After 2-3 working days a week, we are free to explore Krakow like real tourists. Wawel Castle was chosen to spend almost the whole day. It is one of the must-see places in the region – along with the central square – because it houses THE dragon’s cave and even a fragment of the dragon’s bones.
The Wawel Dragon (in Polish: Smok Wawelski) is a famous dragon in the Polish culture and history of the city of Krakow.
According to the legend, this fabulous animal lived in a cave located inside the cliff on which the Wawel Hill overlooking the Vistula rises.
On this cliff stands a castle and the Wawel Cathedral, in front of which stands a statue of the dragon and a commemorative plaque in honor of the legendary Prince Krakus who defeated the animal and founded the city of Krakow on the lair of the dragon that had been slain. This legendary prince gave his name to the city.
Part 1: Travel Diary
We take the streetcar from our apartment and are dropped off almost in front of the castle. Not seeing any arrow indicating the entry of the castle, we are satisfied to follow a big group of tourists.
There is no ticket to visit the whole area, you have to choose yourself the parts you want to visit. We have a lot of difficulties to choose, but we agree on :
- Dragon’s den
- State apartments
- Royal apartments
- Crown Treasury & Armoury
All this for 64 zloty/person, or about 16€
Crown Treasury & Armoury
As there are a lot of people, we are allowed to visit this part around 12:00 (actually, if there aren’t many people, we can show up early). The jewels, the gold/ivory/silver dishes… are really impressive. Having followed an internship with a goldsmith, I appreciate more the beauty and technicality of these objects, made at a time when everything had to be done by hand. The polishing alone must have taken them days and days!
I am particularly impressed by the sword collection. The swords are huge, and seem to be there to show off more than anything else (too many gemstones, too many openwork patterns).
Lunch in the restaurant overlooking the square/garden, for 70 zloty (10% tip included) for two. The portions are huge.
School groups and tourists are eating. Let’s take the opportunity to visit the cathedral! Just in front of the entrance, you can see bone fragments – supposedly belonging to the dragon of Wawel.
The cathedral is so crowded that you have to elbow your way forward, so even though it is very pretty, it feels like you are suffocating.
We also take advantage of the absence of school groups to visit the Dragon Cave. It represents 135 steps to go down to the cave. Poor JB who has to be folded in two not to hit his head…. while I walk quietly, it’s the advantage of being small!
The cave is well lit, very pretty, but of little interest. Given the size of the bone fragments in front of the cathedral, I don’t think the dragon could live in such a small space. At the exit, we are face to face with a dragon statue, which spits fire every 5 minutes. It amuses the children a lot.
Royal apartments must be visited with a guide (included in the price). We have chosen a tour at 2pm, for 45mn. Visiting a dozen of half-empty rooms for that much time isn’t a piece of cake. I have too much in mind the splendor of Versailles to be ecstatic in front of a Polish castle (hihihi).
Bed Chamber, 1st floor, Royal Private Apartments exhibition, Photo A. Stankiewicz.
I think this is the most interesting part of the whole site. There is one room: the deputies’ room, too original where you can see a lot of sculpted and painted heads stuck to the ceiling.
The king’s reception room is also very impressive with a throne & a huge carpet, just like in the movies! One can notice that on the whole, the castle is rather dark.
A little tired by this day of visit, we find Alexandre, a French expatriate, in the city center, and we end up doing like polish people: going down bottoms up several shots of lemon vodka (1€ each) in a Pijalnia. “There’s nothing more typical” according to our compatriot.
As in Cuba, alcohol is cheap. Vodka is delicious and doesn’t hurt your head like in France. As Alexander tells us: “Poland is a country to become alcoholic”.
Part 2: Practical Tips
How to get there
By streetcar. Visit the Jakdojade website or download the app from this website (free on Android, 5€ for the iPhone). The ticket costs 2.8 zloty/person for a 20-minute ride (with connection)
You can walk 20mn from the city center to Wawel.
- Visits: 64 zloty/person for us (but it depends on the areas you want to visit)
- Restaurants: 35 zloty/person
- Transport: 5,6 zloty/person – round trip
- Vodka: 4,3 zloty per shot (a little more than 1€)