Excursions in the vicinity of Cracow
The Wieliczka salt mine, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been in operation since the Middle Ages. It has several tiers going down to 327 m below the surface and forms a labyrinth of corridors, chambers and galleries. For sightseers, there is a special 3.5 km route leading through an extraordinary fairytale world. Among Wieliczka’s treasures are the unique Crystal Caves with their beautiful halite crystals, and a series of amazing chapels carved into the salt. The most famous are the Chapel of St. Anthony, the Chapel of the Holy Cross and the stunningly beautiful Chapel of St. Kinga decorated with salt sculptures and chandeliers made of salt crystals. The mine also has an exhibition of tools illustrating the development of mining technology over the centuries.
Auschwitz - Birkenau
Heritage List. Almost 1.5 million prisoners lost their lives in the camp, most of them Jews from Poland and Central Europe, as well as Poles. The Monument of the Martyrdom of Nations was erected here in memory of Holocaust victims. A tour of the camp includes the Auschwitz permanent exhibition, the primary camp set up by the Nazis in 1940, and the most important parts of Birkenau: the former camp area, barracks, the unloading ramp and ruins of gas chambers and crematoria.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska - Wadowice
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, also called the “Polish Jerusalem”, is one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Poland. The small town situated in an attractive valley is famous for its monastery complex, which includes the Bernardine Fathers’ Church and the pilgrimage park. Every year magnificent religious ceremonies are held here, which include colourful Passion plays and indulgence fairs and attract crowds of pilgrims from all over the country and abroad. The Calvary paths - a complex of sacred sites, chapels and little churches which blend into the natural landscape - are perfect for reflection and contemplation. The monastery complex at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Wadowice, the birthplace of Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II, is another popular place of international pilgrimage. The focal point of the town is the market square and the Parochial Church - the Virgin Mary's Offertory Minor Basilica. The font where Karol Wojtyła was baptized can be found in one of the naves. Nearby is the Pope’s family home, now a museum with a display of mementoes, photographs and letters.
Pauline monastery on Jasna Góra
Częstochowa, the spiritual capital of Poland, attracts pilgrims and tourists from all over the world, who come to see the Pauline monastery on Jasna Góra. It is one of the most important places of the Marian cult in this part of Europe and houses the miraculous painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Child, the Black Madonna. The four gates of the monastery complex lead into the main courtyard. Steps going down lead to the Last Supper room, and upstairs you can see 14 bronze Stations of the Cross, John Paul II’s Gate and the treasury which includes a collection of richly decorated liturgical vessels and vestments. The monastery complex also includes the Basilica of the Holy Cross and Nativity of Mary, one of Poland’s most valuable examples of sacral architecture.
Ojców National Park - Pieskowa Skała
Ojców National Park lies in the Jura Cracowsko-Częstochowska upland. There are several hiking routes in the park, starting from the former Spa Park near the ruins of a castle built by King Kazimierz the Great. The diverse terrain includes several picturesque valleys. The longest of these is the Prądnik Valley, with its fascinating karst limestone scenery of rocky ravines, springs and caves. Among the park's greatest attractions are the amazingly-shaped rock formations created by erosion. The most famous of them is Hercules’ Club - a 20 m high rock standing precariously on its narrow end. Ojców National Park is awaiting inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Pieskowa Skała boasts one of the most beautiful castles in Poland. This Gothic stronghold was built by King Kazimierz the Great on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Prądnik Valley. It was converted into a Renaissance residence in the 16th century. After further alterations in subsequent centuries, the castle was restored to its full Renaissance splendour after World War II. The interiors house a magnificent exhibition of sculptures, paintings, tapestries and furniture.
The Eagle's Nest trail
Taking its name from the almost inaccessible castles built on the steep limestone rocks, The Eagle's Nest trailis one of the most popular tourist destinations near Cracow. The ruins of these strongholds and watchtowers are relics of the defensive system created by Kazimierz the Great to protect borders, major trade routes and settlements. As the centuries passed, this invincible system of fortifications has gradually fallen into ruin. Today the picturesque ruins are one of the symbols of the Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska upland.
Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska Upland
Bochnia - Nowy Wiśnicz
Though less famous than the mine in Wieliczka, the salt mine in Bochnia is Poland’s oldest and a major tourist attraction in its own right. Salt was mined from the mid-13th century, but today mining no longer takes place. Instead the mine houses a spa offering inhalation treatments. A tourist route runs 200 m underground exhibiting old mining techniques, and a 350-metre-long corridor with rails along which wagons once ran leads to the Ważyn chamber with its special therapeutic microclimate. On a higher level of the mine, the beautiful Chapel of Saint Kinga features a pulpit and figures of saints carved in salt. Visitors can also take a ride on an underground train or slide down a 140-metre-long ramp which was once used for transporting salt - an unforgettable experience indeed!
Nowy Wiśnicz boasts the castle of the Kmita and Lubomirski families - one of Poland’s most valuable, not to say beautiful, examples of early Baroque residential and defensive architecture. With its bright white walls, towers and annexes contrasting with its red roof, the castle is a breathtaking sight. The oldest part of the castle, for centuries an aristocratic residence, was built in the 14th century. Today the castle retains its early Baroque form with Renaissance additions. The interiors feature Baroque portals, window frames, stucco decorations and polychromes. The castle is surrounded by fortifications from the early 17th century.
Sucha Beskidzka - Zubrzyca Górna
The 600-year-Old Town of Sucha Beskidzka lies in a picturesque basin in the valleys of two rivers in the heart of the Beskid Mountains. The town's unique scenery and its Renaissance castle “Little Wawel”, with its famous orangery, certainly make Sucha a place worth visiting. A special feature of this region is the numerous roadside shrines hidden among the trees. It’s also worth visiting the Rzym inn, an historic wooden building notable for its regional architecture. The inn was built around the mid-18th century and hosted merchants as well as the local highland robbers. Today it is a café and restaurant specializing in regional cuisine.
The village of Zubrzyca Górna
The village of Zubrzyca Górna lies in the Beskid part of Polish Orawa - a beautiful and fascinating area. A mountain that stands out in the gently sloping range is Babia Góra (1,725 m above sea level), queen of the Beskid Wysoki Mountains. Zubrzyca is home to the Orawa Ethnographic Park, an open-air museum featuring the most valuable examples of historical architecture from the region.
Wygiełzów - Lipowiec
The Vistula Ethnographic Park in Wygiełzów presents the traditional folk culture of the region stretching west of Cracow. The open-air museum lies at the foot of Castle Hill, itself a beautiful beech-wood nature reserve. At the summit is Lipowiec, the ruined medieval castle of the bishops of Cracow. Farmsteads dot the undulating terrain, along with a church with a bell tower and other examples of local architecture, including an oil mill, smithy and watermill.
The Pieniny Mountains, one of the most charming corners of Poland, are justly famous for their extraordinary scenery. The central part of the mountains makes up the Pieniny National Park, where rocky limestone ridges and steep slopes overgrown with forests rise above winding river valleys, overlooked by the peaks of Trzy Korony and Sokolica. The region’s most popular tourist attraction is the raft trip down the Dunajec River gorge, which also forms the border with Slovakia - a truly memorable journey into the heart of the Pieniny Mountains. The route leads through the most picturesque parts of the national park. Narrow wooden dugouts tied together in fives to form rafts and steered by experienced raftsmen are the only means of travelling along the Pieniny gorge from the Polish side, as there is no road along the Dunajec.
Raft trip down the Dunajec River gorge
In Niedzica, you can admire one of the prettiest and best located castles in Poland. The stronghold, built in the 14th century and converted into the Renaissance style in the 16th century, was the seat of a distinguished family of Hungarian magnates. Apart from the courtyard and beautifully preserved rooms in the castle's upper floors, it's well worth climbing to the observation terrace to take in the view of the Pieniny Mountains, Zalew Czorsztyński reservoir and the nearby dam and the ruins of Czorsztyn castle. An interesting though still uncertain footnote to the castle’s history is the “Inca Testament”, which was discovered here and apparently reveals the secret of the Inca treasure lying at the bottom of Lake Titicaca in Peru.
Czorsztyn is famous for the historical ruins of a castle that once stood overlooking the River Dunajec. Czorsztyn castle was built in the 13th century as a border stronghold guarding the trade and diplomatic route linking Poland to Hungary.
Poland’s winter capital, located at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, attracts visitors with its enchanting landscapes, original architecture and genuine Podhale highland folklore. Once a small mountain village, it grew to become a Mecca for artists and mountaineers and an important tourist, cultural and health centre. The town is the highest in Poland, and is a centre for winter sports, a base for hiking along the Tatra trails, as well as host to many folklore events. The cable car to Mt. Kasprowy Wierch and the funicular railway to Mt. Gubałówka, ski lifts and ski jumps, marked hiking trails leading through picturesque valleys and mountain pastures in the Unesco-Listed Tatra National Park - these are just some of the things that draw people to Zakopane. In the oldest part of the town, on Kościeliska street, there are many examples of historical wooden highland architecture. The famous main street, Krupówki, which is always teeming with life, is great for a stroll or a browse through the local craft shops. And don't leave until you've tried some of the speciality oscypek cheese. Numerous inns on the street offer original Podhale regional dishes.
A tour of Zakopane: Kościeliska street, the cemetery on Pęksowy Brzyzek, Krupówki street, and one of the options below:
- funicular ride to Mt. Gubałówka or cable car ride to Mt. Kasprowy Wierch
- hike along one of the mountain routes in the Tatra National Park
- trip to the emerald-green Morskie Oko, the largest lake in the Tatra Mountains
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