Hi! Welcome to Complete City Guides!
My name is Patrick, I'm originally from Sydney (Australia) but grew up in England (my second home) - and I love exploring cities (and writing about it!)
I work online in marketing, which gives me the opportunity to travel around the world full time.
So while I am away, I keep this blog updated with full travel info. I tend to stay in a city for a few months at a time, to really get to know it - then I write guides on it.
If you are thinking of visiting Poland then you will probably start researching Kraków, Warsaw or Gdansk. They attract the vast majority of tourists visiting. However there are hundreds and hundreds of other places that are worth visiting, but you rarely hear of anyone going to.
One of those places is Zywiec. It is around one and a half hours by car away from Kraków (90km), 80km from Katowice, 600km from Berlin, 455km from Prague. Nearby to the very charming little town itself are many mountains and outdoor activities. Here is my write up of what you could do in Zywiec for your next trip in Poland.
The easiest way is to drive. It is an easy south-west route that takes around 1 and a half hours (90 km).
You can get a coach from Kraków to Zywiec (from the Dworzec MDA coach station). It will take a bit longer than driving: approx 2 hours 10 min. You will arrive at the Żywiec D.A. station (next to the train station), which is around 1.7km from the main square ("Rynek").
The Żar mountain is part of the Little Beskids mountain range in southern Poland. It rises to 761 meters above sea level. I would say it is the best mountain to visit near to Zywiec. It is around 10km away from the actual town of Zywiec, and it is a pleasant drive there.
Nearby is a huge artificial lake (Jezioro Międzybrodzkie), that was created when they dammed the Soła river. The Poles use this lake to create electricity, via its 500 megawatts (670,000 hp) pumped-storage hydroelectricity power plant.
Once you arrive you should see a car park. It is really cheap - 7 zloty (under 2 euros) for the first hour, then 2 zlotys (half a euro?) for each additional hour. There are nice views from the base, where the car park is. But of course, wait until you get to the top of the mountain for much better views.
Żywiec itself is really nice. It is home to around 35,000 people - so it isn't too big. But it has a few tourist attractions and a large main square. If you come from Kraków for the day, well it doesn't compare to Krakóws main square. But it has a lot less people, which is nice!
If you visit Żywiec from Kraków then you will quickly compare the two main square. Kraków has one of the most famous huge main squares in all of Europe. Żywiec does not compare at all in size - it is less than 20% of the size. However, I really fell in love with this area. It has lots of nice shops and restaurants around the sides of it. I'm not sure why, but it just seems like a really nice square to have in your own city if you were to live here.
If you want a suggestion for a great restaurant then carry on reading below - there is a fantastic restaurant (with vegetarian options) on this square.
I think the Zamkowy park is my favourite park in the whole of Poland. It is really huge and has a mix of nice open grass and a more wooded area. Plus a mini zoo (more on that in the next section).
It is really massive, and you might get a bit lost. But it is a nice place to get lost in! It is only a block or two away from the main square (Rynek), right behind the castle.
Inside the Park Zamkowy is a mini zoo. It is completely free, but you have to pay 5 zloty to feed the animals.
You can find a large range (for a free attraction) of animals, including hens, peacocks, donkeys, pigs, horses, goats, deer, horses, and more.
There is a little stall with 5 zloty bags of seeds and carrots. It is run on a trust system - you pay by putting money in a box.
As well as hikers and tourists, there are two main groups of people who visit Żar - downhill mountain bikers and paragliders. The bikers use the tram system to get up the mountain (and bike down), and the paragliders set off from the top of the mountain, glide around then land quite near the car park. It can be really interesting to watch the paragliders take off. When were visiting, there were tons of them either in the air or preparing to take off.
If you are a downhill mountain bike enthusiast then the Żar Mountain Bike Park will be more your kind of thing. Find details here.
I had a look for somewhere to rent downhill mountain bikes, however I couldn't see anything. You might have to rent them in the town of Zywiec and bring them there, however I didn't look too much for a bike rental place.
To get to the top of the mountain you have two options: walk it or use the tram/train system (also known as the Funicular railway at Żar). We went with the mountain tram/train - it cost only 18 zloty for a return ticket. Each way takes around 5 minutes, and they leave every 20 minutes.
Once you are at the top there was only a small restaurant open, however that is because we didn't visit in the peak season. There were a few other closed stalls, so I think if you visited in the middle of summer you would find more options. In the summer, when there is snow, they have more things open too.
But enough about all that - you don't want to visit for some rubbish restaurants. You will want to visit because of its great views. You can look down and see the nearby huge lakes, the small town nearby, and the rolling mountains in the distance.
One of the most popular attractions in Żywiec is the sort of famous brewery and museum there.
It isn't easily walkable from the main Rynek (main square) - it will probably take you nearly an hour. They also only let people in at certain times, as each visitor must be in a group with a tour guide. I really recommend that you email them beforehand (they will reply in good English) and book an appointment for a tour.
We didn't plan any of this, so didn't make it there. Let me know in the comments if it is any good. Online reviews say this is worth going to, with most being 4 or 5 out of 5 stars.
We went to Piwiarnia Żywiecka Rynkowa. It is on the main square in one of the corners. The food was absolutely delicious.
We had a range of food between us and all of us thoroughly enjoyed each of our meals. They do nice scrupulous meaty dishes, plus nice options for vegetarians.
And not only was the food delicious but it wasn't expensive either. A vegetarian meal was only 15 PLN, and meat burgers or ribs were around 20-25 PLN. The menus aren't in English, but the staff speak good English so this wasn't a problem.
The town is famous for a certain brand of beer that is popular all over Poland. In most pubs in Poland, you can either get Tyskie (which comes from the town of Tychy, 60km away), or Żywiec, which is obviously from this town.
Although you can easily get other brands of beer here, the obvious choice is to have a cold Żywiec lager while in Żywiec.
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