The glorious ensemble that is Wawel, perched on top of the hill of the same name immediately south of the Old Town, is by far the most important collection of buildings in Poland. A symbol of national pride, hope, self-rule and not least of all fierce patriotism, Wawel offers a uniquely Polish version of the British Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey rolled into one. A gorgeous assortment of predominantly Romanesque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture dating from around the 14th century onwards, Wawel is the crown jewel of Kraków's architectural treasures and required visiting for Poles and foreigners alike.
Even for those who know or care little about the country’s past, Poland’s ancient seat of royalty contains a vast wealth of treasures inside its heavily fortified walls that can’t fail to inspire. Made up of the Castle and the Cathedral, of which the former contains most, but by no means all of the exhibitions, Wawel’s must-see highlights include the Cathedral’s mind-boggling interior, a tantalising glimpse of Poland’s very own crown jewels inside the Crown Treasury and, weather permitting, a leisurely stroll around its courtyards and gardens. After the April 2010 Smolensk disaster, Wawel's Royal Crypts became the final resting place of President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria; their tombs are open to the public free of charge. A full tour of Wawel, which is hard work but comes with its own rewards, can take an entire day.