Krakow from Up Above
What do you do in Kraków if you have seen most of its main sights, walked miles round the Old Town, eaten copious amounts of pierogi or escaped the low flying pigeons? Well, there are a few options here. You can either venture outside the city to explore the salt mines, Auschwitz or have a day trip to the Tatra mountains. You can also have a well deserved break and sit in one of the many summer gardens around the Market Square and watch the world go by or… you can get active and do something out of ordinary and climb a couple of the city’s old towers and admire the amazing views from up above.
The Tower of St Mary’s Church
The Mariacka Tower is the higher one of the two towers of the St Mary’s Church in the Market Square. It is the only one accessible to the tourists and is the one where every hour a hejnał or a bugle call is being played into the four directions. This tradition goes back to the 13th century when the tower was used as a watchtower to warn people against an impending danger. The tune being played stops abruptly as this is the moment the player got hit by an arrow which came from an enemy attacking the city.
To be honest this is the first time I have climbed the tower despite living in the city for 24 years. Yes, I am the one who used to pass the church nearly every day but it never occurred to me to do a touristy thing like this. And what a shame! The views are absolutely spectacular.
Now, here is my tip. There are only 10 people allowed to go up every 30 minutes. Don’t expect being able to pre-book the tickets or buy them online. The ticket office opens at 9am and you have to be pretty quick to get your timed slot as the tickets sell out before 12pm. They are quite pricy but at least you are safe in the knowledge that most of the money from the entrance fees in Kraków goes to the never ending restoration of the city.
271 Steps Up
I am not going to lie this climb is not for everybody. We were climbing in 27C heat and it was quite hard. The viewing platform is at 54 metres and there are 3 different staircases leading there with a total of 271 steps. There is a dizziness inducing spiral one first, then a wider wooden one allowing some breathing space before the last section done in a narrow and windy staircase. The effort however is well worth it as at the top you can admire 360 degree views of the city and these were breathtaking. All the streets and the main sights we go past every day seen from a completely different perspective. The symmetry of the streets, the colourfulness of the roofs and the contrast between the old and the new in the distance.
It is worth adding that all the windows that the trumpeter opens to play his hourly tune can be opened wide (waist level) and there is no safety net so be warned as it is high! My favourite was the southern view to the Wawel Castle as it looked so majestic towering above the city. It was also where we were going to climb our next set of steps.
The Castle on the Rock
The trip to Kraków cannot be complete without a visit to Wawel Castle. There is something for everybody here. Beautiful architecture, the royal state rooms, the legendary dragon’s den and the views of the Vistula river below. However, for me it is the castle cathedral that is the one not to be missed. Most of the Polish kings, queens and poets are buried here and it is a place history and art lovers would definitely appreciate; its stunningly intricate sculptures, the abundance of styles and the compelling history behind each tomb or chapel.
The Towers of the Royal Castle
The Zygmunt Tower is one of the three towers here but it is the best known one as it is the home of the famous Zygmunt Bell.
The climb is a bit trickier than the St Mary’s Tower as there are quite a few tight crossings, low beams and it is much darker. It definitely adds to the mysteriousness of the place and it is extra exciting for the kids. Also, there are not as many steps which is a bonus. The hard work of climbing up is rewarded by the sight of the very impressive Zygmunt Bell at the top which is regarded as a Polish national symbol and can only be heard during the main national and religious holidays.
There is only one big window here and there is a safety net in place this time which made me feel more relaxed with the kids. Even though the views are limited to the centre of the Old Town – the Market Square and St Mary’s Church these are still quite amazing. One more thing to remember before making the way down. Make sure you make a wish and touch the heart of the bell with your left hand… the old superstition says it will come true.
The kids were hungry for more!
We were actually going to stop our bird’s eye view trail of Kraków here. However, the kids insisted on finding some more towers to climb. It was definitely a different way of exploring the city which they had been visiting for the past 10 years and obviously they found it very enjoyable.
There are definitely more towers or monuments to climb and explore in Krakow. The two that we decided to visit are both in or in the vicinity of the Market Square so no extra travelling is required.
The Town Hall Tower is bang in the middle of the Market Square and it is the only thing that is left from the Town Hall built here in the 14th century. It is 70 metres high and has 110 steps leading to the top which were really high and steep but there were plenty of stops along the way. We really enjoyed the views from here as it was not too high and all the sights seemed within reach as shown in the picture of the Wawel Castle at the start of this post.
To finish our tour off we climbed the defence walls at the Florian’s Gate which used to be the main entrance to the Old City of Kraków. For hundreds of years the Old Town was surrounded by a moat and had 8 gates and 47 towers, however most of them were demolished in the 19th century due to high maintenance costs. The walk along the walls is not too long and it is not too high but it still gives a nice view of the whole Florianska street towards the Market Square.
If you can, climb up!
I have to say I feel quite accomplished that after so many years I have finally managed to explore all the sights I used to regularly walk past by or show to the tourists during my tour guide days. It was also a great fun for the kids.
It would probably not be on my priority list to climb St Mary’s Tower if I only had 3 days in the city but I would definitely put it on my to list if my stay in Kraków was a bit longer. I think seeing the city from a different perspective would just add to the experience of exploring this beautiful city.