Travel icon: Wawel Cas­tle,

Once ter­rorised by a vir­gin-eat­ing dragon, Kraków’s royal icon now stands proudly atop the beast’s for­mer lair, cel­e­brat­ing 40 years of UNESCO sta­tus

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

Kraków No longer prone to dragon at­tack – at least not that we know of – this Pol­ish cas­tle marks 40 years of UNESCO back­ing

Get ori­en­tated

Kraków has a few ori­gin sto­ries, but none odder than this: they say it was once men­aced by a dragon with a taste for live­stock and vir­gins, un­til the Pol­ish set­tle­ment was saved by a shoe­maker who stuffed a hap­less sheep with sul­phur and left it for the mon­ster to eat. The crea­ture gulped the Vis­tula River dry to quench the burn­ing, but it was van­quished. The man then mar­ried King Krakus’ daugh­ter be­fore found­ing Kraków proper.

The Wawel Cas­tle com­plex, which in­cor­po­rates the great Gothic cathe­dral, cel­e­brates 40 years of Unesco-listed sta­tus in 2018. It also holds the bones of many of Poland’s for­mer mon­archs – but be­ing on Wawel Hill, it also rests on the dragon’s for­mer lair. The crea­tures re­mains are even said to hang at the cathe­dral, al­though more con­ven­tional wis­dom sug­gests these are the bones of a menagerie of an­cient crea­tures, in­clud­ing a woolly mam­moth.

Get­ting there & around

Many air­lines fly di­rect from the UK to Kraków’s John Paul II In­ter­na­tional Air­port, tak­ing from around 2.5 hours; re­turn fares from £40. Pub­lic buses and trains link the air­port to the city cen­tre; sin­gle-trip fares cost PLN4 (80p; buses) and PLN9 (£1.80; trains). The city cen­tre is walk­a­ble but it has a good net­work of buses and trams, too. An hour pass is PLN5 (£1), a day pass PLN15 (£3) and a three-day ticket PLN36 (£7.30).

The visit

Wawel Cas­tle is an ar­chi­tec­tural doc­u­ment of the coun­try’s finest mo­ments and most solemn oc­ca­sions, as well as a spec­tac­u­lar hill-perched icon. Just by strolling its sprawl­ing grounds (free to en­ter) you can feel its his­tory, but for a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the role this fine cas­tle had to play in both the city and coun­try’s past, ex­plore one or two of its build­ings. There are more to visit than can be squeezed into a day, but you don’t need to have seen them all to say you’ve ‘done’ the cas­tle. The State Rooms (from PLN20; £4.10) form the largest ex­hi­bi­tion, a se­ries of cham­bers re­stored to their orig­i­nal baroque mag­nif­i­cence, while the Royal Pri­vate Apart­ments (from PLN25; £5.15) re­veal how Pol­ish no­bil­ity once lived.

Wawel Cathe­dral is smoth­ered in a va­ri­ety of or­na­men­ta­tion. En­try is free, but it’s worth pay­ing PLN12 (£2.45) to climb Sigis­mund Tower and see the Royal Tombs and an ex­tra mu­seum.

You can also visit the cave that once served as the dragon’s den (Apr–oct only, PLN3; 60p). How­ever, any fire-breath­ing fears have long been ex­tin­guished; it’s now a cheesy se­ries of cham­bers. You emerge be­side a bronze statue of the dragon on the banks of the Vis­tula – now full and flow­ing again. Much like Kraków it­self.

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