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 opulent State Rooms, a tantalising glimpse of Poland’s very own crown jewels inside the Crown Treasury, the historical interiors of the Cathedral, and - weather permitting - a leisurely stroll around all the castle courtyards and open spaces. 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 is hard but rewarding work, and can take several days. The complex is free to enter, and there is no ticket necessary to explore the castle grounds. Take note, however, that due to the site's popularity, it is necessary to reserve tickets for the tours or exhibits you are interested in 2 or more weeks in advance. If you can't, call tel. 12 422 16 97 for tickets a few days in advance of your visit. Failing that, make sure you arrive as early as possible to the ticket office, or you may discover that most offers are sold out.