We’ll begin with the easy one. When many people think of Poland, they think of this country’s (mostly sad) history in WWII. For anyone interested in this tragic part of human history, Poland is a must-visit country.
The most evident is the haunting and upsetting Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp, situated about one hour outside of Krakow. It is necessary to pre-book a tour round the camp. The guide offers great perspective on what could otherwise be a completely surreal experience. No matter how much you’ve read about what happened at Aushwitz throughout the atrocities of the war, being there is a sobering and emotional experience.
Walking around Krakow, you can explore the former Jewish ghetto and Plaszow concentration camp. These are well known as the actual location of lots of the events depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. The relatively new museum in Schindler’s former factory is one of the finest WWII museum’s we’ve ever visited (and we’ve been to a lot), and should be a must-see for anybody visiting Krakow.
A bit more off the beaten path is Westerplatte, just outside the northern city of Gdansk. This is where the first official shots have been fired of WWII, between the Germans and the Poles on September 1, 1939. Many Beautiful Old Towns
“Beauty” and”Poland” are not two words most men and women put in the exact same sentence, but that is a mistake. Despite considerable destruction during WWII, some older cities survived, and many others have been rebuilt in much the same way as they existed before the war.
Most travelers think of just Krakow. Granted, the old town of Krakow is as beautiful as it is overrun with tourists. The old city of Warsaw is very underrated. While most (or all) of it had to be rebuilt after the war, it’s still a beautiful and interesting place to explore, filled with restaurants, bars, churches, and monuments.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the northern port city of Gdansk, which was probably our favourite city to explore in the whole country.
To get off the beaten path a bit, try Wroclaw. This city is know as the”Venice of Poland” due to the many canals throughout the city centre. Spend your time trying to find the 300 gnomes scattered throughout town.
Or get out of the center of Krakow to check out the neighborhood of Nowa Huta, a planned community given as a”gift” in the USSR to Poland and intended to be a communist utopia.
3. Hiking in the Tatra Mountains
Poland has amazing hiking. Who knew? An (optimistic) two hour bus ride south of Krakow brings you to Zakopane, and alpine town that would not be out of place in Austria or Switzerland, but happens to be in the Polish Tatra Mountains. The views from popular Mt Giewont are magnificent if you’re able to take care of the crowds coming up the cable car on busy evenings. Try going in the shoulder season for a quieter experience.
4. What more do you need? You like savory? Done! You need something sweet? No problem. How can such a simple dish be so delicious? For the true connoisseur, get to Krakow for the annual Pierogi Festival each August.
If you ever get tired of meat/potato/cheese/fruit filled dumplings, we found great pizza (CZIKAGO in Zakopane), amazing kebabs (Sapko Kebab in Warsaw), and even decent sushi (Sushi Corner in Wroclaw), even though the latter took a little searching on our part.
Make sure you wash all that great food down with a few local vodka!
5. And Finally, the Beaches!
Yes, you read that right. Beaches. In Poland. Granted, the Baltic Sea can be a bit nippy, but those Poles are hardy people. The beach at Sopot, near Gdansk, was beautiful and busy.