Nearly a third of Poland’s World Heritage Sites are located in and around Kraków. Here is an overview of these sites, and suggestions for how to visit the others.
Poland is, at time of writing, home to 17 World Heritage Sites, with a further five on the list for consideration. These are cultural or natural locations deemed by the the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as having outstanding value to humanity. Simply put, World Heritage status nearly always signifies a place worth visiting.
We have broken these down into those in and around Kraków, as well as information about UNESCO World Heritage Sites worth visiting in other parts of Poland. We have also included the five locations currently in contention for World Heritage status, as these are also well worth seeing.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites Around Kraków
Seven of Poland’s existing World Heritage Sites are in and around Kraków. In fact, the centre of Kraków was first to be added to the list. And others, such as the Wieliczka Salt Mines and Auschwitz Birkenau, can be seen on day trips from the city.
Historic Centre of Kraków – image © UNESCO
Historic Centre of Kraków
Unsurprisingly, Kraków’s stunning Old Town was the first Polish site to be granted World Heritage status, back in 1978. The medieval city centre, the Wawel Hill complex, and Kazimierz include hundreds of years of history and architecture, and provides a memorable backdrop for whatever reason you visit Kraków.
Our Kraków two-day itinerary covers most of the highlights that led to UNESCO status, including St Mary’s Basilica and the Sukiennice on Rynek Główny, Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Apartments, and a tour around Kazimierz.
Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines
The fantastical Wieliczka Salt Mines, just outside Kraków, were also added to the UNESCO list in 1978. This is appropriate, as the mining of salt played a large part in Kraków’s wealth. Dating from the 13th century, the maze of tunnels includes grand chapels, sculptures carved in salt, and an underground lake.
See our comprehensive walkthrough for an idea of what the experience is like. Wieliczka itself is roughly 15km from the centre of Kraków and is easily reached. See our guide to all the main forms of transport, as well as details of costs and timings.
The Nazi concentration and extermination camps of Auschwitz Birkenau were granted World Heritage status in 1979. This dreadful sites probably need no introduction, and their inclusion is grimly mordant considering UNESCO’s wish to celebrate places of outstanding value to humanity. Nevertheless, many people visit Kraków solely to bear witness to what happened here and it is guaranteed to affect you.
The site of the former concentration camp lies just outside Oświęcim, nearly 70km from Kraków itself. We have a full walk-through of what to expect from the experience and full details on how to reach Auschwitz-Birkenau from the centre of the city.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is a pilgrimage destination, roughly 40km south of Kraków, and remains one of the holiest locations in Poland. Founded in the early 17th century, this religious complex is a type of pilgrims’ way known as a calvary, allowing visitors to follow the Passion of the Christ by moving between chapels built into the hillside. Each chapel contains a scene from the Passion in a painting or sculptural form. The beautiful park contains a monastery and 42 chapels, mainly in the Mannerist style. The site also hosts mystery plays during Holy Week. There is limited information in English about visiting on the official Kalwaria Zebrzydowska website.
Pope John Paul II was closely connected with Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and some of the tours based around his life are the most convenient way to visit, especially as it will help you navigate your way around the site.
Otherwise, the bus to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska from Kraków Główny takes about 35 minutes. Ask at the bus station (behind the main train station) for details. The train also takes about 35 minutes from Kraków Główny to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Lanckorona, but is a bit more expensive. You can book tickets and get times and prices from the PKP Intercity site.
Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska
Tricky to visit without an organised tour or private transport, the wooden churches of southern (or Lesser Poland) were added in 2003 and are described by UNESCO as “The wooden churches of southern Little Poland represent outstanding examples of the different aspects of medieval church-building traditions in Roman Catholic culture. Built using the horizontal log technique, common in eastern and northern Europe since the Middle Ages”.
World Heritage status was granted to six specific buildings, although there are other outstanding examples of this style in the region. The six churches are: St Michael Archangel’s Church in Binarowa, All Saints Church in Blizne, St Michael Archangel’s Church in Dębno, Assumption of Holy Mary Church in Haczów, St Leonard’s Church in Lipnica Murowana, and Saints Philip and James Church in Sękowa.
Get Your Guide offers a guided to tour around the key churches and includes examples of the Orthodox tserkvas below.
Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine
Tserkvas derives from the Ukrainian word for church and these wooden Orthodox religious structures are half-located across the south-eastern region of Poland, around 140km from Kraków, with the rest across the border in south-west Ukraine.
Added by UNESCO in 2013, these squat, square buildings often have an onion dome on top, and are described as follows: “built of horizontal wooden logs between the 16th and 19th centuries by communities of Orthodox and Greek Catholic faiths. The tserkvas bear testimony to a distinct building tradition rooted in Orthodox ecclesiastic design interwoven with elements of local tradition, and symbolic references to their communities’ cosmogony”.
Get Your Guide’s tour of wooden churches includes examples of the Orthodox tserkvas.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites Around Krakow: Tentative List
UNESCO publishes a list of sites currently under consideration for World Heritage status. Poland has five, including one in close proximity to Kraków. We cover the remaining four further down the page.
The Dunajec River Gorge in the Pieniny Mountains
Some 110km to the south of Kraków, the Dunajec River Gorge is a site of outstanding natural beauty, and a popular site for rafting, as well as an important location for geological research. It lies in a mountain region, right on the border with Slovakia.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Other Parts Of Poland
There’s a great deal more to Poland than Kraków, as UNESCO’s World Heritage and tentative lists of other locations demonstrate. Here is our whistle stop tour of the country’s other natural and cultural wonders.
On the eastern border with Belarus, the old-growth Białowieża Forest is roughly 65km from Białystok, and was added to the UNESCO list in 1979. As well as different natural habitats, the region is home to free-roaming bison, as well as wolves, lynx, and otters.
You can find out how to travel from Kraków to Białystok in our transport guide.
Historic Centre of Warsaw
The centre of Warsaw was almost completely obliterated towards the end of the Second World War, so what you see of the Old Town now is largely the result of painstaking reconstruction. It was given World Heritage status in 1980.
Old City of Zamość
Zamość is a beautiful example of the Italian renaissance influence on architecture, with original planned layout and fortifications. The old city dates back to the 16th century and was added to the UNESCO list in 1992.
The closest city is Lublin, about 90km to the north west.
Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork
Close to the northern coast of Poland, 60km from Gdańsk, this striking red brick castle in the Gothic style – the world’s largest – was built by a German Roman Catholic religious order of crusaders in the 13th century. It was added to UNESCO’s list in 1997.
Medieval Town of Toruń
As with Malbork, Toruń was also founded by the Teutonic Knights, and was granted World Heritage status in 1997 as well. As such, it is a fine example of the medieval life in an important trading city.
Toruń actually sits beside the same river as Kraków and can be reached directly by train. See our How To Travel From Kraków To Toruń page for details.
Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica
Originally three churches – one burned down in 1758 – these fine timber-framed Lutheran churches were quickly built and innovative in their day. They can be found near to Wrocław, in the south west of the country. See our guide for how to get to Wrocław from Kraków.
Muskauer Park / Park Mużakowski
Added to the UNESCO list in 2004, the 860-acre Muskauer Park is the largest English garden in Central Europe and was highly influential in landscape gardening.
Lying on the border with Germany, Wrocław is one of the closest Polish cities, although Berlin is actually closer!
Centennial Hall in Wrocław
Added in 2006, Wrocław’s Centennial Hall is a relatively recent construction. This early Modernist building was designed by Max Berg as a multi-purpose venue and had the largest reinforced concrete dome in the world when it was built.
Wrocław is very easy to reach. See our guide for how to travel from Kraków to Wrocław for details.
Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe
First added in 2007, this entry has been expanded since to include pan-European forest sites in 18 countries. Poland’s Bieszczady National Park was added in 2021. This large region sits in the bottom right corner of the country, near the borders of Ukraine and Slovakia.
Tarnowskie Góry Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine and its Underground Water Management System
Just 25km north of Katowice – so relatively close to Kraków – Tarnowskie Góry makes a nice counterpoint to the Wieliczka salt mines and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2017. One of the unique features is the underground waterway, which allows visitors to take a boat through the attraction.
Krzemionki Prehistoric Striped Flint Mining Region
This Neolithic network of mines can be found about 100km outside of Lublin. Flint mining began here around 3900BC and continued for over 2000 years. There are over 4000 mine shafts in the complex, which gives a real insight into the tool making industry of the time.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Other Parts Of Poland: Tentative List
These remaining locations are currently being considered for inclusion as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with the Dunajec River Gorge (see above).
Gdańsk – Town of Memory and Freedom
From the Gothic and Renaissance architecture of the Main Town to the historic events of the 20th century, the northern port of Gdańsk should be high on any list for visitors to Poland. See our Visit Gdańsk guide for more information, as well as how to travel from Kraków to Gdańsk.
Built in the early 19th century, the Augustów Canal lies 100km south of Białystok in the north-eastern section of Poland, and is an impressive piece of industrial engineering, with locks, weirs, and towpaths. The construction spills into Belarus.
Modernist Centre of Gdynia — the example of building an integrated community
Built largely in the 1920s and ’30s, the centre of Gdynia was designed in a cohesive, modernist style. Gdynia is close to Gdańsk on the northern coast of Poland.
Paper Mill in Duszniki-Zdrój
Close to the Czech border and 110km south of Wrocław, Duszniki-Zdrój is one of the oldest preserved paper mills in Europe, dating from the 16th century.