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The Tatra Mountains and Krakow, Poland in 7 Days

Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.

Day 1: Krakow

  • Father Bernatek’s Bridge
  • Kazimierz
  • Plac Bohaterow Getta
  • Oskar Schindler’s Factory
  • Rynek Glowny

Arrived in Krakow, Poland early in the morning. Got our rental car and drove into town. Found street parking near Lover’s Bridge (Father Bernatek’s Bridge). Crossed it on foot then continued on to Kazimierz. Not too much to see there. Ate lunch and then walked through Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterow Getta).

Ghetto Heroes Square, where each empty chair represents 1,000 Krakow Jews murdered during the Holocaust

Next was Schindler’s Factory. Interesting, but mostly about Krakow under German occupation. Not so much about what happened at the factory or how it worked. Can’t say it’s a must-see, but very well detailed from a historical perspective.

Drove to our hotel, dropped off bags and headed back out. Stopped by the castle (didn’t go in), went to main square (Rynek Glowny) for a drink and just to walk around, then dinner and called it a day.

Rynek Glowny, the main square in Krakow

Day 2: Auschwitz

  • Auschwitz I and II (Birkenau)
  • Spis Castle (Spissky Hrad)

Woke up and drove 1 hour to Auschwitz. Got there early so we didn’t have to pay to join a tour and spent about 2 hours at Auschwitz I. Would have learned more if in a tour, but the guide book and map we bought, plus being able to move around on our own schedule, made us glad we did it on our own. Drove 5 minutes to Birkenau. There is a shuttle that will take you there, but there was almost a 30-minute wait for the next one. Birkanau is huge and we spent about 2 hours there. You definitely have to see both.

7 years later as I’m writing this, I’m still reminded of Auschwitz almost daily. To say it impacted my life is a severe understatement. I know I didn’t go into much detail, and that’s because I don’t have words to convey how it’s affected me. Few, if any, things have to this level.

Then we drove to Spis Castle in Slovakia, which said 3 hours and change. Make sure to get a sticker at any gas station to drive in Slovakia. Took us around 5 hours and we got there too late, didn’t even get to go in. Traffic, terrible lack of road signs, and accidents. Luckily, the castle looks awesome from outside and we took a lot of pictures from different sides.

Drove to both parking lots and walked up to the castle. Then went to Hrabusice to stay at our hostel (Renzion-Ranc u Trapera – even the police had to look it up and get step-by-step directions, cause we couldn’t find it).

Day 3: Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise National Park)

  • Sucha Bela
  • Tomasovsky vyhlad

Walked to Slovensky Raj and hiked up the Sucha Bela gorge. There are chains, ladders, and platforms to get you over and through the awesome terrain. This was one of the neatest hikes we’ve ever done.

One of the taller ladders to get you through the gorge

After that, we headed over to Tomasovsky vyhlad where we had lunch overlooking the forest.

Awesome view from Tomasovsky vyhlad

Hiked back on the blue trail through the Hornad Valley and all the way back to our hostel. Very long day, about 9 – 10 hours. We had originally planned on spending 2 days there but Sucha Bela only took a little over an hour so we decided to do it all in one day.

Thought Velky Sokol looked awesome and wanted to do more hikes, but thought it would be somewhat more of the same and wanted to give us more time in the Tatra Mountains. I wouldn’t recommend doing everything we did in one day, very aggressive, but it worked out great for us.

Ate at the Hotel Slovensky Raj again, which is right across the street from our hostel – ate their the first night and had to go back for the sausage and cabbage soup in a bread bowl – one of the best things we’ve eaten in all of our travels.

Day 4: Tatranska Lomnica

Drove to Tatranska Lomnica, dropped bags off and took the cable car up. Stupid expensive, but the hike up looked miserable and would have taken hours. Did not pay to go all the way to the top, clouds everywhere and couldn’t even see the Tatra mountains from Tatranska Lomnica. Hiked over to Zamkovskeho Chata for a great meal and beer – one of the best memories of the trip.

Pierogi, dumplings, bacon, and beer in the middle of a hike…what a place

Hiked down, passing a couple waterfalls, then all the way back to our hostel. To be honest, it was pretty underwhelming and I probably would skip Tatranska Lomnica next time.

Day 5: Getting to one of the best hostels in the world

  • Piec Stawow
  • Morskie Oko

Drove to the parking lot for Lake Morskie Oko (learn more about parking options here and get an e-ticket here). We left our car there for 2 nights. We hiked up to Piec Stawow (more information and booking info here) and dropped our bags to stay there. It is a hostel in arguably the greatest location in the world – right on the edge of an alpine lake surrounded by mountains on all sides. No cars, all foot traffic.

View my in-depth Hike Guide for this area here

If you look closely, you can see the hostel at the near edge of the lake

Took the trail to Morskie Oko, which is the most well-known part of the High Tatras. Beautiful hike, even though it was completely cloudy, raining then turned to snow.

Lake Morskie Oko (“Eye of the Sea”)
Just look at that beautiful view

Would have attempted part of Orla Perc, which is a crazy, sketchy ridge trail, but the weather wouldn’t let us. We stayed at Piec Stawow to maximize our chances to do Orla Perc, and had left Slovensky Raj early to give us 3 days to do at least part of it.

Day 6: Snowstorm in the Tatra Mountains

  • Zawrat Pass

This was the day we had planned on doing Orla Perc, but it snowed all day, about 8 inches. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was, as Orla Perc was the main reason for visiting the Tatra mountains. We hiked to the waterfall by Piec Stawow, then to Zawrat pass (beginning point of Orla Perc) and back. It was pretty dangerous, and there was no chance to even attempt any part of Orla Perc.

Not optimal conditions for Orla Perc

Day 7: Krzyzne Pass and back to Krakow

  • Krzyzne Pass
  • Przystanek Pierogarnia

Finally clear skies, but snow everywhere. Wanted to at least get to Krzyzne pass (Przelecz Krzyzne) for the view but the trail markers were all covered by the snow. I was pretty bullheaded from being denied Orla Perc so we went for it anyways.

Sizing up Krzyzne Pass, the top ridge at the dead-center of this picture

It took us almost twice as long as it should, and we almost turned back a few times because it was so slippery, but we made it there. Stunning views, and it’s at the end of Orla Perc. So we hiked to the beginning and end of the trail but not the good stuff in between. Again it was too dangerous to attempt to do any of it because of the snow.

The amazing view from Krzyzne Pass

If all went according to plan, we would have already done Orla Perc and headed to the Wieliczka Salt Mine on this day, but we wanted to get to Krzyzne more than that. Glad we made it, as it’s arguably the best view in the Tatra mountains. Hiked all the way back down, drove back to Krakow, got a ton of pierogi at Przystanek Pierogarnia and called it a trip. Getting the views and as many delicious pierogis and beer as we could handle was a great way to end the trip. Flew out the next morning.

What a meal

Final thoughts

It took me a long time to piece this trip together. Few things I would have done differently:

  1. Had a GPS – this was the biggest regret of the trip aside from the weather, which we can’t control. We lost so much time getting lost and not being sure if we were on the right road. We had printed off turn-by-turn directions from Google Maps and watched the odometer, but that still didn’t help at all in a lot of places. Completely missed going into Spis Castle because of that (as well as traffic and accidents though).
  2. Made sure to have plenty of cash at all times. Many places don’t take credit card, which we knew, but we had to drive over a half hour twice to find an ATM (and got lost of course – there is nothing near Hrabusice).
  3. Skipped Tatranska Lomnica.
  4. Went in July or August instead of September. Everything I read said September is the best month to go to the Tatra Mountains. Less crowds, still great weather. They did say at Piec Stawow that they get snow sometimes in July and August, you never know. We just happened to be there at a terrible time – the very next weekend, it was showing almost 50 degrees and sunny in the mountains. But I would have taken a crowded Orla Perc and paid more money for the flights and hotels if that meant I would have had a better chance at attempting it. I still have a hard time accepting we didn’t even get to try.

Krakow doesn’t warrant more than a day or two at most in our opinion. Wawel Castle wasn’t too impressive, glad we didn’t pay to go in.

I would highly recommend staying at Piec Stawow, amazing setting and a fantastic base for hiking in the Tatra mountains. You can only get there by hiking, no car or public transit/cable car – and get there early in the day as it’s basically first come, first get a bed. Try emailing them and reserving a spot, but when I did 3 months in advance they said they didn’t have any private rooms available. But when we checked in, they originally gave us a dorm room and I asked if there were any private ones available, and there were. So who knows.

Because of the storm that hit, there wasn’t any floor space in the entire building cause they had so many people that needed a place to stay. They won’t turn anyone away but a bed is better than the eating room floor. Would have liked to have done Wieliczka Salt Mine, as it’s an easy side-trip from Krakow. The food and beer in Poland and Slovakia is amazing and cheap, dumplings with cheese and bacon, pierogis, and cabbage everywhere.

Year traveled: September 2014

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