Poland is a beautiful country steeped in culture, history and idyllic mountain views. It’s located in Eastern Europe but many of its fans believe it has more of a central European feel to it. When you visit, you’ll find the perfect mix of Medieval towns and cities, stunning national parks and urban landscapes. If you’re a history fan, this is the place for you- there’s everything from grand red brick fortresses to monuments illustrating Poland’s part in World War II. It’s for the foodies too, with homely cooking at the forefront of Polish cuisine- think foods that are rich in meat, particularly pork, and plenty of sweets such as strudel, cream cakes and dumplings filled with fruit. Lastly, Poland is a great place for the hikers with plenty of dense forests and mountains to enjoy, if you don’t mind bumping into a few bison and bears along the way.
Gdansk is the largest city in the North of Poland and is also the home of the largest brick church in the world. It’s located on the Baltic Coast and is truly a port city with maritime museums, cruises and beer gardens nestled in the dockside. Gdansk is perhaps most well known for its Old Town with narrow cobbled streets and plenty of charming shops and cafés. What makes the Old Town even more impressive is the fact that it had to be reconstructed after it suffered extensive damage in WW2. Gdansk has great transport links so it is a good place to base yourself if you wish to further explore the Baltic coast.
Another city, another area that had to be restored after damage from World War Two. Poznan was once upon a time the capital of Poland and sits closely between Berlin and Warsaw, bridging the gap between Polish and German culture. Stary Rynek is the town square and it is known to be one of the nicest in Europe, surrounded by plenty of attractions and exciting nightlife. Poznan is also home to the third largest university in Poland so student presence is prominent (and perhaps explains why the nightlife is so good!)
Lublin is renowned for its arts & culture scene, as well as academics. Having remained mainly industrial since the second World War, clubs and restaurants are gradually popping up in the area to give it a new lease of life. Lublin was once known as the ‘Jewish Oxford’ after becoming well-known for giving scholarships to Jewish people. Underneath the Old Town, you can do a tour of former wine cellars and merchants’ stalls to truly grasp how the city has developed over the last few decades.
Malbork is a quiet medieval town near Gdansk and it would probably fly under tourists’ radar were it not for the centrepiece of the town: an enormous gothic castle/fortress which is UNESCO listed and the largest in Europe. Most people recommend that you visit Malbork on a day trip from Gdansk purely for the castle, as there isn’t much else to do here other than exploring the Castle of the Teutonic Order.
Krakow is a haven of Old World atmosphere, from the old town to the Jewish district. In the Old Town, you’ll find beautiful churches and the largest market square in Europe. The city has hundreds of bars and restaurants, although none are yet Michelin starred, you’ll find plenty of authentic Polish eateries. In the Jewish district, there are plenty of museums to keep you occupied and a visit to the Wawel Royal Castle is a must. A lot of people travelling to Krakow use it as a base to tour Auschwitz and the Salt Mines- you’ll need to go with a reputable local tour company for both.
Tatra National Park
With 650 caves, 30 alpine lakes and many trails for hikers, the Tatra National Park is a dream come true for anyone who loves nature. The national park is shared between Poland and Slovakia and there is 275km of marked trails for tourists which vary in difficulty, so there is something for every level of hiking experience. You must stick to the trails and camping isn’t allowed in the National Park.
Warsaw had been almost entirely destroyed by the end of World War 2 but it has been extensively restored and today hosts some of Poland’s best architecture, from Gothic structures to modern buildings made of glass. As a result of the city’s history, the collection of museums in the area is particularly fascinating, with every topic covered from communism to science. Locals say that the city knows how to have fun, with a collection of some of Poland’s best restaurants and bars
Another Polish UNESCO World Heritage site, this forest is the home of the largest population of European bison, as well as many deer and boars. It’s recommended to get a guide so that you can visit the areas of the park that are usually restricted to visitors. The forest is located on the Belarus border so if you travel on the cycling trails, in particular, it’s advisable to carry ID in case you are stopped by border officers.
The largest city in Western Poland, Wroclaw is loved by tourists and locals alike. The architecture of the city is made up of many different cultural influences, with the market square of Rynek a particular highlight. If you appreciate Gothic architecture, the Cathedral Island will be a particular treat for you. There are several theatres and a few festivals take place throughout the year. You must visit the Wroclaw Zoo, which is the oldest in Poland having opened in 1865.
Nestled on the Vistula River in Northern Poland, Torun is one of the oldest cities in Poland. It was also one of the few cities that wasn’t majorly damaged during World War 2. The beautiful Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site (it seems like everywhere in Poland is!) with the Old Town Hall a particular highlight. You have to try the local Torun gingerbread. In short, Torun is the place to go when you want to see the traditional Gothic side of Poland.
Tips for visiting Poland:
- Poland is amazing to visit any time of the year, but the weather is nicest in late Spring, Summer and early Autumn.
- The Polish currency is Zloty and you will struggle to find anywhere that accepts Euros.
- It’s not expected to tip in Poland but you should give around 10% if you experience good service.
- A lot of Polish people will speak English as it is widely taught in school.
- Flights to Poland take around two hours with a single fare to Krakow costing less than £100 with Easyjet.