The historical region of Lesser Poland (Małopolska) is located in the south of the country on the border with Silesia and Slovakia. For centuries, the most important trade route between Western and Eastern Europe passed through Lesser Poland, which brought great wealth to the region and especially its capital.
These are the top 10 Lesser Poland sights
Visitors are especially drawn to Krakow, perhaps the most beautiful of all Polish cities. However, Lesser Poland is also ideal for nature lovers, a quarter of all Polish national parks are located in the small voivodeship on the Vistula, where also the only high mountain range of the country, the High Tatras. In this article we present you the most important Małopolska sights.
Krakow was the Polish capital for a long time and is still considered the cultural heart of the country. Miraculously, Krakow remained almost completely unscathed during the Second World War. That is why you will find a unique collection of different architectural styles and feel like you are in a huge open-air museum. Whether on Europe’s largest market square with its legendary cloth halls, on the Wawel, the castle of the Polish kings, there is no shortage of historical sights. Also exciting is the Jewish quarter Kazimierz, where there are still several synagogues and cemeteries that tell of the rich history of Polish Jews.
The complete contrast to all these magnificent buildings can be found in Nowa Huta. The socialist planned city at the gates of old Cracow was supposed to symbolize the city’s departure into modernity and is an absolute highlight on every trip to Poland. One of the formerLY largest steelworks in Europe is located here. The many residential buildings for the workers of the plant contain elements of the Cracow Renaissance on the one hand, but are made of concrete on the other. In addition, there are experimental prefabricated panel buildings and an architecturally impressive church, the construction of which was the subject of a long struggle in what was then communist Poland.
The former concentration camp was the largest German extermination camp on Polish soil. The complex consisting of several camps symbolizes the Holocaust, the extermination of over 6 million Jews, like no other place. In Auschwitz alone, an estimated 1.1 to 1.5 million people died in the gas chambers, in executions or systematic extermination through labor.
Today, in the impressive memorial and its subcamps, one can get an overview of this horrible place through the still preserved barracks and the exhibitions housed in them, without ever being able to fully grasp the horror.
In the district of Wadowice with its district town of the same name, Karol Wojtyła was once born, the future Pope John Paul II. His parental home has now become a small place of pilgrimage. However, the most important sight here in the western part of Lesser Poland is in the small municipality of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. On the local Calvary mountain a nobleman had a chapel built here in the 17th century because he thought that the mountain looked like the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Later a huge baroque monastery complex was built, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999 and attracts tourists and believers from all over the world, also because it is home to an image of the Virgin Mary, which is said to have cried once – a miracle recognized by the Catholic Church.
A city deep in the mountain that consists only of salt? No, this is not an old fairy tale, but it really exists near Krakow. Salt has been mined here for centuries, and over time a unique system of tunnels and shafts was created, which probably no one has ever completely explored. Among other things, the devout miners created a wonderful church deep below the earth, which is made only of salt! As a visitor today, you can visit the most beautiful places with a guide and never cease to be amazed. But please do not get lost! Find out more about Wieliczka in our article about it.
High Tatra Mountains
The Carpathians are a huge mountain range that extends over several countries. However, their highest part, the High Tatras, is located in Poland. The Tatra Mountains are the only high mountains in Poland and a real paradise especially for hikers and skiers. While in summer you can enjoy the forests and mountain lakes like the idyllic mountain lake Morskie Oko, in winter you can go skiing. By the way, the Morskie Oko was already voted one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world by the Wall Street Journal. The mountain range, declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, was formed by ancient glaciers, and the highest Polish mountain Rysy is also located here.
By the way, the Sea Eye has already been chosen by the Wall Street Journal as one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world. The mountain range, declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, was formed by ancient glaciers; the highest Polish mountain, Rysy, is also located here.
High up in the Tatra Mountains rises Zakopane, Poland’s most popular winter sports resort and a clear candidate for the list of the top 10 Polish tourist attractions. Whether for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing or ice skating, the city and its surroundings are perfect for a relaxing winter vacation. There are many winter sports resorts in Poland as well. But what makes Zakopane so unique is the combination of wild nature, its own regional cuisine, a special architectural style with many wooden buildings and the kindness of the mountain people. The “Góraly” have preserved their culture for centuries and guard it like a treasure. From Zakopane it is also not far to the Morskie Oko.
Wooden churches in the south
The Carpathians are known for their unique wooden churches. Six of them were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2003 – not only because they are beautiful, but also because unique handicraft techniques were used here. Four of them are located in Lesser Poland. In Binarowa, Dębno, Lipnica Murowana and Sękowa you can admire the unique churches with steep roofs, which were built here between the 14th and 16th centuries and have survived all this time.
Those who find the High Tatras too demanding as a hiking area should go to the Beskidy Mountains – still a real insider tip and not nearly as crowded as its big brother. The Beskidy Mountains extend over Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine, where their highest point is located. In Lesser Poland, the Western Beskidy are located with their highest peak, the Babia Góra in the national park of the same name, directly on the Polish-Slovakian border, which offers a unique view of both countries.
A desert in Poland? Yes, that really exists. Only about 10 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide is the landscape on the border between Silesia and Lesser Poland and yet it is the largest sand desert in the EU that is not located on a coast. It used to be much bigger and some people even reported of mirages. In addition, the German Wehrmacht prepared for the African war here during World War II. It is a crazy place you wouldn’t expect to find here, but for this very reason it is one of the top 10 sights in Lesser Poland.