While you embark on the journey to Krakow for this year's edition of CONFidence, consider using this occasion to visit some unique places in Krakow's vicinity. After all, how many times in your life do you have a chance to walk around a huge salt mine, admire a rock in the shape of a gigantic club, visit a legendary cave, a medieval castle, market or abbey? And how about the home of Polish Pope John Paul II? Check out what amazing things you can encounter no further than a few dozen kilometers from Krakow!
Located in the Krakow-Czestochowa Upland, the Ojców National Park is the smallest national park in Poland and at the same time a grand proof that small is beautiful. Its 21 square kilometers are a paradise for both nature lovers and ancient monument enthusiasts. It is full of sights to behold, rare and protected animals, rocks of unusual shapes, castles and caves.
If you decide to visit, you must definitely go the Prądnik Valley. Its amazing sights are full of proofs of Mother Nature's uncommon creativity together with human creations that are truly worthy of preserving. There, you can find:
Pieskowa Skala Castle – the history of the castle dates back to the 14th century and the times of kings from the Piast dynasty: Władysław Łokietek and Kazimierz Wielki. In the 16th century this originally gothic building was transformed into a renaissance residence. The castle is surrounded by a landscape park, which sports a rock of an unusual shape – Maczuga Herkulesa.
Ojców Castle – built in the second part of the 16th century. Today it's mostly in ruins. The entrance gate remains almost untouched, however.
Ojców National Park Museum – its collection includes all kinds of exhibits related to Prądnik Valley's nature – flora, fauna, geology (a cave's reconstruction) and environment protection.
Rocks, including Maczuga Herkulesa (the Cudgel of Hercules) and Rękawice (the Glove) – uncommon rocks are one of the most prominent attributes of the park. Maczuga Herkulesa is the most famous one – it's 25 meters high, topped with a cross in commemoration of a successful 1933 ascent, and features in many legends. But does it really look like Hercules' weapon? See for yourself.
The Dark Cave (pl. Jaskinia Ciemna) – the biggest cave of the Krakow-Czestochowa Upland (about 230 meter long). It's believed to have been a settlement of prehistoric people as many as 125 thousand years ago. Right in front of the cave you can find the so-called Oborzysko – a reconstruction of a Neanderthal campsite.
The second biggest valley of the Ojców National Park – the Sąspowska Valley – hides one of the biggest of local attractions:
The Łokietek Cave (also known as the Cave of Kings) – this 320 meter long cave is known thanks to a certain legend, which it derives its name from as well. They say it is here where the future king of Poland Władysław Łokietek hid while running away from Krakow from the Czech king Vaclav II. His life was saved by a... spider, which covered the entrance to the cave with its web. Today the names of all of the rooms of the cave recall this incident. And its entry stands out with a gate in the form of a spider's web. The cave is fully adjusted to the needs of tourists – it has electric light, wooden stairs and guides.
Wieliczka is a town of 20,000, which stands out on the map of Poland with the one of a kind Wieliczka Salt Mine. Rock salt has been mined here since the 13th century. This huge mine was added to the first UNESCO World Heritage list back in 1978. Every year more than a million tourists from Poland and abroad visit this place to admire its impressive interior, salt sculptures created by the miners themselves, the chapel of St. Kinga and its one-of-a-kind atmosphere.
Calvaries were created since the 15th century as groups of churches/chapels that symbolized the stations of the Cross. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is the oldest (1604) and the most famous calvary in Poland. It is a very important pilgrimage center due to its Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Park (which includes the Basilica of St. Mary) that has been a part of the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1999.
Tyniec used to be a standalone village, but today it's officially part of Krakow. Its uniqueness makes it stand apart tough, so we don't mind singling it out and recommending that you see it. Here you can find the famous Benedictine monastery – the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec. It was built in the 11th century in the Romanesque style and in the 15th century converted to the Gothic style. It's one of the most important religious buildings in Poland, beautifully situated on a limestone rock over the Vistula river. Tyniec is also famous for its wonderful nature, a great part of which was included in the Bielany-Tyniec Landscape Park.
One of shortest Cracovian valleys, but truly picturesque. You enter by a natural gate – the Bolechowicka Gate that consists of two 30-meter limestone rocks: Filar Abazego (Abazy's Pillar) and Filar Pokutników (Pillar of the Penitents). Perfect for climbing and relaxing in a beautiful and intensively green landscape.
Four kilometers long and located within the borders of the villages of Kobylany and Karniowice, mostly in the Olkuska Upland, the Kobylańska Valley is full of picturesque sights and incredible opportunities for climbers. In a rock groove on the east side of a gulch located right next to the entrance you can find a shrine of St. Mary. You'll be led to this very place up some limestone stairs.
Not as famous as the two above, but still undoubtedly worth a mention. The Będkowska Valley is as long as 7-8 kilometers and most of its area is occupied by a gulch of steep eastern walls and soft western walls. It is the place to go for climbing and admiring unusual rock landforms. Among the most famous, there are the Devil Gate (Czarcie Wrota), the Spire (Iglica) and.... the Elephant's Ass (Dupa Słonia).
The town of Wadowice is situated a bit further away from Krakow than the majority of our suggestions. Not too far though for its charm not to attract numerous tourists that visit Krakow. Wadowice is know first and foremost as the hometown of Polish Pope John Paul II. You can visit the Holy Father John Paul II Family Home, now turned into a museum, and the Basilica of St. Mary, which the Polish Pope visited during each of his visits in Poland.
They say that Lanckorona is a place where time has stopped. This little village, having had town privileges for 500 years until 1934, surprises with classic wooden buildings and its urban structure, which brings about thoughts of the middle ages. A short stroll down the Lanckorona market is a one of a kind experience. You won't miss nature either – there are walking trails around the Lanckorona Mountain where you can find the ruins of a castle.
A 40,000 strong city located at the outskirts of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship. Every year Oświęcim is a destination of countless tourists from Poland and abroad. They visit the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oświęcim-Brzezinka), which during World War II became the place of the mass extermination of Jews, though among its victims were Poles and other nationalities too. This is not a common place and reminds us of some of the saddest moments in the history of the past century. It lets one at least to some extent understand the tragedy that was going on back then in Europe and all over the world.