Rynek Główny, also known as the Main Market Square, is the true heart of Krakow. Since ancient times, it has served as the city’s central square, bustling with life at all hours, offering an array of craft shops, excellent restaurants, cozy cafes, and housing the most iconic monuments of the area.
Krakow’s Main Market Square will be your primary reference point for exploring the city, as it is ideally situated in the center of Krakow’s Old Town. From here, you can conveniently access all the main attractions. And visiting the Main Market Square during the Christmas season, adorned with its festive markets and stalls offering delicious local street food, will undoubtedly make you fall in love with this vibrant place.
What you will find in this guide about Krakow’s Main Market Square:
- Rynek Główny, the Krakow Main Market Square: History and Interesting Facts
- Krakow Main Market Square: Things to Do & See
Rynek Główny, the Krakow Main Market Square: History & Interesting Facts
Krakow’s Main Market Square is one of Europe’s largest medieval squares, measuring approximately 200 x 200 meters, and holds the distinction of being one of the first sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Its origins can be traced back to the mid-13th century when Krakow was a significant crossroads for ancient trade routes. After the Mongol invasion devastated the city, a decision was made to rebuild it following the characteristic grid pattern typical of medieval cities, with the Main Market Square at its heart.
The name Rynek Główny – meaning Main Market Square – reflects its historical role as a meeting place for local and foreign merchants who traversed the ancient routes connecting the East with Europe. The Market Square bustled with a wide array of goods, ranging from fabrics and carpets from Persia and the Ottoman Empire to Baltic amber and spices from the Far East, as well as local food products and salt from the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Even today, the Gothic Cloth Hall situated in the center of the square hosts numerous souvenir stalls and local handicraft shops selling fabrics, carpets, and amber.
Aside from being a bustling marketplace, the Krakow Market Square also served as the focal point of city life. Here, the Town Hall and St. Mary’s Basilica, the most important church in Krakow, stood. Public speeches, executions, and punishments, common occurrences in the Middle Ages, also took place here. Rynek Główny’s strategic location places it on the Royal Route, the main street of Krakow’s Old Town, linking the St. Florian’s Gate and the Krakow Barbican to the Wawel Castle. The square witnessed solemn processions, military parades, tributes to kings, and other events significant to Poland’s independence.
Over the centuries, the Main Market Square has evolved into the captivating sight it is today. During the 18th and 19th centuries, some structures, like the Town Hall (of which only the tower remains), and stalls were demolished. Nevertheless, the square reached its heyday, now encircled by magnificent historic townhouses and ancient churches. Despite these changes, a few remnants of its bygone era have survived to the present day, such as the horse-drawn carriages, which have become an iconic and highly popular attraction for tourists.
Krakow Main Market Square: Things to Do & See
Kraków Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)
The most iconic building in Krakow’s Main Market Square is undoubtedly the Kraków Cloth Hall, whose Polish name is Sukiennice. The Cloth Hall dates back to the Renaissance, and was the place where traveling merchants and traders met to haggle and trade goods.
Its warehouses were filled with goods from the East, such as silk, leather and spices that were exchanged for local products, such as textiles, lead and salt. Today it houses stalls selling souvenirs and crafts, textiles and amber jewelry, while on the upper floor is the Sukiennice Museum, a branch of the National Museum that houses the largest collection of 19th-century Polish art.
Rynek Underground is a captivating museum that was inaugurated in 2010. Nestled beneath the vibrant Krakow Main Market Square, this hidden gem offers a unique opportunity to delve into the rich history of the square and the Old Town, and gain insight into life in ancient times. Through its impressive permanent exhibitions, visitors can embark on a journey through the past, unearthing the secrets of this remarkable city.
One of the museum’s main highlights is the collection of interactive installations strategically placed along a well-defined path. These installations provide an up-close look at the fascinating archaeological excavations of the old market square, revealing layers of the city’s past that have been preserved for centuries.
It is highly recommended to opt for a guided tour. A knowledgeable guide can infuse the experience with captivating stories, historical context, and little-known facts. Without a guide, the experience might be somewhat lackluster, as the true significance of the artifacts and excavations could be easily overlooked.
St. Mary’s Basilica
St. Mary’s Basilica is undoubtedly one of the most renowned buildings in Krakow, holding great significance as the primary church alongside the Wawel Cathedral, the ancient Royal Cathedral. This magnificent masterpiece of Polish Gothic architecture dates back to the 14th century, with its foundations laid in the 13th century. It boasts asymmetrical towers, with the tallest one soaring 80 meters above the city, adding to its distinct charm.
Once you step inside, you’ll be captivated by the famous altarpiece, known as St. Mary’s Altar, crafted by the sculptor Veit Stoss between 1477 and 1489. It holds the distinction of being the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world, making it a truly priceless artistic treasure cherished by Poland.
Make sure not to miss the enchanting Hejnał Mariacki (St. Mary’s Trumpet Call), a traditional anthem played every hour from the pinnacle of the tallest tower of St. Mary’s Basilica. It’s an experience that adds a magical touch to the atmosphere of the city.
Town Hall Tower
The Town Hall Tower is the lone tower that stands in the middle of Krakow’s Main Market Square, and is the only remnant of the old Kraków Town Hall that was demolished in 1820.
This beautiful Gothic tower dates from the 14th century and stands 70 meters tall. A curious fact is that the tower leans just 55 centimeters as a result of a storm in 1703. On the top of the Town Hall Tower there is an observation deck: you can go up and enjoy a nice view of the Market Square and St. Mary’s Basilica.
Church of St. Adalbert
The Church of St. Adalbert is a true jewel nestled in the heart of the Rynek Główny. This small church boasts a rich history spanning over 1000 years, having been constructed in the 11th century. It stands as an excellent example of Polish Romanesque architecture from the early Middle Ages and remains one of the oldest stone buildings in Poland, although its present appearance is masked by stucco. This can be attributed to a 17th-century restoration, which imbued the structure with a baroque aesthetic.
You can easily locate this historical gem at the intersection of Krakow’s Main Market Square and Grodzka Street.
Adam Mickiewicz Monument
The large statue dedicated to Adam Mickiewicz, the greatest Polish Romantic poet of the 19th century, dates back to the late 19th century and is considered one of the most renowned monuments in Poland. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, Krakow’s Market Square was infamously renamed Adolf Hitler-Platz, and unfortunately, the statue, along with many other elements of local culture, was destroyed. However, in 1955, it was admirably reconstructed using most of its recovered pieces, which were found in a scrap metal heap in Hamburg.
Today, the statue serves as a prominent meeting point, and it is from here that most city tours and pub crawls depart. It holds a significant place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike, honoring the legacy of Adam Mickiewicz and symbolizing the resilience of Polish culture and heritage.
Ancient Houses of Krakow’s Market Square
The Krakow Main Market Square is adorned with ancient and elegant townhouses, each showcasing true masterpieces of Polish Baroque architecture. These exquisite buildings stand as a testament to the rich history and artistic heritage of Krakow.
Every house in this square holds its own captivating history, embellished with intriguing legends and adorned with small artistic masterpieces displayed on their facades. Exploring the Rynek Główny on a guided tour offers a fascinating opportunity to delve deeper into the enchanting stories and architectural wonders that grace this iconic location, often hailed as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Immerse yourself in the allure of Krakow’s past and the splendor of its well-preserved Baroque architecture as you uncover the secrets that lie within these timeless townhouses.
Things to see and do around Krakow Market Square
The Rynek Główny is undoubtedly the most famous landmark in Krakow, situated right in the heart of Stare Miasto, the Krakow Old Town. From here, you can conveniently access many of the most interesting districts, best museums and attractions that Krakow has to offer, including Kazimierz and the Wawel Castle.
☞ Be sure to check out our must-read list of the Best Things to Do and See in Krakow
The Main Market Square serves as the starting point for two of the main streets in Krakow’s Old Town: Florianska Street and Grodzka Street, both of which are lined with restaurants, shops, pubs, and clubs. The best way to experience the Main Market Square is by taking guided tour of Krakow’s Old Town. Alternatively, there are also excellent free walking tours available! For those interested in Krakow’s culinary delights, consider joining one of the city’s best food tours or pub crawls, which conveniently depart from this lively hub, adding to the city’s vibrant nightlife.
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