Lesser Poland is a gorgeous, historic swathe of southern Poland. Its capital is Krakow, so beautiful and immaculately preserved that it was one of the first cities ever to be inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Krakow’s enchanting medieval heart and Jewish quarter are stuffed with fantastic places to eat, drink and shop, and it has become one of Poland’s most popular destinations for a city break. Lesser Poland is also home to a wide range of attractions such as the fascinating Wieliczka salt mines, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the sobering and moving Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial, and the gorgeous wilderness of the Ocjow National Park.
Top resorts in Lesser Poland
Krakow, the capital of Lesser Poland, is a spectacular and well-preserved historic city stuffed with cultural attractions, plus a fabulous choice of shops, bars, restaurants and beer halls. Its cobbled streets wind around a stunning medieval market square (Rynek Główny), one of the largest in Europe, which is ringed with handsome medieval and Renaissance monuments including St Mary’s Basilica and the Cloth Hall. You can escape the crowds in the nature reserves and parks that surround the city, or head to the Tatra Mountains for some hiking and biking. Other top attractions in Lesser Poland include the Wieliczka salt mines, one of the most visited sites in the country, which date back to the 13th century. You could also make a pilgrimage to the harrowing memorial at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, or escape the forests and hills of the Ocjow National Park.
Krakow, for all its picture-book charm, is a serious nightlife hub, fuelled by its big student population and eternal tourist appeal. You’ll find everything from stylish cocktail bars and fancy nightclubs to underground bars and jazz clubs. In fact, the city claims to have more bars per capita than anywhere else in Europe! Kazimierz, Krakow’s atmospheric Jewish Quarter, has become an arty enclave, and offers some of the best nightlife in town. The city also boasts some glorious beer gardens, where you can relax in the sunshine and soak up the unique atmosphere as you enjoy a few beers and some snacks.
Lesser Poland is a wonderful destination for a relaxed and romantic holiday. The regional capital, Krakow, is one of Europe’s most enchanting and best-preserved historic towns – the perfect backdrop for romance. Wander through its cobbled streets, explore the hill-top castle, admire the gorgeous Market Square, and relax in sunny beer gardens or intimate little cafés. The nightlife is fantastic, and you can cuddle up over cocktails at one of the stylish bars or dance till dawn at a club. Further afield, you could go for a hike and a romantic picnic in the Ocjow National Park, go sunbathing or rent a boat on the Krypisnów Lagoon.
Krakow is one of Poland’s oldest cities, crammed full of stunning cultural attractions. The enormous Rynek Główny is the city’s showcase square, overlooked by a series of beautiful historic buildings, including the Gothic St Mary’s Basilica and the Renaissance Cloth Hall. You can explore archaeological ruins beneath the square in the entertaining and interactive Rynek Underground exhibit, which brings the city’s history to life. Other unmissable attractions include the splendid castle on Wawel Hill and the fascinating Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, its pretty streets lined with elegant Renaissance buildings. You can visit the Oscar Schindler Factory, to learn more about the businessman’s efforts to save Jews during the Second World War, and make a pilgrimage to the moving Auchwitz-Birkenau memorial. The fascinating Wieliczka salt mines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, date back to the 13th century and another top cultural attraction.
Krakow boasts a fantastic selection of places to eat and drink, whether you’re looking for some traditional home-cooking or want to splash out on a gourmet meal at a swanky restaurant. While you’ll find cuisines from around the world in Krakow, classic Polish dishes predominate in most of Lesser Poland. You can tuck into the delicious roasts and stews, traditionally prepared with pork, beef or chicken, usually served with vegetables such as carrots, cabbage and cauliflower, and perhaps accompanied by pickles and sauerkraut. There are lots of tasty snacks to try, including the famous pierogi, which are dumplings stuff with all kinds of tasty savoury fillings. The iconic street food in Poland is zapiekanka – basically, a cheese and mushroom toastie – which is the perfect pick-me-up before, during or after a big night out.
Lesser Poland is a fantastic destination for families, with its fairy tale cities full of legends. Krakow even has a Dragon’s Den, set into the hill below the castle, and the dragon’s bones hang at the cathedral entrance. Other family-friendly attractions in Krakow include a zoo and water park, plus several interactive museums such as the City Engineering Museum and the Aviation Museum. Kids love the Rynek Underground exhibit, which brings the city’s history to life with audiovisuals, holograms and touch-screens. Beyond Krakow, you could take the kids hiking and biking in the beautiful Ocjow National Park, or follow the fascinating Eagle’s Nest Route, with a series of castles and hilltop fortifications that stretch from Krakow to Czestochowa.
Action & Adventure
Lesser Poland has all kinds of fun-filled attractions to keep you active on holiday! You can go boating, swimming and fishing in one of the many lakes around Krakow – the most popular and best-equipped is the Krypisnów Lagoon, which also has a wakeboarding centre, but the Bagry and Nova Hut reservoirs also have boats for rent. Day trips can be arranged from Krakow into the stunning Tatras Mountains, if you fancy some climbing or rafting, and Zakopane is the country’s main destination for winter sports, if you’re in the mood for skiing. Closer to Krakow, you could head into the wilds of the Ocjow National Park for some hiking and biking, and you can even organise horse-sleigh rides in the Polish countryside.
When to go
Krakow is the perfect city break destination. One of the oldest and best preserved cities in Poland, its immaculate medieval centre is packed with cultural attractions, as well as oodles of inviting shops, bars, restaurants and cafés. Visit the splendid castle on Wawel Hill, admire the gorgeous Market Square – one of the largest medieval squares in Europe – and explore the enchanting lanes and alleys of Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter. The nightlife is fantastic, whether you just want to soak up the sun in a beer garden or fancy hitting one of the sleek new nightclubs. And, if you want to get away from the crowds, you can head to the beach at the nearby Krypisnów Lagoon to soak up some rays or have a dip.