If you haven’t been to the party capital of Poland yet then what are you even doing with your life? However, as much fascination as the historic city of Krakow holds, its prime location also allows for some interesting day trips.
Katowice, located an hour west from Krakow, makes for an easy daytrip for an architecture lover. Its oldest buildings range from Baroque-inspired renaissance to Polish art noveau; meanwhile, a good example of modern architecture is the venue hall Spodek that – unintentionally or not – looks like a spaceship.
And whatever you do, don’t you dare skip Nikiszowiec! This old working class suburb is a small maze of beautiful red-brick buildings, and it’s easy to reach from the centre by local transportation.
Eat: Grab a coffee and a bagel (they’re huge!) at Kafej, a funky little café next to the UFO. Fan of potatoes? (Of course you are, what else would you be doing in Poland?) One of the cheapest and tastiest dinner options in Katowice is Kartofelnik, a restaurant that only serves jacket potatoes.
Get there: There are frequent local busses between Krakow and Katowice, as well as many departures with Flixbus.
Just two hours south of the city, Zakopane lies in the foothills of the Tatras mountain range. While it’s possible to visit this mountain town in a day, it’s worth spending two days or a weekend there to fully take advantage of its beautiful nature. It’s also a great destination at every season.
Wander around the main streets admiring cute mountain huts and grab some smoked cheese for snacks. However, the real draw is Morskie Oko, a mountain lake situated some 20 kilometres outside of the city. Minibuses to the lake run regularly, and while the 9 km hike might sound intimidating, the route is asphalted and very easy.
Note: It’s possible to take a horse-drawn carriage to the lake, but please don’t – the horses are overworked and apparently not very well kept. Save a pony, use your feet.
Zakopane in the winter:
Zakopane is a snowy paradise in the winter with great opportunities to ski, sled, and watch ski jumpers in action. One of the most unique things to do is get lost in the world’s biggest ice maze in Snowlandia, a small theme park equally fun for kids and adults.
Zakopane in the summer:
Hiking in the Tatras is best during summer months after most of the snow has melted and trails become accessible again. You could hike up from Morskie Oko to Czarny Oko – the “black lake” -, which is only about 45 minutes uphill, or continue even further and try to conquer the highest peak of Polish Tatras, Rysy.
Get there: Local busses (19 zloty one way) run almost hourly. Flixbus also has daily but less regular services but it’s somewhat cheaper.
Zalipie and Tarnow
For anyone who appreciates traditional Polish folk art, Zalipie is a must visit. This small village is known for its houses painted with colourful flowers. It’s worth making a stop in the small medieval city of Tarnow, too, which is located on the way.
While Zalipie is located only 70 kilometres from Krakow, getting there can be a little tricky. Check out my post on Zalipie to find out how to get there and what to see.
Get there: Trains (11 zloty one way) between Krakow and Tarnow run almost every hour; from Tarnow, you can continue on a minibus.
Read more: How to Visit Zalipie, Poland
Wielczika salt mines
The salt mines, located just 15 kilometres from Krakow, are one of the original twelve UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Mining has stopped years ago, though, and today the mines are open for tourists.
The salt mines are one of the most popular day trips to take from Krakow, so expect crowds and book your tickets early. (Tickets can be bought online and collected at the salt mines before your visit.)
You can choose between two routes: tours on the tourist route run twice an hour and in multiple languages, and it takes you through the best-known attractions of the mines, such as the large underground chapel. The miner’s route can only be done in English, and it takes you to lesser visited parts of the mine to get hands-on experience on the tasks, duties and everyday life of the past miners. If you want to do both routes, it’s recommended to start early – each tour might take up to four hours.
Get there: You can book a tour through one of the various tourist agencies operating around Krakow, but it’s easy to just take a bus or a train from the central station and go by yourself.
Disclaimer: While I thought the mines were cool, they are also very touristy and in the end, there isn’t that much to see. It’s a nice day trip, but in my personal experience, I wouldn’t say it’s a must-do.
I also didn’t do the miner’s route, since I’ve already done a similar (but probably way more dangerous) tour in Bolivia. You can read about that here.
While anything but a pleasant destination to visit, Auschwitz -Birkenau is such an important site to see that you can’t miss it. I’m serious – I know travel bloggers are always telling you how some places are a “must”, but Auschwitz is one of those places for which the statement is actually true. It is a heavy, dark, emotional place to visit, but understanding what happened there is crucial if we as a humanity want to not repeat our past mistakes.
Read more: Dark Tourism – education or exploitation?
Bukowina Tatrzańska thermal pools
How about a dip in some hot springs? The largest thermal bath complex in Poland is located close to Zakopane which ensures that it is easy to get to from Krakow. With six indoor and six outdoor pools, the complex offers options for both relaxation and fun for the whole family.
Get there: There are a few direct daily busses from Krakow; you can also take a bus to Zakopane and then catch a minibus from there.
Disclaimer: I didn’t visit the thermal pools myself, but many of my friends did, and they highly recommend them.
Similarly to Zakopane, if you left early and returned late, Wroclaw could be done as a day trip, but it’s way better to visit over a weekend. The old town is filled with stunning architecture – its colourful main square has been called the most beautiful in Europe. But Wroclaw is most well known for its quirky art; approximately 300 gnome statues hide around nooks and crannies, placed there in honour of a group that protested against the oppressive communist regime with hilariosity. At the end of the day, make your way over to Sky Tower for a fantastic sunset view over the city.
Eat: For a traditional Polish meal, head to Brajt; or if you prefer vegetarian, Vega on the central square is cheap and tasty. Central café serves great breakfast; for a midday snack, try the cheesecake at Vinyl Café or the ice cream at Tralalala Café.
Getting there: Flixbus has regular, cheap routes, and it only takes three hours to get there from Krakow.
Have you been to Krakow or are you going soon? Let me know if you’re planning to do one of the abovementioned day trips or you know even cooler ones!