Underrated but increasingly popular, Poland offers a huge amount for travelers of all stripes – from the stunning old towns of Krakow, ZamoÅ›Ä‡, GdaÅ„sk and Wroclaw to the wilderness of the BiaÅ‚owieÅ¼a National Park with its ubiquitous buffalos and epic vistas.
Poland's scenic beauty is as varied as it is extraordinary. The Baltic coast is pretty, while SÅ‚owiÅ„ski National Park is all ethereal forests, bogs and sand dunes. The Great Masurian Lakes in the northeast are popular for kayakers, with hundreds of pristine lakes broken up by dense forest. The Krakow-Wielun Upland with its limestone caves and medieval castles is another highlight, while the Carpathian Mountains in the far south are unremittingly beautiful.
Rather than being centered on an old market square, this capital city is spread across a broad area with diverse architecture: restored Gothic, communist concrete, modern glass and steel. This jumble is a sign of the city’s tumultuous past. Warsaw has suffered the worst history could throw at it, including virtual destruction at the end of World War II – and survived.
Today, Warsaw’s restaurant and entertainment scene is the best in Poland. You can dine well and affordably here on cuisines from around the world. This gritty city knows how to have fun.
If you believe the legends, Kraków was founded on the defeat of a dragon, and it is true a mythical atmosphere permeates its attractive streets and squares.Wawel Castle is a major drawcard, while the Old Town contains soaring churches, impressive museums and the vast RynekGÅ‚ówny, Europe’s largest market square.
However, there is more to the former royal capital than history and nightlife. As you walk through the Old Town, you will sometimes find yourself overwhelmed by the harmony of a quiet back street, the ‘just so’ nature of the architecture and light. It is at times like these that Kraków reveals its harmonious blend of past and present, an essential part of any visit to Poland.
Located on the Vistula river, Torun is best known as the birthplace of Copernicus, but it is just as well known for its old market place and Gothic town hall that the National Geographic Polska put on its list of the 30 most beautiful places in the world. The city boasts numerous buildings that date back to the Middle Ages. Construction on the town hall started in the 13th century, with many churches, including the Cathedral of SS. John the Evangelist and John the Baptist, dating back to the 14th century. This church is a must-see for travelers interested in Gothic paintings and sculptures, and Baroque altars.
Wawel Royal Castle
As the political and cultural heart of Poland through the 16th century, Wawel Castle is a potent symbol of national identity. It is now a museum containing five separate sections: Crown Treasury &Armory; State Rooms; Royal Private Apartments; Lost Wawel; and the Exhibition of Oriental Art. Each requires a separate ticket. There is also a special display here of the city's most valuable painting, Leonardo da Vinci's The Lady with an Ermine.
The medieval town of Malbork, perhaps better known by the German name of Marienburg, is most well-known for its castle, which was ordered built in the 13th century by the Knights of the Teutonic Order as their headquarters, Europe’s largest Gothic fortress is named after the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of the city and castle. The castle is actually a combination of three, making it the world’s largest brick castle. It took 230 years to build, a majority of which was destroyed during World War II. Much of the castle has been restored since then.
The Royal Cathedral has witnessed many coronations, funerals and burials of Poland’s monarchs and strongmen over the centuries. This is the third church on this site, consecrated in 1364. The original was founded in the 11th century by King BolesÅ‚aw I Chrobry and replaced with a Romanesque construction around 1140. When that burned down in 1305, only the Crypt of St Leonard survived. Highlights include the Holy Cross Chapel, Sigismund Chapel, Sigismund Bell, and the Crypt of St Leonard and Royal Crypts.
The present-day cathedral is basically a Gothic structure, but chapels in different styles were later built around it. Before you enter, note the massive iron door and, hanging on a chain to the left, huge prehistoric animal bones. They are believed to have magical powers; as long as they are here, the cathedral will remain. The bones were excavated on the grounds at the start of the 20th century.
Once inside, you will get lost in a maze of sarcophagi, tombstones and altarpieces scattered throughout the nave, chancel and ambulatory.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Located on the outskirts of Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is considered one of the oldest companies in the world. Salt has been mined from the site continuously since the 13th century. The site features an underground city, all carved out of the rock salt, including a chapel that is said to have the best acoustics of any structure in Europe. Dozens of ancient sculptures carved from salt are augmented by new sculptures from contemporary artists.
Tatra National Park
Travelers who crave scenic beauty will find it in Tatra National Park, located in southcentral Poland. Established in 1954, the park is mainly forests, meadows and numerous rock formations covering the Tatra Mountains. Spelunkers may enjoy touring six of the park’s 650 caves that are open to the public. The park also offers more than 30 alpine lakes as well as the WielkaSiklawa waterfall that is 230 feet high. Tatra, the most visited national park in Poland, will delight hikers with its long winding trails. There is a similar national park in the neighboring part of Slovakia, also called the Tatra National Park.
A thin pancake made with grated onion, carrot, parsnips or other vegetables. Delicious served hot either sprinkled with sugar or dolloped with sour cream.