9 best places to visit in Southern Poland

Beautiful Polish landscape - Tatra mountains seen from Pieniny
By Joanna Dabrowska

By Joanna
(Contact Me)

Travel coverage May 17, 2018, 3:42 p.m. Poland Wieliczka Babia Góra Pieniny Trzy Korony High Tatras Tatra Mountains Gorce Western Tatras Low Tatra Kraków 2018 Travel coverage

Poland has been underrated by travelers for many years. Still, those who have never visited this country tend to think Poles don't have chewing gum and washing machines.

That's not surprising.

Not that long ago (1989) we were under Russian occupation, Everyday life in communist Poland was hard and people were poor as hell.

Fortunately, this has all ended and now Poland is fast-growing country with booming economy and standard of living getting better every year.

Actually, there are many reasons one would like to visit Poland. Interesting cities. Beautiful mountains, lakes and seashore. Low prices. No terrorist attacks.

So, if you decided to explore our amazing country, make sure you go to the southern Poland - there are lots of fantastic places to visit.

Table of contents

1. Tatra National Park

Hiking trail in Tatra National Park

Tatra mountains are the highest Polish mountain range and one of the most beautiful places in Poland. They belong to the Carpathian mountains.

Majestic peaks, clear lakes, dense forests and vast meadows create breathtaking landscapes, unique in this part of Europe.

Loads of hiking trails (all well-marked!), interesting flora and fauna, well-developed tourist infrastructure all make Tatra National Park the best mountains for hiking in Poland.

Let's have a look at the best places to visit in Tatra mountains.

The most popular peaks:

  • Giewont - 1895 metres. The landmark of Tatra mountains with a big cross at the top. Often referred to as Sleeping Knight - the massif of the mountain resembles a lying person. The final ascent is a bit tricky - there are chains and the path is very narrow. Beware - there's very little space at the top.
  • Kasprowy - 1987 metres. There's a cableway going from Zakopane Kuznice to the peak, but it's very popular among tourists and unless you come early in the morning, you will have to stand in line for a few hours.
  • Czerwone Wierchy - massif in Western Tatras. One of the best hikes in Poland. The red marked path leading along Czerwone Wierchy peaks is one of the most beautiful Tatra National Park trails. It consists of 4 peaks:
  1. Ciemniak – 2096 m
  2. Krzesanica – 2122 m
  3. Malolaczniak – 2096 m
  4. Kopa Kondracka – 2005 m
  • Rysy - 2499 metres. The highest mountain in Poland. One of the most exciting hiking trails in High Tatras. Rysy is actually a mountain massif and higher part of it belongs to Slovakia. On Polish side there are chains and the trail is narrow, so if you hike with children, it's better to ascend from Slovakia.

The best valleys:

  • Chocholowska - the longest valley in Tatra mountains (about 8 kilometres). One of the very few places where bikes are allowed. Nice, wide trail with amazing views. Perfectly safe to hike with children, also in strollers. There's mountain hut at the end of the valley.

  • Koscieliska - beautiful valley, one of the best places to visit in Tatra mountains. In lower part there's a stream which provides chill on hot days. In upper part there are fancy stones, perfect for an interesting shoot. In the past this valley was used for mining industry, but (thank heavens) now is solely for tourists. Added bonus in Koscieliska valley are numerous caves. The most popular is Mrozna cave. It's open from May until the end of October.

  • Pieciu Stawow (Valley of The Five Lakes) - my favorite valley in Tatras! Everything there is the -est. 😉 The highest waterfall Siklawa (70 metres), the longest and deepest Tatra lake Wielki Staw Polski (about 80 metres), the highest located lake in Poland - Zadni Staw Polski (1890 metres), the highest Polish mountain hut (1670 metres). Shortly speaking, it's the best!
    Trail is nice and safe, but in winter you will need crampons to get to Valley of The Five Lakes.

If you would like to stay close to Tatra mountains, you might want to choose one of the nearby villages: Murzasichle or Bukowina Tatrzanska. They are picturesque getaways, nice and quiet and located close to trail heads.

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2. Zakopane

best things to do in zakopane

One of the best places to visit in Poland. Main tourist resort in Tatra mountains. It's immensely popular among tourists - there are about 33 thousand of Zakopane residents and close to 3 million tourists visiting this town every year!

Tourist infrastructure is well-developed - variety of accommodation types, restaurants, pubs, museums and discos. It's impossible to get bored in Zakopane, although this town may be too much for peace seekers.

Main attractions:

  • Gubalowka - the most popular mount in Zakopane. It's not high (1126 metres) but it offers amazing panorama view of Tatra mountains. There are 2 ways to get to the peak: hike black trail which starts on Krupowki street, or take a ride in funicular. Restaurants, pubs, souvenir stands are in great variety on Gubalowka. For thrill seekers there's a fun slide. It's open from April until the end of November (it may be closed on rainy days). In winter there's snowpark.
  • Krupowki street - famous pedestrian area. Ton of restaurants, pubs, cafes and shops. And everything else. Get your wallet prepared, as it's impossible not to spend money on Krupowki street.
  • Pęksowy Brzyzek National Cemetery - great place to visit after Krupowki's hustle and bustle. Peaceful and quiet, good for reflection over passing time. This 19th cemetery was only for rich and notable people who worked for the good of Tatra mountains.
  • Wielka Krokiew ski jump - the biggest ski jump in Poland. You can hike to the top or get there by chair lift. Great panorama view of Zakopane.
  • Zakopane Style museum in Koliba villa - traditional mountain architecture, lots of interesting exhibits, friendly staff. Great place for folklore and history aficionados. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Upside down house - you can check there how your bony labyrinth works. 😉
  • EXPO wax museum - nice place for rainy weather. Open everyday 10AM - 10PM.
  • Tatra museum - named after dr Tytus Chalubinski, pathology professor and nature admirer. He researched Tatra mountains nature and made Zakopane well-known as health resort. Lots of exhibits present basic knowledge about history, culture and nature of Tatras region. Definitely worth a visit.
  • Zakopane waterpark - fun place for families with children. A few slides, sauna, jacuzzi, outdoor and indoor pool (outdoor with thermal water and mountain view).
  • Bungee jumping - jump from 90-metre crane for adrenaline junkies. In winter open only on weekends. Cash only.

We've checked many hotels in Zakopane, but so far the best place to stay in Zakopane is Willa Bartek. Located in peaceful area close to Tatra National Park trails. Rooms are nice and clean, fully equipped kitchen.

You can book your stay here:

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3. Krakow

Main square in Cracow, Poland

One of the major cities in Poland. Considered by many travellers as one of the most beautiful places in Poland.

An interesting city with well-preserved historical sites. Packed with museums, exhibitions, cathedrals, and also restaurants and discos - there are loads of things to do in Krakow.

Places to visit in Krakow:

  • Old Town - the oldest part of Cracow and one of the most unique places in Poland. There are all the main Krakow attractions. Together with Wawel Hill and Kazimierz district, it was added to UNESCO heritage in 1978. Mariacka Basilica, Sukiennice (cloth hall), Medieval Underground Museum, antique churches on every corner - folks interested in history and architecture will be delighted.
  • Royal Castle on Wawel hill - a trademark of the city, one of the top things to do in Krakow. Enormous museum with lots of exhibits. Guided tours available. And don't forget to say "hi" to the famous Wawel dragon. 😉
  • Planty park - unusual urban garden which encircles the Old Town. An ideal place to have a rest after a day spent on exploring the museums.
  • Schindler factory - in my opinion, the most interesting of all Krakow museums. Holocaust history presented in an accessible way, even to children. Since it's very popular, the best idea is to buy tickets online.
  • Kazimierz Jewish district - almost as popular as Old Town, one of the most fascinating Krakow main attractions. Beautiful place with specific atmosphere. Packed with restaurants, churches and museums. Na Skałce church, Mostowa street, Ethnographic museum, Corpus Christi church, saint Wawrzyniec street, Jozefa street, Tempel synagogue, Kupa synagogue, New Jewish cemetery.
  • Barbakan - an interesting example of medieval defence architecture (king Jan Olbracht was afraid of Turks). It was built in the 15th century but is one of the best-preserved Krakow attractions.
  • Camaldolese monastery in Bielany - located on the hill named Silver Mountain. Charming place, but if you're a woman, you can enter there only 12 days a year! (on Catholic holy days like Easter).
  • Mogila abbacy - built in the 13th century (!), currently being renovated. Great place not only for believers - if you're not into religion, but appreciate old architecture, then this is definitely a must-see for you.
  • Botanical garden of Jagiellonian University - a beautiful place, one of the best things to do in Krakow if you're in need of relaxation. Lots of flowers, ponds and exotic trees make this place a perfect getaway from the city's tumult.
  • Kopiec Krakusa - 16-metre high hill. Great place for a walk. Cracow panorama is seen from the top of the hill.

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4. Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine near Cracow, southern Poland

If you're in Krakow, it'd be a waste not to visit Wieliczka Salt Mine. Built in the 13th century, it's one of the most unique places in Poland. UNESCO thinks the same - in 1978 the mine became part of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.

Wieliczka mine offers interesting stone formations, a labyrinth of tunnels, salt ponds, mine exhibits and ride in a narrow-gauge train. Sightseeing takes about 3 hours and it's always done with a certified guide.

It's definitely worth to attend a concert there - the underground chamber enhances the sounds and the effect of music is much more intensified.

Also, keep in mind that sightseeing is done about 130 metres underground, so it's necessary to have additional clothing, even if it's a hot summer day on the surface.

PRO TIP: Wieliczka Salt Mine is very popular all year long and queues to ticket windows are ridiculously long there, so it's best to buy tickets online or get a guided tour with skip-the-line tickets.

If you're planning to stay in Wieliczka town for a few days, you can book your hotel here:

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5. Pieniny National Park

Pieniny mountain range in southern Poland

Some say Pieniny mountains are the most beautiful Polish mountain range, they even surpass in beauty Tatra mountains.

I'm not sure about that, but I say they're definitely worth a hike!

Pieniny National Park belongs to Carpathian mountains. Pieniny aren't very big or high, but there are some of the best hikes in Poland. The best one leads to Trzy Korony peak:

Trzy Korony (982 metres) is the most popular peak of Polish Pieniny mountains. There's a view platform at the very top - a true must-see in this National Park.

Pieniny trails are nice, wide and definitely not steep, perfect for family trips.

Other tourist attractions near Pieniny Mountains National Park:

  • Rafting on Dunajec river - peaceful ride for families with children. If you're more of a thrill-seeker, go for pontoons or kayaks. Whichever option you choose, the landscape will take your breath away!
  • Homole gorge - located in Jaworki village, this scenic trail is about 1 kilometre long, perfect for relaxing walk and photo sessions.
  • Dunajec castle and Czorsztyn castle - the beginnings of those castles reach 14th century! Dunajec castle is better preserved (it even offers accommodation in chambers!). Czorsztyn castle is more like a ruins, but still great place for unforgettable photos!
  • Cerveny Klastor museum - the most popular sacral building in Pieniny area. Built in 14th century by a guy from Hungary as an atonement for his murders.
  • Pump room in Szczawnica village - many different kinds of healing mineral water there.
  • "ABlandia" ropes course in Kroscienko - fun place both for children and adults looking for some adrenaline.
  • "PKL Palenica" chairlift - takes tourists up to Palenica peak (722 metres). Fantastic panorama view on Pieniny mountains from the peak. Consider buying only one-way ticket - there's a gravity slide going down the mountain.

The best accommodation which we've found so far in Pieniny region is Willa Przekop in Sromowce Wyżne village. Very pleasant place to stay, quiet and close to hiking trails.

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6. Babia Gora National Park

Babia Gora Poland

Only for hiking addicts. 😉 This National Park is part of Beskidy mountains. It surrounds the highest mountain in this region - Babia Gora (1725 metres).

There are many trails leading to this mount (all well-preserved with many guideposts), but the best one starts in Krowiarki's Pass:

Beware - the weather in Babia Gora National Park is extremely unpredictable. Shockingly instant changes of weather happen there very often - you start hiking in full sun, then you wander in thick fog, only to see a beautiful panorama of Tatra mountains within the next few minutes. Also, be prepared for strong wind (can happen every season).

If you can't or don't want to hike, there's Mosorny Gron chairlift - it will take you up to 1045 metres. However, during spring and autumn it's open only on weekends.

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7. Gorce National Park

Hiking in Gorce National Park, Poland

Gorce mountains are picturesque range, but less popular than Pieniny or Tatra mountains. That's why they're perfect option for people who appreciate peace and quiet on the trail.

Those mountains aren't high - the tallest peak Turbacz reaches 1315 metres. Close to the peak there's also spacious mountain hut from which you get to admire amazing panorama of Tatra mountains. The best trail to hike to Turbacz mountain:

Trails are wide and safe, there are many signposts and some benches here and there. In Gorce National Park there are lots of nice meadows, perfect for a family picnic. I really like those mountains!

Other attractions in the area:

  • "Rabkoland" amusement park - the biggest theme park in Southern Poland. Carousels, exhibitions, puppetry, arcade machines, cafes and restaurants. You can buy online tickets here.
  • Orthodox church - this sacral building is currently a catholic church, but has well-preserved orthodox decor. Interesting place for those interested in sacral architecture. Located in Jaworki village.
  • Lookout tower on Luban peak - 22-metre high tower in Eastern part of Gorce National Park. Amazing view on Tatras, Pieniny, Gorce and Beskidy mountains.

If you'd like to stay in the area for a few days, you might want to consider Rabka Zdrój village - charming health resort located close to hiking trails. By the way, in 1996 Rabka Zdrój was given the official status of "The Town of Children of the World" by the United Nations. 🙂

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8. Thermal baths near Zakopane

zakopane thermal baths.jpg

In the South, close to the mountains, there are numerous water parks with healing, mineral water pools. For me those are the best places to visit in Poland - relaxing and fun, those water parks are perfect option to make your trip even more interesting.

Here are the best thermal baths near Zakopane:

  • Chocholow Thermal Baths - modern facility built in 2016. Located 2-hour drive from Krakow and half an hour drive from Zakopane. A ton of attractions for adult and children: indoor and outdoor pools (total: 30 pools and barrels with thermal mineral water), hydro-massage in salt spring water, swimming pools, slides, kids zone, salt grotto, saunas, SPA, sports centre, outdoor sandy beach, restaurants and bars. One of the best day trips from Krakow.

    PRO TIP: Chocholow Thermal Baths is very popular so it's a good idea to book in advance to get a skip-the-line ticket and not waste time standing in line. Use the time saved to enjoy a relaxing bath instead.
    Here is a full day admission with a skip-the-line ticket available to be purchased in advance.

    You can check available accommodations close to this waterpark here:

  • Bania Thermal Baths - another popular water park with indoor and outdoor thermal pools, slides, kids zone, relaxation zone, SPA and saunas. A modern facility offering a breathtaking view from outdoor pools. One of my favourite thermal baths near Zakopane. If you're looking for fun day trips from Zakopane, then this option will be perfect for you.

    PRO TIP: book a transfer from Zakopane and skip-the-line ticket in advance to avoid standing in line.

    You can check places to say in the area here:

  • Bukovina Thermal Baths - located close to Tatra mountains this water park offers beautiful views from the outdoor pools. It's smaller than the above mentioned water parks but has all that's needed for fun and/or relaxing visit. You can purchase online tickets here.

    Available hotels close to Bukovina Thermal Baths are here:

  • Termy Szaflary - there are 4 pools with hot mineral water (2 indoor and 2 outdoor pools). Hydro massages, slides, saunas, gym and restaurants. Added bonus is that the place is less crowded than other water parks in the area. Online tickets are available here.

    Nearby places to stay can be checked here:

  • Aquapark Zakopane - conveniently located close to Zakopane's centre. Outdoor pool with thermal water, fitness club, bowling alleys, entertainment zone for kids. A great option for a relaxing evening after a day's hike.

    Here are available hotels close to this waterpark:

9. Auschwitz concentration camp

Auschwitz concentration camp

One of the most popular places to visit near Krakow Poland. Horrifying Nazi death camp located in Oswiecim town, between Krakow (70 km) and Katowice city (40 km).

In my opinion, it’s one of the most important museums in Europe. We all need to remember that human cruelty has no limits and war is the worst thing in this world. We definitely don’t want history to repeat itself.

It may not be the best idea to go there with small children, but it’s a must-see for adults and teenagers.

After visiting this concentration camp, you'll feel true relief that you can leave... alive.

Open all year round, 8 AM - 3 PM. The museum is big, there are 2 camps (Auschwitz and Birkenau), so it's good to reserve at least 3 hours for visit. You may want to check this complete guide to Auschwitz.

In 1979 Auschwitz concentration camp was added to UNESCO World Heritage List.

Quick historical facts:

  • Auschwitz was one of the biggest Nazi death camps in Europe.
  • There were about 1.3 million of registered prisoners deported to the camp.
  • About 1.1 million died.
  • 900 thousand Jews were murdered in gas chambers immediately after arrival.
  • Besides Jews, there were mostly Poles, Gypsies and Russians.
  • Over 50% of registered prisoners died from hunger, hard work, cold, executions, epidemic diseases, punishments, tortures and medical experiments.
  • In the first years occupant directed there mostly Poles – well-educated elites like politicians, writers, artists, doctors, priests, officers, professors and teachers.
  • In 1942 Nazis started to send there prisoners from other invaded countries.

Visit in Auschwitz concentration camp is shocking but it's one of the most important places to visit in Poland.

PRO TIP: Auschwitz death camp is visited by thousands of tourists each year and queues are long. To avoid standing in line buy in advance skip-the-line ticket with a professional guide.

The majority of tourists who travel to Oswiecim, visit only Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, but there are actually a few other interesting places to see in town:

  • Defensive castle - a medieval castle built in the 13th century. Destroyed by Tartars and rebuilt to defend the borough from further invasions. There's also lookout tower from which tourists can admire Oswiecim's panorama.
  • Jewish Museum and Synagogue - Jewish cultural and religious centre, the only one left in the area after the Holocaust.
  • Wooden church in Grojec village - built in the 17th century. This richly ornamented church is a treat for sacral culture aficionados.

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