5 Iconic but Lesser-Known European Squares You Should Visit
It is hard not to love historic European squares. Resplendent with history and fine architecture, they often create the feeling of sunlight and space – the perfect setting for locals and visitors alike to take a stroll or linger in outdoor cafes, restaurants, and markets. A great city square is indeed a hub of urban life, where people go to meet, eat, drink, shop, see and be seen.
The Market Square in Krakow, Poland
The Rynek, as the locals call it, was first laid out in the 13th century, when it became the largest medieval marketplace in Europe and the commercial and social heart of the country where festivals, parades, and public gatherings took place. Back then, Krakow was the capital of Poland and the Royal Way, once the route of regal and religious processions, still connects the square with the medieval castle. In its center, the Cloth Hall was where merchants would meet to trade their wares – spices, silk, leather, wax, amber, and Krakow’s main export – salt from the nearby Wieliczka Mines.
Surrounded by the grand buildings of former aristocratic mansions, the Rynek is one of the loveliest European squares and a great place to stroll around or simply sit and watch the world go by.
Insider Tip: If a local asks you to meet ‘Pod Adamem’ (literately ‘under Adam’) meet them at the bronze monument of Adam Mickiewicz – Poland’s greatest poet, in the Market Square.
Marienplatz in Munich, Germany
Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) was founded in the 12th century as a market square on the intersection of the main roads. It was not until the early 17th century when the 36-feet-tall column with the gilded statue of Mary (the patron saint of Bavaria) on top was erected after the Thirty Years’ War and gave the square its current name.
Nowadays, Marienplatz is a pedestrian area in the heart of the Old Town, surrounded by historic sites like the Old Town Hall with its arches and tower, the New Town Hall with its famous Glockenspiel, and of course the Viktualienmarkt – Munich’s bustling farmers’ market.
Insider Tip: Every year, Munich holds its traditional Christmas Market on Marienplatz, complete with a huge Christmas tree and dozens of stands offering local crafts, food, and mulled wine.
Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
It was in the 11th century that, due to overpopulation of the castle side of the river, a new neighborhood gradually emerged here and houses, shops, and churches sprang around the market square creating a network of twisting narrow streets. The Old Town Square is now one of Prague’s most historic and charming spots drawing thousands of visitors in the summer.
Today, the Gothic spires and pastel-colored Baroque buildings make this one of the most beautiful European squares, buzzing with life around the clock in the summer months.
Insider Tip: Be there on the hour to see the figurines of the medieval Astronomical Clock (in operation since 1410), spring into action.
Preseren Square, Ljubljana, Slovenia
In the Middle Ages, several roads met here at one of the old entrance gates into the city. In the 19th century, when Ljubljana’s defensive walls became obsolete and were torn down, the intersection became a pedestrian public square.
Named after Slovenia’s national poet France Preseren, the charming little space is surrounded by former aristocratic mansions, Art Nouveau buildings, and the Triple Bridge. It is now both a popular meeting place (under the Preseren statue or on the steps of the Franciscan church) and a site for open-air concerts and events.
Insider Tip: The square is a great starting point for a stroll along the river which is lined with numerous cafes and restaurants.
St. Stephen’s Square, Hvar Town, Hvar Island, Croatia
Once a small fishing village, Hvar has been recently reinventing itself as a hip and upscale destination where the rich and beautiful congregate to sunbathe and party until dawn. Facing the harbor, St. Stephen’s Square is one of the largest on the Dalmatian coast and is named after the Renaissance St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Interestingly, this was once part of the bay which was later filled in and paved in the 18th century.
The square is surrounded by cafes and restaurants bustling with people in the summer months, but also by some beautiful historic buildings from the 16th – 17th century when Hvar was an important port of the Republic of Venice.
Insider Tip: Challenge yourself with a steep hike up to the mighty fortress above the Old Town. The views over the bay and the nearby islands are more than worth it.
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