Krakow and Surrounding Areas
The wealth of delights and amusements that Krakow has to offer often mean that visitors never venture far from the city centre. This is a shame, because Krakow is situated in one of the most interesting and beautiful parts of Poland. There are numerous natural and historical wonders within an hour’s drive of the city, many of them completely overlooked by the average tourism guide.
The most obvious attraction in this part of Poland are the high peaks of the Polish Tatras. The famed mountain town of Zakopane is considerably more than an hour from Krakow, but much of the countryside between the two consists of the exceptionally picturesque valleys and hills of the Beskid range. There are several towns well worth visiting in the area.
About 20 km southwest of Krakow, deep in the Beskids, lies the unique village of Lanckorona. Famous locally for its large collection of traditional wooden houses, few foreign visitors get to see these priceless examples of 19th-century rural architecture. Founded in the 13th century, Lanckorona became a retreat for romantic literary types during the dark days of Poland’s partitions.
Further west than Lanckorona, but still within 50 km of Krakow, lies the little city of Wadowice. The town’s greatest claim to fame is as the birthplace of Karol Jozef Wojtyla – better known to the world as Pope John Paul II. Unsurprisingly, the majority of Wadowice’s attractions are ecclesiastical in nature, but the place is also a pleasing example of a traditional, southern Polish city.
Also only 20 km from Krakow, but to the east, is the lovely little town of Niepolomice. Rapidly becoming the destination of choice for Krakow urbanites looking for a bit of rural weekend atmosphere, Niepolomice features a compact but beautiful 14th-century castle, a delightful town square and, on its doorstep, the vast, untouched wilderness of Niepolomice Forest.
Heading north from Krakow, a 20-km car ride brings you to the tiny village of Ojcow. Although walking around the village itself will take all of 5 minutes, it is set in the heart of the Ojcow National Park – a remarkable landscape of jagged ravines and limestone spires packed into just 21 square kilometres. There are also more than 400 limestone caves, and the evocative gothic ruin of Ocjow castle to visit.
Much closer to Krakow’s centre, and within the city limits, are several areas of natural beauty. Unmissable from the city centre, and any aircraft approaching Krakow’s airport, are the hills lying to the west of the city. This surprisingly wild haven within sight of the city’s streets offers superb views of the valley of the Vistula River and, in good weather, the mountains far to the south. There are also palaces and two huge, man-made memorial mounds (the Kosciuszko Mound and the Piłsudski Mound) hidden among the trees.