Kraków may be small, but its bustling atmosphere means you’ll likely find plenty to see and do during your stay. If you’re staying for a long stretch or simply want to trek further afield, though, the Małopolska province offers travelers a chance to explore everything from the famous Wieliczka Salt Mines to the quaint painted village of Zalipie. All reachable within two hours, here are the top day trips from Kraków.
Kraków is home to one of the most famous Nazi concentration camps in history: Auschwitz. Admission to the camp also covers the Birkenau site; as both locations are shockingly vast in size, expect to spend a full day here. While it's possible to visit the camp independently, a guided tour takes roughly 3.5 hours and covers a comprehensive amount of information, including facts and tidbits you'd otherwise miss.
Getting There: Both Auschwitz and Birkenau are almost 50 miles from Kraków. Guided tours will arrange transportation to get you there and back, and are available to purchase at many agencies around Kraków city center. Alternatively, you can take a train or bus directly to Oświęcim from the main train station; this will take 1.5 to two hours.
Travel Tip: Bring food with you for your 15-minute lunch break, as well as a bag no bigger than 30x20x10cm.
They say that the Wieliczka Salt Mine is where Krakowians go for healthy lungs, and you’ll certainly feel the difference in the air. The sheer size of this UNESCO World Heritage site—1,073 feet deep and 178 miles long—will certainly blow your mind. Descending almost 400 stairs (with an elevator ride back up), you’ll explore just two percent of the salt labyrinth, including its four chapels and an underground lake. You'll even be offered a chance to taste the salty walls.
Getting There: You’ll find guided tours aplenty in Kraków's city center that include transportation, although getting there independently is easy, too. Get your entry tickets online or from the ticket office at ul. Wiślna 12a. You can hop on a train at the main station or bus 304 and arrive in Wieliczka in 20 to 30 minutes; alternatively, you can take a 20-minute taxi ride.
Travel Tip: The mine is around 60 degrees F (15 degrees C) at all times, so bring a light jacket if visiting in summer.
Spend time immersed in nature in Poland's smallest national park, just 40 minutes from Kraków. There are a multitude of hiking trails marked out at Ojców National Park, one of which will take you to Łokietek and Ciemna Caves—the only two of the park's 400 caves that you can visit. Check out the quaint wooden architecture of The Chapel on the Water and the stunning views of the valley from Pieskowa Skała. Out of the many interesting rock formations, the distinctive "white hand rock" is definitely the most photo-worthy.
Getting There: The easiest option is to drive (30 to 45 minutes). Otherwise, catch the Uni-bus from Kamienna street, which runs every two to three hours on weekdays and less regularly on weekends; one-way tickets cost 8 złoty ($0.26).
Travel Tip: Visit from September to October to catch the trees in their incredible hues of red, yellow, and orange.
Surrounded by the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane is a quaint and very popular town where you can hike in the summer and ski in the winter. Admire the amazing views en route and spend time strolling around the town’s cobbled streets and indulging in hearty stews and goulash. One of the top hiking trails leads to the largest lake in the Tatra Mountains, Morskie Oko (Eye of the Sea), where you'll want to spend your time resting and taking in the incredible view. Wintertime in Zakopane lends itself to skiing, the most popular areas being Kasprowy Wierch and Gubałówka.
Getting There: From the main bus station, take Flixbus or Szwagropol straight to Zakopane. These run regularly throughout the day from 5:30 a.m. and will take around two hours. To drive, it’s just under two hours.
Travel Tip: Avoid coming here in the summer or winter if you hate crowds.
Wolski Forest: A Castle, a Monastery, a Zoo, and a Mound
Just 6 miles from the center, Las Wolski is still very much in Kraków, but its 1,000-plus acres offer plenty to fill a day. Follow the color-coded trails marked on the trees—the red trail will lead you to both the Camaldolese Monastery and Piłsudski’s Mound. (The monastery is more accessible to some than others, unfortunately; women can visit only 12 days a year.) Atop Piłsudski’s Mound, peak out over the Wolski Forest and Błonia Meadow for panoramic views of the city.
Getting there: Bus 134 goes from Cracovia Stadium every 30 minutes and will drop you off at Kraków Zoo within 20 minutes. From the zoo, you’ll see the entrance to the forest, where the red, yellow, green, blue, and black trails begin.
Travel Tip: Round off your day with a refreshment at Przegorzały Castle and its café/restaurant U Ziyada for picture-perfect views of Kraków, the Vistula River, and even the Tatras on a clear day.
The historic village of Tyniec, just 8 miles from the center, is home to a nearly 1,000-year-old abbey. Sitting on a white limestone cliff, the abbey offers fantastic views of the Vistula River, which you can enjoy from its restaurant and cafe (you’ll likely even sit right by a Benedictine monk). To visit the abbey itself, you need to purchase a tour, which is 7 to 10 złoty and takes around one hour.
Getting There: Cross the river via Bridge Debnicki, turn right onto Tyniecka Street, then follow the road closest to the river until you reach the abbey. It’s a flat road the whole way and very doable in 45 minutes. Alternatively, go on foot (about two hours) and return by bus 112.
Travel Tip: Download the Wavelo app and rent a bike from one of the many stations dotted around the city.
Lanckorona: Wooden Houses and Castle Ruins
If you need a break from the city, you’ll enjoy the laidback, old-world charm of Lanckorona. The only real tourist attraction here is its castle ruins, dating back to the 14th century and destroyed when the People's Republic of Poland were in power. Otherwise, take in the traditional Polish character of this understated village by strolling its streets and checking out the ornate 19th-century wooden houses and quaint parish church.
Getting There: The only way to visit Lanckorona is by car, so a rental or rideshare is your best bet.
Travel Tip: After a long walk, stop in for some hearty Polish food at one of the few cafés or restaurants.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: Poland’s Largest Pilgrimage Site
This UNESCO World Heritage site in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was the first Calvary sanctuary in Poland. Created in the 17th century, this pilgrimage site was frequented by Polish Pope John Paul II, who now has a large statue in his honor. Today, it continues to hold hourly masses and see pilgrims from all over Poland, in addition to offering an impressive panorama of the surrounding area.
Getting There: From the main station, you can take a train to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska for 7 złoty; the trip will take just over an hour.
Travel Tip: Expect very large crowds around any religious holidays, and book a tour in advance if arriving in a large group.
Zalipie: The Painted Village
The small, unassuming village of Zalipie has become steadily popular in recent years thanks to its colorful and traditional celebration of Polish folk culture. Here, the residents adorn their homes, trees, and other buildings with bright and intricate artwork. The Instagram-worthy village has no center, so you'll need good walking shoes to locate all of the spots if you don't have a car.
Getting There: By car, it's about an hour-long drive from Kraków. If you're relying on public transport, take a train to Tarnów, then transfer to a Zalipie-bound bus.
Travel Tip: If you’re visiting around Corpus Christi, head to Zalipie the following weekend to catch the Painted Cottage Competition, where the houses are judged on their floral artwork.