Poland’s priceless pearl, Krakow is a glittering ensemble of architecture, the country’s grandest sights, and the liveliest nightlife this side of Berlin. The old town is a colourful collection, at turns imposing Gothic and stately Renaissance, all laid out in a grid of streets and encircled by the green parkland known as the Planty. The city is human in scale but too go-ahead confident to be deemed simply quaint. This is a place built, it seems, to optimise enjoyable wandering: a cloistered arcade leads to a bar or cafe worth lingering in; busy little streets are braided together with plazas; the mighty main square balances grand churches with a bustling social scene. Whoever pieced this town together knew what they were doing.
The first among equals when it comes to Krakow’s standout sights, the Wawel is a castle, a cathedral, museums, all sitting grandly atop a hill to the south of the old town. This is the country’s historic heartbeat: the seat of kings for half a millennia, the national temple, and (slightly more historically suspect) the lair of the legendary Wawel Dragon. Nothing should be missed here – one unmissable sight leads on to another. The splendid Renaissance castle’s Royal Chambers, for examples, are a baroque masterpiece of regal interiors and furnishings, a string of rooms each seemingly more lavish than the last, bursting with fine art. Put simple, any visit to Poland is incomplete without coming to Wawel, the cradle and keeper of the country’s culture and heritage.