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Looking for the best day trips from Krakow? If you’ve previously read my Krakow itinerary article, you now know that there is plenty to see and do in this wonderful city that easily fills a three day stay, but there are also many ways you can customized your visit to and around Krakow, depending on your taste and interests.
Krakow is a destination well-known for being perfectly situated for visiting lots of other interesting places within the surrounding cities. If you happen to be staying in Krakow for an extended trip, or if you fancy exploring what else southern Poland has to offer, check out this guide to fantastic excursions you can take from Krakow. I also included a bonus, a day trip in Krakow, 15 to 20 minutes from the city center. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Top Excursions from Krakow, Poland
- 2 Bonus: Day trips in Krakow
Top Excursions from Krakow, Poland
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camps are the most well-known of all the day trips from Krakow and are an important pilgrimage destination, as well as a museum. Pretty much everyone knows about the horrors that took place during the Holocaust, but knowing and actually seeing it for yourself are two very different things. While everyone who visits Krakow should carve out some time to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, you should be aware that it is a sobering experience and certainly cannot be classified as “fun,” though it is definitely worthwhile due to its historic significance.
The complex is split into two sections: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Auschwitz I is where you will find the main museum, which is also the site of the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei gate. As you move through the different buildings, you will see various exhibits on the harsh reality of life in the camps, along with harrowing objects such as shoes, hair, hairbrushes and toothbrushes taken from prisoners. You will also walk through the remnants of the only remaining gas chamber.
Located three kilometres away is Birkenau, the largest part of the camp complex. Recognizable from the train track and railway gate, it is this camp that prisoners were initially brought to, where they would have their heads shaved and received prison clothes. In some ways, Birkenau is a more harrowing experience than Auschwitz as it has been left standing exactly as it was left, with its numerous surviving barracks, ruins of gas chambers and crematoriums, and ponds where the ashes of the cremated were dumped.
It is worth remembering that Auschwitz and Birkenau are places where horrific atrocities against mankind occurred, and that you must show the appropriate respect when visiting them. Taking selfies and generally behaving in anyway but a solemn manner is extremely frowned upon among the Poles; you risk highly offending someone if you do so. Also, be very careful about referring to the camps as ‘Polish concentration camps’; Polish people become extremely angry about this. It is better, and more accurate, to refer to them as ‘Nazi concentration camps’.
It is possible to reach Auschwitz-Birkenau by public transport, with bus being the best option. Buses to Oswiecim (the name of the Polish town the camp was named after) depart from the main bus station in Krakow quite frequently. Note: Free shuttle buses run between Auschwitz and Birkenau. However, from my experience, I can highly recommend taking a guided tour there. Many tours depart from Krakow and you get the added bonus of a well informed guide who will fill you in on the history of the sites.
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Wieliczka Salt Mine
For me, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is hands down the best excursion you can make from Krakow. Not only is it one of the best sights in Poland, but also in the whole world. This site has an interesting history; table salt had been produced there going right back to Neolithic times, but it was not until the 13th century that the salt began to be excavated. This long history makes it the oldest salt mine in the world. The mine was then in continuous operation for over 700 years.
The huge rabbit warren of tunnels and caverns is said to be approximately 170 kilometers long, but only three-and-a-half kilometers of these are open to the public. However, this is more than enough to show you the splendor of this magnificent mine. If you are thinking that you will just see mining equipment and learn about the history of the site and the mining industry, you would be incorrect. Of course, this forms a big part of the tour, but there is so much more to see.
The traditional tourist route takes you through 20 different chambers, where you will see huge timber constructions, underground saline lakes and various chapels with artefacts carved from salt. However, the best part is when you come to the Chapel of St. Kinga, an immense cathedral hall located 101 metres below the ground and carved entirely from salt – even the chandeliers are made from the stuff! It really is an awe-inspiring site and, as great as the whole tour is, the entrance fee is worth it for St. Kinga’s alone.
With a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, you are in good company; previous visitors to the mine include Nicolaus Copernicus, Frederic Chopin, Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton.
Public transport is not so great to Wieliczka, so it is best to take one of the guided tours with transport included. Personally, this is the way I visited and I had no regrets!
Ojcow National Park
Ojcow is the smallest national park in the whole of Poland, but I personally think it is one of the prettiest, no matter what time of year you go. With its swathes of dense forest, steep cliffs, deep valleys and ravines, and many networks of caves, it is sometimes hard to believe that such stunning nature exists such a short drive away from any city; the distance between Krakow and Ojcow is just 24 kilometers.
There are a number of interesting attractions within the park, which are well worth a visit. A good starting point is Ojcow Castle. Although only the entrance gates and Gothic tower remain, there is a small exhibit, which provides some detail about the history of the castle, including the fact that it was once a hideout for kings. From the castle, there are various hiking trails marked which will take you further into the park.
The one unmissable thing you need to see in Ojcow National Park is Lokietek Cave, one of only two caves in the park, which are open to the public. The cave takes its name from a Polish prince named Wladyslaw Lokietek who is said to have used the cave as his secret hideout from Bohemian invaders during the 14th century.
I particularly loved visiting Ojcow National Park in winter. It is during this season that you can take a sleigh ride through the snow. There is also a cute little pub, located within the park, where you can enjoy a mulled wine when the weather gets too chilly.
To get to Ojcow National Park, there are minibuses running from the bus depot on Pawia Street, across from the shopping center Galeria Krakowska. However, depending on what you want to see and the time you want to spend there, it is probably better to book yourself into a tour for great information and easy exploration.
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As Poland’s most important religious destination, Czestochowa does not just attract tourists; every year thousands of Poles – as well as many others from around the world – make the pilgrimage to the town to visit the Jasna Gora Monastery. The reason for this is that the monastery holds one of the most precious artifacts belonging to the Catholic Church – the Black Madonna. The Black Madonna is a revered icon depicting the Virgin Mary and child, which is believed to date as far back as the 14th century. A number of miracles have been attributed to the Black Madonna, which is why so many travel each year to pray and contemplate in front of it.
Aside from the monastery, there are lots of other things to see and do in Czestochowa. There are many old and contemporary churches, an astonishing array of museums for a relatively small town, and some lovely parks to stroll in.
Czestochowa is well-served by both bus and train.
Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains
If you want to see where Poles love to go on vacation, head to Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains. Zakopane, and the surrounding area, is primarily known as Poland’s winter sports capital. If you love skiing, this is the place you should go. There are a variety of slopes suitable for all levels of skiers, and there are even trails for cross country skiers. The town of Zakopane itself is really cute, with lots of wooden buildings and a cobblestoned main street; the town looks particularly beautiful when it is covered with snow. There are also plenty of museums to visit. One thing you cannot miss out on when you are in Zakopane is oscypek – smoked sheep’s cheese – it really is absolutely delicious!
Summer brings more opportunities for outdoor activities in the Tatra Mountains. Of course, the mountains are perfect for hiking and climbing, but the area is also popular with mountain bikers. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you could also opt to paraglide, which will give you great views over the wonderful scenery. The Tatra Mountains are also home to a wonderful array of wildlife, including wolves, lynx, bears, wildcats and marmots.
A highlight of any trip to the Tatra Mountains is a visit to Morskie Oko, the country’s most famous lake. Flanked by enormous Tatra peaks, it is one of the most breathtaking places to visit. A walk around Morskie Oko takes about one hour.
By bus is the most convenient way to get to Zakopane; the train is horrifically slow. While it is easy enough to do Zakopane in a day, I highly recommended staying over at least one night to really soak up the atmosphere of the town and the surrounding area.
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Dunajec River Gorge
Meandering through the Pieniny Mountains, on the border between Poland and Slovakia, is the Dunajec River. This area of the country is one of the most beautiful spots; here you will find thick pine forests and incredible rock formations formed from the limestone mountains. Plenty of companies in Krakow offer river-rafting tours down the river. The route is about 15 kilometres long and will give you a chance to enjoy the beauty of the area, as well as the allegedly haunted Niedzica Castle, along with an abundance of wooden architecture to admire.
Speaking of architecture, if you are really into architecture, Tarnow is a great place to go for a day trip from Krakow. Its market square is on an architectural par with Krakow’s with the added bonus that you will not be bumping into many other tourists wherever you go. There are lots of wonderful Renaissance buildings in and around the square, including the town hall. You can also enter the town hall, which houses an interesting collection of Polish armour and military weapons. One of its finest pieces is a preserved lance of the Polish Hussars, one of only five that exist.
Tarnow was also an important place for Polish Jews; when the Second World War began, almost half of the town’s population was Jewish. There are a number of sights which can give you more detail about this side of Tarnow’s history, along what is known as the Jewish Heritage Route, such as the Old Synagogue Bimah which details the horror and suffering that the town’s Jews endured under Nazi occupation, and there’s also a Jewish cemetery.
A cool museum to visit in Tarnow is the Ethnographic Museum. It is a well-known museum all over Poland for its collections of Romany, or Gypsy, artefacts. Other great places to visit in Tarnow include: The ruins of Tarnowski Castle, the Cathedral, and General Bem’s mausoleum, an important figure during the fights for independence in the 19th century.
It is perfectly easy to get from Krakow to Tarnow; trains run between the two very frequently.
Although Tyniec is technically part of Krakow, when you visit here you feel as if you have left the city entirely. Tyniec is a tiny village which is famous for its Benedictine abbey set upon a cliff above the River Vistula. The abbey is almost 1,000 years old, having been founded in the 1040s and, despite being ravaged and destroyed on many occasions throughout the centuries, has managed to stand the test of time. It is still a working monastery to this day, making it the oldest of its kind in the entire country.
While it is certainly a beautiful building set within impressive surroundings, Tyniec Abbey offers visitors the chance to learn about its fascinating history, starting right from its beginning when the Benedictine monks of the medieval age were mostly known for their beer-brewing skills.
There are two main ways to get to Tyniec Abbey from Krakow: The first option is by the number 112 bus from Grundwald Bridge which usually takes about half an hour; Second, if you enjoy cycling, this is also a good choice as the route takes you along the River Vistula.
Wadowice and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
Fans of religious history will not be disappointed with a trip to Wadowice. The birthplace of Pope John Paul II, here you can visit the late Pope’s home, the church where he was baptized, and where he went to school. The house where he was born is now a museum dedicated to his life and work.
Wadowice is only five kilometers away from Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, which has a beautiful Calvary Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Sanctuary is a huge complex consisting of 42 churches and chapels and is considered to be the largest of its kind in Europe. As well as being astoundingly beautiful, the complex is also a good place to come for peace and tranquillity.
From Krakow Plaszow station you can get a bus to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, where you can then connect with the train to Wadowice.
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Malopolska Wooden Architecture Trail
I think we all agree that the architecture of Krakow is simply enchanting! But, if you want to see something completely different, head out on the Malopolska Wooden Architecture Trail. Malopolska is well-known for its wide variety of wooden churches, timber cottages, granaries and manor houses which are dotted all around the region. There are 237 in total, with four of them making the UNESCO World Heritage List: St. Leonard’s church in Lipnica Murowana, with its shingled roof and Baroque interior; the Church of Sts. Philip and Jacob in Sekowa, the most unusual of all the wooden buildings with its huge roof; the Church of St. Archangel Michael in Binarowa, which has a number of paintings and sculptures; and the Church of St. Archangel Michael in Debno, which was built from local fir trees.
To do the Malopolska Wooden Architecture Trail, you really need to join a tour or hire a car.
Bonus: Day trips in Krakow
While in Krakow, you should consider visiting the Zakrzowek Lake. It is a hidden gem 15-20 minutes from Krakow city center. It has the unique distinction of being a hidden lagoon in an old mined quarry, and I found that mostly locals know about this spot, but not many tourists. It’s so beautiful and relaxing, and don’t blame the locals for keeping it a secret! It’s hard to imagine that you will find a place like this, especially so close to the the hustle and bustle of the center. It is a good place for people who want to not stray to far from the city center but escape the touristic zone for a nearby oasis! It was nice to walk along the trails, admire the surrounding beauty and people watch. I even saw people taking their wedding photos there. Love was in the air!
How did I get there? I took a Bolt car sharing ride. Insider Tip: Bolt sometimes is cheaper than Uber. You should download the app and always compare prices.
So many options, so little time?
As you can see, a trip to Krakow can easily be extended by adding on some of these fantastic day trips easily accessible from Krakow. Whether you want to learn more about this beautiful country’s history, or enjoy it’s scenic beauty by exploring nature, you can be sure to find a day trip – or many – that will allow you to appreciate how charming Poland really is! Just depends on how much vacation time you’ve got!
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