Things to Do in Krakow
While not nearly as big as other archaeology museums in the world, that of Krakow’s has the particularity of being home to the world’s only Slavonic god to ever be unearthed – an 8-feet tall, 4-faced piece of stone. There are hundreds of other artifacts inside the museum, which offers fascinating information on the ancient people that once commanded Eastern Europe. The permanent collection consists of two exhibitions: one called Prehistory and the Early Middle Ages that focuses on the evolution of the Neanderthal cavemen to the early-medieval Poles, and another called Gods of Ancient Egypt displaying a mesmerizing collection of Egyptian antiquities. There is also a space reserved for temporary collections, which have gained quite a reputation throughout the years for being particularly interesting.
This church is one of the oldest stone-built religious buildings in all of Poland, with some of the eldest relics dating back to the 10th century. In fact, it has been around for so long that its floor is actually situated roughly two meters under the current level of the square, which was covered with different layers of pavement throughout the centuries. The church underwent several renovations according to the style that was fashionable from one era to the next, but it has remained relatively untouched since it was revamped in Baroque style in the 1610s. In opposition to the grand and voluminous St. Mary’s Basilica on the other end of the square, St. Adalbert Church is actually quite small and confined.
According to the legend, the church was erected on the site where St. Adalbert preached a famous sermon before he left on a mission to bring Christianity to Prussia that would lead him to his untimely and martyr death.
Found in buzzing Kazimierz’s former town hall—itself a creamy-hued Renaissance masterpiece—Krakow’s superb Ethnographic Museum (Muzeum Etnograficzne) should be on everyone’s itinerary. The museum covers the history and culture of rustic Poland through the ages, with detailed reconstructions of 19th-century peasant rooms, schoolrooms and rural kitchens. The museum also has a fine collection of traditional musical instruments, colorful folk costumes and day-to-day utensils used in leather making, wood carving and farming. The highlight of a visit, however, is the display of ornately decorated Nativity cribs called szopki, which are traditionally painted red, green and gold and resemble multi-tiered Orthodox churches.
Welcome to Jan Matejko’s universe! The famous artist, counted among the most famous Polish painters, is celebrated for his vivid depictions of political and military events inspired from Polish history. Some of his most famous works include the Battle of Grunwald, Union of Lublin, Rejtan, as well as several portraits of Polish kings, which are exposed in various National Museums across Poland.
The three-story town house is where the painter used to work and live, and has been transformed into a biographical museum in the late 1800s, shortly after his death. The house is still adorned with artwork commissioned by Matejko himself, which is now particularly valuable, seeing as he was quite the collector. Hundreds of objects and trinkets that belonged to Matejko, collected throughout the years, make up the relatively small but highly significant collection.
Krakow's CRICOTEKA Museum is a theater, exhibition space and bookshop dedicated to a bizarre brand of experimental theater and the local man who created it in 1955: avant-garde and controversial playwright, designer, director and artist Tadeusz Kantor. Visitors to the museum will walk through bizarre theater set designs with spooky mannequins, marionettes and costumes on display. There is also a gallery showing Kantor’s work in Ulica Sienna, which housed his theater company Cricot 2, as well as frequent temporary exhibitions of art inspired by his ideas.
A visit to the museum provides a change from the historical monuments and buildings of Krakow, showing a more contemporary side of the city. Visitors will enjoy the modern architecture of the museum—a former power station turned riverfront exhibition space with a rusted metal and black glass exterior—and great views of the city and Vistula River.
The Hipolit House is a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, containing recreations of townhouse interiors from the 17th to early 19th century. The house represents a typical home in Krakow from this time period. The outside of the building has a grand facade with a central entrance hall. A narrow staircase takes visitors to the upper floors of the three story house. Visitors can still see carefully preserved stucco decoration by Baldassare Fontana from the late 17th century on the first floor. The permanent exhibition, Bourgeois House, shows how the interiors of the homes changed over the centuries. Visitors can see from this exhibition how the former wealthy citizens of Krakow lived. Furniture, paintings, fabrics, decorations, antique clocks and watches, and a variety of other objects show how the inhabitants arranged their homes. Through these details, visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like for the upper class during the 17th to early 19th century.
Entirely dedicated to honoring Holocaust victims and celebrating Jewish culture of the former Austro-Hungarian region of Galicia through photographs, this museum features poignant and contemporary exhibits that will leave no one indifferent. It highlights a time in Poland when the Jewish community flourished, choosing to focus on what was and what remains, rather than on what was annihilated. The main exhibition, called Traces of Memory, presents the work of photojournalist Chris Schwarz and depicts what is left of the Austro-Hungarian’s heritage through photographs of cemeteries, houses, synagogues and other structures that are still visible today, and that once were at the heart of the Galician Jewish community; it also features video testimony of survivors. Additionally, the Museum also hosts two to three temporary exhibitions as well as concerts and other commemorative events.
More Things to Do in Krakow
The very aptly named museum, which is located inside Krakow’s famous Cloth Hall, does indeed focus on 19th-century Polish art, with thousands of paintings and sculptures on display – thus making it the largest of its kind in the world. As it mainly consists of donations from local collectors and artists, the exhibit is rather small in size when compared to other national galleries in the world but is nonetheless quite significant in terms of Polish art. The various artworks are scattered across four different “19th-century salon”-themed halls, each named after a prominent Polish artist and defined by a specific historical period.
The Bacciarelli Room is all about Classicist, Rococo and even late Baroque painters such as Bacciarelli himself, Grassi and Krafft, with a strong emphasis on historical and battle scenes.
The Archdiocesan Museum of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was originally founded in 1905, although not opened to the public until 1994. It was created to commemorate and advise the public of the artistic legacy of the Krakow bishopric. The buildings at 19 and 21 Kanonicza street that house the museum date to the late 14th century and today contains more than 600 works of art displayed in 16 rooms. The late Pope John Paul II, formerly known as Karol Wojtyla, resided there once as a young priest and again when he was the Archbishop of Krakow. The museum was named after him in 2005 and visitors are able to see the room where he lived from 1958 to 1967, as well as many of his personal effects, including his skis.
Museum displays showcase a variety of sacral art from the 13th to 18th centuries, including religious artifacts, sculptures and paintings. There is also a treasury of gifts presented to Archbishop from foreign heads-of-state and a set of furniture from 1905.
Located in what used to be a regional airport, the Polish Aviation Museum is indeed dedicated to old aircrafts, engines, and aviation history. The military airfield on which the museum is located is one of the oldest in the world, having been established by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1912. It was soon used to train crews and repair aircrafts throughout the war; it became a major Polish Air Force Base until World War II, during which it was used by Germans to supply the Eastern front.
The rather large collection consists of over 200 aircraft, including several unique and extremely rare models from World War I, as well as a massive collection of archives and photographs; it, therefore, doesn’t come as a surprise to know that CNN deemed it the world’s eighth best aviation museum in the world.
Often regarded as one of Poland’s finest artists, Jozef Mehoffer (who also happened to be a pupil of Jan Matejko) was a highly talented stained-glass artisan, whose works can now be admired in numerous churches in both Krakow and across Galicia. This is the house where he used to live and work until his death in 1946, along with other artists of the Young Poland movement at the turn of the 20th century.
The house is still decorated with Mehoffer’s tasteful Art Deco furniture, Japanese treasures, iconographic trinkets, and impressionist artworks; as such, it offers an authentic glance of what life was like in a bourgeois house at the time, kind of like a time capsule. The house itself is in remarkable condition and features hundreds of rose bushes; in fact, the Jozef Mehoffer House is known for its beautiful garden-café, Meho Café, one of Krakow’s best kept secrets.
Welcome to Poland’s only photography museum! Although modest in size, the Photography History Museum will captivate shutterbugs of both amateur and professional levels, with its fascinating exhibitions that relate the development and evolution of the eight art. It features several compact rooms filled with ancient cameras (over 500, to be exact), various antique pieces of equipment, historical photographs of Krakow, and even an old darkroom. It also boasts an extensive collection of rare photographs, some dating as far back as the turn of the century. As the only one of its kind in the country, the museum is famous for housing temporary exhibits by famous photographers from around the world.
Founded in 1364, Jagiellonian University is the second oldest university in Central Europe. While it has survived to celebrate its 650th jubilee in 2014, its history has been turbulent. After briefly collapsing in 1370, it was revived in 1400, and in the early 16th century, it enjoyed a golden age in the midst of the Polish Renaissance. However, the prestige of the university eventually declined as Poland’s position in Europe got worse and the country was partitioned multiple times. After nearly closing in the 19th century, the university then hosted major scientific achievements. It was then targeted by the Nazis, who sent dozens of faculty members to concentration camps and destroyed university libraries and laboratories. Jagiellonian continued to suffer under Communism, and it wasn't until Poland’s Communist government was overthrown that the university once again began to flourish. Today it is considered one of the top universities in all of Europe.
Remuh Synagogue (Synagoga Remuh), the smallest of the historic synagogues in Krakow’s historic Kazimierz district, was founded by Israel ben Josef in honor of his son, Rabbi Moses Isserles. The Jewish community began worshipping in the synagogue in 1558, and it’s one of only two active synagogues in the city, as well as the site of the last well-preserved Renaissance Jewish cemetery in all of Europe (Rabbi Moses Isserles is buried there).
Like many of Krakow’s religious buildings, Remuh Synagogue was used as a storehouse by Germans during World War II and looted of its ceremonial objects and furnishings, though the building itself was spared. The cemetery houses some of Poland’s oldest surviving tombstones.
Tempel Synagogue dates from around 1862 and was built by Krakow's Reform Jews. It is the only still functioning synagogue in Kazimierz, the Jewish area of Krakow which had its population decimated during World War II. The building is a Neo-Classical style with Moorish interiors. It was badly damaged during the war when the Nazi's used it to store ammunition, but it was repaired and services resumed after the war.
These days services are only held a few times a year, but the synagogue remains a place of worship. It also hosts concerts of Jewish and classical music. it is worth seeing for the contra st between the austere facade and the brightly decorated interior of gilded woodwork and ceiling, lit by stained glass windows.
Tucked away behind the flying buttresses of St Mary’s Basilica, the Maly Rynek is the baby brother of Krakow’s landmark Rynek Główny, just as beautiful but without the constant crowds. The oblong square is lined with townhouses painted in muted greens, yellows and reds, some with Baroque embellishments dating from the 17th century. The brick-red apse of the Church of St Barbara backs on to the piazza; with its origins in the early 14th century, it was Krakow’s Jesuit church for centuries and its interior has a mix of Gothic and Baroque architecture, several rare icons and an mournful sculpture depicting Christ in the Garden at Gethsemane.
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