The Main Square, Kraków (also known as the Rynek) is one of the most iconic features of the city. Covering a mega 40,000 square feet, it’s the vibrant epicentre of the town. Visitors will find it bustling with life at any time of the year. Summer sees the cafés fringing its edges come alive with drinkers and diners. Winter brings Christmas markets to the flagstones that issue the scents of gingerbread and mulled wine into the icy air.
To put it simply, no trip to Krakow could possibly be complete without a jaunt to this iconic plaza. In the heart of the Krakow Old Town district (the main area for sightseeing), it’s the perfect place to get your bearings and start exploring. But you should linger a while: There is loads to see and loads to learn on the square itself…
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What’s in this guide to the Krakow Main Square?
Where is the Main Square of Kraków
Right in the middle of it all! Seriously, Krakow – unlike Warsaw and a load of other medieval European cities – was left largely unscathed after WWII. That means the town has continued to grow outwards from its original layout, which was formulated more than 1,000 years ago!
To find the vast central plaza, you simply need to navigate to the heart of the Krakow Old Town. That shouldn’t be too difficult. The streets are laid out on a criss-crossing grid. Sooner or later you’re sure to take one that leads to the heart of the area. Alternatively, just ask – every local knows the spot you’re talking about.
The history of the Main Square Kraków
This spot has been the heart of the Krakow Old Town since the middle of the 13th century. Back then, Poland was recovering from damaging Mongol invasions. After the hordes retreated, an urban plan was laid out to rejig the city to encourage commerce. The result was the Main Square. Kraków expanded and grew considerably afterwards, and the plaza was at the centre of it all.
Now-iconic structures like the Cloth Hall and the great Town Hall (more on those later) were products of the economic boom that followed the laying of the square. They were additions by King Casimir III the Great in the 1400s, intended as a replacement for the ramshackle bazaars used by the traders in the century before.
But the Main Square was also meant to be much more than just a trading area. It was also strategically located on the so-called Royal Road. That’s the processional route that was taken by Polish kings and queens when they returned to the city. It leads all the way from the old Barbican on the north side of the Krakow Old Town and down to the Wawel Castle in the south. Consequently, you’re literally treading in the footprints of royals when you walk this part of the city!
Major sights and attractions on the Main Square, Krakow
The Main Square is a hodgepodge of must-see sights and attractions. We think it’s the single best place to begin a journey through the rich culture and history of the city. You can take in all the sights below in a single, cursory loop of the plaza…
St Mary’s Basilica
The great duo of towers of St Mary’s dominates the north-eastern side of the Main Square. Krakow has no more important a church. It’s steeped in history and ritual – just wait for the hour mark, when the municipal trumpeter plays a national tune to honour episodes from the medieval Mongol invasions. Inside the church, you can see a gorgeous altarpiece by Viet Stoss. It’s the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world, and really something to behold. The whole thing was stolen by the Nazis in WWII, but subsequently rediscovered in 1946 in the undercroft of Nuremberg Castle..
One thing you simply can’t miss on the Main Square is the Cloth Hall. Krakow has seen centuries of trade take place in this handsome structure. It looms right in the middle of the plaza and is part of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known as the Sukiennice in Polish, the building saw its heyday in the 1400s, when traders would sell everything from spices to silks sourced from the Far East and beyond. These days, you can head in to get your souvenirs. Everything from fridge magnets to traditional Polish costumes are sold within.
Town Hall Tower
A huge Town Hall complex once dominated the south-western side of the Main Square in Krakow. Sadly, centuries of conflagrations and reworkings have left just the tower. It’s still a gorgeous landmark. You’ll find it looming 70 metres overhead. Like Pisa’s, it has a slight lean on it, but nothing to stop you going inside and scaling the seemingly endless staircases. There are a few good photos to be had of the Main Square itself from the top, along with some traditional Polish folk costumes on display.
We’d say the Rynek Underground is up there with the most immersive museums in Krakow. You won’t be able to see it from the Main Square. That’s because it lies underneath the great piazza. The entrance in just inside the Cloth Hall. Then, you descend beneath ground to discover sprawling archaeological dig sites that reveal the medieval trading quarters of the Krakow Old Town. You’ll also be treated to exhibits that chronicle what life was like in the city during the Middle Ages. It’s got loads for kids and is generally a darn informative and exciting museum. Highly recommended.
Church of St. Wojciech
The south-eastern side of the Main Square is decorated with what a lot of people think is the most charming church in the city. Cute little green roofs converge on whitewashed Romanesque walls, heralding the pretty and compact Church of St. Wojciech. Archaeologists have discovered evidence that it’s among the oldest stone-built churches in all of Poland. It’s still used today, so be sure to respect any devotees heading inside.
Major Main Square Krakow events
Because of its size – the Main Square is said to be the largest medieval square in the world! – this central hub of the Old Town is an obvious place for events and markets. Check here to see if you can expect anything to be on during your city break.
Easter Market (April)
In the two weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, there’s a charming market on the Main Square, Krakow. It brims with seasonal flowers and traditional Polish decorations, like painted eggs and wood carvings. In the run up to the holiday itself, the market is also a stage for folk pageants and other religious processions. Fingers crossed it’s not raining, eh?
Lajkonik Parade (June)
One of the more unique Krakow traditions finds its way to the Main Square in June. It involves a dressed-up Mongol warrior on horseback (known as Lajkonik) moving from shop to shop in the Krakow Old Town, demanding a ransom of cash. It all dates from the 13th-century invasions, and it’s thought that paying your dues offers good luck and fortune for the year to come.
Great Dragon Parade (June)
The Great Dragon Parade of summer celebrates the founding myth of the city of Krakow. It involves big dragon kites and floats, along with big blowouts of fireworks along the Vistula River. Most of the action is centred down by the water and the Wawel Castle, but there’s often live music and some parades on the Main Square.
Krakow Christmas Market (December)
December sees the opening of the lovely Krakow Christmas Market. It’s a hubbub of quaint stalls that coalesces around the statue of Adam Mickiewicz on the east of the square. To say it gets busy is an understatement – the place is positively heaving. But that’s all part of the charm. You’ll smell cinnamon breads and sizzling Polish blood sausage as you walk. Meanwhile, the stalls sell baubles and keyrings and smoked mountain cheese. It’s the perfect place to get in the festive spirit, especially if there’s a little snow around!
Our pick of Krakow Main Square restaurants
If there’s one thing the Main Square in Krakow isn’t short of, it’s restaurants. Some of the town’s finest eateries and cafés sit just a stone’s throw from this central hub. They come in all shapes and sizes, from chic fine-dining joints to casual cafes that are perfect for a mid-sightseeing snack. Take a look at some of our favs…
Krowarzywa Vegan Burgers
Just stroll a little way up Sławkowska Street and you’ll soon come across Krowarzywa on the left-hand side. It’s a gourmet vegan burger joint that’s really made waves in recent years. Patties include seitan wheat and chickpea. Toppings are vegan cheese and hot chilli sauces. It’s a decent spot to eat in but we like grabbing a picnic to munch on the Main Square itself.
Sławkowska 8, +48 531 777 136
Fitagain Coffee & Food
A little walk down Szczepańska Street off the west side of the Main Square is Fitagain. It’s been a staple for health-conscious eaters in the town for years now. However, sourdough pizzas done in the Neapolitan style were a welcome addition to the menu. You’ve also got excellent craft beers and lovely coffee.
Szczepańska 7, +48 12 625 00 96
If you’re after a fine-dining outign that’s sure to get the romance a-going, Szara Resto&Bar is the pick. Recommended by the Michelin guide, this one offers up carefully planned plates of Polish and European fare. Expect hand-selected meats and creative seafood platters. There’s both inside and outside seating – inside is under grand vaulted ceilings done in the Gothic style. Stunning stuff.
Rynek Główny 6, +48 12 421 66 69
Our pick of Krakow Main Square bars
Krakow Main Square bars range from the elegant to the edgy. They represent an eclectic bunch of places to sit with a drink, and offer some of the best views in the whole city.
Hard Rock Café
Krakow’s edition of the famous global chain has a seriously cracking spot. Find it wedged into an old Renaissance palace on the north-east side of the Main Square, right under the gaze of famous St Mary’s Basilica. Granted, it won’t be the cheapest place to grab a drink in the city, but the views and the cocktails really are top-notch.
Main Market / Mariacki Square, +48 12 429 11 55
Czeczotka Cocktail Bar
Elegant and kitschy, sleek Czeczotka is a relatively new addition to the range of Krakow Main Square bars. Drop in for a meticulously mixed G&T or a lovely margarita when the sun’s shining. The windows offer great views of the Town Hall tower just across the cobbles.
ul. Św. Anny 2, +48 605 821 131
Buddha Cocktail Bar
Hiding through a centuries-old archway on the eastern side of the Main Square, Buddha is a curious drinkery that brings a taste of the Far East to its stylish cocktail areas. The speciality is mixed drinks – come for good happy hour deals on everything from white Russians to Long Island iced teas (ouch!).
Rynek Główny 6, +48 12 421 65 22
Harris Piano Jazz Bar
Harris Piano Jazz Bar is one of our all-time Krakow favourites. It’s had a long journey and been an incubator for some of Poland’s most famous jazz musicians over the years. Still going strong, you can descend into its smoky underground rooms on the south-western side of the square for an evening of plaintive saxophone and zingy violin. We’d recommend booking tickets in advance if you’re coming during the summer months.
Rynek Główny 28, +48 12 421 57 41
Where to stay to be close to the Main Square, Krakow
You might think that staying right on Main Square Kraków would be pricy. But there’s such a range of accommodation options here that you can usually find something to suit any budget. We’ve got a full guide to the top Main Square hotels, but we’ve included a few short suggestions below.
Hotel Wentzl ($$$)
Historic, opulent and immersive, Hotel Wentzl is all about offering truly royal service. Guests enjoy four-poster beds and rooms in a 15th-century palace. The best suites have windows that open straight onto the Main Square of Krakow.
Aparthotel Betmanowska Main Square Residence Adults Only ($$$)
You’ll feel like an A-lister staying in this chic aparthotel on the north side of the Main Square. The rooms face the Cloth Hall and the main St Mary’s Basilica, so views are stunning. Inside, they are uber-modern with spa baths and walk-in showers. Nice.
Meyo Apartments the Main Square ($$)
Bright, breezy and comfy, the Meyo Apartments could just be the best midrange option on the Main Square. They all come with self-catering facilities and spacious bedrooms. Some have backyard views, but the best of the bunch look over the south side of the Rynek itself. Try to pick one of those when you book!
Hostel Rynek 7 ($)
Watching the zloty? No worries – Rynek 7 Hostel has your usual mix of bunk beds in dorm rooms. Don’t expect anything fancy or gleaming clean. Do expect something super cheap that’s right on the Main Square, not to mention packed with other backpackers. Shared kitchen and nice common room included.
If you can think of anything to add to this ultimate guide to the Main Square Kraków, we’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below. It could be anything, from new bars to medieval sights.