour, as the route from Krakow to Auschwitz is barely 70 kilometers long and takes approximately one hour by car or bus are absolutely worth undertaking! Nevertheless, Krakow is THE city if it comes down to historical heritage!

Auschwitz Poland
Wieliczka Poland

Krakow Main Square and Kazimierz, Krakow Jewish Quarter

To begin with, it might be reasonable to focus on the city’s heart of which everything else arose – the old town and its main square. Krakow old town is absolutely iconic! Many associate it with the popular annual Christmas market, which starts every year at the end of November and can be seen till the end of a year, but there are at least three other factors which make it stand out! Firstly, it’s over 800 years old! There is a museum beneath the surface of the main square, where tourists are able to see the medieval foundations of the old town center! Secondly, the popular Krakow Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) adoring the very middle of the old town, where we can find the entrance to the aforementioned museum. There are numerous markets selling a great variety of souvenirs and paintings of coats of arms of 51 Polish cities. The building was developed for over 7 centuries, making it unique example of the renaissance architecture on a nationwide scale. Thirdly, the Saint Mary's Basilica (Kościół Mariacki), a gothic church completed in the middle of XIV century, later enhanced by the creations many polish artists like Jan Matejko, one of the most important polish artists in history. The church is known not just due to its scale and age but to a very certain custom, St. Mary's Trumpet Call (Hejnał Mariacki). The Call has a very long tradition and quite intriguing legend, explaining its origins and the probable fact because of which it suddenly stops in the middle of the melody. Nearby the old town it’s also possible to walk upon the streets of the Jewish Quarter called Kazimierz. For a couple of centuries, this nowadays neighborhood of Kraków functioned as a separate town. It was just in 1800 when it became united with the former Poland’s capital. Today it is known for numerous marks of Jewish culture which started to establish its tracks already in XV century. There are many beautiful tenements, old shops with climatic signboards, sculptures and the Old Synagogue of Krakow, an essential in European wide scale structure of Jewish Religious architecture. What’s more, a cemetery located in Kazimierz quarter is one of the oldest in Europe, where Moses Isserles’s tomb attracts Jewish pilgrims from the entire world.

Kazimierz Jewish Quarter
Kraków Old Town

Wawel, Krakow Castle

Last but not least, the Wawel Castle! The huge complex present on the UNESCO list contains such a multiplicity of polish artefacts and heritage, that exclusively visiting it personally can give a glimpse of understanding of how crucial this site is! It’s a place where numerous crucial historical objects are stored, such as legendary “Szczerbiec”, the ceremonial coronation sword of Polish Kings. Furthermore, it’s a site of rest of vital polish personalities like the King Casimir III the Great who passed away in XIV century, or the polish iconic Marshal of Poland, Józef Piłsudski, a great leader who ruled over Poland after the First World War. The castle itself was finished more or less in the XV century, and presents a mix of renaissance, baroque and classical architecture. The Wawel Walls are well kept and maintained and make a fair impression, however one of the most famous attractions of the castle is located right beneath its fortifications – The legendary Wawel Dragon!

Krakow Wawel Castle
Dragon Krakow

Warsaw – Resurrected Capital of Poland and a perfect city break from Mazury!

Having introduced historical sites of former Poland’s capital, let’s now look at the current one, Warsaw! As Krakow lies in the vicinity of polish mountains, Warsaw is usually the biggest transition point while traveling to Mazury! It would be a shame to miss the opportunity of experiencing what the biggest polish city has to offer, so consider taking a city break over there, as it probably flourishes the fastest of all polish cities, also in terms of... historical heritage. The thing about historical sites of the biggest polish city is that the majority of it was unfortunately lost to the II World War warfare, during which according to various sources roughly 80% of the city got entirely demolished. In spite of that, great number of them are already renovated or completely rebuilt, making Warsaw the capital of Poland, as well as of historical resurrection!

Warsaw Poland
Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw

Royal Baths, Willanow Palace and Warsaw Royal Castle

The attractions we can visit today were mostly rebuilt in the second half of the XX century, attempting to restore their lost glory. Thanks to multiple reconstructions, today we can stroll through the alleys of Royal Baths (Łazienki Królewskie) founded by the last Polish King before the fall of Second Polish Republic, walk upon centuries old streets of Cracow Fore-Town (Krakowskie Przedmieście), one of the most prestigous districts of Warsaw or visit nearby located Royal Warsaw Castle (Zamek Królewski), originally raised in XVII century by the king Sigismund III Vasa, whose monument towers above the castle yard and, unlike the castle, got in a pretty good condition through the Second World War. Speaking of kings and their residences, it's crucial to highlight the Willanow Palace (Pałac w Willanowie) which used to be a royal palace and a residence of the king who ordered the construction, famous savior of Europe Jan III Sobieski. The most tragic conflict of our history also took its toll on this wonderful complex, as it got almost fully robbed of its artefacts and legacy by the invaders. However, the beautiful markings decorating interiors of the palace, baroque styled architecture and an artistic mix of renaissance european and polish art styles are still to be admired and seen, making it a true gem of Warsaw!

Wilanow Palace Warsaw
Łazienki Royal Baths

Palace of Culture and Science and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw

Finally, two very prominent sites in Warsaw referencing to the newest part of Poland’s history. First of all, back in the day the controversial Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki). But why would a building dedicated to science and culture be controversial? Well, this second highest building in Poland was built in the 60s during the dominance of USSR over Poland. There were voices accusing this structure to be a monument which offends the pride of current independence of the nation, especially as it’s located in the central part of the city and clearly represents Stalinist architecture. What’s more, it was designed in reference to very similar buildings located in Moscow; Seven Sisters. Nevertheless, these doubts have already been silenced and the building is protected as an important monument of cultural heritage, representing quite dim period of polish history, but fortunately just as distant memory and reminder, from which younger generations may learn. Inside, we can enjoy our time by going to some museum, cinema, theater or a restaurant. On top of that (literally!), there is an observation deck which provides a wonderful panoramic view of the capital. The second site is located by the Saxon Garden (Ogród Saski), and before the war was a part of a Saxon Palace, which unfortunately like many other buildings was almost entirely destroyed. However, almost is the keyword here. The remaining little part since 1925 functions as a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Grób Nieznanego Żołnierza), where people can come and pay respects to the Great War’s unidentified fallen polish soldiers. The tomb stands on Józef Piłsudski Square where it’s lit by an eternal flame and assisted by a guard post provided by the three companies of the 1st Guards Battalion, Representative Regiment of the Polish Armed Forces. It’s at this place where great number of official military commemorations take place there as well as many foreign representatives lay wreaths when visiting Poland. The changing of the guard takes place every full hour, 365 days a year. What’s more, in 2021 a decision to rebuild the destroyed Saxon Palace (Pałac Saski) has been made, starting the process of resurrecting the annihilated mansion. The work is currently ongoing, so in future also this piece of polish heritage will be possible to be seen once again! Hopefully, with what is presented in this article you’ll be able to find yourself in the right spots if seeking the tracks of the nation’s past in Krakow and Warsaw. But hey! We’re absolutely not done yet! Do you know what medieval heritage lays on the islands of rivers Krakow, Wroclaw or Poznan stand on? Where can we come across Gdansk’s II World War monuments or what sites of this coastal city are crucial to the overthrow of communism? If not, worry not! Dive into the third part of the series of these articles treating about the must- see polish historical sites in Gdansk, Wroclaw and Poznan!

Tomb of unknown soldier in Warsaw
Palace of Culture and Science
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