Southern Poland Road Trip Guide
I spent over a week road tripping around Southern Poland, I found this region of the country to be quite fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. My home base for this Southern Poland road trip was Krakow (also correctly spelled Cracow) and Katowice.
In this Southern Poland Road Trip Guide I will provide an array of information (i.e. things to see/do, stay, eat, etc), including links to recommended places to help you plan your a trip to Southern Poland.
My starting point for this Southern Poland Road Trip was Krakow
- International Visitors – Krakow does have an international airport, but a more likely airport to the region would be Prague, which is where I started my trip from.
- Domestic Visitors – You could fly directly into Krakow, or, nearby Ostrava in the Czech Republic, which shares the southern boarder of Poland.
Krakow, I quickly discovered, is an absolutely wonderful city. Call me ignorant, but I had no idea how big, vibrant and popular the city is. This is what travel does, it is a prolific educator.
Krakow to me seems similar to Prague in several ways. For starters, this region of Europe was devastated after World War II. For various reasons, both Prague and Krakow escaped the war relatively unscathed. Today, both cities offer visitors a superb look at medieval architecture, rich history, endless activities and world-class lodging and cuisine. One of the most significant differences between the two cities is that Krakow is much more affordable. 20, even 10 years ago, Prague was the bargain capital of Central Europe, but that’s not the case anymore. For travelers looking for a deal on European travel, with fewer crowds, Krakow is where you want to go.
Southern Poland Road Trip Car
This road trip was done in a 2018 Renault Clio that I rented from Auto Europe. I actually had the car for nearly a month and it cost me less than $500, that’s with insurance and some obscure fee to drive across country boarders. When you are road tripping in Europe, it’s nice to have a smaller car that gets good gas millage. Parking and fuel costs can both be challenging in Europe.
- Fuel Efficiency: The Renault Clio is a no-frills car, but it does get good fuel economy, about 55mpg (or about 14 kilometers per liter) and it is able to navigate the narrow cobblestone streets and parking garages without breaking the bank.
- Fuel Costs: An average fill-up ran about $45-$50 (40-43 Euro or 185 Zloty).
- Millage: I could drive around 400 miles in between fill-ups. Pretty affordable! The Clio also has plenty of space for two people with a hatchback that conceals luggage nicely.
Lodging recommendations in Krakow
During my time in Krakow I stayed at two different hotels, each on opposite sides of the Old Town Square. This was a perfect idea because it provided an opportunity to really explore the city on foot and bike without getting too far from my home-base hotel.
Sheraton Grand Krakow – Located on the southern side of the Old Town Square, along the banks of the Vistula River, the Sheraton Grand is a fantastic hotel that is so conveniently situation. The hotel is just steps from the Royal Wawel Castle, Zygmunt Bell, Wawel Cathedral, the National Museum, Old Town Square and the Kazimierz district, all major attractions in Krakow. The rooms are elegant and spacious with rates from $100-$300 a night depending on time of year and accommodation level. (Prices are higher for suites and lounge access).
Vienna House Andel’s Cracow – Located on the northern side of Rynek Glowny (also known at Old Town Square or Main Square), everything is walking distance, or, a short rail ride away. Even better, the hotel has bikes available, which is a wonderful way to see this UNESCO city. Vienna House Andel’s is where design, art and hospitality converge in utter delight. The bold design coupled with vibrant colors give the rooms a cozy and luxurious feel. Architectural design enthusiasts will find this an ideal home-base from which to explore the city, or, to rest and relax after a long day of exploring.
Things to do in Krakow
Krakow is a city you just want to get lost in. You’ll find a skew of things to see and do. Here are a few of my suggestions:
- Walk or ride a bike along the Vistula River boardwalk. You will discover so much beauty, along with some talented street performers.
- Rynek Underground – 1,000 years of history is showcased in the underground vaults of the Main Square, where the turbulent past of the Old Town of Krakow is unraveled.
- Horse Carriage Ride – While quite touristy, these ornately decorated horses and carriages will provide a romantic tour of Old Town Krakow.
- Vistula River boat cruise – If there is water near a city, I always recommend taking a tour as it provides a completely different perspective of a place. On this tour you will see magnificent views of the royal castle, the Wawel Dragon Statue, the Church of St. Stanislaus, and the old Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz.
- The Wawel Castle – Journey through the royal history of Poland and tour the Wawel Cathedral, one of the most iconic structures in Krakow. Marvel at the medieval castle walls and 12th-century Gothic church.
- Explore Old Town Square at night – Old Town is always bustling, but at night, the city comes alive! You’ll find music and a magical energy that permeates the promenades, where courtyard restaurants spill over with patrons, while partiers revel at bars and clubs.
Places to Eat in Krakow
I was traveling with my Indian friend, Archana from Travel See Write who is vegetarian, so most of the restaurants we tried tended to be healthier options, which did not include local/traditional Polish cuisine. Here are a few places I can recommend.
- Taj – Great little Thai restaurant…nice atmosphere and delicious food.
- Restaurant WieloPole3 – This is a cute and casual vegetarian & vegan place located in the basement of the Hotel Wielopole.
- Maverick’s – Located within the Vienna House Andel’s hotel, this place has a California vibe with fresh and colorful cuisines that mixes Asian, Mexican and European ingredients and techniques. They also have a fantastic outdoor patio.
- Costa Coffee – This is a European chain, but a great place for a quick snack or cup of joe.
Short Southern Poland Road Trips from Krakow or Katowice
- Auschwitz – Most people who travel want to be inspired or awed, but sometimes, a haunting reminder of the past is in order. A trip to Auschwitz is a fascinating, albeit sobering experience.
- Wieliczka Salt Mine – This is a bit more of a tourist attraction that I typically like, but it is a very unique and interesting place. This venue is essentially a museum for artwork sculpted out of salt from the former mine. While the crowds can be quite large, I think it’s worth the effort. Do plan on spending a good chuck of your day here, the place is massive.
- Ojców National Park – Ojców is a stunning place to escape the hustle and bustle of Krakow. This is the smallest national park in Poland, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in Grandeur. There are two castles, several caves and countless unique rock formations. The forest in the park is full of beech, fir, oak and hornbeam trees. This is a postcard-worthy park, however it can get quite crowded with limited parking in some areas. Most tourist line the road running along the Prądnik River between Ojców and Pieskowa Skała. There is no transportation connecting these two villages, but the easy 4-mile walk between them is worth the exertion.
Next Home-Base was Katowice
When I Tweeted that I was going to Katowice, I had more than a couple of people ask why? Some saying that Katowice was an old industrial town not worth visiting. I will admit, I began second guessing my decision. I then reminded myself that I nearly always find redeeming aspects of a city. Often I see things through a visitor’s exploring eyes that a local just cannot see. My friends at Feather and the Wind said as much in a video they produced some months earlier (see below).
Katowice has a great historical downtown with lots of parks, museum and preserved industrial charm to explore. Some are even saying that Katowice is the most underrated city in all of Poland, and I might have to agree with that bold statement.
Where to stay in Katowice
I only stayed in Katowice for a few days, but ended up at a fantastic location, right in the middle of city central. In one direction I could walk to historic downtown, in the other direction, the cultural hub of the city.
Vienna House Easy – The lobby is a large open space with some nooks to congregate, which flows right into the lounge. The Lobby Bar is a great place for a quick midday lunch. Or, you can head over to the restaurant on the opposite end of the hotel for some tender steaks or other creative cuisine that is deliciously inspired by polish and international influences. The decor is bright and colorful, extending into the rooms, which there are four levels to choose from, including fully furnished apartments for extended stays. Everything is easy to reach, just minutes from the Spodek Arena and the ICC (congress center), the Nowe Muzeum, Plac Wolnosci park, as well as the main railway station and major roads. Click the following link to read about some of my other Vienna House hotel stays in Europe.
What to do in Katowice on a Southern Poland Road Trip
- Museums – There are some fantastic museums in Katowice, one in particular that I really enjoyed was Slaskie, which highlights the city’s industrial past. Don’t miss a chance to go up to the top of the tower for some incredible 360 degree views of Katowice. The history of computers museum is another good one.
- Parks – For an old industrial city, Katowice has some lovely parks. One near the Vienna House worth a stroll is Plac Wolności. Kościuszko Park, Silesia Park and Katowice Forest Park are some of the other most popular parks in Katowice.
- Spodek – This is a multipurpose arena complex, includes a gym, an ice rink, swimming pool, sauna and a hotel. It’s a place you can see sporting events, concerts and other cultural activities. For nothing else, it’s worth walking around this gigantic flying saucer building.
- Culture Zone – The Culture Zone in Katowice is located between the Spodek arena and the area’s new in-fill buildings, which include: International Congress Center, The National Polish Radio Symphonic Orchestra and the Silesian Museum. The location of the Culture Zone is a repurposed coal mine. The mix of new and old buildings is a photographers delight.
- Galleries – There is a wonderful art scene in Katowice, from street art and murals, to the more refined. One of the best places to visit is the Szyb Wilson Gallery.
I hope I’ve provided you some inspiration and ideas to do a Southern Poland road trip. If you have any questions at all, please leave a comment below.