By Briana Seftel
A visit to Poland's former royal capital and cultural heart is a must. With medeival roots, a sprawling castle, multiple types of sausage and more, Krakow is like Prague or Budapest - minus the crowds. Here are the top 8 things to do in Krakow, especially if it's your first time visiting.
Explore Wawel Castle
Krakow’s Wawel Castle is the most visited site in all of Poland and a sacred place for the Polish people. Situated atop Wawel Hill, the palace contains several different museums housing important artifacts, as well as a beautiful cathedral that is Poland's national church. A trip in its own right, the cathedral holds the tombs of Poland's monarchs like Casimir III the Great.
Experience Krakow's heart at Market Square
When it was built in the 13th century, Krakow's Market Square was Europe's largest square. Today, it still is one of the biggest you'll come across - and one of the prettiest. Flanked by trendy restaurants, bars and shops, the square is the beating heart of Krakow. Take a relaxing horse carriage ride, listen to folk singers, and take a photo in front of the bronze sculpture of a human head.
Step inside St. Mary’s Basilica
This imposing Catholic church has long been an icon of the city. Each day, crowds gather to watch the opening of the stunning altarpiece, carved in the late 1400s and depecting the Assumption of the Virgin surrounded by the Apostles. In the summer, visitors can climb the tower for excellent views of the city.
Wander through Kazimierz
A short walk away from the old city is Kazimierz, Krakow's historic Jewish Quarter. While most of its population was decimated during the Holocaust, those visiting today can still see synagogues and cemeteries that live on as memorials to the lives lost. Every year, the neighborhood holds a Jewish cultural festival attracting thousands of visitors.
Take a side trip to Wieliczka Salt Mine
Located approximately 30 minutes outside the city, Wieliczka Salt Mine is the oldest salt mine in Europe welcoming over one million tourists a year. While salt is still mined here, the main draw are the incredible chapels and sculptures carved out of the salt. Bring a jacket and explore this underground spectacular!
Hear the trumpet call
Every hour on the hour at St. Mary's Basilica, a trumpeter at the top tower plays a five-note Polish anthem (known as Hejnał) as part of a centuries-long tradition. No one knows the exact origin of the trumpet call, but many believe it was during the Mongol invasion of Poland. The trumpeter was shot before he could finish the song, which is a possible explanation as to why the song ends before completion.
Taste Krakow sausage
No visit to Krakow would be truly complete without a taste of Krakowska, a type of Polish sausage native to the city. Spiced with pepper, allspice, coriander, and garlic, the sausage is then smoked and usually served cold, but can be added to cooked dishes, too.
See the Black Madonna at Jasna Gora Monastery
Located approximately two hours from Krakow in the city of Częstochowa, the Jasna Gora Monastery is one of Europe's most visited religious sites. The monastery's biggest draw is the Black Madonna painting in the Chapel of Our Lady, said to have miraculous powers.