Krakow is one of those European cities where you don’t need to venture too far in any particular direction to discover a point of interest or something historic. The city is swimming in history that relates to both its Jewish residents in the Jewish Quarter and of course the Nazi occupation.
One area that is a big draw for tourists and is great place for you to spend some time exploring is the medieval Main Square (Rynek Główny) located in the Old Town. It is as the name suggests, the main square in Krakow and dates back to the 13th century.
Within Main Square there are 3 standout focal points which are hard to miss, St Mary’s Basilica with its 2 gothic towers, Cloth Hall which is an indoor market located at the centre of the square and the Town Hall Tower just behind it.
St Mary’s Basilica
On one corner of the square you will find St Mary’s Basilica with its 2 tall gothic towers looking down over the city.
Dating back to the early 13th Century the Basilica is a fine example of Polish Gothic architecture. Its towers stand at 80m tall and on the hour, every hour, a trumpet plays a 5 note signal 4 times in succession from the tallest tower. This is known as the Hejnał mariacki.
Within the church is a famed alterpiece by Veit Stoss which is the largest gothic alterpiece in the world. This alone draws many visitors each year and is well worth your time to visit.
Located centrally within Main Square you cannot miss Cloth Hall and it’s beautiful Renaissance architecture. Dating back to c.1555 Cloth Hall is widely considered to be the oldest shopping mall in the world.
Inside the building there are small retail units which historically would have been occupied by merchants serving the people of the city with cloth for their every day life. Today this isn’t the case of course, with the units still operating but selling trinkets and tourist goods.
You are free to wander around, buy anything that takes your fancy or simply enjoy taking in the sight of the building itself.
The knife at Cloth Hall
Whilst walking through Cloth Hall, make your way to “the cross” which is situated halfway down the building where two entrances to the hall are present. If you make your way outside and look just above the doorway on the side facing St Mary’s Basilica you will find an old knife hanging on a chain.
Legend has it that the knife was associated with two brothers who were building St Mary’s Basilica. When one of the brothers realised that his brothers tower would be taller than his own due to weaker foundations he killed him with the knife out of envy. He couldn’t live with himself after this however and took his own life by jumping from the tower.
The more likely story however is that the knife is a reminder of the Magdeburg Law which meant that thieves would be punished by having an ear cut off.
Town Hall Tower
The Town Hall Tower sits in Main Square next to Cloth Hall and is the last remaining part of the original town hall. The town hall itself was demolished in 1820 by the city with the aim of opening up the Main Square so the tower now stands alone, 70m tall.
If you are feeling like getting more of a birds eye view of the city then you can make your way to the top of the tower to an observation area.
Within the Western end of Main Square you will find a sculpture of Eros Bendato which was gifted to the city by a student of Tadeusz Kantor at the Kraków School of Art.
This sculpture is a popular spot within the square and will more than likely be crawling with tourists trying to get a selfie or take a picture of their kids – you have been warned!
Grab a bite to eat
Whilst in the square in addition to a spot of sightseeing you can stop here for a bite to eat. There are restaurants lining the entire square so you will be completely spoilt for choice.
Horse and cart ride
Every major city in Europe seems to have a horse and cart ride and Main Square in Krakow certainly doesn’t steer away from this.
Now before I go any further here, I’m always extremely cautious when it comes to advising people to use these services as over the years I have seen animals in these environments which look incredibly unhappy and not well cared for – the donkeys in Santorini was one such example.
The horses here seemed to be quite happy however however there can often be hidden problems. Whether or not you choose to ride a carriage here is entirely up to you and I’m certainly not saying you should. Just be aware that this tourist facility exists and be conscious of how well the horses are looking during your visit.
Main Square Krakow review
Surrounded by historic buildings, shops and restaurants, Main Square is a pretty lively place to visit if you are heading to the city this year. You can take in the sights on the square, have a horse and cart ride around the square, explore the church and market or simply just sit in the square and watch the world go by.
We loved our city break in Krakow and loved the welcoming and friendly nature of the Polish people. Be sure to visit Krakow soon and absolutely make a visit to Main Square a key part of your trip.
Have you been to Krakow already or are planning a trip this year? We’d love to know your plans, let us know in the comments!