There’s plenty to keep you busy for a year of weekends in Krakow, but weekends are a great time to visit other parts of the country close by, for an overnight or just a day trip, if you don’t mind making a long day of it. There’s something about downing tools on Friday afternoon, hopping in a rental car and getting out into the countryside that can’t be beaten.
A large artificial lake about 100km southeast of Krakow, Lake Roznow is best reached by car, although you can also arrive by taking a bus to Nowy Sacz, a cute, historic town. Once at the lake, you can swim, boat, and hike. Nearby, are several historic fortresses, including Tropsztyn Castle in Wytrzyszczka, Czchow Castle, and two castles in Roznow. You can also stop by one of the local wineries for a tasting. Once you’e worked up at appetite, head to Marina restaurant, located on the premises of a 5-star hotel. For a less fancy, but just as tasty option, try the typical Polish fare at Bar Zorba.
A small, peaceful village, Lanckorona is about 30 kilometers southwest of Krakow. Nearby is the town of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, home to a monastery Pope John Paul II was fond of (his hometown of Wadowice isn’t so much further).
It’s easiest to reach this village by car, but if you’re up for it, you can take a direct train to the aforementioned Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, then walk around 5km to Lanckorona. The village’s main sight is its charming market square, surrounded by picturesque wooden houses. One of the houses is home to a community center, home to a small museum depicting daily life in the region. One room is devoted to Kazimierz Pulaski, a revolutionary hero in both Poland and the United States (one of Pulaski’s allies was defeated in battle at Lanckorona during a failed uprising, which caused Pulaski to flee to the US, where he trained and led the Patriot cavalry). The ruins of Lanckorona Castle are also worth a visit.
Lanckorona has some good cafes, including Arka Cafe. A bit beyond the main square, you can find the Targowa 19 picnic ground, which offers loungers, a simple grill, and a food truck serving beer, lemonade, and sweets.
Lanckorona is close enough to Krakow to serve as a day trip, but we can recommend some guesthouses if you’d prefer to spend the night.
Szczawnica is the ending point for our Dunajec Gorge river rafting excursion, but is worthy of some time in and of itself. Located a tour hour’s drive south of Krakow, in the direction of Zakopane, the surrounding region has plenty to see, especially for nature lovers. At Lake Czorsztyn, you can find two picturesque castles facing each other across the water. The nearby Pieniny National Park offers 34 km of hiking trails, some leading to scenic peaks like the summit of Trzy Korony.
The most convenient way to get to Szczawnica is by car, but once there, you can easily get around by rental bike. Once you get hungry, recommend stopping by Karczma u Polowacy, a solid serving plenty of tasty dishes, from venison and lamb to potato pancakes and homemade dumplings.
Time for a small city! Less than 100km to the east of Krakow is Tarnow, closely linked to the former by regular trains. Tarnow’s highlight is the Old Town area, with its town hall and cathedral. There are traces of the once prosperous Jewish community, including the brick bimah that once belonged to an 18th century synagogue, and a 16th century cemetery. Once you’re hungry, seek out Restauracja Soprano, a very good Italian restaurant and Cafe Tramwaj, located inside an antique tram!
Tarnow is close enough to Krakow to not make spending a night worthwhile, but we do recommend continuing on to Rzeszow (pictured). Prettier than the unpronounceable name implies, it’s located further still (a bit over two hours by train from Krakow), it’s possible to visit both over the course of a long day. The city’s Renaissance glory is clear from its well-preserved architecture, but it has once more become a popular place for Poles to mov to. There are some good museums, and a futuristic circular pedestrian bridge. As far as places to eat, we recommend Braseria Pasieka, considered one of the country’s best pizzerias.