The thrill of walking around Kraków in the sun with thousands of other people all day long soon wears off, so if you’re looking for something to do before the clubs warm up that doesn’t involve drinking beer in a chair, why not do yourself and your heart a favour and rent a bike? Known in Polish as ‘rowers’ bicycles present one of the quickest and fun ways to explore the city, unless you happen to have a flying carpet at hand.
A relatively easy trip from the centre takes you up the hills west of the centre towards Las Wolski, Wolski forest.
Fit bikers with a decent set of wheels can take the direct route: from Wawel Castle, cycle south along the river until the end of the bicycle path; turn left, pass the Norbertine monastery, and turn right, up steep ul. sw, Bronislawy. Turning into al. Waszyngtona, the lane continues upwards; turn sharp right at the crossroads at the end to visit the Kosciuszko mound. Completed during the occupation in 1823 in memory of revolutionary hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the base of the conical mound was constructed from soil from the scene of the battle against the Russians at Racławice. A small museum at the base of the hill has Kosciuszko memorabilia. From the crossroads, al. Waszyngtona continues uphill, soon reaching a clearing with good views. The path follows the edge of the first hill, where it steeply descends down a gravel track (avoided by taking an earlier path to the right/north down to ul. Poreba; see below). At the bottom, turn left on the asphalt road and immediately right up a maze of steep paths weaving through pretty beech forest to the zoo (and plenty of refreshment opportunities) at the top of the hill.
If you gruel at panting uphill for ten minutes, start your tour at the huge Błonie field by biking down al. 3 Maja, a shaded lane that’s popular for biking and rollerblading. Turn left onto Piastowska, and right before the bridge onto the bicycle path that follows the Rudawa stream. Cycle on until you see a narrow pedestrian bridge; cross this and follow ul. Korbutowej, turning right onto ul. Krolewej Jadwigi and immediately left onto Kolo Strzesnicy past the golf and tennis centre. Continue straight ahead (and steep up) to reach the ridge of the hill with marvellous views southwards, or turn right onto ul. Poreba to reach 20 Lipca 1943, which passes the Villa Decius complex and snakes gradually up to the top of the forested hill, ending at the zoo.
Two main sights can be reached from the zoo; cycle along the paths with red markings to see the impressive Piłsudski mound. Another man-made cone, this one was completed in 1937, two years after the death of national leader Jozef Piłsudski. Ignored and then vandalised by the communist authorities (the huge granite cross which stood on top was pulled down by a tank in the 1950s), the mound has recently been restored. The views from the top, which peeks above the trees, are excellent; on clear days the Tatras are visible to the south.
Follow the red markings or the road south, and you’ll come across the Camadulensian monastery, which is set on top of a small hill (high enough to warrant airplane warning lights on the towers) and surrounded by a prohibitive wall. The monks here live a secluded life, adhering to strict schedules of prayer and work. Apart from the impressive church, the crypt is interesting to visit, as this is where the monks stack the bones of their predecessors. Note that the complex is not always open, and women are officially only allowed in on Sundays, for fear of causing too much distraction. The busy road south of the monastery is not the most pleasant way to return to Kraków; best head north from the zoo or the Piłsudski mound and take ul. Krolewej Jadwigi or the path along the stream as described above back to town.