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Culture in Małopolska

Culture in Małopolska

A view of the Krakow Cloth Hall, a low, long, decorated building at night.
It would be no exaggeration to say that in Kraków and Małopolska, culture is almost as important as great food in Italy. Navigating the maze of museum attractions and countless festivals takes some practice, but with the right introduction and a focus on what you like the most, you can always find something for yourself among the vast offerings of local museums and cultural institutions. Many treasures can be found in Kraków’s museums, including the famous Lady with an Ermine, unique collections of artefacts of folk culture, musical events for all audiences, literary festivals, regular film screenings and new premières at Małopolska theatres, and with our mini-guide, getting to know the rich and diverse cultural life in Małopolska will be easier!

Even a short weekend trip to Kraków would not be complete without a visit to one of the numerous local museums. There are several must-see museums on any sightseeing tour. You should definitely check out the collections of the Wawel Royal Castle – we particularly recommend checking out the amazing temporary exhibitions devoted to the treasures found in the royal collection – the famous tapestries of King Sigismund Augustus, Turkish tents captured by Jan III Sobieski at Vienna, as well as Flemish paintings. If you are more interested in the most beautiful examples of medieval art from all over Małopolska, you should go and see the permanent exhibition at the Bishop Erazm Ciołek Palace in Kanonicza Street. Lovers of classical Polish painting of the 19th century should definitely put aside some time to visit the Cloth Hall Gallery, with the iconic Prussian Homage by Jan Matejko, while lovers of European art, spanning from antiquity to the early 20th century, should aim to take a closer look at the collection of the Princes Czartoryski Museum, featuring the Lady with an Ermine, a famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, purchased by Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski in 1788. If you are more interested in the life of the brilliant, versatile artist of the Art Nouveau era – Stanisław Wyspiański, you should visit a small branch of the National Museum in Sikorskiego Square. Contemporary art aficionados will surely enjoy a visit to the Gallery of Polish Art at the Main Building of the National Museum and the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the ever-changing post-industrial district of Zabłocie.

Some other key venues in Kraków include the International Culture Centre in the Main Market Square, with its carefully curated, cross-sectional exhibitions on the culture of Central European countries, the Underground Market Square, with a multimedia exhibition on the early days of the city at the foot of the Wawel Hill, the impressive collection of the Polish Aviation Museum, devoted to the history of aviation, and the most popular exhibition about one of the darkest chapters of our history – the Nazi occupation – in Schindler's Enamel Factory, made famous by Steven Spielberg's 1993 film. Kraków is also a city of photography and home to Poland’s only Museum of Photography. What is more, May is marked by the international Photography Month.

Some of the most famous museums in Małopolska include the Salt Mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia, as well as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial, documenting one of the darkest pages in human history. However, other towns and cities in the region are also home to various key museum collections. Make sure to visit the Tatra Museum in Zakopane and its branch in Villa Koliba, which is a model example of the Zakopane Style  – the Polish answer to the architecture of Alpine resorts. The museum also houses a valuable collection of paintings by Witkacy – an extraordinary pre-war writer and painter with quite an outstanding biography, as well as sculptures by Władysław Hasior. The District Museum in Tarnów is worth visiting for many reasons, chief of them being the world’s first permanent exhibition devoted to the culture of the Romani people, while the Nikifor Museum in Krynica-Zdrój is home to paintings of the outstanding primitivist of Lemko origin, whose works were shrouded in mystery for many years.

A stay in Małopolska can be an unforgettable experience for enthusiasts of folk culture and art. The unique and exquisite Wooden Architecture Trail brings together secular and sacral sites – historic churches, Orthodox churches, manors, villas and open-air museums located all across Małopolska. It comprises a total of 255 buildings, 8 of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This prestigious global list includes churches in Binarowa, Dębno Podhalańskie, Lipnica Murowana and Sękowa, as well as Orthodox churches in Powroźnik, Owczary, Kwiatoń and Brunary Wyżne.

A visit to the Vistula Ethnographic Park in Wygiełzów near Kraków is definitely something to do by the end of August – if you plan it just right, you can check out the Etnomania Festival. The culture of the Carpathian highlanders is showcased in the Orawa Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca Górna, as well as in the Nowy Sącz Ethnographic Park, where you can see a replica of a Galician Township from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the original wooden church from Łososina Dolna and the houses of German settlers from the Nowy Sącz region. Colourful wooden horses, rattles and birds flapping their wings can be found in the Beskid Wooden Toy Centre in Stryszawa, and the village of Zalipie will welcome you with floral paintings on its houses, as well as the Painted Cottage contest, taking place at the turn of May and June. You can also stay in Kraków and see the collection of more than 80,000 exhibits showcased in the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków’s Kazimierz district.

Kraków and Małopolska host numerous events and music festivals, some of which have gained worldwide recognition. The interiors of historic churches at the foot of the Wawel Hill bustle with life during the Easter festival of early music – the  Misteria Paschalia, while the Gothic parish church in the picturesque medieval town of Biecz is at the heart of the annual Kromer Festival. The Jewish Culture Festival, which for many years has been attracting international audiences from all over the world, offers open-air concerts in Szeroka Street (Shalom on Szeroka Street) with the opening Cantor Concert at the Tempel Synagogue. Other amazing offerings for fans of world music include the EthnoKraków/Crossroads, held in July, the International Festival of Highland Folklore in Zakopane and the Pannonica Folk Festival, which is held in late August on a charming meadow along the Poprad River in Barcice. The music of the region is also present at Łemkowska Watra in Zdynia and during the Highlander Carnival in Bukowina Tatrzańska.

But that is not all – the Sacrum Profanum Festival, held in September, is situated at the junction of classical and contemporary music. What is more, lovers of fresh sounds can also come to see the Unsound Festival. This one was so successful that for some time now, it has had a special edition in New York City! Fans of good jazz will surely enjoy the Summer Jazz Festival Kraków, as well as the oldest event of its kind in Europe - the Kraków All Souls' Jazz Festival. The Jan Kiepura Festival offers the best opportunity to enjoy the sights in Krynica-Zdrój. While staying in Szczawnica-Zdrój, you can visit Muzyczna Owczarnia in Jaworki, famous for its excellent concerts. The whole list of musical attractions is complemented by the Kraków Film Music Festival, which offers monumental film screenings with live music, as well as the popular Kraków Live Festival. For one night in the year, Kraków becomes a real city of music – during the Solstice, on the shortest night of the year, the city hosts Wianki. The ancient custom of throwing wreaths on the Vistula, which dates back to pagan times, is accompanied by outdoor concerts taking place simultaneously throughout the night in numerous squares around the city.

In 2013, Kraków was the first non-Anglophone city in the world declared a UNESCO City of Literature. In the city of Szymborska, Miłosz and Lem, fans of books can look forward to the October Conrad Festival, which attracts international literary celebrities, as well as the Miłosz Festival, dedicated to poetry and held in June. Other important events in the region include Zakopane Literary Festival and the Zygmunt Haupt Festival in Gorlice. The youngest readers will surely enjoy the Children’s Literature Festival in Kraków and the Rabka Festival, which takes place in July in Rabka-Zdrój.

Cinema buffs will also find something for themselves – in Małopolska, more ambitious independent films are screened during Mastercard Off Camera in Kraków and the Kraków Film Festival, which has been taking place for over 60 years. You can also go to Tarnów, where Polish directors are distinguished with the Tarnów Film Award, established in 1987. Two buildings in Kraków were inspired by Andrzej Wajda, who was associated with the city – these include the Wyspiański Pavilion, which showcases stained-glass windows by the Young Poland artist, and the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, which features Feliks Jasieński’s unique Oriental collection from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Roman Polański is another artist born in Kraków – the documentary Hometown tells the story of his childhood and difficult experiences during the occupation, with the renowned photographer Ryszard Horowitz as the other main character.

One of the key points in the cultural itinerary of a visit to Małopolska should be a visit to one of Małopolska's theatres. While in Kraków, you should pay particular attention to the current repertoires of the second oldest stage in Poland – the Helena Modrzejewska National Old Theatre, as well as the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, with its magnificent 19th-century stage decorated with a painted curtain by Henryk Siemiradzki. Other interesting theatres include the Scena STU theatre, which originated in the student community, and the productions of the Nowa Huta-based Łaźnia Nowa Theatre, which tells its visitors to “take care of their mental hygiene”. Outside Kraków, it might be worth your while to follow the activities of the Witkacy Theatre in Zakopane and the Ludwik Solski Theatre in Tarnów. December is a special month, even in the world of theatre in Małopolska thanks to the Divine Comedy Festival at Łaźnia Nowa – one of the most prestigious theatre events in Poland. You should also take note of the unique edifice of the CRICOTEKA Centre for Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor in Kraków's Podgórze district, which collects mementoes of the famous theatre visionary and art theoretician.

Information about current cultural events in Kraków can be found at the Kraków Culture website. A comprehensive calendar featuring all events and festivals in Małopolska is also available here.