Kraków is one of the greenest cities in Europe and the world!
Green areas cover over 60 per cent of the area of Kraków, of which approximately 10 per cent are places of high natural value and are therefore protected as nature reserves and Natura 2000 sites. The city has typical parks and forest parks, river parks and so-called pocket parks, i.e. small green areas integrated into the city buildings. Monastery gardens and cemeteries are also essential elements on the city’s green map.
When planning a stay in Kraków, it is worth knowing about places where you can take a walk among the greenery to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city. There are many of them scattered all over the city, and you can visit them while visiting monuments or museums.
Greenery in the very centre - Planty, Blonia and Jordan Park
It is no exaggeration to say that greenery can be found literally everywhere in Kraków. The most beautiful park in Kraków, the Planty, was created around the Old Town in place of the defensive walls (only a fragment of them has been preserved). The variety of trees, flowerbeds, monuments, a fountain and even a pond give the Planty Park its unique character, and for many Krakóws inhabitants, it is simply an enchanting place.
Kraków’s botanical garden is the oldest in Poland, established in 1783. It boasts several natural monuments and its apiary and invites you to visit the café on its grounds. It takes only a few minutes to walk from the Main Market Square to the Botanical Garden (to the east) and to the Blonia Park (to the west).
Błonia is a cultural phenomenon, as it is the largest meadow in the centre of a large city in Europe (48 hectares!), changing its colour and character depending on the season, where cows still grazed in the 1990s. No one dared to build on this lovely area close to the Old Town.
The people of Kraków come here to lie down, read, have a picnic and, if the conditions allow it, go cross-country skiing. Numerous sports and cultural events take place here. Here, holy masses given by Pope John Paul II were celebrated (one of them was attended by about 1.5 million people!). Błonia is surrounded by a 4-kilometre-long bicycle path also used by roller-skaters.
On the other side of 3 Maja Avenue, the vast Dr Henryk Jordan City Park was established in 1889. It was the first public playground for children under 15 in Europe. Its creator - Henryk Jordan, a doctor, social activist, pioneer of physical education, promoter of establishing playgrounds for children - actively participated in the Park’s activities. It was upon his initiative that 44 monuments of prominent Poles were erected here. After Jordan’s death, a monument to him was erected in the Park.
There are meadows, benches, walking paths, volleyball, basketball and football courts, a running track, a climbing wall, a skate park and a wooden and water playground. The refreshment kiosks invite you to have a coffee and something to eat. Both children and adults are delighted with the place.
Vistula Boulevards - a promenade several kilometres in length
Kraków is famous not only for its beautiful greenery in the heart of the city. Its showpiece is also the Vistula Boulevards - a promenade on both banks of the Vistula River.
The boulevards were built at the beginning of the 20th century as a flood protection measure, but above all, as a part of the Danube-Oder-Vistula-Dniester Canal. Work on its construction was interrupted by World War I. After World War II, it began to take on a recreational character. Today, they are one of the favourite places for walks in Kraków. They run, among others, at the foot of the Wawel Royal Castle, by the Wawel Dragon monument (According to legend, the monster lived in a cavern at the foot of the Wawel, and many knights failed to defeat it. It was only the brave Szewczyk Dratewka who did), the Church on the Rock and the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology (upon the initiative of the famous Polish film director Andrzej Wajda).
On the numerous barges moored here, you can eat and rest at the shore or even spend the night in one of the hotels on the water. There is no shortage of boats on the river. The choice is immense: smaller and larger ships, gondolas and catamarans, which now and then bounce back between the shores, taking those willing on shorter and longer cruises. There are no obstacles to renting a vessel for a closed event; all you have to do is arrange the menu with the staff. For those who prefer more activity, there are several kayak rentals available.
The Vistula Boulevards are also frequently used by cyclists and roller-skaters, as they are part of the Vistula Cycle Route (part of the EuroVelo road).
Five Mounds - view the surroundings from a height
Kraków's mounds are a phenomenon on a global scale. The oldest of them, Krakus Mound and Wanda Mound are linked by legend to Prince Krakus, the city's founder. He was supposed to be buried in a mound bearing his name in the Podgórze district. The second was supposedly raised on the spot where Wanda, Krak’s daughter, who did not want to marry a German prince, had her body retrieved from the Vistula River.
Towering over the city centre, Kościuszko Mound was erected at the beginning of the 19th century on St Bronisława Hill to commemorate Tadeusz Kościuszko, a great Polish patriot and participant in the American War of Independence. A hundred years later, it was surrounded by one of the forts of the Kraków Fortress, a unique set of military facilities on a European scale, which protected the city against the Russian advance during World War I.
The area around Kościuszko Mound and Washington Avenue, leading to it, is one of the most frequently visited places by Cracovians. Many go to the Salwator cemetery, located along the way, where many distinguished people, scientists and artists of merit to the city are buried. They include, among others: StanisławStanisław Lem, an eminent science-fiction writer, after whom an asteroid was named; the already mentioned Andrzej Wajda, film director, honoured with awards at many film festivals and with the Academy Award - the Oscar - for lifetime achievement; Juliusz Osterwa, one of the most outstanding actors and directors in the history of Polish theatre.
From the top of Kościuszko Mound, there is a beautiful view of the city and its surroundings. An equally impressive panorama can be admired from the highest of Kraków’s mounds, Piłsudski Mound, which is 35 metres high, on the Sowiniec Hill in the Wolski Forest. The Mound is dedicated to Marshal Józef Piłsudski, the Chief of the Polish State after Poland regained its independence in 1918. It is also called the Mound of Independence or the Mogiła of Mogils, as it commemorates the struggle of the Polish people for independence. The earth from battlefields from 1794-1920 was brought to rest here.
The youngest and smallest of Kraków’s mounds is dedicated to the Polish Pope John Paul II. It was raised on the territory of the Congregation of the Resurrectionist Fathers in Father Stefan Pawlicki Street.
Wolski Forest - 100 metres above Błonia Park
The Wolski Forest, as mentioned earlier, with more than 30 species of trees, several rocky ravines and reserves, stretching over several hills towering over the western part of the city, is one of the favourite leisure and recreation spots for Cracovians. Eight walking trails of a total length of almost 40 kilometres, bicycle routes, a place to have a picnic, as well as benches, rain shelters and educational boards, attract crowds.
There are plenty of attractions: the zoo beautifully integrated into the green pavilions housing nearly 300 species, including many that are rare and endangered, the Camedolite Monastery in Bielany, to which entrance is possible for regular men and women only 12 times a year, Przegorzały Castle, a three-storey building integrated into the rocky, limestone hill, stylised on the German castles on the Rhine from the Romantic period, although its history is only 100 years old, and even the Astronomical Observatory of the Jagiellonian University.
Kraków’s parks present an opportunity to spend free time in each of them by walking, exercising, visiting and relaxing with family, friends and neighbours. There are many possibilities. Dog lovers will be pleased to know that green areas are open to their pets. In addition, there are increasingly more so-called dog runs, i.e. fenced places explicitly designed for the needs of pets and their owners, with benches, elements of an obstacle course and watering holes.
The city from another perspective
We encourage you to get to know Kraków from a slightly different angle to discover the charm and value of its green areas and natural attractions. We invite you to immerse yourself in greenery. There are many areas, and getting to know them will be a pleasant diversion from sightseeing.