In front of the entrance to the Wawel castle at the end of the Grodzka street stands a memorial cross erected in 1990 on the 50th anniversary of the massacre in the Katyn Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkov prisons and elsewhere of 21.768 Poles, mainly Polish officers in April 1940.
This mass murder was carried out by the Soviet secret police NKVD. It was a decision of Beria, approved and signed by the Soviet Politburo, including Stalin. As Polish university graduates were required to be reserve officers much of the Polish intelligentsia was murdered by the NKVD with a shot in the back of the head.
The mass graves in the Katyn Forest were discovered by the Germans in 1943. The Nazi's used it to discredit the Soviet Union. The Soviets denied but the revelation led to the end of diplomatic relations between Moscow and the London-based Polish government-in-exile.
The Soviet Union continued to deny the massacres until 1990, when it finally acknowledged the perpetration of the massacre by the NKVD.
Many cities, particularly those popular with tourists and visitors offer many tours. Some are unique, like Segway or by horse and cart, more often there are bus tours, but the best way to see a city is by foot. I have visited Krakow several times and I have taken a "Free" walking tour. The nature of a "Free" walking tour is that participants do not pay for the tour "up-front" but can join and leave at anytime they like and if they stay to the end, participants are "free" to tip the walk leader. This attracts "backpackers" and low on a low budget, but also tourists also join the tour, as the tour leaders are often local people who simply love their city. Krakow's Free Tour guides have to pass an exam in Polish and to be registered guides before they can offer to be a guide.
The tour in Krakow starts at Mariacka (St Mary's Church) around the same time that the "hynel" can be heard. This is the trumpeter calling to the four corners of the city. The tours passes through the old town, university, and to Wawel Castle in the morning and an afternoon tour passes through the city and covers the Jewish area of Kazimierz and Podgorze. The guide often tells interesting stories, with some are of a more local interest (which would be known by those on official tours. Usually these tours end with a visit to a pub/restaurant, and they give participants and guide to get to know each other better.
Behind the crowded Rynek Glowny and Plac Mariacki you will find the very quiet Maly Rynek - the Small Market Square on the back of the St. Barbara's Church.
I'm tempted to call Maly Rynek the "Jesuits Rynek" because at nr 8 stands since 1615 an important building from the Jesuit's Society. On the right side of my photo the red tower is the back of the choir of St. Barbara's Church (Jesuit's church); the green building is the Jesuit house.
When the Jesuit order was dissolved in 1773 the building became an academic hospital and later a school. When the Jesuits order was resurrected in 1814, they took again possession of their house and the church.
I wrote this tip after my first visit in 2006 and I'd say exactly the same today.
Central historical Krakow is very walkable indeed and one sees so much more like this (although rickshaws, buggies and carriage rides abound). It's flattish, the pavements (sidewalks) are in reasonable condition despite the harsh Polish winters, everything is fairly close together, it feels very safe indeed (including after dark and including for a solo middle-aged female), the traffic in the non-pedestrianised parts is remarkably light for a city, snow and ice are quickly cleared away or sanded (as I discovered on my most recent March visit)............and you can easily (and cheaply) get a bus or tram back to base.
Even with no Polish it's easy to find your way around. The old city is laid out on a grid, which helps massively, and is encircled by the Planty gardens. When you reach the Planty, you know you are on your way into or out of the historical centre! The Tourist Office has free street plans and the street names are clearly signposted.
There are plenty of information boards dotted about too, with English translations, so there is really no excuse for not taking time out to wander, look, watch and absorb........and always make sure that you look up! :-)
I had read about the free walking tour of Krakow before I left but the daily 11am tour just didn't fit into our plans. But we happened on the end of the tour when we spotted a fellow VTer by his groovy bright blue backpack and joined for the last 15 minutes of the tour and then they announced there was another tour of the Jewish quarter at 3pm, also free.
You meet in front of St. Mary's in Krakow's main square and find the guy holding the free walking tour sign for both tours, the Jewish Quarter tour really starts about a 15 minute walk away in Kazimierz. Our tour lasted for almost 3 hours and took in all the sights in Kazimierz, over the river to where the Jews were moved to the ghetto during WWII and finally to Oskar Schindler's factory. Our guide Pawel, a young man of 24, was extremely knowledgable on the subject matter and of Krakow in general, they are licensed guides so don't think that free=crap. At the end of the tour he passes around a bag for tips which is how they earn their living so tip generously if you enjoy the tour.
The Jewish Krakow tour isn't listed on their website but on the brochure they handed out it says it goes daily at 3pm from March 1-November 30
The main idea Free Walking Tour Krakow is to create such a professional tour in which clients decides on the cost. Tour guides work only for tips so if somebody will not like our tour or simply won’t have any money. But if clients enjoyed it and think that the idea is welcome, then all support is very much welcome. The tips are also the best feedback about the quality of tours.
All of Free Walking Tours are in english and all of our tour guides are licensed and have rights to guide in english.
Every single day at 11:00 am Krakow Free Walking Tour is organized. Meeting point is in front of the Saint Mary's Church, on the Main Market Square.
Weather doesn't matter - tours are going in the rain, snow even -20 degrees Celsius.
Free Walking Tour Krakow is great opportunity to learn about Krakow's history and see the most important site and monuments, such as:
-medieval city walls
-St Mary’s Church
-Main Market Square
-John Paul II sites
-the Wawel castle and cathedral
-the „Schindler’s List” sites
-Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter.
Like any city, Krakow is best explored on foot. With the city escaping World War II relatively unscathed, there are great buildings down nearly every street. Just a short walk from Rynek Glowny, the 14th-century Florian Gate is the only survivor among Krakow’s original eight gates. Located just beyond the Florian Gate, the Barbican is a defensive bastion built in 1498. Exploring these historically significant sites and the many medieval churches dotting Krakow is an enjoyable way to escape the large crowds of tourists.
The Main Square is used by all inhabitants of the city,
even in the middle of winter it was full of life and
it's nice to be there when there are not hoardes of tourists.
It’s the main tourist attraction in Krakow, and even so one
can still get a feel of the place standing there looking
at the fantastic buildings and churches.
The cobbled stoned streets leading into the square
and the surface of the main square flagged by smooth stones.
People can move on its surface basically in every
direction and thus are able to find easily its wonderful features.
Usually it's only accessible on foot.But you will notice lines of taxis
parked in some of the streets leading out of the square.
Krakow's streets are magnificently lighted up at night with orangey-champagne streetlights. I literally brought myself back in time as I roam the streets, it was just absolutely undescribable. Like a hundred times more than super-fantastic! The castle, the churches, the trams and those little shops along the street. Magical...
Not only is much of Krakow's Old Town charming, so are the surrounding areas with their Victorian architecture, some of which hasn't fully awoken from a Communist-era stupor, giving the buildings an almost "artsy" sense of decay. I've put together a travelogue on the various side streets.
i think you should set aside some time to just wander lazily about the old town. like, don't even think about what everything is or constantly consult a guidebook... just wander around pointlessly without the aid of a guidebook and soak in the beautiful architecture.
The Old Town was located in present shape in XIII century. It is sorrounded by Planty- the green belt, one of the most romantic XIX-century park which is situated in a place where madieval city walls used to be. The big building with red roof on the bottom of the picture is Wawel Castle with Cathedral. The straight street which leads from Wawel to Market Square is Grodzka Street. Walking in this area and discovering narrow streets, dozen of churches and cosy caffes is really marvellous expierience.