POLAND’S ANCIENT CAPITAL, TATRA MOUNTAINS AND BIESZCZADY NATIONAL PARK; KRAKÓW & MOUNTAINS, POLAND
Day 1 – Arrive Kraków, Poland
There are direct flights to/from Kraków, Poland from the European hubs of Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt and Paris. We arrive to Kraków International Airport and take a taxi to our hotel situated in the Old Town. Note: the official taxi stand is located outside the arrival terminal and offers excellent airport transfer services (30 minutes route to the Old Town). After arriving at our hotel, we walk 10 minutes to Restauracja Pod Baranem to sample the Polish cuisine.
Day 2 – Royal Castle, Kraków’s Old Town
Our morning starts with a few minutes’ walk to Wawel, the Royal Castle, ancient royal residence, governance center and Cathedral. We tour the courtyard and the opulent chambers decorated with tapestries, period furniture and historic paintings. After departing Wawel, we walk toward the Old Town and the Jagiellońska Street to visit the Jagiellonian University, the oldest university in Kraków. We walk a few minutes to the Market Square and have lunch at Restauracja Szara, overlooking the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). In the afternoon, we view the collection of sculptures and historical paintings at the Sukiennice Museum, followed by the visit to the archeological museum, Rynek Underground, under the Main Market Square. At the corner of the Market Square, the 13th century St. Mary’s Basilica displays the 14th century Gothic Altar carved by Veit Stoss. The nearby Floriańska Street guides us to St. Florian’s Gate, an ancient entryway to the Old Town. A walk through the gate reveals the Barbikan Krakowski, a circular fortress once connected to the city’s ramparts and the urban Planty Park encircling the Old Town. We get lost in the city, sitting in cafes and having an excellent dinner at Pod Aniołami Restauracja.
Day 3 – Wieliczka (Salt Mine), Kazimierz Quarter in Kraków
Today, we schedule transfer services (car and driver) for the whole day. The morning excursion takes us southeast of Kraków (around 30 minutes’ drive) to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The guided tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mine (we recommend purchasing in advance tickets online or at the tourist office) follows a 3 kilometers’ long labyrinth of corridors, chambers and chapels carved in rock salt. The Chapel of St. Kinga stands out with its salt-crystal chandeliers, carved altar, religious statues and symbols. After our visit, we drive half an hour to Kazimierz Quarter, the historic Jewish district in Kraków. The cobblestone streets guide us to the pretty squares where we select a restaurant for lunch. We spend our afternoon visiting churches and Jewish religious landmarks, such as the 15th century Old Synagogue and the 16th century Remuh Synagogue. A maze of streets runs along the multi-style architecture, food trucks, lively cafes and groovy clubs. Early evening, we drive back to the Old Town and have dinner at Szara Gęś Restaurant, situated on the Main Square.
Day 4 – Tatra Mountains: Morskie Oko, Zakopane
Our full day excursion to the Tatra Mountains includes a hike to Morskie Oko and a visit to Zakopane. We schedule transfer services (car and driver) for the whole day. In the morning, we depart Kraków and drive 2 hours to Palenica Białczańska, central parking and entryway to the Tatra National Park. The visitors either hike an 8 kilometer route (a few hours) or take the horse drawn carriage (shared with others) to reach the Morskie Oko Lake. After the visit, we drive 30 minutes (25 kilometers) to the quaint resort town of Zakopane. A stroll along pedestrian Krupówki Street shows its wooden architecture, Gorals (Górale) culture and lodge style restaurants, serving a regional cuisine. A short drive (3 kilometers) from Krupówki Street to the Gubałówka Cable Railway takes visitors atop the mountain with views of Kasprowy Wierch. On the route back to Kraków, 15 kilometers from Gubałówka, the small village of Chochołów showcases historic wooden houses and the colorful village life. We arrive to Kraków and have dinner in our hotel.
Days 5 – Kraków Departure, Polańczyk, Równia Village, Arrive Bieszczady
In the morning, we depart our hotel in Kraków and take a taxi to the Kraków International Airport to collect our rental car. We start a 4.5 hour route toward Bieszczady Mountains. We drive around 3.5 hours and arrive to the lakeside village of Polańczyk. The colorful sailboats decorate the shoreline of Solina Lake (Jezioro Solińskie) as we follow the route to the village of Solina where we stop for lunch. We follow the loop route of Wielka Pętla Bieszczadzka inside the Bieszczady National Park toward the village of Równia to visit a historic wooden Orthodox Church. We continue on the loop route for around an hour and arrive at our Hotel Carpatia Bieszczadzki Gościniec in the village of Smerek. After checking in, we have a delicious dinner in our hotel. Note: Karczma Paweł Nie Całkiem Swięty, situated few minutes from our hotel, is another good restaurant serving regional cuisine.
Day 6 – Bieszczady Mountains: Hikes to Tarnica and Połonina Wetlińska
In the morning, we drive 30 minutes from our hotel located in the village of Smerek to the village of Wołosate, starting point of the hiking trail to Tarnica. We park at the designated parking lot and hike to Tarnica, the highest mountain peak in the Bieszczady National Park. The multi-hour hike takes us to the lookout point with panoramic views, perfect location to enjoy our packed picnic. As we come down from the mountain, we enjoy the wonderful views of the mountains, grasslands and forests. We depart the parking lot in Wołosate and drive 15 minutes to Przełęcz Wyżna. We park at the designated parking area and hike an hour to Połonina Wetlińska, a popular destination overlooking expansive grasslands high in the mountains. We hike back to Przełęcz Wyżna and drive 10 minutes to Chata Wędrowca, a charming restaurant serving an excellent regional cuisine. After dinner, we drive 5 minutes to our hotel.
Day 7 – Bieszczady Mountains: Hikes to Połonina Caryńska and Wielka Rawka
After breakfast, we drive 20 minutes (15 kilometer route) from the village of Smerek to the designated parking at the village of Brzegi Górne, starting point for the hiking trail to the Połonina Caryńska. We hike an hour to Połonina Caryńska and arrive at the pretty picnic area decorated with endemic flora and grasslands. We enjoy our packed picnic and come back down to the parking area. We drive for a short distance to Przełęcz Wyżniańska, starting point for the hiking trails to Mała and Wielka Rawka. The 1.5 hour hike challenges us and rewards us with beautiful views of primeval beech forests, preserved wildlife, sweeping valleys and mountain ranges. After we descent the mountain, we drive 30 minutes to Oberża Pod Kudłatym Aniołem, a lovely restaurant in Cisna village serving regional cuisine. After dinner, we drive 15 minutes to our hotel.
Day 8 – Bieszczady Mountains Departure
After breakfast, we depart our hotel and drive to Slovakia for our extended one week journey. Our Slovakia Itinerary takes us to majestic castles, picturesque villages, spectacular parks, historic towns and to the Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava.
Note: Our Kraków & Mountains Itinerary may be followed individually or combined with our Slovakia Itinerary. Option 1: Drive approximately 4.5 hours to Kraków International Airport to take a return flight home. Option 2: Extend the journey one week to explore Slovakia.
Kraków – Kraków is the ancient capital of Poland situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship. It is a fascinating center of Polish history, culture and art. For centuries, the Royal Route, running from north to south of the Old Town and toward the Royal Castle, celebrated Poland’s victories, coronations of kings and visits of foreign envoys. The Old Town of Kraków, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is blessed with awe-inspiring architecture, winding cobblestone streets, ancient royal palace, impressive cathedrals and churches, and the medieval Market Square (Rynek Główny). In the summer season, the historic Market Square becomes a lively venue for outdoor music festivals, theater performances and seasonal markets. In the center of the Market Square, the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) is an impressive Renaissance structure and a historic center of commerce for textile merchants. On the upper floor of the Cloth Hall, the Sukiennice Museum is a Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art and a division of the National Museum in Kraków. The gallery’s four exhibition halls feature an impressive collection of sculptures and historical paintings, including incredible paintings by the famous Polish painter Jan Matejko. Beneath the Market Square, Rynek Underground, under the Main Market Square is an archeological museum that takes visitors on a historic journey of the city. After exploring the museums, the walk through the Sukiennice arcade reveals rows of wooden stalls with colorful Polish souvenirs. Around the Market Square, there are abundant restaurants and cafes with terraces overlooking the square, serving Polish and international cuisines. Next to the Cloth Hall stands the 14th century Town Hall Tower. At the corner of the Market Square, St. Mary’s Basilica (Kościół Mariacki) is a 13th century architectural jewel with equally magnificent interiors, featuring a 14th century Gothic Altar carved by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz). Every hour, Hejnał Marjacki (A Trumpet Call of Kraków anthem) is played from one of its two towers. A walk through the square takes us to the statue of Adam Mickiewicz, the greatest Polish writer of the 19th century. The nearby Floriańska Street guides us to St. Florian’s Gate (Brama Floriańska), the 14th century Gothic Tower built as fortification ramparts against Tatar attacks that served as the ancient entryway to the Old Town. A walk through the gate reveals the Medieval Barbikan Krakowski, a circular fortress once connected to the city’s ramparts. Encircling the Old Town, Planty Park is an urban parkland with tall trees, meandering pathways and plentiful benches. Planty was once the site of Kraków’s medieval ramparts surrounded by a moat that were destroyed in the 19th century by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We follow the park’s pathways bordering the Old Town and take Świętej Anny Street to Jagiellońska Street to visit Jagiellonian University (Uniwersytet Jagielloński). This is the oldest university in Kraków with historic halls, including the Old Library Chamber and the Aula (Assembly Hall) at the Collegium Maius. A promenade by the Vistula River shows pretty riverboats and the majestic Royal Castle atop the hill. The Royal Castle and Cathedral (Wawel) is Poland’s ancient royal residence, governance center and religious symbol. The Wawel complex includes defensive fortifications, the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Wawel Castle with an arcade courtyard. The royal chambers and apartments date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, and exhibit exquisite Jagiellonian tapestries, the coronation chamber, period furniture, a weaponry collection and magnificent paintings retracing Poland’s history. The Smocza Jama tells the legend of the dragon, the creator of Kraków. To the south of the Old Town lies Kazimierz Quarter, the historic Jewish district established in the 14th century. A stroll through Kazimierz reveals a maze of streets, picturesque squares, religious landmarks, historic and modern architecture, plentiful restaurants and groovy clubs. The 15th century Old Synagogue is a precious landmark of Jewish architecture and culture in Kraków. The Remuh Synagogue and adjoining cemetery date back to the 16th century. Kazimierz is a fascinating destination with synagogues and churches, a multi-style architecture and a bohemian spirit. Across Kraków, there are magnificent churches and convents. The St. Paul and Peter Church, founded by the Polish King Zygmunt III Waza and the Jesuits, displays a Baroque façade constructed in Italian marble and the statues of the 12 Apostles along the entrance gates. The Benedictine Abbey of Tyniec, situated in the village of Tyniec on the Vistula River, was founded by the Polish King Casimir I the Restorer and houses the Benedictine Religious Order. Nowadays, the abbey serves as a museum, visited by both tourists and pilgrims in search of inspiration and reflection.
Tatra Mountains – A journey to the southern part of Poland reveals historic towns, quaint villages, nature reserves and majestic mountains. Part of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, the Tatra Mountains are a natural paradise with rugged hiking routes, picturesque lakes, diverse wildlife and colorful flora. The Tatra mountain range extends across Poland’s southern border and Slovakia’s northern part. The Tatra National Park (Tatrzański Park Narodowy) encompasses the Tatra Mountains and its highest mountain peak of Rysy. The park visitors can explore a large limestone cave known as Jaskinia Wielka Śnieżna and hike a picturesque trail leading to Morskie Oko Lake, a beautiful lake surrounded by the Tatra Mountains. Inside the park, the abundant hiking routes follow along lush forests, peaceful meadows, stunning waterfalls, and rugged mountain peaks. The quaint mountain village of Zakopane is a popular winter destination that enchants visitors with its carved wooden architecture, bustling Krupówki Street, colorful Gorals (Górale) culture and authentic regional cuisine. The Gubałówka Cable Railway provides a smooth climb atop the mountains, offering lovely views of Mount Giewont and Kasprowy Wierch. A drive through the countryside passes scenic valleys, pretty villages and fertile farmlands. A visit to the Chochołów village reveals historic wooden houses and a colorful village life.
Bieszczady Mountains – In the extreme southeast, Poland borders Ukraine and Slovakia, and shares with them the East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve. Part of Poland’s Subcarpathian Voivodeship, the Bieszczady National Park offers an undisturbed wilderness, infinite forests, a unique wildlife and a mountainous topography. Established in 1973, the national park is a habitat for a diverse wildlife of wolves, bears, lynx, moose, deer and European bison. The Bieszczady National Park, part of the World Biosphere Reserve, hosts unique species of plants, birds and reptiles. The park’s topography is defined by the imposing Bieszczady Mountains and its highest peak of Tarnica. The Bieszczady National Park offers plentiful mountain hiking routes, scenic biking routes, natural equestrian fields, cross-country skiing pathways and camping centers. The distinctive grassy landscape of Połoniny exemplifies the unique beauty of the park. The picturesque hiking routes to Połonina Wetlińska and Połonina Caryńska present unusual sceneries of expansive grasslands high in the mountains. The driving excursion along the region’s picturesque villages guides us to the historic village of Równia and its stunning wooden church. The Orthodox Church, originally built in 1840, is used as a Roman Catholic Church since 1953. Our drive continues across the mountainous landscape, quaint villages and the scenic Solina Lake (Jezioro Solińskie), exposing a summer scenery of colorful sailboats on the lake. Situated along the lake, the villages of Polańczyk and Solina are popular destinations for relaxation and spa treatments.
Wieliczka (Salt Mine) – The town of Wieliczka lies in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, southeast from Kraków. Wieliczka, founded in 1290, brought prosperity to Poland with the discovery and the excavation of its underground rock salt deposits. The Wieliczka Salt Mine, listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, is a natural and cultural site in the region. The guided tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mine requires to climb 800 steps, follows a 3 kilometers’ long labyrinth of corridors and reaches a depth of 135 meters underground. During the tour, the visitors learn about the salt mine’s history, visit the Kraków Saltworks Museum and discover magical corridors, spiritual chapels and beautiful chambers, all sculpted in rock salt. At certain times, the underground chambers become an art gallery, film set, wedding venue or a musical event destination. The Chapel of St. Kinga is a beautiful underground chapel, featuring salt-crystal chandeliers, a carved altar, the statue of John Paul II and the carved replica of “The Last Supper” by Da Vinci. In the 19th century, Wieliczka was developed as a Health Resort, promoting salt-based treatments. Today, the Wieliczka Salt Mine Health Resort offers various treatments, including a One Day Subterranean Therapy to treat respiratory issues, Daytime rehabilitation treatments and “Healthy Sleep” overnight stays. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is an incredible natural site with awe-inspiring saline chambers and corridors.
Żurek (Sour Rye Soup) – Żurek is a traditional Polish soup with unique flavor and aroma. The soured rye flour is the main ingredient used to make this soup. The rye flour combined with water causes fermentation and creates after a few days the “kwas”, a sour tasting liquid. Multiple ingredients, such as raw white sausage, potatoes, herbs, spices, sour cream and boiled eggs are cooked together with the “kwas”, creating the uniquely flavored soup. Żurek is traditionally served during the religious holiday of Easter but is equally popular throughout the year. There are varied regional recipes of Żurek, producing a lighter or heartier soup. In the village of Wetlina in Bieszczady, the Chata Wędrowca (Inn and Restaurant) serves an excellent regional cuisine, including naleśnik z jagodami and a delicious Żurek.
Zupa Czosnkowa (Garlic Soup) –There are many inventive recipes in Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic, for making the garlic soup (zupa czosnkowa). Zupa czosnkowa offers a perfect balance of freshness, nutrition and aroma. In the village of Cisna in Bieszczady, Oberża Pod Kudłatym Aniołem serves an excellent regional cuisine. We sample a superb version of zupa czosnkowa and delicious naleśnik z jagodami. The creamy garlic soup perfectly combines a flavorful bouillon, fresh garlic, crunchy croutons and fresh parsley, delivering an appetizing first course.
Naleśnik z Jagodami (Blueberry Crêpe) – The French, Italian and Austrian cuisines influenced Poland’s cuisine over the centuries. Naleśnik z jagodami is a delicate dessert and a perfect intertwinement of the Polish and French cuisines. The region of Bieszczady is blessed with an abundance of wild forest berries, the main ingredient of the naleśnik z jagodami. There is no substitute for the flavor, texture and beautiful color of the wild blueberries (jagody). The classic crêpe batter is made with flour, eggs, dash of salt, water or milk, and even cream. The lightly sweetened wild blueberries are used as filling or topping for the naleśnik z jagodami. A dust of powdered sugar completes this delicious dessert.
Kraków Restaurants – Kraków is part of Galicia, a historic region that experienced devastating battles and partitions by foreign powers. Galicia’s changing borders resulted in an ethnically diverse population. The Galician Cuisine developed as the result of the influences of the Polish, Ukrainian and Austro-Hungarian cuisines. Visitors to Kraków will encounter many restaurants along the cobblestone streets, serving traditional Galician, modern Polish and European cuisines. We offer a few dining suggestions in the Old Town of Kraków. Restauracja Szara (szara.pl/en), situated at Rynek Główny 6, serves an inventive European cuisine. Restauracja Pod Baranem (podbaranem.com), situated near the Royal Castle, prepares an excellent Polish cuisine with a nice selection of wild game meats. Pod Aniołami Restauracja (podaniolami.pl/en), inside a historic building with Gothic style cellars, offers a superb Polish cuisine, specializing in grilled meats. Szara Gęś (szarages.com/en), situated in a historic building with impressive interiors serves a sophisticated Polish cuisine.
Hotel Gródek – In the heart of Kraków, Hotel Gródek is a charming boutique hotel that offers luxury, comfort and relaxation. Situated on a quiet side street, Hotel Gródek charms its guests with its elegant décor, colorful interiors and lovely courtyard. We select a third floor suite with roof top views of a church tower. Hotel Gródek provides a wonderful breakfast buffet that includes a selection of meats, marinated fish, eggs dishes, baked breads, vegetables and fruits. The hotel is conveniently located within a short walking distance to the Main Market Square. Hotel Gródek is the perfect base to explore the historic city of Kraków and the surrounding towns.
Hotel Carpatia Bieszczadzki Gościniec – In the village of Smerek, Hotel Carpatia Bieszczadzki Gościniec is a mountain lodge overlooking valleys, mountains and villages. The wooden lodge style and creative interior décor reflect the local culture. The charming rooms and suites are decorated with hand-painted motifs and colors of nature. We recommend the spacious Room 305 Cones (Szyszki) on the third floor, tastefully decorated with wooden furniture and multi-colored curtains, and offering views of the valley and mountains. In the morning, the breakfast buffet is served in the dining room, featuring fresh breads, regional meats and pâtés, vegetables and fruits. The mountain lodge does not have an elevator, hence a lovely staicase guides guests to their rooms. Hotel Carpatia Bieszczadzki Gościniec is a delightful lodge that serves wonderful regional cusine and offers a central location to enjoy mountain hikes, bicycle through villages and ride horses in the nature.