Krakow is the second-largest city in Poland and the ancient capital of the historic Kingdom of Poland. It is considered one of the most stunning cities in all of Europe boasting some of Poland's most stunning architecture. Krakow is home to Wawel Royal Castle - the ancient seat of Polish kings and the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the world.

The Old Town of Krakow is one of Poland's top tourist destinations - and one of the most popular tourist destinations for people from all over Europe. It has a vibrant nightlife with many people coming from far and wide to party in the Old Town. For those traveling to Poland on a backpacking budget, there are also plenty of affordable hostels in the city - the best is one of Greg&Toms Hostel that offers nightly pub crawls, free breakfast and dinner, and even free beer.

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The Krakow Old Town

Krakow's Old Town is easily one of the most spectacular in Europe. One will find dazzlingly cathedrals, old cobbled streets, charming outdoor cafes, heritage horse and carriage rides, and hundreds of years of the richest Polish history. In the center of it all, is the largest medieval town square of any European city.

Krakow was the capital and center of Poland's political life from 1038 to when King Sisismund III Vasa moved his court to Warsaw in 1596 - a period of around 450 years.

  • Capital: Krakow Was the Capital Of Poland From 1038 to 1596
  • Polish Name: In Polish "Old Town" Is Called "Stare Miasto"

Today the Medieval Krakow Old Town is still surrounded by its 3 km (1.9 mile) long defensive wall. It is complete with some 46 towns and seven main entrances.

Notable Attractions In the Old Town:

  • Main Square: Called Rynek Glowny - The Largest Medieval Town Square of Any European City
  • St. Mary's Basilica: Ornately Decorated Roman Catholic Cathedral
  • The Walls: See the Medieval Walls Still Intact
  • The Barbican of Krakow: Built 1499 The Fortified Historic Gateway To The City
  • The Wawel Castle: The First World Heritage Site In the World

Related: 10 Best Places To Visit When You Travel To Poland

Wawel Royal Castle

Abutting The Old Town on a hill is the Wawel Royal Castle - one of the most famous castles in all of Europe. The Wawel Royal Castle is of deep historical importance to Poland and the whole complex is beautifully preserved today.

One can walk up through the wooden rafters into the bell tower and see and even touch the ancient multi-ton bells. It is a tradition in Poland to make a wish while touching the bells.

  • Coronation: The Ancient Polish Kings Were Coronated At The Wawel Cathedral
  • Tombs: The Royal Tombs Are In The Cathedral

Getting to the Wawel Royal Castle Is Easy. It is likely to be a 5 to 20-minute walk from one's accommodation in the center.

Related: How Warsaw Managed To Completely Rebuild Its Once Flattened Old City

Attractions Outside of Krakow

Krakow is also a base for exploring a number of attractions in the region. There are mountains and national parks to the south near Slovakia, but the two main attractions in the area are The Wieliczka Salt Mines and Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Wieliczka Salt Mine

A short drive (there are plenty of trains and buses there) is the ancient medieval Wieliczka Salt Mines. The three-hour guided tours into these massive salt mines that were mined for around 800 years. The mines are unfathomably large and descend deep underground. In the whole three hours of the tour, one will only see around 1-2% of the mines.

  • Max Depth: 1,073 feet or 327 meters
  • Full Length of Passages: 178 miles or 287 kilometers

During the tour, one will see long passageways, historic minding machinery, theatrical displays, underground lakes and brine pools, great chambers, salt stalactites, and even gift shops, restaurants, and cafés (where one stops for a break).

  • Duration: 3 Hours (In Two Segments)
  • Break: There Are 20-Minute Breaks At Underground Cafés and Souvenir Shops

Auschwitz - Birkenau:

Not all tourist attractions are joyous and happy places - some are outright heartbreaking. But in the case of Auschwitz, it is important to visit, hear the painful stories, and see the places where these unimaginable cruelties took place, so as to never forget.

It is often said that the only thing to be learned from history is that nothing is learned from history. But to ensure that such depravity never happens again, it is vital we never forget.

  • Auschwitz I: The Main Camp In Oświęcim (Termed Stammlager)
  • Auschwitz II-Birkenau: The Concentration Camp With Gas Chambers
  • Auschwitz III-Monowitz: A Labor Camp

There are guided tours through Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The tours last around three hours and cost around $20. There are plenty of transfer tours from Krakow to Auschwitz.