Krakow’s “Rynek Główny” or Main Square is the beating heart of the city.
Proud to claim itself as the largest Medieval square in Europe (the area is 200 metres squared) it is lined with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. The square is normally buzzing with activity especially in the evening when the bars and cafes are full of people, street entertainers work the crowds and horse drawn carriages clip-clop around the square.
The square is often used for public concerts and is especially popular for the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
It’s worth mentioning that unlike many other sizable Polish cities Krakow’s buildings escaped virtually unscathed from the Second World War
Three noteworthy buildings dominate the Square.
Kościół Mariacki (St Mary’s Basilica)
A church originally stood on the same site as far back as the 13th Century but the current building dates back to the mid 14th Century. The taller of the two towers was raised higher than the other in order to convert it to a watch tower. Every hour on the hour a bugle call (known as the “hejnal”) is played from an open window of the highest tower but the melody ends abruptly as legend has it that centuries ago a bugle player was shot through the throat with an arrow whilst in mid-note.
The basilica is well worth a visit and many visitors are a little surprised by the colourful interior unlike the rather dark and modest colour schemes found in most churches.
At the altar is a stunning panelled sculpture by the artist Veit Stoss, a masterpiece of woodwork and artistry and is arguably one of the main reasons tourists flock to the church.
You can also climb up one of the towers to see the room where the bugler sounds the hejnal and from the window are stunning views over the square.
Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)
Smack bang in the middle of the main square is the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) a gothic building that dates back to the 14th Century. Jokingly referred to as the “oldest shopping mall in the world” the Sukiennice was originally a place for textile merchants to sell their goods. Today it is filled with stalls selling souvenirs, jewellery and anything else that a tourist may want to purchase to remember their time in Poland.
There are also a small number of cafes within the perimeter of the Sukiennice as well as on one of the upper floors (where you will also find the Krakow National Museum).
The Town Hall tower
The third building that dominates the square is the town hall tower. The tower was once part of a much grander building that once served as the city’s town hall but after several fires and unsympathetic renovations the building was eventually demolished with the tower the only surviving remain.
The tower is said to lean by about 60 cm due to a severe wind storm that struck Krakow over three hundred years ago. There is an admission fee to climb the tower but in all honesty the view from the top isn’t really worth climbing the 100 or so stone steps. The windows are not easy to see through and couple with the fact the barriers and railings partly obscure the view then it’s probably worth avoiding.