Poland is an eastern European country on the Baltic Sea known for its medieval architecture and Jewish heritage. Warsaw, the capital, has shopping and nightlife, plus the Warsaw Uprising Museum, honoring the city’s WWII-era resistance to German occupation. In the city of Krakow, 14th-century Wawel Castle rises above the medieval old town, home to Cloth Hall, a Renaissance trading post in Rynek Glowny (market square).
Currency: Polish zloty
Popular Cities / Tourist Spot
Wroclaw: Pronounced VRAHTS-wahv, Wroclaw is the fourth-largest city in Poland. Built in the medieval period, the city covers several islands and maintains several beautiful bridges and stunning architecture. Wroclaw has been busy racking up recognition lately. In 2015 it was named one of the “Best Cities to Live” by Mercer consulting company; and due to their high living standard it’s classified as a global city by GaWC. In 2016 the city will become the European Capital of Culture as well as the World Book Capital. Those who know Wroclaw best will tell you not to miss Salt Market Square, Centennial Hall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), or St Mary Magdalene Church (13th century).
Warsaw: This sprawling city is Poland’s capital. It’s long and turbulent history can be seen in the distinct forms of architecture. You’ll find Gothic churches, Soviet-era blocks, modern skyscrapers, and neoclassical palaces. Warsaw has a thriving music scene and a vibrant nightlife. Though the city was largely destroyed during WWII, Old Town has been restored to mirror its pre-war glory, complete with cobbled alleys, charming cafes, and a unique sense of the past. Also not to be missed are the old royal residences which have long been associated with the ruling class and important events in history. Round out your visit by stopping at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews to see exhibits on their 1000 year history.
Gdansk: Gdansk is one of the three cities in the Pomerania area that are popularly known as Tri-City. This city on the Baltic coast has a unique vibe that separates it from the rest of the country. It’s a place that’s been shaped by the wide variety of wealthy merchants attracted by its port. In the heart of Gdansk lies the reconstructed Main Town with colourful facades, shops, and restaurants. The crowning glory is the Neptune Fountain, built in the 17th century; it serves as a symbol of the city. When you’re done with St. Mary’s Church or Oliwa Archcathedral, enjoy a pleasure boat cruise upriver and a brew at a beer garden along the dock.
Gdynia: Polish people have voted Gdynia to be a “freedom city.” Since the first free elections, held in 1989, the city has transformed itself by building up living standards and concentrating on growth and progress. One of the three Tri-Cities, Gdynia is another great port town perfect for water lovers and maritime enthusiasts. Visit the Dar Pomorza, a full rig sailing ship built in 1909. There’s also the National Marine Fisheries Research Institute and the Gdynia Aquarium. Each summer, the city hosts the Open’er Music Festival which attracts amazing headlining artists from across the globe.
Sopot: The final Tri-City destination, Sopot is a small seaside resort town. Directly between Gdansk and Gdynia, it’s been a get-away for the royals and elite for centuries – even through the Communist era. Sopot has sparkling beaches and glitzy resorts all along the coast, giving it an exclusive air. You’ll often find the beach packed with sunbathers and volleyball lovers. Locals will tell you about the Wooden Pier (the longest in Europe), exciting Monte Casino Street, and Forest Opera set in a beautiful wooded area. Tourists will tell you not to miss Krzywy Domek, also known as the Crooked House because of its unusual Gaudi-like shape.
Cracow: Once the capital of Poland, Cracow is now considered the cultural capital of the country. Best known for its medieval core and Jewish quarter, the city is centred on Rynek Glowny (market square), built in 1257 and now one of the largest markets in Europe. The well-planned streets and tree-line pedestrian avenues make it enjoyable to stroll through the city. Stop and visit Jagellonian University or Wawel Castle – home of the Polish kings for almost 600 years. Don’t forget Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), 14th century St. Mary’s Basilica, and Cloth Hall, a wonderful Renaissance-era outpost.
Poznan: This town, located in west-central Poland, is best known for its renaissance old town, which, like most of Poland, was complete destroyed during WWII, has been beautifully rebuilt, and now thrives. A ramble through Poznan’s market square will fill you with the energy and bustle of the town. Morning or night, this place is always buzzing thanks to the pubs, clubs, and restaurants that can be found here. You must visit Ostrow Tumski cathedral, The New Zoo, and enjoy water sports at Lake Malta. Porta Posnania Interactive Heritage Centre shares the birth of Poland through technological and interactive displays, and the Monument to the Victims of June 1956 can be found on Plac Mickiewicza.
Torun: Torun is well known as the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543). It’s also well-known for its fantastic gingerbread. The city has combined these two well-known’s into one: you can buy gingerbread made in Copernicus’s image. Located in Northern Poland on the Vistual River, Torun is one of the oldest cities in the country. This is the place to come to take a break from the main tourist circuit. Largely untouched by WWII, there is quite a bit to see here. Visit the Bronze Donkey statue to learn its sinister history, the House of Copernicus, Pied Piper Fountain, and several UNESCO World Heritage sites amidst the city’s medieval defences.
Best time to Visit
Spring (from late April to June) is probably the best time to visit Poland. Rains and heat-waves are less frequent than in summer. April is usually warm - from 15 to 20C - May and June can be warmer. Autumn weather is very unpredictable.
Things to Do
Tatra Mountains: The Tatra Mountains, part of the Carpathian mountain chain in eastern Europe, create a natural border between Slovakia and Poland. Both Slovak and Polish sides are protected as national parkland and are popular destinations for winter and summer sports. The Tatras are home to wildlife including the Tatra chamois, marmot, lynx and bears. Slovakia has the highest mountain in the range: 2,655m Gerlach Peak.
Wieliczka Salt Mine: The Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland, lies within the Krakow metropolitan area.
Bialowieza Forest: Bialowieza Forest is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain. The forest is home to 800 European bison, Europe's heaviest land animal.
Wawel Castle: The Wawel Castle is a castle residency located in central Kraków, Poland. Built at the behest of King Casimir III the Great, it consists of a number of structures situated around the Italian-styled main courtyard.
Morskie Oko: Morskie Oko is the largest and fourth-deepest lake in the Tatra Mountains. It is located deep within the Tatra National Park, Poland, in the Rybi Potok Valley, of the High Tatras mountain range at the Mieguszowiecki Summits, in Lesser Poland Voivodeship.
Palace of Culture and Science: Constructed in 1955, the Palace of Culture and Science is a notable high-rise building in Warsaw, Poland.
Warsaw Old Town: The Warsaw Old Town is the oldest part of the capital city. It is bounded by the Wybrzeze Gdanskie, along with the bank of Vistula river, Grodzka, Mostowa and Podwale Streets. It is one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Warsaw.
Royal Castle, Warsaw: The Royal Castle in Warsaw is a castle residency that formerly served throughout the centuries as the official residence of the Polish monarchs. It is located in the Castle Square, at the entrance to the Warsaw Old Town.
The most recommendable dishes are: bigos, kotlet schabowy, pierogi and gołąbki (see below). Poles boast that their two basic products are bread and sausages. The most typical ingredients used in Polish cuisine are sauerkraut, beetroot, cucumbers (gherkins), sour cream, kohlrabi, mushrooms, sausages and smoked sausage.
How to Reach
There are direct flights to Warsaw from most major European destinations, as well as from major US cities such as New York and Chicago, and international travellers can connect quite easily.