By Briana Seftel
Filled with beautiful medieval cities and lush dark forest, it’s about time you put Poland on your vacation ideas list. A thousand years of history including the destruction of WWII have transformed Poland into a complicated yet visually stunning country. Here’s everything you need to know to start planning your trip!
Dominated by the 14th century Wawel Castle, the medieval city of Krakow is a must see on any trip in Poland. The former royal capital is home to Europe’s largest market square and a beautiful UNESCO-certified Old Town. It’s like Prague or Budapest, but without the crowds.
After near destruction during WWII, Warsaw has blossomed into a vibrant and modern capital worthy of a trip. The restaurant and nightlife scene is the best in Poland, as well as the excellent museums retelling the city’s difficult past.
Poland’s picturesque port city is unlike any other place in Poland – years of wealthy merchants going in and out of the city have left a unique mark on the its architecture and way of life. The cobbled streets of the Main Town and charming cafes make Gdansk a favorite tourist destination.
Like a mini Krakow, Wroclaw has all the historical beauty you want in a city, plus influences from Bohemia, Austria, and Prussia. Its location on the Odra River gives the city a more laidback atmosphere, while the large student community and lively cultural center add to the charm.
Situated on the Warta River in western Poland, Poznan is known for its universities, old town, and Old Market Square. The colorful facades of many buildings make this city supremely photogenic, while unique institutions like the Croissant Museum make visitors want to stay a little while longer.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Located in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the world’s oldest salt mines dating back to the 13th century. Often referred to as "the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland,” the salt mine is home to dozens of statues and four chapels carved out of rock salt.
The chilling history of Auschwitz, the largest network of concentration camps during WWII, isn’t for everyone, but is essential to the history of Poland. Today, both sections of the camp (Auschwitz and Birkenau) are open for visitors.
Jasna Gora Monastery
Famous for its Black Madonna painting, the Jasna Gora Monastery is an architectural marvel as well as a spiritual destination. Founded in 1382 by Hungarian monks, the monastery is the third-largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.
Home to the auroch – bison known as Europe’s heaviest mammal – the Bialowieza Forest is an emerald green oasis of unique flora and fauna. Situated on the border of Poland and Belarus, it is the last remaining primeval forest in lowland Europe.
Slowinski National Park
A visit to Northern Poland’s Slowinski National Park on the Baltic coast is a trek through sand dunes after sand dunes. The park is also surrounded by two lakes, including a salt lake and the Baltic Sea.
Masurian Lake District
Poland is known for its many glassy lakes, so it’s no wonder that the Masurian Lake District is the place to go. Containing more than 2,000 lakes, the district is so spectacular that it has been considered as a New Wonder of the World.
Castles and Palaces
Once the political and cultural heart of Poland, Wawel Castle is Krakow’s pride and joy and a symbol of national identity. Architecture nerds will love the medieval, renaissance and baroque styles that make up the castle, while art lovers will take pleasure in the castle’s many paintings.
The largest castle in the world, Malbork is truly an astonishing sight to behold. A classic example of a medieval fortress, the castle was completed in 1406 by Teutonic Order after the conquest of Old Prussia. After many tumultuous years, the castle is now open to visitors looking for a fascinating glimpse into old Poland.
A beautiful baroque palace in Warsaw, Wilanow was the home of the Polish royal family up until the 18th century. Like the Versailles of Poland, the pale yellow palace is filled with gilded interiors and perfectly manicured grounds perfect for an afternoon of exploration.
Everyone’s favorite Polish food is pierogi, tender dumplings traditionally filled with sauerkraut or potato. Topped with sour cream and fried onion, it’s impossible to eat just one.
Translating to hunter’s stew, bigos is a warming and comforting dish of stewed cabbage, sauerkraut, and meat. It’s considered the national dish of Poland and can be found almost anywhere.
Borscht is as much Polish as it is Russian. The Polish borscht (known as barszcz) contains beets, onions, garlic and other vegetables, while some add meat to make the soup heartier. Others add uszka (little ears), which are dumplings tradtionaly filled with wild mushrooms.