Krakow has a long and rich history, from the ancient Stone Age times to today’s cosmopolitan European city with over 14 million tourists a year pre-pandemic times. The tourist trade is gradually recovering and this enchanting city is abound with treasures from past periods and monuments dedicated to Krakow’s sons and daughters who brought the city fame as well as notoriety. Krakow was the capital of Poland and still remains the Royal City with all the Kings and Queens interred in Wawel Cathedral along with Poland’s Heroes. The Royal Route through Krakow from St. Florian’s Gate to Wawel Castle and Cathedral is a popular tourist attraction to enjoy aboard the elegantly decorated horse and carriages.
Krakow has two main areas, the Old Town which was the all important silk trade capital of Europe in the 12th century, even today the grand Sukiennice, Cloth Hall that saw nobles, royalty and merchants lodge there is open to the public situated in the largest square in Europe called Rynek Glowny, Draper’s Square in English. A short walk from the Old Town, over the Vistula River is the celebrated Kazimierz area or Jewish Quarter which was a separate town in the past, King Casimir the Great decreed that the area be for the Jewish settlers who contributed to the Krakow economy. Kazimierz reflects the Jewish way of life in architecture, heritage and entertainment.
If you’d like to find out more about Krakow tour attractions and sights, check out momondo’s Krakow Guide for travel inspiration.
Many festivals and events take place in Krakow and mainly on the square, Rynek. One of the biggest is the Dragon Parade.
- Great Dragon Parade, in early June thousands of schoolchildren proudly pull and push their dragon float around the city’s walkway, Planty to then gather on Rynek and await the decision of the judges for the best dragon. On the following day there is a community picnic held on the banks of the Vistula River. The celebration is dedicated to the legend of the Wawel Dragon that supposedly resided under Wawel Hill in a cave which you can explore when visiting the city. The folklore story is embedded in the roots of the city and its people. The dragon terrorised the townsfolk and was defeated by a wily shoemaker who fed the dragon a sulphur filled sheep which exploded in the dragon’s stomach when it drank water. Earliest mention of the Wawel Dragon was recorded near the end of the 12th century.
- Easter Festival or Misteria Paschalia, is a most important religious celebration in Poland and Krakow pays homage to it. Again, on Rynek the stalls offering all kinds of artisan products ranging from decorated eggs to fine sheepskin coats during the Holy celebrations. On Easter Monday the medieval game of Smingus-Dingus is enacted whereby the younger generations have water fights, it is a ritual to declare your love or fondness to another person. Undoubtedly, Easter for Poles is a big occasion and Palm Sunday you will see homemade palm trees and decorated pisanki (eggs) being taken to a church in order to be blessed and bring family harmony.
- Juwenalia, this word is similar to juvenile and as this infers a certain kind of behaviour this festival certainly perpetuates it. Juwenalia follows on from the Easter fair and holy celebrations where Krakow’s student population take control of the city for a day. The ‘keys to the city’ are handed over to a nominee and all crazy and absurd activities become the norm. Live music, parties along with exhibitions, theatre and plenty of boozy fun. The resident Lord Mayor officially starts the fun festival in Rynek and approximately 30,000 students in fancy dress wade in to a raucous weekend of complete abandon or partying going on all over Krakow. Juwenalia has been celebrated for over 60 years and it is said to derive from the 600th anniversary of the Jagellonian University but some say it was inspired by Emperor Nero when he allowed such similar frivolity in 59AD to celebrate cutting his beard for the first time, however, Juwenalia is a tiring but satisfying weekend for students and alike.
- Let us not forget Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, every year since 1988 the Jewish Culture Festival is held in July. Jewish Culture Festival, JCF, In Kazimierz in early July the JFC puts on around 300 events over 2 weeks to highlight its culture, history and tasty food. There is something for all ages to enjoy from parties, live music, seminars, workshops and theatre plus the famous Cheder Café where it all began. The JCF has grown in importance throughout the world and attracts thousands of visitors for the occasion. As JCF tradition holds the last day of the festival see the live music concert in Szeroka St. with many international bands and soloists taking part.
- Wianki Festival, originally a Pagan ritual of young nubile girls floating flower wreaths down the river in the night to the waiting young men treading water to catch them and find their future betrothed. The wreaths had candles burning to see them in the darkness. Although today in modern times wreaths are released on the river it has transformed into a weekend of music and light with a series of music concerts featuring national and internationally known artists. The festival usually takes place annually in July/August and draws a huge crowd of music lovers to the many different venues holding concerts with the largest one staged on Rynek. On most of the dates Wianki Festival coincides with the Krakow Rugby Festival, which gives you a great chance to participate in 2 great events during one weekend.
Krakow, practically, has a festival dedicated to every single genre nearly e very day of the year, film, literature, poetry, theatre, architecture, pierogi and food in general, to name but a few, the list is infinite. Krakow, its culture and vibrant atmosphere will hold you spellbound for whatever reason you decided to visit this compact and buzzing central European city easy to reach and hard to forget or, indeed, leave.