Stretching from the Carpathians in the south to the Pilica and Liwiec rivers in the north, Lesser Poland is a historical region centred on the charismatic city of Krakow. It includes magnificent mountain ranges and karst landscapes, historic castles and cities, together with the former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
With the cultural capital of Krakow at its heart, Lesser Poland is a popular tourist destination in the country, scattered with historic cities that include Sandomierz, Kazimierz Dolny, Zakopane, Biecz, Opatów, Szydłów and Lublin. It’s also home to the sacred monastery of Jasna Góra in Częstochowa, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed 13th century Wieliczka Salt Mine, the architectural Mannerist park of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, and the late-medieval wooden churches of Lesser Poland. The landscape is littered with castles, including those at Baranów Sandomierski, Będzin, Chęciny, Niedzica, Czarnolas and Dunajec, while the spectacular alpine views of the Tatra National Park and the nature reserve at Góra Zborów are riddled with cave systems. The open-air Museum of Folk Culture in Kolbuszowa is also of note, offering a glimpse into Lesser Poland’s rich cultural heritage, while the former concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau remember the unspeakable horrors that were committed during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Lesser Poland is also the birthplace of the bagel, originally invented in Krakow, and famed for its salted, smoked sheep’s milk cheese known as “oscypek”.
Lesser Poland is well served by rail services, with all of the major cities connected by train, in addition to extensive public bus routes. The major air entry points are at John Paul II International Airport Kraków–Balice, together with the nearby Katowice International Airport.
The south of Lesser Poland was once inhabited by Slavic Vistulans, with settlements concentrated around Krakow and Wislica, while the northern regions are believed to have been settled by the Lendian tribe. Around 1040, Krakow was designated as the capital of the Kingdom of Poland and by the mid-15th century had been divided into three “voivodeships”, including Krakow, Sandomierz and Lublin, which remained unchanged until 1772.