It’s summertime. The relentless sun is baking the narrow streets of Kraków’s Old Town, where the heat seems to radiate from the very buildings. You’ve done what you can to stay cool: consumed epic quantities of ice cream, haunted various museums to keep out of the sunlight, and hid out in your hotel room. None of it seems to do the trick.
But before you consider taking off your clothes and leaping into the Vistula River (not a great idea, which is why you won’t see Cracovians doing it), we’ll let you into a secret: landlocked Kraków has beaches and other excellent places to cool down. Here’s where the locals go to beat the heat.
Bagry Lagoon is Kraków's most popular place to swim
Get an early start and head to this manmade reservoir located in Podgórze Płaszów, about 5km (3.1 miles) southeast from central Kraków – arguably the city’s most popular and best swimming destination within easy reach.
Families tend to gather at the developed recreation area, with the adults unpacking snacks and packed lunches at the picnic tables or swaying in the hammocks while the kids run around the playground and the lifeguards (on duty mid-June to mid-August) keep an eagle eye on the swimmers.
If you’re a water sports enthusiast, you’ll find sailboats, canoes, SUPs and paddleboats for rent (June till late September) at the two marinas by the recreation area, and can even partake in occasional sailing races. Fishers and sun worshippers in search of seclusion take the paths around the reservoir to the wild, undeveloped beaches further out.
Kryspinów Lagoon has several beaches
Just beyond Kraków’s western city boundary, just south of the airport, Kryspinów is another Cracovian favorite, with a nominal entry fee guaranteeing a fun day of sun and sand. With more space to spread out than Bagry, this large reservoir is reachable by regular bus from central Kraków.
Families cluster at the recreation area next to the more developed of the four spacious beaches, within easy reach of playgrounds, a ropes course, and two proper karczmas (Polish taverns) providing refreshments.
Adrenaline seekers can get in the water and learn the basics of wakeboarding (a cross between water skiing, surfing and snowboarding). There’s a proper wakepark at one of the beaches (book ahead), where you get towed back and forth by a cable, with jumps in the lake for more advanced wakeboarders. And if wakeboarding is insufficiently thrilling, then perhaps flyboarding will do the trick: you soar on a board high above the lake, propelled by twin jets of water.
Przystań Brzegi has a party vibe at weekends
On the eastern outskirts of the city, some 12km (7.5 miles) away from Old Town, this appealing, long, sandy beach between two reservoirs is yet another excellent Kraków bathing spot. If you’re after a quiet swim and a spot of sunbathing, weekdays are best. On weekends, a beach party vibe prevails. The kids scramble along the water obstacle courses and whizz down inflatable slides beneath the watchful eye of on-duty lifeguards, while the adults take part in spirited games of volleyball and tug-of-war, or take to the water in rented kayaks and rowboats.
During summer season (June to late August), a per-person entry charge applies and there are three shuttles daily to Przystań Brzegi. Out of season, you need your own wheels and are likely to have the place almost to yourself.
Kraków Water Park is great fun for the whole family
If sand and sun are not deal breakers, then Kraków’s huge indoor aqua park, north of Old Town, is an ideal cooldown spot for water babies of all ages.
Savvy locals come here on weekday mornings (avoid weekends or you will be lining up for each water slide) and buy a day pass to make the most of all the watery attractions – from swings and climbing walls to pirate-themed play area. If your kids are old enough to entertain themselves, you can watch them with an indulgent eye from the pool-side cafe, or sample the the hot tubs, saunas and massage fountains.
Nova Huta Reservoir's artificial beach is a summer hot spot
When the socialist-realist workers’ paradise of Nowa Huta was built in the northwest of the city in the 1950s, this reservoir and surrounding parkland was supposed to provide a much-needed recreation area for the workers and their families. Severely neglected in the '90s, they have been revamped and on hot summer days the artificial beach with sun loungers throngs with locals and their kids. The food trucks and ice cream stands give the place a summer fair vibe, and if you’re not brave enough to go swimming in the reservoir itself, you can head for the nearby sports complex with two swimming pools.
You can find some tranquility among the solitary fishers on the opposite side of the reservoir (fish are regularly restocked by city authorities), or by renting a kayak and steering away from the merry gaggle of paddleboats.
Forum Przestrzenie is a hip riverside hangout
Channelling big beach vibes sans actual beach, this huge, grafitti-adorned riverside cafe/bar/bistro has become one of Kraków’s hippest and most original summer spots, attracting a crowd of young local trendies. It opened in the grounds of the hideous concrete monstrosity, Forum Hotel – a throwback to the days of Soviet hospitality – but derelict dinosaur aside, the views at this bend of Vistula River are pretty great, and there are few nicer places to spend a lazy summer’s day than in a beach chair on a strip of artificial beach, toes firmly in sand, and cold craft beer in your hand. We guarantee you’ll feel cooler just thinking about it. If not, just head next door to the Termy Krakówskie Forum.
Zakrzowek Quarry is being redeveloped as a recreational area
Tall limestone cliffs and dense pine forest surround this former limestone quarry with its irresistibly blue, seemingly bottomless waters, which have long drawn locals for some illicit swimming and cliff diving. Even though Zakrzowek feels a million miles away from Kraków’s urban bustle, it’s actually only a short tram ride (#1, #4) to Kapelanka, southwest of Old Town. A local diving outfit, Nurkomania, teaches scuba diving here in spring and summer, with those plumbing the reservoir’s depths encountering sunken boats and even a small aircraft with two fake skeletons in the cockpit.
At the time of writing, the lagoon itself was off-limits while the local authorities develop it into a public recreational area, but you can still go hiking along the thickly forested limestone bluffs, admire views of Wawel Castle from the quarry rim, and look forward to future swims in these azure waters.
Termy Krakówskie Forum has a sauna and cooling pool
Also on the grounds of the "iconic" (read: unpretty) Forum Hotel, this sauna complex gives you the opportunity to cool down while appreciating unobstructed views of Wawel Royal Castle, wearing nothing but a smile (okay, and a towel. But no bathing suits: This is an old-school sauna). “Why would I go to the sauna when it’s baking outside?” we hear you ask. Well, because you can make use of the small outdoor pool, and scamper to the cooling area to douse yourself with buckets of ice water after a stint in the Turkish bath, salt room, and infrared sauna.
Plac Szczepanski has water jets to cool you down
Definitely not a beach or place to swim, this is a bit of a last resort if you’re dragging yourself around Old Town in the heat and feel yourself about to turn into a puddle of melted goo. This little square, a block from Rynek Glowny, is centered on a fountain in front of the Art Nouveau Palace of the Arts. As jets of water erupt from the ground in different spots, you’ll see kids (and occasionally adults) playing amidst the spray, while the most adventurous ignore the “don’t climb in the pool” signs and splash in the main body of the fountain.