St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow with its imposing red brick facade and its artistic treasures is one of the most beautiful and important landmarks of the city, as well as being one of the greatest examples of Polish Gothic art and architecture. With its iconic asymmetrical towers stands tall in the stunning Main Market Square and houses several notable artistic masterpieces, starting with the Altarpiece by Veit Stoss, which is as tall as a four-story building.
Its interiors feature frescoes, stained glass windows and finely decorated vaults, the work of prominent artists Jan Matejko, Stanisław Wyspiański, and Józef Mehoffer, famous for being some of the most important masters of Polish neo-Gothic art. Picasso was once quoted as saying that St. Mary’s Basilica was “the eighth wonder of the world” and the historical, cultural and artistic importance of the basilica have earned it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its towers offer an unparalleled view over the city, and every hour you can attend the Hejnał Mariacki ceremony, a centuries-old tradition performed at the basilica every day and night, when a bugler plays this trumpet call marking the stroke of the hours.
Things to See and Do in Krakow’s St. Mary’s Basilica
St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow (Kościół Mariacki, in Polish) is the church located right next to Rynek Główny, the Main Market Square in Kraków. It is a masterpiece of Polish Brick Gothic, dating from the 14th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with the Old Town of Krakow.
Visitors are delighted by its external view: the imposing St. Mary’s Basilica with its two asymmetrical towers reaches 80 meters in height, and dominates the entire city. But its interior is absolutely breathtaking.
Visitors can enter from a side entrance, which allows access to the half of the church where the most important masterpieces are located. For this you will have to buy a ticket, better buy it ahead in time so as to avoid long queues.
The main entrance of the church, through a beautiful Baroque portal dating back to the 18th century, can be used by worshipers, to whom half of the church is reserved, where the chapels for prayer are located. Tourists are not allowed during mass.
The wonderful neo-Gothic interior of St. Mary’s Basilica
As soon as you enter the church you can admire the beautiful stained glass windows that illuminate the presbytery, dating back to the end of the 14th century. On the organ balcony is a wonderful art nouveau stained glass window, dating back to the restoration carried out in the 19th century by Polish artists Stanisław Wyspiański and Józef Mehoffer.
The Polish painter Jan Matejko, author of the neo-Gothic painted murals that adorn the vaults around the main altar, also participated in the same restoration.
Wooden Altarpiece by Veit Stoss
The wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss is the main masterpiece of St. Mary’s Basilica. The altarpiece was carved in the second half of the 1400s, by the German sculptor Veit Stoss, who lived and worked in Krakow for over 20 years to make it. For the work he received an enormous amount of money, equal to the entire 1-year budget of Krakow.
The Altarpiece by Veit Stoss in Kraków is a pentiptych, or a wooden altarpiece consisting of a central panel and two pairs of side wings, measuring 13 meters high and 11 meters wide.
The main scene, carved in precious lime wood and subsequently painted and covered with gold, represents the Dormition of the Virgin (or Assumption of Mary) surrounded by the Apostles. It is visible only when the pentiptych is open.
The side panels represent scenes from the life of Christ. On the sides of the Altarpiece by Veit Stoss there are the statues of the Patron Saints of Poland: St. Stanislaus and St. Adalbert. This majestic work is considered the most important medieval work of art in the country.
In 1941, during the Nazi occupation of Krakow, the altar was dismantled and shipped to Germany. It was found in 1946 hidden in the basement of the heavily bombed Nuremberg Castle. After his return to Poland, the altar was restored and put back in its place in the St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow about 10 years later.
The Bugle Tower and the Hejnał Mariacki
The Bugle Tower is the tallest in St. Mary’s Basilica, and is famous for the trumpet signal that a trumpeter sounds every hour from the top of the tower.
The trumpet signal, called Hejnał Mariacki or St. Mary’s Trumpet Call, is a traditional five-note Polish anthem, played since the 14th century to signal the opening and closing of city gates at dawn and dusk, or to warn of fires and other dangers, such as enemy attacks.
According to legend, during the Mongol siege of Krakow (which occurred in the 13th century), a sentry blew his trumpet from the top of the tower of St. Mary’s Basilica (the first version, which was destroyed by the Mongols and later rebuilt as it appears today) to warn of the enemy’s arrival, but was killed before completing the melody. This is why the Hejnał Mariacki is abruptly interrupted today when the trumpeter plays it.
Today St. Mary’s Trumpet Call is an element of Polish culture, it was also played on the battlefields (for example after the victory of the Battle of Monte Cassino, in World War II) or after the death of Pope John Paul II.
It is played every hour, from the highest tower of St. Mary’s Basilica hourly, towards the traditional 4 directions: for the King (towards Wawel Hill), for citizens (towards Market Square), for travelers (towards the Krakow Barbican) and for the Mayor (towards City Hall or Bishop’s Palace on Kanonicza Street). After playing, the trumpeter waves at the people in the square who are expected to wave back.
St. Mary’s Basilica Trumpet Call at noon is broadcast live on Polish National Radio 1, throughout Poland and the rest of the world.
The Bugle Tower is open to visitors from April to October from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9.10 AM to 11.30 AM and from 1.10 PM to 5.30 PM and on Sunday from 1.10 PM to 5.30 PM.
From the top of the tower you can have a nice view of the Main Market Square and Krakow’s Old Town.
To visit the Bugle Tower of St. Mary’s Basilica visitors must purchase a separate ticket (Adults PLN 15 / Children PLN 10, Children under 7 are not allowed for safety reasons). The number of tickets available is very limited (10 visitors every 30 minutes), and tickets cannot be purchased in advance.
To visit the lowest tower, the Bell Tower, tours are available by reservation only, from April to October, maximum 6 people per group. For reservations, you have to go to the tourist office of the St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow.
How to visit St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow: Tickets and Prices
You can visit St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow by purchasing a ticket at the ticket office located near the tourist entrance.
To avoid the long ticket lines, you can buy a skip-the-line ticket online. The price starts at just 16 PLN (€ 3.60 / £ 3.29).
If you have the City Pass Krakow Card you can visit St. Mary’s Basilica for free.
To find out more about St. Mary’s Basilica, you could visit it on a guided tour of Krakow’s Old Town. There are also excellent free walking tours: local guides will allow you to discover many more things about the local history and culture.
Visiting Hours of St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow
St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow can be visited all year round, from Monday to Saturday from 11.30 AM to 6.00 PM and on Sunday from 2.00 PM to 6.00 PM.
Things to see and do around St. Mary’s Basilica
Planning your trip to Krakow? Then these will come in handy: