During our day in Kraków, we visited the Wawel Royal Castle & Cathedral, widely considered the most important buildings in all of Poland. Wawel was one of twelve places on the first ever published list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978.
The Wawel Complex is situated in the south of the city, perched high on Wawel Hill. It's quite massive, so they've broken down entrance by exhibition versus a single ticket. The complex itself is free to enter so if you'd like to see the grounds and views, those are free. Then, you can pick and choose which exhibitions you'd like to see to create your own package of interest - this can include exhibitions such as the cathedral housing crypts and chapels, the crown treasury housing the crown jewels and the state rooms with the Wawel Tapestries in the castle or the Sandomierska Tower where you can get a view over all of Wawel.
We chose to visit the tapestries in the state rooms (45 PLN) as well as climb Sandomierska Tower (5 PLN). The famous Wawel Tapestries were ordered by King Sigismund II Augustus in the mid-1500s from Brussels, a collection of 137, the largest single order ever placed. They have significant meaning to the Poles, depicting biblical scenes. We saw a fantastic exhibit documenting their story from being ordered, to being stolen by the Russians during the Polish-Soviet War in 1795 and subsequently returned by the peace treaty of 1921 in Riga, to being evacuated on a perilous journey to Canada at the outbreak of WWII and the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and finally being returned to Poland in 1961. Sixty years later in 2021, the tapestries are on display - many for the first time publicly - at Wawel Royal Castle where they truly belong.
The first cathedral at Wawel was built in 1000AD and has seen the crowning of thirty-five Polish rulers from Władysław the Short (1306-1333) on January 20, 1319 all the way through to the last monarchs in the 17th century. Wawel Royal Castle was the official residence of all of these rulers, starting with Mieszko I (circa 962-992). This meant that the buildings in the complex changed architecturally throughout the years as the rulers added their own touches.
It changed even further when the capital moved from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596 and Wawel fell into disrepair before being occupied by the Austrians and the Germans with various uses so the complex today consists of many styles including Medieval, Romanesque, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque.