Kraków is one of the most historic and stunning cities in Poland. It is home to some of Europe's best medieval architecture. The old city is like an open-air museum - complete with old city walls, a massive and ornately decorated cathedral, plenty of nostalgic horse and carriage rides, some of Europe's best architecture, and much more. One of the crowning jewels of the city is the Wawel Royal Castle - the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world.
Kraków is perhaps the top (or one of the very top) places to visit in Poland. Not only is it very architecturally and historically stunning, but it is also the gateway to the historic salt mines (very much worth seeing), and the somber destination of Auschwitz (prepare oneself mentally before visiting that heavy site).
Wawel Royal Castle - The World's Oldest World Heritage Site
The Wawel Royal Castle was built during the reign of King Casimir III the Great. Today it is one of the largest castles in Poland and has structures from different time periods. The architecture one will see here include the medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods.
- First: It Was the World's First UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Built: By King Casimir III the Great
- Where: The Old Town In Kraków, Poland
- Declared: It Was Declared A World Heritage Site In 1978
The Wawel Royal Castle is of deep historical importance to Poland. In fact, the Wawel Royal Castle and the surrounding Wawel Hill are considered the most culturally and historically significant site in the country.
Royal Residence: It Was Where Polish Kings Were Crowned, Lived, and Were Buried
It is situated on the Vistula River (the same river that Warsaw is set on downstream).
Within the Wawel Royal Castle complex, is the Wawel Cathedral. It is spectacularly decorated and full of chapels and tombs of Polish monarchs. It was here that the powerful Polish monarchs were coronated, and they were buried.
- Coronation: The Ancient Polish Kings Were Coronated At The Wawel Cathedral
- Tombs: The Royal Tombs Are In The Cathedral
The bells of the cathedral are of extra note. One can walk up through the wooden rafters into the bell tower and see and even touch the ancient multi-ton bells. One will need to duck and twist as one goes up the ancient passageway through massive support beams to get to these bells. It is a tradition in Poland to make a wish while touching the bells.
- Tip: Follow Polish Tradition And Make A Wish While Touching The Bells
Some of the oldest stone buildings at the complex can be dated back as far as 970 AD and offer some of the earliest examples of Gothic and Romanesque architecture in Poland. The current castle complex one sees today was mostly built from the 14th century onwards over the next few hundred years.
Getting to The Wawel Royal Castle
The main attraction of Kraków is the old city center and the Wawel Royal Castle. One should look for accommodation options inside the city center and explore around on foot. The Wawel Royal Castle is adjacent to the old town of Kraków, so one does not need to take transportation to get there. It is likely to be a 5 to 20-minute walk from one's accommodation in the center.
- Getting There: By Foot From The Old City
There are different admission tickets for different parts of the castle complex. A ticket for the Cathedral, the tombs, and the bell tower is 22 Polish Zloty or around $5.00.
- Admission: 22 Polish Zloty or $5.00 (Different tickets For the Gardens and The Castle Itself)
One can see their up-to-date information about opening times and special dates on their official website. To really bring the magic of the castle's history alive, consider taking a guided tour.
Where To Stay
If one is backpacking and looking for hostel accommodation with a great vibe, stay at Greg and Tom Hostel. They are one of the first hostels in Kraków and one of the most awarded in Poland by Hostelworld.com. In Kraków, they operate three hostel branches that one can book based on one's hostel vibe preference. They are:
- Greg and Tom Home
- Greg and Tom Party Hostel
- Greg and Tom Beer House
They have a selection of dorms and private rooms and all their branches are in great locations. They also offer pub crawls every night and bookings include both breakfast and a great dinner.