One of my favorite parts of a city or even tiny village is its market square. That’s where the excitement happens: where people gather for drinks at the local bar. Young folk snap selfies next to a 200-year-old sculpture. Drunks sing for their supper.

Recently, in Poland, I enjoyed time in both Krakow’s and Warsaw’s beautiful squares, and it got me thinking about why market squares are so wonderful.

1. There are Plenty of Photo Opps

Warsaw Market Square

Even if around the corner the buildings are scabby and faded, homeowners in squares tend to have a great deal of pride in the facades of their buildings. In Warsaw, the tall, slender houses were painted in Easter-egg pastels, and the fading afternoon sun only enhanced the look.

2. There are Often Statues or Historic Landmarks

Venice sculpture

What better way to draw people to a square — particularly tourists — than by erecting a landmark for them to look at and photograph? I’ve seen sculptures of little boys peeing, mermaids, animals, bells, and of course, the ubiquitous war heroes. While it’s easy to do a drive-by when you see a sculpture, I encourage you to really stand and examine it. There are often some really weird features (eagles clawing at a lion?) that will make you scratch your head and wonder what the artist was thinking.

3. It’s a Great Place to People-Watch with a Coffee

coffee in Marseille

I won’t say that market squares always have the best food simply because they tend to attract tourists, and restaurants in tourist-heavy areas tend to be overpriced and not that great. There are exceptions, sure. But what I much prefer to do is rest my weary feet and enjoy a good cup of coffee while I watch people go by.

4. You Can Enjoy Street Performers

busker in Warsaw

In many a square have I enjoyed musicians, magicians, clowns, and other buskers. It’s fun for the kids, as well as kids at heart.

5. It’s Usually the Oldest Part of Town

Lucca square

If you’re looking for history in a city, the square can provide. Long before tour buses poured masses into the squares, they were used as gathering spots. Women did their washing there or filled up at the local source. Men talked about whatever it is men talk about (shooting bear?) over drinks. Any square you stand in has a longstanding history that’s available to you, if you’re willing to listen.