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Cracow environs map Any visit to Cracow should include a sightseeing tour to at least one of the many interesting places close by, such as: Auschwitz and Oświęcim,   Ojców National Park,   Niepołomice,   Tyniec,   Wadowice   or   Wieliczka Salt Mine. All of them are close enough for a day visit with return to Cracow.

We will start with the last one, Wieliczka, because it is the most interesting and also the closest. These ancient salt mines have been exploited since ancient times, at least the 11thC. They are still being exploited today, 1000 years later. Over the centuries, the miners have created caverns richly decorated with figures sculpted from the rock salt; this is what makes Wieliczka a popular tourist attraction. It is on the UNESCO list of World Landmarks.

Wieliczka Wieliczka The tour lasts about three hours and descends to 135 meters below ground and visits 30 of the over 2000 chambers. The chapel of Blessed Kinga is 12 meters high and 50 meters long and contains many sculptures and chandeliers made entirely of salt crystals. Wieliczka There are also three underground lakes. You will stop for refreshments in the Warsaw chamber which is so large that it is used for concerts. There is also a spa for asthma patients for whom the underground microclimate is beneficial.

Tyniec is an ancient fortified monastery standing on a cliff overlooking the river Vistula, which was first established in the 11thC. Tyniec Abbey Tyniec Abbey detail After many years of destruction by invaders and neglect, it is now once more an abbey of the Benedictine Brothers who are busily restoring it. This excellent example of a Gothic fortified church and monastery, with cloisters and museum are open to the public. It is reached in less than an hour from Cracow by city bus.

Ojców National Park is a beautiful area in the highlands which run from west of Cracow to Częstochowa. The gorge of the Prudnik river includes many unusually shaped rocks, some caves and many marked hiking trails ranging in length from 4 to over 20km. Ojców castle Pieskowa Skała The ruins of a castle overlook the village of Ojców. Further north in the park the ancient castle of Pieskowa Skała has been restored and now houses a restaurant and a museum. These castles are two of the many along the so-called Eagles' Nest trail that traverses the limestone highlands.

Niepołomice is a royal castle to which the kings of Poland went for hunting in the forest of the same name. It was built by Casimir the Great in the 14thC. It has a form similar to that of the Wawel - a square courtyard surrounded by the four wings of the castle with arcaded balconies. Now owned by the small town it has been lovingly restored to its old splendor. Niepolomice Niepolomice Close by you can visit the church built at the same time as the castle which still contains old frescoes. In good weather you can also enjoy a walk in the forest where you can see ancient trees and wild animals, including bison (European cousin to the American buffalo). Niepołomice is 25km east of Cracow and easily reached by bus.

Auschwitz, which is the German version of the Polish Oświęcim, is known worldwide as the site of a notorious Nazi concentration camp. But the town of Oświęcim dates back to at least the 12thC. The brick Gothic tower is all that remains today of the original castle built on the south-eastern approach road to Silesia. Most of the remaining structure is early 19thC. and now houses a museum. The present Convent of the Seraphic Sisters is an early 19thC building, but there was an earlier monastery close by, of which only the 14thC. chapel remains.

The first section of the concentration camp, Auschwitz I, was established immediately after the Nazi occupation of Poland in September 1939. Among its first prisoners were the professors of Cracow's Jagellonian University, many of whom died here. In all about 120,000 Poles, Gypsies and other nationalities died or were executed in this section of the Auschwitz concentration camp. In 1942 the second section, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was built for the sole purpose of housing and exterminating Jews brought here by train from all over Europe. Parts of both camps have been preserved as a memorial to those that died.

A visit to Auschwitz and/or Ośswięcim requires a whole day, it is 65km from Cracow. If you are driving you can also stop in Wadowice , to see the home of Pope John Paul II when he was a young boy. Along the road from Cracow you may also pay a brief visit to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the beautiful grounds of a convent, which were a favorite of young Woytyła.

How to get there.   The Polish airline LOT provides direct flights from New York and several European cities to Cracow. Nonstop Intercity trains from Warsaw take 2 1/2 hours. There are also convenient direct trains from other Polish cities as well as Berlin, Budapest, Prague and Vienna.
To Auschwitz-Birkenau, daily tour buses. In addition several trains to Oświęcim from Cracow Main Station, PKS buses from Bus station next to Railway Station.
To Ojców National Park, PKS buses from Bus station next to Railway Station, tour buses consult your hotel.
To Niepołomice, frequent buses from Bus station next to Railway Station.
To Tyniec take tram #18 or 19 to "Rondo Grunwaldzkie" and change to city bus #112.
To Wadowice trains from Cracow main station, PKS buses from Bus station next to Railway Station.
To Wieliczka express city bus #502 or trams #3,9 or 13, connecting at "Prokocim" with city bus #204. Also frequent trains from Cracow main station (25 minute journey).
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Go to Cracow old town tour, or to south Poland tour for other lovely small towns and historic sites that are not far from Cracow.

   Tour of smaller towns in southern Poland

  Cracow Photoalbum
Links for detailed information (in English)
Auschwitz-Birkenau, official page of the museum with history and photos
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
Niepołomice Palace and Forest (only in Polish)
Ojców National Park
Pieskowa Skała castle and restaurant in Ojców N.P.
Oświęcim city web page.
Tyniec Benedictine Abbey
Wieliczka Salt Mine,

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Copyright © 2002 B. C. Biega. All rights reserved.

Last update February 2004