Royal Route and Wawel Hill FREE guide

The most popular walking tour is called the Royal Route and starts you at the main gate of the old city and finishes on top of Wawel Hill. Along the walk, you will see the route that many visiting kings and queens took to get to the main castle on top of the hill.

You will probably spend the most time in the medieval ‘Old Town'. Here is where you will see most of the popular tourist attractions in Krakow. The largest market square in Europe is the main sight in Krakow and is quite a sight to see. Also, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! I spent a whole day walking around this area and seriously, couldn’t get enough.

Pro Tip: Pick a hotel close to the market square to save time exploring. I stayed in Hotel Santi a hotel/museum and can’t get recommend it enough. You can read my full review here.

Below is a free guide to take your own walking tour on the Royal Route including Wawel Hill - Save this for offline use and use it to explore Krakow!

Note: There are many free walking tours to join also. But I highly encourage you to take the tour on your own so you can stay or go as you please.

To the right is a map of the tour. These maps are all over the city and are great for locating yourself if you get a bit lost. But seriously, don't worry about doing a tour on your own! The route is really straight forward and easy to navigate yourself. 

Last Thing: If you're short on time, I suggest taking a look at my 48 hours in Krakow guide!

 

Part 1: Entrance to the Old City

Start at the top of the Old Town at the entrance to the city. Before you even begin the tour look around at Planty; the huge park that was constructed when the old walls of the city were torn down. The park surrounds the entire city and deserved a stroll all its own.

First up: Barbican

The first structure you see at the top of Old town, this round structure is Barbican, a 15th-century rampart. It is surrounded by a moat and has 7 observation turrets with walls more than 3 meters (10 feet) thick.

Florianska Gate or St. Florian's Gate

This 15th-century gate is what remains of the huge fortifications that surrounded Krakow’s old city. The gate was basically the impressive front door to the city and opened up to the Royal Route, which was followed by royal and parliamentary processions to Wawel Hill.

 

Juliusz Słowacki Theatre

From St. Florian's Gate if you make a left you will arrive at Juliusz Słowacki Theatre. Modeled after the Paris Opera House the theater was built in 1893 and the stage saw performances by many great Polish actors. Inside you can visit Solski’s famous wardrobe and see the curtain made by Henryk Siemiradski in 1894.

Museum of Czartoryski Princes

From St. Florian's Gate if you make a right is the museum of Czartoryski Princes which was established in 1800. Inside contains works by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.  It is currently under renovation and is scheduled to be reopened at the end of 2017.

Pro tip: The beautiful medieval archway connected to the museum is a great spot for a picture. Many horse-drawn carriages come through the archway and in the morning you can get beautiful sun flares like the one in the picture to the right.

 

Part 2: The Medieval Square

Next up explore the main market square which happens to be the largest medieval square in Europe. It was laid out in 1257 when the city was founded. If that sounds old then you won't believe that St. Mary’s Church was actually erected earlier.

First Stop: Cloth Hall

The largest structure in the center of the medieval square was built in the 13th century. Rebuilt many times, the hall today looks as it did in the 19th century. It has two rows of stalls that used to belong to cloth merchants, but nowadays, the stalls are full of souvenirs for reasonable prices.

More history: A fire destroyed the hall in 1555 and it was immediately rebuilt. It is topped with a renaissance attic. When inside, look up at the walls above the stalls, you can see old painted trademarks of merchants and guilds as well as the coat of arms of some Polish cities.

Next: St Mary’s Church

As I said above, St. Mary's Church was initially built before the square was laid out and is one of Poland's most beautiful Gothic Basilicas. The interior décor is a beautiful sight for the eyes with gold and blue details throughout. The church also features polychrome and stained glass works dating to the 14th century.

Don’t Miss: The basilica's altar made by Veit Stoss. Standing 13 meters (42 feet) high and 11 meters (36 feet) wide and it is Europe's largest medieval wooden altar. The gigantic alter only took 12 years to complete and includes 200+ sculpted figures! The central scene shows the Dormition of the Mother of God, while the low reliefs are from the New Testament.

History Lesson: The high church tower has a trumpet player who plays at the top of every hour. This is to represent the 13th-century guard who alerted the city that the Mongols were attacking. He died mid-note and that is why the trumpet player today never finishes his song.

Next: Church of St. Adalbert

A small church in the center of the square (the tiny blue topped building in the picture to the left) has origins dating back to the 10th century. The small Romanesque church is one of Krakow's oldest historic venues and its present look is from the 18th century.

History Lesson: The church was erected where St. Adalbert once preached. In 1241 it provided shelter to the citizens of Krakow during a Mongol attack.

Next: Town Hall Tower

The tower is the only piece of Krakow's Town Hall to have survived to this day. The original Town Hall was constructed at the turn of the 14th century and was pulled down in the 19th century due to damages to the structure. The tower that remains is 70 meters (230 feet) high.

Don’t Miss: Climb the tower (for free) for impressive views of the Old City.

At this part of the tour if you're feeling hungry right make your way to Miod Melina for lunch. One of the best restaurants in Krakow it is quieter around lunch time meaning you shouldn’t need a reservation. (Definitely make reservations if you plan on coming here for dinner)
Miod Maleina Menu

Want more restaurant recommendations for Krakow? Check out my Where to Eat in Krakow post!

Part 3: Wawel Hill

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Last make your way down the small street 'Kanonicza' to Wawel Hill. About halfway down the street is the impressive and old Hotel Copernicus. Many famous royals and celebrities have stayed here.

Quick history lesson: Wawel hill was a central place of the Vistulans land before the Polish state emerged. Settled in the 10th century, crowned kings lived here starting in 1320.

First up: Wawel Cathedral

As you enter the hill, The Cathedral is the first thing you will see to your left. It is a great overview of periods and styles: the Gothic structure of the grand cathedral is surrounded by Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque chapels. The Church hosted 37 royal coronations and almost all the Polish kings are buried here. In the crypt, you can see the grave of Chopin.

Don’t Miss: Climb the Sigismund Tower to see the famous Sigismund Bell. Cast in the 16th century from melted cannon barrels, the bell weighs 12.7 tons. It takes 10 people to ring the giant bell and its sound is heard as far as 12 km away. In 2010 it developed a crack and a new bell was cast.

Next: Wawel Castle

You will enter the large pink building to the immediate left of the Cathedral. The long corridor takes you to the inner courtyard.

The Castle was reconstructed over the centuries and is a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles. There are many things to see inside the castle including Parliamentary Hall, Senate Hall, an armory and the royal chambers. 

Last up: Dragons Den

You will find several caves under Wawel Hill and as the legend goes, this is where the cruel dragon, Smok Wawelski, once lived. Part tourist trap part stupid fun it is really cheap with an entrance fee of 3 PLN (or less than a dollar). If you do decide to venture into this space, you will find at its opening a bronze sculpture of Smok that often breathes fire.

And that is it! You finished the Royal Route walking tour! Go enjoy a nice beer and rest your feet, you deserve it

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