There’s a method to my madness. Whenever ever I spew forth minimalist travel ramblings, it’s to give cities like Krakow their full due. Krakow’s meant to be savoured, and sticking around for a couple extra days here is never disappointing. I promise.
And as if the treasures within the city weren’t enough, the area around Krakow teems with sites that will stick with you forever. The historic sites near Krakow are among the country’s most important, some absolutely key for spicing up your Poland itinerary.
Even the lesser-known Krakow day trips will be enough to convince you that Poland is far more awesome than anticipated. Unless you’re pinned to just one day in Krakow, get unhitched from the former royal capital with some of these incredible day trips from Krakow…
Table of Contents
- Best day trips from Krakow: The top 11 side excursions
- Where to stay in Krakow: The best hotels for day trippers
- Summary: The top Krakow day trips
Best day trips from Krakow: The top 11 side excursions
Already made your rounds through the best attractions in Krakow? There’s no better way to enjoy yourself than to tackle a couple awesome day trips.
There’s no central theme here:
- Looking to escape the city for unbridled nature? Check.
- Want to better understand and appreciate 20th-century history? Yep. (And it’s a big one.)
- Love classic architecture? Got ya covered there, too.
Let’s get started…
If you’ve only carved out one extra day, set your sights on a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Few sites in the world tug at the heartstrings more than Auschwitz-Birkenau. We’re all aware of the menace of the Nazi grip on Central Europe during World War II. Reading about it or watching a documentary is one thing; seeing it with your own eyes is an entirely new, and harrowing, experience.
The two main former concentration camps—Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau)—are open to the public. Set aside at least one hour for each.
Around the memorial, exhibits walk you through the everyday life at the camp. Personal effects such as toothbrushes, hairbrushes, shoes, and eyeglasses—left behind by prisoners who never reemerged—add a haunting element to the museum. Combined with the various SS artefacts and remnants from the gas chambers on display, the experience at Auschwitz becomes a tough one to swallow.
Even with its difficulty, a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau is absolute must, if for no reason other than to remind us of a state of humanity we must never return to.
TIP: Save yourself time and hassle with a guided Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Tour. The tour includes all entrances fee for the memorial, a professional guide, and return transportation including hotel pick-up. Both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) are visited.
How to Get to Auschwitz-Birkenau
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is located in the town of Oswiecim, less than 70 kilometres outside of Krakow. Either bus or trains, departing regularly throughout the day, will get you there.
Buses tend to be the more convenient of the two options as they stop at the memorial. Buy your tickets and depart from the main bus area outside of the Krakow Glowny rail station.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
An otherworldly experience awaits at Wieliczka Salt Mine. Wieliczka Salt Mine is not just one of the best places to visit in Poland, but one of the coolest and most unique sites you’ll see in Europe.
On the classic 3-hour tourist route at Wieliczka Salt Mine, snake through dozens of subterranean salt chambers, penetrating ever further underground. Along the way, you’ll pass through several chapels, each adorned with stunning artifacts fashioned from the “white gold” that lines the tunnels.
Most impressive is the Chapel of St. Kinga, located some 101 metres underground. A faint glow from the rock salt chandeliers illuminates a world of intricately carved salt sculptures, floor tiles and altars. The chapel isn’t just there for its good looks. Masses, weddings and concerts are held here regularly. Talk about a unique venue!
For a more intimate encounter with Wieliczka Salt Mine, opt instead for the miner’s route. Unlike the tourist route, the miner’s route descends into the mine’s lesser-known corners. You won’t get face-to-face with the mine’s more artistic side, but rather experience it as generations of miners did. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a hidden passion for salt mining!
TIP: To avoid the inconvenience of public transportation, hop onto a guided Wieliczka Salt Mine Guided Tour. The tour includes your entrance fee and provides excellent value, not costing much more than arranging everything yourself!
How to Get to Wieliczka Salt Mine
Wieliczka Salt Mine is the easiest day trip from Krakow. The mine is located in the town of Wieliczka about 10 kilometres from central Krakow.
Trains to Wieliczka Rynek Kopalnia (20 minutes) depart often, but are far less convenient for travellers than the buses. Buses leave from the bus depot near Krakow Glowny and Galleria Krakowska. The stop for the mine is Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli.
Ojców National Park (Ojcowski Park Narodowy)
Seeking some serenity? Escape the bustle of Krakow at Ojców National Park, a mere 24 kilometres outside of the city. The diminutive Ojców National Park, stretching over just 21 square kilometres, is a wonderful world of thick forests, valleys, cliffs, ravines, and caves set within a typical Central European karst landscape.
Besides simply revelling in the Ojców National Park’s immense biodiversity, a handful of popular attractions within the park are worth seeking out.
A good starting point for exploring the park is Ojcow Castle near the village of the same name. Built by King Kazimierz the Great along the Eagle’s Nest Trail, Ojcow Castle isn’t actually much to behold. Only the entrance gates and Gothic tower remain. A small exhibit inside the tower can help your mind fill in the blanks. From the castle, set off on any of the trails (black, green, red or blue) to pierce into the park.
Forge down the black trail and grab your spelunking gear (okay, you probably won’t need it—I just really wanted to say “spelunking”) to check out Lokietek Cave (Grota Lokietka), one of two caves in Ojców National Park open to the public. The 270-metre-long cave’s legend swirls around its namesake, Władysław Łokietek, a Polish prince who used the cave as a hideout from Bohemian invaders in the early 14th century.
A little further afoot on the red trail, about 8 kilometres from Ojcow, lies Pieskowa Skala, a magnificently preserved Renaissance castle dating back to the 14th century. Unlike the ruins of Ojcow Castle, Pieskowa Skala leaves little to the imagination, and is one of the best castles on Poland’s Eagles Nest Trail.
TIP: Unless you decide to rent a car in Krakow, the reasonably-priced Private Tour to Ojcow National Park is your best bet for a hassle-free visit. Besides marvelling at the nature of the national park, the tour takes in Pieskowa Skala Castle.
How to Get to Ojców National Park
If you simply must take public transportation, minibuses to Ojców National Park launch from the bus depot near Galeria Krakowska on ulica Pawia several times a day. For day trippers the 8:00 and 10:30 departures (6:20 and 10:40 on Saturdays) are the most convenient.
It many not have the clout of Krakow with travellers, but the tongue-twisting town of Częstochowa (chen-stoh-hoh-vah) is hardly an offbeat destination. Every year millions of visitors from Poland and around the world pile onto Częstochowa to visit the Jasna Gora Monastery. The monastery, founded by Pauline Monks in the late-14th century, houses the Black Madonna, an icon of the Virgin Mary that’s not only a Polish national treasure, but revered by Roman Catholics worldwide.
A visit to Częstochowa isn’t simply for the devout, though. Besides the incredible Jasna Gora Monastery, Częstochowa is a city of manicured parks, museums and pockets of graceful turn-of-the-century architecture. Once you’ve spent some time peering around Jasna Gora Monastery, stick around Częstochowa for a bit; you might just like what you’ll find!
TIP: If you’re mainly interested in the monastery, you might prefer a guided Czestochowa Black Madonna Tour to setting out independently.
How to Get to Częstochowa
With direct train connections, Częstochowa is one of the easier places to get to on this list. Trains between Krakow Glowny and Częstochowa Stradom leave every couple hours, taking about one and a half hours.
Be sure to book tickets to Częstochowa Stradom, not Częstochowa, and to check journey times. You’ll be cursing your luck if you mistakenly get stuck on an insanely slow local train that will suck 3-4 hours extra out of your day. Check schedules on PKP.
Before you started planning your trip to Poland, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of the mountain resort of Zakopane. Spend any time Poland though, and you’ll soon see just how important Zakopane is to the Poles.
This year-round resort town in southern Poland is always abuzz. In winter, Zakopane is Poland’s answer to Whistler; in summer, an outdoor adventure paradise. All while remaining surprisingly affordable.
While I recommend staying at least a couple days in Zakopane (if for no other reason than the unpredictable weather), visiting Zakopane in one day is still a viable option.
Whichever you season you visit Poland, you’ll need to depart early to get the most out of your day in Zakopane.
There’s one main reason to visit Zakopane in winter: skiing. Downhill skiing in Zakopane caters to skiers of every level—from the beginner’s slopes of Nosal Ski Centre to the advanced pistes of Kasprowy Wierch. Tatra National Park near Zakopane is also home to a number of marked cross-country skiing and walking tracks. Great trails around the The Great Krokiew (Wielka Krokiew) ski jumps await for Nordic skiers.
In summer, Zakopane’s a little more diverse. Of all the activities for day trippers though, hiking and walking make the most sense.
Simply walking around town, admiring the distinctive Zakopane wooden architecture styles is a great way to spend the day. Active travellers seeking more action however should head for the Kasporowy Wierch cable car.
Even a quick walk atop Kasporowy Wierch, admiring the alpine views over the High Tatras, and back down to Zakopane is worth the time and effort. Longer hikes from Kasporowy Wierch through to Mount Giewont and Strążyska Valley are harder to plan during a day trip, but will be far more rewarding.
Even more invigorating is a hike to Morskie Oko, Poland’s famous “Eye of the Sea” that sparkles steps from the Slovakia border. Depart early from the Zakopane bus station to the stop at Palenica Białczańska near Lysa Polana.
From here, it’s an 8-kilometre walk (or horse carriage ride to save time) up a paved road to the lake. Walking around Morskie Oko takes about one hour or more, but the incredible scenery will stick with you for a lifetime.
Bring proper rain gear and a travel umbrella. Weather here changes at the drop of the hat, at times for the very worst. (Unfortunately, I speak from experience.)
How to Get to Zakopane
Both trains and buses ply the route between Zakopane and Krakow. Don’t even think about the train. It’s slow and inconvenient. Buses are far better. MajerBus does the route in about two hours for 15zł each way from the main bus station near Krakow Glowny.
It may be in ruins, but it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to picture Ogrodzieniec Castle in its full glory. Located about an hour away from Krakow on the highest point in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland (Polish Jura), Ogrodzieniec Castle is one of the best places to visit in Poland, with stunning views of the countryside, accented by limestone bergs poking through the earth.
The origins of Ogrodzieniec Castle sweep back to a 14th-century Gothic castle erected by the powerful Sulimczycy clan. The castle provided quite a stronghold, integrating its defenses with the rigid natural environment that surrounded it.
It wasn’t until the 16th century, when the Boner family got their hands on Ogrodzieniec Castle, that the ruins we see today took shape. The Gothic castle was replaced by a Renaissance castle that rivalled the best in Poland of the day.
Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. Unrelenting Swedish invaders swooped in a couple times over the next century to hand Ogrodzieniec Castle a proper whooping. By the early-18th century, the castle was left for dead, only to be restored after the Second World War as a tourist attraction.
Visiting Ogrodzieniec Castle today uncovers an eerie bygone world. Sauntering among the towering castle walls, chambers, and guard towers brings to life the medieval legends that surround the ruins. Admission to the castle costs just 9zł (7zł reduced).
TIP: Got a soft spot for Polish castles? The Eagles Nest Trail Castle Tour takes you through 5 awesome castles along the Krakow to Czestochowa route including Ogrodzieniec Castle.
How to Get to Ogrodzieniec Castle
Getting to Ogrodzieniec Castle from Krakow by public transportation isn’t impossible, but difficult enough to make it an absolute last resort. Far easier is to rent a car in Krakow.
Malopolska Wooden Architecture Route
I’ve always felt that by the time you’ve travelled as far east as Poland the borders between Central Europe and Eastern Europe begin to blur. Nowhere is it more confusing than along the Malopolska Wooden Architecture Route.
The magnificent wooden churches and timber cottages of Malopolska serve more than a taste of Europe’s far east. The style is most associated with Russia, where you’ll find it in spades. If you’re not yet ready to dig into the areas around St. Petersburg or Moscow, the Malopolska Wooden Architecture Route is a wonderfully accessible alternative.
While there are wooden gems strewn across Malopolska, most settle to take in these four UNESCO-listed wooden churches on a (long) day trip:
St. Leonard’s Church (Kosciol Sw. Leonarda)
Located in in the village of Lipnica Murowana just over an hour outside Krakow. The 15th-century church features a steep shingled roof and a Baroque interior decorated with beautiful ceiling and wall frescoes. The cemetery in front of the church gives St. Leonard’s Church a unique look.
Church of St. Archangel Michael (Kosciol Sw. Michala Archaniola)
Located in the village of Binarowa, about one hour east of Lipnica Murowana. This magnificent church features shakes rather than timbers on the exterior walls. The ornate interior is one of the most impressive among the wooden churches, showcasing numerous sculptures and paintings.
Church of Saints Philip and Jacob (Kosciol Sw. Sw. Filipa i Jakuba)
Located in the village of Sękowa, about 20 minutes south of Binarowa. The exterior, covered completely in wood shakes, is the most unusual of all the churches. The roof appears, from a distance, to blanket the entire structure.
Unlike other Malopolska churches, much of what remains is restored rather than original. The building, both inside and out, suffered heavy damage during World War I, and was not fixed up until late into the 20th century. The restored Renaissance altarpiece and Gothic stone baptismal font are worth seeing.
Church of St. Archangel Michael (Kosciol Sw. Michala Archaniola)
Located in the village of Dębno, about two hours southeast from Sękowa. This late-15th century masterpiece, built from local larch and fir trees, is among the best preserved of the bunch. Bedecked with paintings dating back to the early-16th century, the interior is most marvelous part of the church.
How to Travel the Malopolska Wooden Architecture Route
To traverse the Malopolska Wooden Architecture Route, you won’t be able to rely on public transportation. Other than renting a car, the route is best experienced on a guided tour like the Wooden Architecture Route Around Krakow. With this tour you’ll uncover far more sites than you could even manage on your own—and not have to navigate yourself! Free hotel pick-up and drop-off is included.
There are few easier opportunities to escape Krakow than a trip to the historic village of Tyniec. Although technically still a part of the city, Tyniec is worlds apart from the bustle of central Krakow.
Most visitors find their way to Tyniec for one thing: the Tyniec Benedictine Abbey. Founded back in the days of King Kazimierz I, the monastery dates back nearly a thousand years. Numerous invaders—Mongols, Czechs, Swedes and Russians—all took a stab at the abbey, leaving it in ruins on occasion, only to see it rise time and time again.
The monastery still functions today, making it the oldest of its kind in Poland. Visiting year round lets you explore the abbey while interacting with the resident Benedictine monks, a surprisingly social bunch who smash the sullen monk stereotypes.
The Tyniec Abbey is open to visitors from 10:00 to 18:00 (until 16:00 November to April). The entrance fee is a super-reasonable 7zł (5zł reduced).
How to Get to Tyniec
From Most Grunwaldzki (Grundwald Bridge), south of Wawel Hill, bus 112 makes the trip to Tyniec in about a half hour.
Even better is to hire a bike and snake along the Vistula River from the centre of Krakow to Tyniec. Depending on your fitness level, about 45 minutes to an hour should get you there.
Want some company on your trip to Tyniec? Join in on the 4-hour guided Polish Countryside and Tyniec Abbery Bike Tour!
Second only to Częstochowa in religious importance in Poland, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska has long been a retreat for Poland’s most devout Catholics. Built at the beginning of the 17th century as a pilgrimage site, the Calvary Sanctuary at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is an impressive religious complex spread along the Carpathian Foothills of southern Poland.
Over 40 churches and chapels dot the sanctuary, anchored by the distinctive Baroque Bernadine Monastery and Basilica of St. Mary. Visit the central church for a glimpse of one of Catholicism’s most venerated icons, Our Lady of Kalwaria.
How to Get to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
Trains between Krakow and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska depart frequently from Krakow Glowny, requiring a transfer at Krakow Plaszow. Both the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Lanckorona station service the town. Either station is suitable for launching a day trip to the sanctuary.
For architecture lovers, few side trips from Krakow are more satisfying than Tarnow. A magnificent Old Town, peppered with Renaissance buildings, highlights any visit here.
Coming from the busy centre of Krakow, immediately noticeable is a thinner crowd of tourists wandering about Old Town. Indeed, one of the true charms of Tarnow is enjoying the city without constantly dodging other people.
Start exploring Tarnow’s Old Town at the Rynek, one of Poland’s most unique market squares. Grab a quick coffee on the square to admire the views before ducking into the 14th-century Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, a church whose bright interior betrays its Neo-Gothic red-brick façade.
Like Krakow, Tarnow was once an important centre for Jewish heritage in Poland. Ulica Zydowska, to the east of Rynek, formed the backbone to Tarnow’s Jewish District. Today, it’s one of the most interesting, if more emotionally difficult, areas of Old Town to wander about.
The remains of the Old Synagogue Bimah, for example, give a heartbreaking glimpse into the suffering endured by Tarnow’s Jewish community during Nazi occupation. Further afoot from Old Town, the Jewish Cemetery, one of Poland’s oldest and largest Jewish burial grounds, is also worth the trek.
How to Get to Tarnow
It’s perfectly painless to travel to Tarnow from Krakow by train. Direct trains depart frequently from Krakow Glowny, taking between 58m and 1h15m to get to Tarnow. From the train station it’s a ten-minute walk up ulica Krakowska to Tarnow’s Old Town.
Although I’d recommend spending at least a couple days in Warsaw, visiting Poland’s capital in one day from Krakow isn’t impossible. Many of the top attractions in Warsaw are easily accessible from the centre of town; a quick trip here is ultimately a fulfilling one.
Arriving at Warszawa Centralna, the main train station, start your first day in Warsaw at the Palace of Science and Culture. The building is an unmissable fixture of the Warsaw skyline, loathed by some but impossible to ignore. Sweeping views of Warsaw from the observation deck are among the city’s best.
From the Palace of Science and Culture, swoop over to Old Town to get a sense of Warsaw’s past. Refashioned in its original glory following nearly complete destruction in World War II, Old Town is the most outwardly beautiful quarter of Warsaw. Take your time savouring Old Town, reserving some energy to explore gems like St. John’s Cathedral or the Royal Castle.
Fill the rest of your day trip to Warsaw with a visit to either Praga, the hip and gritty neighbourhood across the Vistula from Old Town; the Warsaw Rising Museum, an awesome interactive museum dedicated to the resistance that helped loosen the Nazi’s grip on Poland; or Łazienki Royal Park, a beautiful greenspace chocked with graceful 17th- to 18th-century architecture including the famous Palace on the Isle.
Want to maximize your sightseeing in Warsaw? Join in on the Full-Day Warsaw Trip by Train! Includes your round-trip express train ticket and a guided tour of Warsaw’s Old Town.
How to Get to Warsaw
For hammering out a day trip to Warsaw by public transportation, train is the best option. Stick to the super quick express intercity (EIC/EIP) trains ripping through the route in just 2.5 hours (125zł-229zł each way).
Where to stay in Krakow: The best hotels for day trippers
If you’ve got day trips on your mind, choosing where to stay in Krakow isn’t as much of a challenge. Both the main train station and bus station are in close proximity to Old Town. This is by far the most convenient place to base yourself. Here are a some suggestions for the best hotels in the area:
- Hotel Legend: A fantastic 3-star hotel brushing close to Wawel Castle. The modern rooms here are cherry & spacious and provide superb value in the normally pricey Old Town bubble.
- Hotel Polski Pod Białym Orłem: A great mid-range option on the fringes of the Old Town. This 4-star offers elegant rooms that exude a regal classic Central European charm.
- Hotel Gródek: Another boutique hotel in Old Town located close to the relaxing greenery of Planty Park. Rooms are decorated with a eye towards classic Central European motifs rather than modern designs. The location is quieter than most in the area.
- Hotel Copernicus: One of the best luxury hotels in Krakow. This blissful 5-star hotel sits in a spectacular 14th-century Renaissance building that would turn heads even if you weren’t a guest here. The outdoor terrace with views onto Wawel Castle is worth the stay alone, but for something extra special, head down to the hotel’s ancient cellar to relax the atmospheric swimming pool or sweat out some calories in the sauna.
Summary: The top Krakow day trips
- Love nature? Slide out to the countryside to enjoy the greenery and karst landscapes of Ojcow National Park.
- Need to get some fresh air and get active? Descend unto Zakopane, Poland’s adventure capital. Either talking to the slopes in winter or to the hiking trail will leave you spirited.
- Looking for holy treasures? Make the pilgrimage to Czestochowa or Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the two most important Roman Catholic sites in Poland.
- Obsessed with twentieth-century history? You simply can’t miss out on Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the most haunting, yet important, historical sites in Europe.
- Need more city love and tight on time in Poland? Hop on an intercity express train for a quick one-day zoom-through of Warsaw, Poland’s dynamic and exciting capital.