I’m always looking for simple ways to engage everyone in the experience when we travel as a family. If you’re looking for things to do in Krakow with kids, I have an easy one for you. It will keep the littles interested while you see the sights, add magic to the experience for anyone (even if you don’t have kids), and maybe even give you a not well-known place of interest to see while you’re there! Sound good? Let’s go!
Last October when we went to Krakow, we brought a hand-me-down book called “Legends of Old Cracow”. I read the legends out loud in the car, as we drove down to the city. Polish culture is a tapestry of history and religions, landscape, and nature, changing borders and governing rulers. Much of it colored with legend and superstition. Krakow is an incredible city where this culture is all gorgeously woven together. The legends offered interesting background, added a little magic to what we were about to see and even gave us a few sights to seek out, that we would have otherwise never known.
One of my favorite travel memories to-date, is Miles walking through Krakow with the book open, “reading” (making up) legends out loud as we went along. He took his legends very seriously, which made the nonsense coming out of his mouth even more hilarious. It worked for our four-year-old, but I feel like coloring your own trip to Krakow with its legends would be a great strategy for families traveling with children of all ages. Everyone likes magic, after all.
There are dozens of legends, but here are three of our favorites. You might be familiar with one, or two of them. For your own copy and more Legends of Old Cracow, click here. https://www.amazon.com/Legends-old-Cracow-Ewa-Basiura/dp/8390153106
The Legend of the Dragon
Of course, when you go to Krakow you must go visit the dragon. He is a legend in himself. He lives in a cave under Wawel castle, and comes out during the daytime to stand next to the Vistula river and breathe fire into the air at given intervals. If they aren’t terrified, your kids will love it.
The dragon has lived under Wawel Castle for hundreds of years. The current dragon must be a cousin of the original dragon, because the original dragon is dead. Legend has it, that the dragon appeared in the cave one dark night. It was a very hungry dragon and terrorized the people of the region, eating their cattle and sheep, and the people themselves if they wandered too close. Obviously this was a problem, and the reigning Prince Krak needed the dragon dead. So he held a competition. Whomever killed the dragon, would win the hand of his beloved daughter in marriage and half his kingdom. Classic. Brave knights and warriors came from afar, but none could slay the dragon. The people of Krakow were distraught.
Then, the shoemaker offered to do the deed. He seemed an unlikely champion, but he killed a ram and filled it with sulphur. Then he sewed it up and sneakily placed it outside of the dragon’s cave. The hungry, greedy dragon couldn’t resist the ram “grazing” outside, and gobbled it down. The dragon became so thirsty, he threw himself down at the river and started drinking. He drank more and more, trying to quench his thirst, until he was extremely bloated and exploded with a bang. Boom. Dead.
Prince Krak kept his word and as his reward, the shoemaker married the princess, received half the kingdom, ruled justly, and they all lived happily ever after, as far as I know. It is said that the shoemaker used the dragon’s hide to make shoes, and that if you’re lucky you might find an old pair in a shop in Krakow.
The Legend of Saint Mary’s Trumpeter
You might know this one, it’s likely the most famous of the legends of Krakow. A trip to Krakow would be incomplete without a visit to Market Square to hear the trumpeter trumpeting from the high tower of Saint Mary’s Church. The trumpet melody is played every hour, cut off halfway through a long-note, abruptly ending the song. Historians have failed to give good reason for the half-melody, and where they failed to produce good reason, legend took over.
During the first Tartar invasion the Polish army tried to stand up to them in the east, but were defeated, leaving the country open for the invaders to move west toward Krakow. On a foggy night, under the shroud of the mist, the invading Tartars krept closer. The Polish army defending the city felt a false-sense of security under the fog and they all slept, including the watchmen. Only one lone watchman stayed awake, the trumpeter in the higher of the two towers in Saint Mary’s Church. He kept vigil all night, and at dawn, squinting through the fog, he spotted the Tartar army surrounding the city, ready to attack. The trumpeter didn’t have time to wake the other watchmen. He took up his trumpet and sounded the alarm. The Tartars unleased a swarm of arrows toward the trumpeter upon the tower, yet he kept playing. One bowman took careful aim and shot an arrow upwards, it pierced the neck of the trumpeter, and the rest of his melody remains trapped in this throat forever.
The trumpeter is commemorated for his bravery and warning to the city to this day, as his half-finished melody is played every hour from the tall tower of Saint Mary’s Church.
The Legend of Queen Jadwiga’s Footprint
On the corner of ul. Karmelicka and ul. Garbarska are situated the Carmelite Church and Monastery. A tiny footprint is embedded in an outside wall of the church. It is said that it belongs to Queen Jadwiga, and has been there for over 600 years. The legend tells us how the queen’s footprint came to be marked in the wall of this ancient church. You can find it at the Carmelite Church on the corner of the mentioned streets Karmelicka and Garbarska, protected behind a set of iron bars.
The church took a long time to build, and the Queen and her ladies would frequently pass by to watch the bricklayers working and see the progress on the walls being built. They would talk to the workers, who became fond of the Queen and her company. So much so, that they would work more and more eagerly.
One day, the Queen noticed a worker weeping as he laid his bricks. She went to talk to him and discovered his wife was ill, and he was worried that he could not take care of the children and afford a doctor, or medicine for his wife. The good Queen took pity and wanted to help the man. She placed her foot on the block of stone he was hewing, and unfastened the gold buckle from her shoe, giving it to him. He knelt at her feet in thanks, and noticed that on the stone block where the Queen had just placed her foot, her footprint was visible, clearly imprinted in the stone.
All the workmen came to see the miracle. They declared that the goodness of the Queen was so great it could soften stone. They cut the footprint from the rock and built it into the wall of the church. Despite damage and repairs to the church from wars and cataclysms, it has remained preserved throughout the centuries.
There are dozens of legends surrounding Krakow, and even more from all over Poland. They add intangible flavor to Polish history and culture. Make sure to include some of them in your trip to Krakow, with, or without the kids. Be sure to share this with anyone you know who is traveling to Krakow!
For your own Legends of Old Cracow book, click here. More family travel tips to get you out there together, here and here! For daily adventures in Poland and beyond, be sure to explore with me on Instagram @exploremore.co