The Dunajec Gorge is one of the most evocative places in Southern Poland, the perfect destination for a day trip from Krakow. Local families love to come here for nature walks and rafting on the Dunajec River.
The main attraction, suitable for everyone, are the raft rides in the wonderful scenery of the Dunajec Gorge, and then visit the suggestive Niedzica Castle, one of the most beautiful in the region.
What you will find in this guide to the Dunajec Gorge:
- Dunajec Gorge: What you need to know before you go
- Things to do and see at the Dunajec Gorge
- How to get to the Dunajec Gorge from Krakow
Dunajec Gorge: What you need to know before you go
The Dunajec Gorge is located in the southern part of Poland, about 130 km from Krakow, right along the border with Slovakia, within the Pieniny National Park, the oldest national park in the country.
The Dunajec Gorge takes its name from the river that crosses it, the Dunajec River, which creates a natural border with Slovakia: one bank belongs to Poland and the opposite to Slovakia, the border passes exactly in the middle of the river.
The Dunajec Gorge offer a truly suggestive scenery and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to the particular geological and morphological characteristics and the biodiversity of flora and fauna.
The area has been preserved authentic and unspoiled, and is today an oasis of peace for lovers of nature, long walks and rafting. It can also be explored by taking one of the fun and peaceful rides on traditional rafts, also suitable for families with kids.
The Dunajec Gorge and the surrounding valley is a real paradise to spend a day in nature, and is easily accessible by road and explored thanks to the many paths and cycle paths that allow you to discover all its beauty, immersing yourself in the wonderful landscapes that valley offers.
Things to do and see at the Dunajec Gorge
Rafting and Excursions on the Dunajec River
One of the main attractions of the Dunajec Gorge is undoubtedly rafting down the river on perfectly safe wooden rafts, led by experienced boat drivers, often dressed in traditional local clothing.
In the past, rafts were widely used in this area to transport goods, but they were also often used by people to move from one village to another, sometimes even for long distances.
The river runs about 20 km through the gorge and offers wonderful views and panoramas. The accessible route is about 10 km and starts at the small river pier of Sromowce Kąty, ending downstream in the wonderful spa village of Szczawnica, taking about 3 hours.
It is possible to do it only from April to October and it is advisable to bring some warmer clothes in the cooler months, as well as a hat and enough water in the warmer ones.
While sailing you will be able to admire the wonderful landscape that winds between limestone cliffs up to 500 meters high, lush vegetation and breathtaking views.
The route allows you to admire many of the main places of interest in the area, passing in front of the Slovakian promontory Upranek and the Polish one of Macelowa Gòra, the Slovakian village Majere and the main peaks of the Pieniny Mountains, including the highest Trzy Korony, “Three Crowns”.
There are guided tours from Krakow that allow you to live this amazing experience: the tours include round-trip transport, professional guide, raft ride in the Dunajec Gorge and a visit to the surroundings, to conclude with a nice visit to the nearby picturesque town of Zakopane, nestled between the high peaks of the Tatra Mountains.
The raft excursion is the main and most popular attraction in the area, but many locals also come here to go kayaking.
Szczawnica is the village where the raft routes in the Dunajec Gorge end. This pretty town is known as one of the oldest spa resorts in the Carpathians.
There are several springs of mineral waters, famous and used for the treatment of respiratory diseases. The small town is also worth a visit for its ancient wooden architecture, with 19th century villas and houses, characterized by wonderful terraces, arcades and towers.
The surroundings are also worth visiting, especially the area of the villages of Jaworki and Szlachtowa, which were once inhabited by the Russians and still host beautiful Orthodox churches.
For those who want to relax in nature there are a few kilometers away, the nature reserves of Wąwóz, Biała Woda and Wąwóz Homole, perfect for taking a nice walk in nature.
The Niedzica Castle
Niedzica Castle, known primarily as Dunajec Castle, is a fortress located on the shores of Lake Czorsztyn.
It dates back to the 14th century and was built as a defense of the Hungarian border. For many years it was owned by Hungarian families, although with the Second World War it was annexed to the Polish territory.
After the abandonment of the last Hungarian family, the Salamons, the castle was in a state of ruin and devastation. Therefore, major reconstruction and renovation works were initiated which ended in 1963 thanks to the support of the Polish Ministry of Culture.
It is currently managed by the Association of Art Historians and houses a historical museum.
The visit inside the castle allows you to admire some of the main rooms, such as the torture chamber and the prison, the hunting or guard room.
There are various displays of art collections, which include archaeological finds from the castle, old documents and prints, clocks and weapons. There is also a restaurant and a bar where you can relax.
Outside, near the parking lot, there is a small exhibition of horse-drawn vehicles from the years 1900-1939.
A few steps from the Niedzica Castle, there is the old granary, an 18th century wooden structure that now houses a permanent exhibition on the folk art of Spiš, with exhibits of 19th and 20th century artifacts from the Spiš region.
Along the road leading to the castle, there is a sign that warns visitors that the castle is haunted. In fact, the legend of the Niedzica castle tells that one of the first owners, Sebastian Brezevichy, during a trip to Peru married a woman named Umina, who was an Inca sovereign.
When the war between Spain and Peru broke out in 1860, the Brezevichy family returned to Niedzica, carrying a huge treasure to prevent the Spaniards from taking it.
It is said that Umina was killed in front of the castle by a treasure hunter and that the ghost of the woman appears every night to scare anyone who approaches the castle to defend the treasure. Umina is today nicknamed the “White Lady of the Niedzica Castle”.
The museum is open from May to September every day from 9.00 to 19.00 and the full ticket costs 19 PLN (Reduced: 14 PLN), and also includes a visit to the coach house. On the other hand, for the granary the ticket costs 5 PLN.
In the surroundings of the Dunajec Gorge, take a trip to the small village of Dębno to see the beautiful wooden church of St. Michael Archangel’s Church.
This church, besides being one of the best preserved old wooden churches in Poland, is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List along with other churches located in the region, known as “Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska”.
It dates back to the 15th century and is an excellent example of the Gothic style. Inside, the walls and ceilings are perfectly preserved and decorated with 15th century paintings.
Lake Czorsztyn and the Niedzica Dam
Lake Czorsztyn is an artificial reservoir created in 1995 with the construction of a dam in the nearby village of Niedzica.
The dam is an excellent spot to admire the famous Niedzica Castle reflecting on the lake surface. Above the dam there is a pedestrian bridge, on the floor of which there is a curious three-dimensional graffiti that if viewed from the right position gives the impression that the water of the lake overflows from the railing and falls into a ravine.
The dam houses a power plant that can be visited at a cost of 9 PNL for the simple tour, including the main machine room and the internal observation balcony, or for the cost of 17 PNL the complete tour with the addition of a visit to the generator room and of the dam crown.
Along the shores of the lake, two cycle paths have been built in recent years that run along the lake and allow you to reach the main places in the area, from Dębno to the Niedzica Dam or to the wonderful views of the lake and the mountains from the top of the hills of the area.
Both cycle paths are completely separated from car traffic, they are also well signposted and full of information on places to visit.
Czorsztyn Castle is located on the shore of the lake of the same name, opposite that of the Niedzica Castle.
It dates back to the 14th century and today only ruins remain. It was in fact damaged and subsequently abandoned in 1790.
Despite this, it can be visited by tourists. The path to get there is only accessible on foot, with a walk from the lake of about 15 minutes and offers an extraordinary view over the lake and the Niedzica castle.
How to get to the Dunajec Gorge from Krakow
The Dunajec Gorge is easily accessible by car from Krakow, Tarnow, Nowy Sacz and also from towns along the Slovak border, such as Ružomberok.
Many visit the Dunajec Gorge along with the beautiful town of Zakopane, which is about 40 km away.
Unfortunately this area is not easily accessible by public transport, so if you don’t have your own car you could rent one (car rental prices in Krakow are quite cheap), or you could go on one of the convenient day tours from Krakow.
Guided day tours from Krakow allow you to experience the unmissable raft ride in the Dunajec Gorge (it’s as easy and safe as a simple boat ride, suitable for the whole family), discover the surrounding area and visit the beautiful town of Zakopane.
Useful Tips for Your Trip
Many people choose to visit the Dunajec Gorge on a day trip from Krakow, so here you can find the best useful tips to better plan your trip to Krakow and the wonderful region of Southern Poland: