There’s little doubt that the city of Krakow is one of the best places to visit in Poland. Thanks to its historical character, this southern city charms most who include it in their Poland itinerary. Sightseeing here is effortless, and you’ll have no trouble spending three days in Krakow. But there are also plenty of things to see in Poland outside of Krakow and that’s exactly what day trips are for. What’s more, the cities and countryside which surround Krakow will reveal different aspects of the country, including its vibrant nature and its devout faith. To make the most of your time here in Poland, these are the best day trips from Krakow which will show you more of what Poland is about.
For many travelers coming to Krakow, the first place they want to visit on a day trip is the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It may be a somber destination, but for that reason it’s one of the best places to visit from Krakow. This infamous complex of Nazi extermination camps was one of the many horrific sites of the Holocaust during the German occupation of Poland. You will start your visit of the camps at Auschwitz I camp, where the iconic “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign can be seen. Walking through the camp you will see exhibits which explain the experiences of prisoners and displays of rooms full of belongings and more. The second half of your visit takes place at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the site of rail cars, barracks, and gas chambers.
Getting there: To fully understand the history and events which occurred at Auschwitz it is strongly recommend that you visit on a guided tour. It is possible to reach the town of Oswiecim, where the camps are, by bus or train, with both taking between 1.5 and 2 hours from Krakow.
2. Wieliczka Salt Mine
One of the most anticipated day tours from Krakow for many visitors is a trip down the Wieliczka Salt Mine. While a mine may not sound like the most interesting place to spend your day, this is no ordinary mine. With a history dating back 700 years, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a UNESCO world heritage site full of unexpected beauty. After delving down 350 steps into the mine, you’ll see the usual underground caverns and mining equipment, but plenty more as well. Miners at the Wieliczka Salt Mine began a tradition of carving sculptures from the salt and even created the incredible Chapel of St. Kinga which truly has to be seen to be believed. Other stops through the mine include an underground tavern and a subterranean lake.
Getting there: Frequent local buses and trains travel from Krakow to Wieliczka daily, and the trip takes under 30 minutes. You can also visit the mines on a half-day tour and have all the details handled for you.
3. Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains
A nice change of pace after spending several days in Krakow is to escape to the resort town of Zakopane below the Tatra Mountains. Many use the town as a base for various outdoor activities in the mountains like skiing and hiking, but Zakopane has its own charms as well. Start your time here with a stroll along the main promenade of Krupowki Street. Here you can soak up the relaxed atmosphere and admire Zakopane’s traditional wooden architecture. Next, take the cable car up to Gubałówka mountain for some stellar views of the scenery in the Tatra Mountains. Close out your time here with a dip in one of the many thermal spas in town or go for some retail therapy. Unlike other Krakow day trips, this can be as relaxed or as active as you like.
Getting there: The most stress-free way to visit Zakopane is by visiting with an organized tour. Alternatively, the town is only a 2 hour bus ride from Krakow with departures every hour.
4. Dunajec River Gorge
Much of the Tatra Mountain range is too hard to reach from Krakow, but another mountainous region which isn’t, is the Dunajec River Gorge. Running along the border between Poland and Slovakia, much of this gorge is pure wilderness. Before travelling into the gorge, first stop at Lake Czorsztynskie to see Niedzica Castle and Czorsztyn Castle which sit on opposite sides of the lake. It’s then time to hop aboard a traditional wooden raft and drift downstream through the surrounding Pieniny Mountains. Following an 18km stretch of the river, there will be few signs of civilization among the thick forests which line its shores.
Getting there: Too remote to reach from Krakow on your own for a day, you’re going to want to take a day tour to properly see this scenic gorge.
5. Ojców National Park
To stretch your legs and get a breath of fresh air, head northwest of Krakow to the magnificent Ojców National Park. Celebrated for its biodiversity and superb views, this national park is just a stone’s throw from Krakow and yet feels worlds away. Upon arriving in the park, set out along the path and make your way through the large rock gate known as the Kraków Gate. Throughout Ojców National Park you can see many caves of different sizes, including the Łokietka Cave which is the park’s largest and most well known. Adding to the park’s incredible natural beauty are the ruins of Ojców Castle and the well preserved Pieskowa Skała Castle several kilometers to the north.
Getting there: The easiest way to see Pieskowa Skała Castle together with the highlights of Ojców National Park is to go on a guided tour. To reach the park on your own, take the hourly 210 bus to the village of Czajowice a short walk from the park entrance.
Alongside Krakow, the capital city of Warsaw is one of Poland’s other great destinations. You could easily spend several days in Warsaw but if you’re short on time, a day trip will do. Start by stepping into Castle Square below the Sigismund’s Column before wandering into the city’s Old Town. As you explore, make sure to see the Old Town Market Place as well as the Barbican and city walls. There are two great viewpoints to choose from in Warsaw, the Taras Widokowy Tower, and the immense Palace of Culture and Science. Next, learn about the city’s Jewish history and the tragedy of the Holocaust in the modern POLIN Museum. Finally, be dazzled by the beauty of Łazienki Palace within one of Warsaw’s nicest parks.
Getting there: The best way to reach Warsaw on a day trip is by taking an intercity train from Krakow. There are hourly connections and the journey lasts a little under 2 ½ hours.
Poland is a deeply Catholic country and one of the country’s most cherished religious sites lies in the city of Częstochowa. An easy train trip from Krakow, Częstochowa is one of Poland’s main pilgrimage destinations thanks to the Jasna Gora Monastery. This monastery, which dates from the 14th century, is the focus of most visits to the city. For pilgrims and general visitors, the main attraction is the painting of the Black Madonna, a revered icon of the Virgin Mary. Other sights to see in Częstochowa include the long Aleje promenade which leads to the monastery as well as the city’s rather unique Museum of the Production of Matches. While coming back from Częstochowa, stop in at the ruins of Olsztyn Castle on the Trail of the Eagles’ Nest.
Getting there: Getting to Częstochowa from Krakow takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes by train with regular connections running between the cities. To see the sights of Częstochowa as well as the hometown of Pope John Paul II get around with a guided tour.
Making a trip over to Katowice, the nearest big city to Krakow, will show you just how diverse Poland can be. Start with a stroll along 3 Maja Street down to Rynek Square, to see an interesting mix of brand new buildings among older grand ones. From there, head over to the large and hauntingly beautiful Silesian Uprisings Memorial which honors those who fought in the 1920’s to have this region be a part of Poland. A short walk away is the Silesian Museum, which occupies the site of one of the city’s old coal mines. The museum touches on all sorts of things from the region, including mining, history and culture. It also has a great view from the top of the mine shaft.
Getting there: The best way to get from Krakow to Katowice is by bus, with departures almost every hour. The trip takes between an hour and 1 ½ hours.
A short trip from Krakow and technically still within the city limits, is the village of Tyniec. With plenty of history surrounding the village, Tyniec offers travelers a brief break from the city and some interesting sights. The most important attraction in Tyniec is the Benedictine Abbey which sits upon a hill overlooking the Vistula River. Founded by King Casimir the Restorer in 1044, this monastery has weathered invaders repeatedly over the years and still has active monks there today. While the views from the abbey are quite something, the best view of the abbey is found from across the river.
Getting there: Being so close to Krakow, Tyniec is only a 20 minute bus ride from downtown. Alternatively, rent a bike or scooter and get there on two wheels, it’s only a little more than 10km from the city center.
Poland has no shortage of delightful smaller cities and Tarnow is one of the best to visit from Krakow. Much of what interests tourists about Tarnow can be found in the city’s pleasant Old Town. Old Town Square is where the city’s distinctive Town Hall can be found accompanied by some lovely Polish architecture. A short walk down one of the pedestrian side streets brings you to the Tarnow Cathedral, a pleasant red brick church with plenty of history. Tarnow also has some deep Jewish heritage to it, which is best experienced with a visit to the Old Synagogue and a walk through the Jewish Cemetery. For views of Tarnow and a chance to see some castle ruins, hike your way up St. Martin’s Hill on the city’s southside.
Getting there: There are frequent regional and intercity trains connecting Krakow and Tawnow which take between an hour and 1 ½ hours.
These are just some of the best side trips from Krakow, with plenty more to look forward to. As you can see Krakow is a great place to base yourself when exploring Poland!