With some of Poland’s top travel destinations at its doorstep, there’s a multitude of interesting day trips from Krakow for travelers. Within a couple hours from the former Polish capital, you’ll explore unique historical sites, beautiful national parks, and historic towns & cities. Whether you want to marvel at the underground chapels of Wieliczka Salt Mine or go hiking in the High Tatras near Zakopane, find your inspiration with this complete side excursions guide.
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If you’ve carved out more than one day in Krakow, 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 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.
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Even with its difficulty, a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau is an absolute must, if for no reason other than to remind us of a state of humanity we must never return to.
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!
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 stretches over just 21 square kilometres. It’s a wonderful world of thick forests, valleys, cliffs, ravines, and caves set within a typical Central European karst landscape.
Besides 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 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. It’s one of the best castles on Poland’s Eagles Nest Trail.
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 may not have the clout of Krakow with travellers, but the tongue-twisting town of Częstochowa (chen-stoh-hoh-vah) is hardly an offbeat destination either.
Every year, millions of visitors from Poland and around the world pile onto Częstochowa to visit the Jasna Gora Monastery. The monastery was founded by Pauline Monks in the late 14th century. It houses the Black Madonna, an icon of the Virgin Mary. The icon is not only a Polish national treasure but is 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!
How to get to Częstochowa
With direct train connections, Częstochowa is one of the easier places to add to your Poland itinerary. Trains between Krakow Glowny and Częstochowa Stradom leave every couple of 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’d 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 or Vail; in summer, it’s an outdoor adventure paradise. All while remaining surprisingly affordable.
While I recommend staying at least a couple of days in Zakopane (if for no other reason than the unpredictable weather), visiting Zakopane in one day is still a viable option. Whichever 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 Great Krokiew (Wielka Krokiew) and ski jumps await 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. The 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. The castle is 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. It was only restored after the Second World War as a tourist attraction.
Visiting Ogrodzieniec Castle today uncovers an eerie bygone world. Saunter among the towering castle walls, chambers, and guard towers to bring to life the medieval legends that surround the ruins. Admission to the castle costs just 9zł (7zł reduced).
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 the village of Lipnica Murowana, St. Leonard’s Church is 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, the Church of St. Archangel Michael lies 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, Church of Saints Philip and Jacob is about 20 minutes south of Binarowa. The exterior, covered completely in wood shakes, is the most unusual of all the churches. From a distance, the roof appears to blanket the entire structure.
Unlike other Malopolska churches, much of what remains here is restored rather than original. The building, both inside and out, suffered heavy damage during World War I. It wasn’t 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, the second Church of St. Archangel Michael is about two hours southeast of 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 are 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. It was left in ruins on occasion, but rose 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. They’re a surprisingly social bunch who smash the sullen monk stereotypes!
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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.
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. The 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 of 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 of days in Warsaw, visiting Poland’s capital in one day from Krakow isn’t impossible. Many of the top things to do 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 one 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. Reserve 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.
How to get to Warsaw
For hammering out a day trip to Warsaw by public transportation, the 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).