Krakow Guide: Exploring Poland's Cultural Capital

Krakow is straight out of a fairytale. The medieval architecture adds to the sense of history here. When you look beneath the surface there is much to be explored in Krakow. Krakow was originally the Polish capital back in 1038 and since then has traded hands numerous times. Having survived world wars, kingdoms, and partitions, it is no wonder that Krakow is steeped in history.A fact that I rather enjoy is that Krakow is the largest student town in Europe (200,000 students out of the 800,000 population) which gives it a youthful and vibrant atmosphere. It is also perfect for student and budget travelers because prices are affordable.
Wawel Castle
The mismatched architecture of Wawel Castle is a testament to how much has happened here. This iconic building is representative of how much historical change Krakow has seen in its lifetime. If you are visiting Krakow you have to pay a visit to Wawel. There have been royal residences here since the 11th century but most of the Castle you see today is from the 16th century. Highlights here include Wawel Cathedral, a Leonardo de Vinci masterpiece, and the State Rooms themselves.
Main Square
Krakow's Main Square (otherwise known as the Market Square) is pretty hard to miss. As the largest medieval square in Europe there is plenty to explore here. Surrounded by beautiful pastel coloured buildings and churches it is a picturesque place to soak up the atmosphere. The square is as lively as it is beautiful with frequent markets, carriages, and crowds of people.
St. Mary's Basilica
This Gothic church dominates Krakow's Main Market Square at 80m tall. With a wonderfully carved altarpiece a trumpet played every hour, there are plenty of quirks that make St Mary's an iconic piece of Polish history. According to the records, the basilica was first founded in 1221 but was destroyed during the Mongol invasion (the hourly trumpet is in honour of the trumpeter who was shot during the invasion), but was rebuilt in 1290. As with most things in Krakow, since conception there have been many alterations, rebuilds, vaults and altars... you know the drill.
Krakow Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall is the most recognisable part of Krakow's Main Market Square and used to be the site of trade, merchants, and business. There is an interesting museum in the upper floor which holds permanent Polish art exhibitions.
Planty Park
Krakow and is my personal favourite. It encircles the Old Town. The lush trees make it a special place in the city and there are plenty of benches to people watch.
Take A Trip To The High Tatras
Although it is not in Krakow, the High Tatras Mountains are not too far away. If you have a bit of time in Krakow I would recommend a side trip to the High Tatras Moutnains (either the Polish or Slovakian side). The fresh air and beautiful scenery is well worth it.