Krakow Squares - Krakow
Not only the Main Market Square...
Krakow Squares is Best For
Directions to Krakow Squares
The heart and soul of Krakow is the Main Market Square, the largest in Europe and arguably the most beautiful, extending over 200 square meters right in the middle of the Old Town. Gracing the centre of the square is the elegant Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), packed with colourful booths displaying Polish specialties such as amber jewellery, painted wooden eggs, embroidered blouses and crystal glasses. Ringed around the square are colourful façades of Renaissance buildings, with café tables spread out along the perimeter, horse-drawn carriages sweeping past, and the hejnal bugle call ringing every hour from the high towers of the Mariacki Church at the north-east corner. This is undoubtedly the centre point of any tour around the city and by far the best-known of all Krakow's beautiful squares, but it is by no means the only one worth visiting.
As you move away from the noise and bustle around the entrance to the Mariacki Church, you'll find yourself passing through a simple, low white archway onto a peaceful stretch of cobblestone bordered by benches, fairytale lanterns and a long modern fountain at one end. This miniature version of the main square is, in fact, called the Maly Rynek (Little Market), and was once the site of a meat market. In more recent years it served as a car park, but in 2007 was renovated and is now open only to pedestrians, with cafés along three sides offering a quiet spot for a cold beer under the summer sun.
North of the Main Market Square is another newly renovated square, Plac Szczepanski, which was unveiled in the summer of 2010 with new benches, flowerbeds and an elaborate fountain set against the backdrop of the art nouveau Palac Sztuki (Palace of Arts), spurting jets of water from the ground in irregular patterns, to the delight of barefoot children in the summer heat. Since the renovations have removed a lot of the traffic, this square has become another pleasant spot to sit at a sidewalk café for an afternoon drink.
Just north of the Old Town, across from the Barbakan and the remnants of the city walls, lies the elegant Plac Matejki, named after the famous painter. Its central point is a grand monument to the victorious battle at Grunwald in 1410, depicting King Jagiello on horseback; at the foot of the monument lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Recent renovations have added picturesque lanterns, benches and a wide bike-path, making this a pleasant place for a stroll or a rest. Just round the corner is Rynek Kleparski, the main market of what was once the village of Kleparz when it lay beyond Krakow's city walls. This crowded, noisy and colourful market is the best place in the city to buy fresh produce, household gadgets, cheap clothing and just about anything you can think of.
Off the north-east corner of the Old Town is the main train station, also recently renovated, its former car park and bus station turned into a vast open square - Plac Jana Nowaka-Jezioranskiego (named after the journalist and resistance fighter) - bordered on the north end by the glass-panelled front of the massive shopping centre Galeria Krakowska. In wintertime a skating rink and giant Christmas tree are often set up here.
Plac Nowy is the central point of the Kazimierz district, with all the magic of the main market square but in an entirely different style. A narrow, uneven road and jumble of old buildings skirt this marketplace which is cluttered from the early hours of the morning with over 300 different stalls, and crowded from the early hours of the evening with energetic crowds enjoying the area's busy nightlife. All around the square are some of the best-known bars in Kazimierz, each with its own unique style; at the centre stands the 'okraglak', the rotunda once used as a poultry slaughterhouse that now dishes up the best zapiekanki in town - long loaves of bread sliced down the middle and grilled with cheese, mushrooms and many other delicious toppings - from its circle of little windows.
Ulica Szeroka (Wide Street) is not technically a square but, as the name implies, is wide enough to be one, located just a hop away from Plac Nowy in Kazimierz, with two old synagogues and many fine Jewish restaurants along its perimeter. On the other side of Kazimierz lies Plac Wolnica, the former main square of Kazimierz, with its elegant central building, the former town hall, now housing the ethnographic museum. This wide, untouched space remains quieter and less popular than many other Cracovian squares, its sidewalk cafés offering a lovely view of the towers of Corpus Christi church.
Furthest afield is Plac Centralny, the grand central hub of Nowa Huta's oldest district, presenting a backdrop of stark, geometrically aligned housing blocks built to the proportions of the ideal modern city in the early 1950s. Five wide boulevards fan out from the central patch of lawn, now a busy looping intersection for the city tram lines. From the south side of the square, a beautiful vista stretches down over unspoilt green hills to the neighbourhoods below, the horizon broken by nearby smokestacks and dotted with late-20th century apartment block towers.
Apart from these essential points on any tourist trail, Krakow is dotted with many tiny squares, old and new, paved, tree-lined, some clogged with cafés, some backed against parks, most graced by monuments of important figures from local history, all offering a spot to rest on a quiet bench and admire the fine details of the city's exquisite architecture.