Stretching from Kraków, up to Warsaw, and out into the Baltic at Gdańsk on the Polish coast, the Vistula runs like an artery through the country. The river runs directly beneath Kraków’s royal palace on Wawel Hill and makes for a relaxing afternoon in the sun. Here is an overview of the different types of river activity available.
Kraków is one of Europe’s most walkable destinations, with many of the main attractions within the boundaries of its beautiful Old Town. But many travellers forget that all great cities are built on rivers and these can be an excellent way to get a new (and relaxing) perspective on some of the sights. Kraków is no different, as the castle compound looks directly over the water. What’s more, rivers can also be a canny and underused method of transport. If you’re thinking of visiting the excellent museum at Oskar Schindler’s Factory, for example, you can combine this with a river cruise and only a short (guided) walk at the other end.
We’ve summarised some of the key excursions by water below with an outline of what to expect. Most of these can be booked via Get Your Guide, which lets you manage your activities and tickets on your phone.
Kraków Vistula River Sightseeing Cruises
A number of tour companies offer sightseeing cruises along the river, usually lasting an hour, and spanning the ‘Six Bridges’ from the Kościuszko Mound in the west to Podgórze in the east. Although different operators offer slightly different routes, and set off from different parts of the riverside, you’ll be given clear instructions on where to meet when you book. These will always be just outside the Old Town, somewhere close to Wawel Hill.
There are a number of key religious buildings on the riverside, including the Skałka Church (aka Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Stanislaus the Bishop and Martyr Basilica), where saint Stanislaus of Szczepanów was slain by order of the king in 1079. You’ll also see the fortified Norbertine Monastery complex, dating back to the 12th century, and the house of Pope John Paul II.
There are impressive contemporary sights, as well, including Cricoteka, the striking museum and archive for artist and theatre director Tadeusz Kantor, and Father Bernadek’s Bridge, decorated with Jerzy Kędziora’s acrobatic sculptures.
The boats themselves will also vary but all are modern and comfortable, with a heated cabin for colder days, offering plenty of protection from bad weather. There’s an open, upper deck for warmer days, and a full historical commentary throughout, giving a good insight into the buildings as you pass. There is a toilet onboard and bar for drinks and snacks. Most boats hold about 12 guests and it is possible to hire a private vessel for just your group. It’s worth talking to the captain if there’s something you’re particularly interested in, as some will alter ther route.
Some operators offer an extra twist on the regular daytime river cruise. The floodlit castle looks its very best as you glide past on an evening trip with a complimentary glass of wine and a live jazz band playing on the upper deck.
Kraków Vistula River Combined Cruises
A cruise can also be a smart way to reach another attraction, replacing the usual means of transport. You can, for example, take the catamaran to Schindler’s Factory. You’ll get a cruise (with audioguide) to the museum, where you’ll join the tour with a live guide, without needing to queue. The whole experience lasts around 2.5 hours and can be booked in one go through Get Your Guide. But you will have to make your own way back, as the journey is only one-way.
Similarly, combining a river cruise with a trip to Wieliczka Salt Mine removes a lot of organisational hassle and can save you a bit of money. A bus is still necessary to reach Wieliczka itself but the tour operators will handle the transfer once the river cruise is over and bring you back again after the guided tour of the Salt Mine. The round trip lasts about 5.5 hours. You can see our walkthrough of a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine here.
You can also buy a cruise-and-castle bundle with lunch thrown in. This is an end-to-end experience and includes a guided tour of the state rooms and cathedral on Wawel Hill, as well a two-course meal, and finally the river trip. The whole package lasts five hours, and is an excellent way to see some of Kraków’s highlights in one go.
Kraków Vistula River Cruises to Tyniec Abbey
For the more adventurous, there are also river cruises to the beautiful Benedictine abbey on the clifftop at Tyniec – as you can see from the image above. This is a 10km journey through the local countryside and makes a relaxing break from the bustle of high-season Kraków. You’ll get time in the historic village of Tyniec and visit the abbey itself, as well as the usual sights from a Vistula river cruise.
The complex dates back to the 11th century and is the oldest working abbey in Poland, however it has been rebuilt and restored many times in the intervening centuries. You’ll get the best view of this imposing site as the boat approaches the cliffs. Despite the religious order that live here, the atmosphere is friendly and the monks are happy to talk with visitors. There’s a small museum, shop selling things like jam and mead, coffee shop with scenic view, and surprisingly solid restaurant. A guided tour of the grounds is included in the package.
These trips last roughly 4.5 hours and can usually only be booked in groups of 4-12. The more people in your party, the cheaper each individual ticket will be.
This cruise won’t be for everyone, particularly if you haven’t seen the main attractions and time is tight. But for those who want something more off the beaten track and have a half-day to spare, it’s definitely worth consideration.
Although located on the northern coast of Poland, almost 600km from Kraków, Gdańsk is famous for its shipyards and historical connections to water. It is here that the Vistula river merges with the Baltic. If you are touring the country, Gdańsk is a good place to spend a few days.
As you can see from Get Your Guide, there are a number of cruises based around the Gdańsk shipyards. You can, for example, take a 70-minute tour on a replica of an 18th-century Polish river ship, getting close to the famous port cranes and unusual vessels, before travelling via canals and the Motława River to the center of the Old Town. Each boat holds up to 12 people.
For a more modern experience, yacht tours of the Motlawa River last for 45 minutes. Beginning on the left bank of Old Motlawa, you’ll see the Green Bridge, the 15th-century crane, the fish market, Brabank, Gdańsk Marina, Vistula, Polish Hook, the shipyards, before circling back around to the Green Bridge. You’ll also see the remains of Teutonic Castle, the Long Seacoast, Ołowianka Island, and Granary Island.