Walk into the wonderful world of Wawel
The Royal Wawel Castle is one of the most charming things about Krakow and should be on the top of your ‘to see’ list. Find out what makes it stand at the heart of Polish culture.
This historic Royal Residence is an icon to the city and a cultural institution but it also plays a vital role in the political history of Poland. It stands on Wawel Hill, a limestone rock, which rises above the banks of the River Vistula. Parts of the complex originate as early as the 11th century where early Polish rulers resided here, but much of what can be seen today dates back to the 16th century.
Making the most of your visit
When arriving in the city centre, it is hard not to be wooed by the old town, and for most the starting point is the main medieval market square, known locally as Rynek Główny. From there, walk along Grodzka, a bustling street lined with shops and cafes, or walk the length of the tranquil park that runs parallel. Either way, you’ll end up being greeted by the magnificent red roofs of Wawel Castle.
Wawel Castle is a complex rather than just one building, which houses a series of exhibitions and attractions. It scores a 4.5 on TripAdvisor and part of the reason is that you only pay for what you want to see. There are several exhibitions and museums in the complex to choose from. Before visiting, it is worth researching what you would like to see as you have to decide at the ticket desk.
Once you purchase your ticket, you will be assigned specific times to access each exhibition. As there are so many visitors to the castle, this ensures it is conserved for the future. Make sure you turn up on time so you don’t miss out. If you have a bit of waiting time, you can relax at one of the two cafes; one by the Visitor Centre offering views over the River Vistula, the other situated within the complex walls by the gardens.
From the elegant State and Royal Apartments, to the armoury and Dragon’s Den, there is plenty to fill your visit. Here are the highlights.
The State Rooms have retained much of their original features and Gothic feel. Within these walls, you can view 16th century tapestries, wood carvings, furniture, paintings and other incredible artefacts. The ceiling in The Envoy’s Room is a must, made up of wood carvings depicting 30 human heads.
The Royal Apartments feature larch wood ceilings and original wall paintings in two rooms. Much of the style is Gothic and Renaissance with more tapestries and Italian and European artworks. As you stroll from room to room, each one has its own charm and decor, making a contrast from the last.
The Crown Treasury and Armoury provide a fascinating insight into another time. From the 14th century, royal insignia has been stored here. The incredible display of crowns, sceptres, swords and much more was opened for public viewing in the late 18th century, only to be stolen three years later by the Prussians. The whole collection was depleted. In 1930, a new collection was provided for the public to view, and although just a patch of what was in the original collection, it is mighty impressive, the highlight being the coronation sword, Szczerbiec.
Exhibition Oriental Art
Thanks to military history, Poland’s heritage has been influenced by Near East countries such as Turkey, Crimea, Caucasus and Iran. As a result, it holds an impressive collection of silks, rugs, weapons and even equestrian equipment, which over time became everyday to the royals and noblemen.
Lost Wawel takes you on an architectural journey through forgotten and incredible parts of Wawel Hill that are long gone, but are not forgotten. Take an incredible trip though excavation, sculptures, carvings and stonework back to the end of the 10th century.
The castle walls may be steeped in history but they are also shrouded in legend. The biggest one being that of the Wawel Dragon. Learn of a 16th century dragon slayer king as you delve into the depths of Thieves’ Tower, through a cave 270 metres long.
For stunning views of the city, climb the 137 steps to the top of Sadomierska Tower, each level presenting more of the city. It is one of two artillery towers used to defend the city against attack. During times of piece, the tower functioned as a prison.
Once you are finished with the exhibitions, there is plenty to see in the gardens. Landscaped with lawns and flowers, you can visit the Royal Gardens, upper and lower terraces, orchard and small vineyards. The gardens are the perfect place to sit down and enjoy your surroundings in the Krakow sunshine.
Wawel Castle is located 1km from the Park Inn by Radisson Krakow Hotel and is an easy walk across the river and along the banks.