Tucked away in the center of Europe and flanked on all sides by Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Kaliningrad, it would be easy to neglect Poland. But upon closer inspection, you will find that Poland is bursting – with vibrancy, culture, flavor, and history.
Embrace the sprawling wheat fields sprinkled with lilac wildflowers, a swig of pure Polish vodka after a generous portion of hearty pierogis the tram lines zigzagging through rows of whimsical homes in shades of tomato red and eggshell blue, and the sorrowing remnants of genocide. With all that Poland has on offer, combined with it being one of the most affordable countries in Europe, it is guaranteed that you will feel that you have gotten your zloty’s (Polish currency) worth.
Lining both banks of the Motlawa River, Gdansk’s striking Old Town is distinguished by its soaring Gothic architecture, and red brick towers which invoke a bygone era of the Teutonic Knights. With the most memorable of them all being the largest castle in the world, Malbork Castle, located just a 45-minute train ride from the center of Gdansk. The countless shops along Dluga Street which sell and specialize in the region’s prized Baltic amber, are showcasing what has always been one of Gdansk’s core trading items. Whereas just a leisurely cruise down the river on one of the beautifully designed mock pirate ships will bring you to the Westerplatte memorial where the very first bullets of WWII were fired.
Gdansk’s nearby partner city Sopot is widely known as the ‘Riviera of Poland’, as this whimsical beach haven of sun and sand is perfect for those seeking a bit of sea side luxury in otherwise land-locked Poland. Take a walk along the city’s wooden pier – the longest in Europe! Then take in the gorgeous buildings that are over 100 years old and paint a tale of Sopot’s origins as a spa town, where the rich and famous of Poland came to relax and recover.
Sopot’s whimsical vibe is no better encapsulated than in the Krzywy Domek (Crooked House). A building that appears warped – as if by Photoshop or by the hands of a witch or wizard. Indeed, Krzywy Domek’s design was originally inspired by Polish fairytales written by Jan Marcin Szancer and Per Dahlberg.
The birthplace of Nicholas Copernicus, delicious gingerbread, and medieval architecture – this enchanting blend has earned Torun’s Old Town a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The influence of Nicholas Copernicus is evident through everything from the monument of him in the city center, to the Planetarium devoted to teaching the subject he loved.
Torun’s tantalizing gingerbread is famous for luring citizens from all over Poland to give it a try. At the Gingerbread Museum you can give the art of gingerbread-making a go yourself, and taste what makes Torun gingerbread so incredibly moreish. Wrapped around Torun are its giant 13th Century medieval walls, which are perfect for walking along and admiring Torun’s defensive might.
Lublin’s history as the site of the temporary union between Poland and Lithuania helped turn it into the intense melting pot of cultures and religions that Lublin is today. People from Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Russia, all coexisted peacefully, and even spawned their own unique style of architecture called the ‘Lublin Renaissance’. Today, Lublin’s unique style can be experienced through taking a stroll around the unearthed foundations of the St. Michael church and admiring the bronze model, which can be found at the center of the Po Farze square. Or admiring Lublin’s Royal Castle, which is a reminder of Lublin’s glorious past as a royal city, a trade center, and a capital of international unification.
Warsaw’s epic rebuild from the terrible damage inflicted upon it by the devastating Nazi and Communist regimes has earned its reputation as a ‘phoenix rising from the ashes.’ Marvel at the eclectic hodgepodge of reconstructions of traditional Polish houses in rainbow shades, to stark, brutal examples of classic Stalinist architecture like the soaring Palace of Culture and Science – a landmark on the Warsaw skyline.
Enjoy dining like the locals in traditional ‘milk bars’ created by the Communists to feed Polish workers conveniently and cheaply. Most of the items found on the menu are hearty and filling Polish fare like kielbasa sausage, and pierogis filled with cheeses, meat, and onions. Despite over 85% of the city being destroyed over the course of WWII, Warsaw remains a fascinating blend of its past and the exciting new future of free Poland.
They say Paris is the most romantic city in the world, but lesser known gems like Poland’s Wroclaw, may just give the City of Love a run for its money. Once outside of Wroclaw’s main square – which may just contain the most surreally colourful buildings in Poland, with their fairy-tale shades of candied pink, mint turquoise, and buttery yellow – you will wander through one of the city’s many parks, lined with statues that tell the tale of Wroclaw’s storied past.
Criss-crossed through Wroclaw is a network of rivers and canals that earned the city its nickname of ‘the Venice of Poland’. Crossing these rivers and canals are over 100 bridges – the most beautiful of all being ‘Ostrow Tumski’ a bridge weighed down by hundreds of love locks and connected to Wroclaw’s novel Cathedral Island.
Grounded in both myth and reality, it is no wonder that Krakow is the most visited city in Poland. Krakow’s astonishingly well-preserved Old Town – which was comparatively unscathed from the bombings of WWII – is cause for celebration. The Rynek, Krakow’s main town square, is dominated by the giant Sukiennice (the former Cloth Hall) and the charmingly lopsided towers of St. Mary’s Basilica, its interior awash in cerulean blue and lavish gold. Nearby, the Wawel Castle complex that sits atop Wawel Hill, is surrounded by royal and mythical intrigue.
A popular day trip from Krakow is to the gigantic Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. It was at Auschwitz-Birkenau that the systemic slaughter of over 1.5 million people (most of them Jewish) was perpetrated by the Nazi Party. Auschwitz-Birkenau is now used as a museum and memorial to the memory of all the people who died, and an everlasting “warning to humanity”.
Whether you’re planning on visiting for the culture, to-die-for food, or it’s enrapturing history, Poland is the Eastern-European hub for all your desires. Poland’s exciting blend of the historical and modern, and its variety means you will never get bored. Even when combined with one of the European greats like France or Spain, you will no doubt while away weeks of your travel itinerary taking in all that the ever-evolving Poland has to offer.
Written by Vicky Evans
When she is not thinking about her next overseas trip, Vicky can be found with her head buried deep in a book, writing, or binging on Netflix. Her obsessions include adorable cats, interior design, and indulging in ALL the sweet things.