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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Bates

Top places to check out in Poland

Poland is a vast country in Central Europe and has so many different landscapes, cities, one coastline and a mountain range to check out. With its culture, fantastic food and drink and welcoming people, Poland has always been one of my favourite places to visit and I have been to the country at least twenty times now. I go straight into it with you, here are my favourite recommendations I need to tell you about and why you should put them into your Polish itinerary. 

Gdansk, Poland
Beautiful Gdansk located on the Baltic Sea coastline in the north of Poland

Starting off in the south of the country, the Higher Tatra mountain range runs along the border with Czechia to the west, Slovakia to the and Ukraine to the east. A place where a lot of people head to is Zakopane, a mountain resort town which is an excellent base for those who are going into the mountains. There is ample accommodation here as well as a high street full of great restaurants. There is a cable car into the mountains but the highlight here has to be the hike up to Morskie Oko, a lake high up in the Tatra’s. Then further up is another lake overlooking Morskie Oko and the summit of Poland’s highest mountain, Mount Rysy at 2501 meters above sea level. I have written a hiking blog on my first adventure there and have returned several times since. 


Hiking in the Tatra Mountains near Zakopane, Poland
Hiking in the Tatra Mountains near Zakopane, Poland

Just north of Zakopane is Gorący potok a great place to unwind and relax. Some people go to the local bar and have a few pints of beer after doing a long days hiking,  some go and have a big hearty meal and others will just sit on a sofa in their hotel and look back at the day they had and write down their thoughts. For me it was a trip to the nearby thermal baths at Gorący Potok, located in the village of Kuny, about a ten-fifteen minute drive northwards (on the main road to Krakow) from central Zakopane (the thermal baths are signposted from both directions but don’t get mixed up with the other thermal baths dotted around the place in this area). 

I got some advice from another travel blog (thank you Emily from Emily's Guide to Krakow) to try out Gorący Potok as she recommended that this was the best one in the area. I have to admit afterwards I totally agree and it is in my top five of thermal baths around the world. There are three large pools here and a few small ones. When I came here the air temperature wasn’t too cold (or hot) as it was the early hours of the evening on a dry cloudless autumn day but when I dipped into the water, it was heaven. The water was so warm, I went straight into relaxation mode. There are a few fountains to put my head under and get a right soaking but some of them I couldn’t stand for too long underneath as it was just too hot and personally, I wanted to leave the pools with my skin intact. Elsewhere there are slides to come down on and located next to the baths was a bar to which drinks can be taken into the pool (which I didn’t do as I had to drive back to Zakopane afterwards). The on-site restaurant is known as Beefmaster, I just love the name of this restaurant which overlooks the baths but to be honest, the food was amazing here. A great place to get a huge juicy steak and it wasn’t too expensive. A great choice of drinks at the bar also. For a cheaper option there is a bistro below but after a good swim, a good meaty meal is needed. I totally recommend the restaurant. Afterthought on the thermal baths: In total I was there for about three-four hours including the meal and had such a great time. The time spent in the restaurant is not included in the two hours I paid for at the entrance. It was totally amazing to be soaking it up in the hot water whilst looking up at the stars above my head. Totally recommend these thermal baths and hope to be back out there in the near future.


To the west of Zakopane is the small village of Chochołów, which dates back to the 16th century and is known for its traditional wooden houses and were built by Polish highlanders (folk who lived in the Tatra Mountains). 

Chochołów, Poland
Traditional wooden house in Chochołów

To the north of the Tatra’s is Krakow (Cracow), which is one of the most visited cities in Central Europe and I personally have been here several times for its location, food, drinks, culture and of course the history. Most visitors come here because the drinks are so cheap and the nightlife is great but for me it has to be the history. When I am talking about the former capital of Poland to people back home, I always say visitors should allow at least four to five days to explore the city and also the few day trips on offer nearby like going hiking at Zakopane, checking out Auschwitz and some of the other cities nearby like Katowice. Here are the top places to check out in the city.


The Old Town of Krakow: The starting point to explore the old town (and a fantastic meeting place when meeting others) has to be the main market square (Rynek Glowny) with its Cloth Hall in the heart of it all with the beautiful City Hall Tower and Church of St Mary overlooking the cobble street-stones, restaurants, bars and cafes. This is also the most photographic area of the city so make sure the camera battery is charged up. I start with the Cloth Hall which is a beautiful Renaissance building which replaced the former Cloth Hall here which had a horrible Gothic design. The upper floor houses one part of the National Museum (which I can’t write about as I never went in) but below on the ground level is a row of market stalls selling clothes, souvenirs and food. Below the Cloth Hall is a museum (which I did check out) is the Rynek Underground Museum, where remains of buildings and historical objects have been found and are now on display down here with some fantastic interactive displays. However as it is a small museum, tickets need to be reserved online.

Cloth Hall, Krakow, Poland
Cloth Hall, Krakow

Next to the Cloth Hall is the City Hall Tower, Gothic in design and is the only remaining part of the former City Hall which stands. For a small fee visitors can climb the narrow staircase and check out some of the amazing views over the Market Square. A great place to look directly across at the church on the other side of the square.

Cloth Hall, Krakow, Poland
Tower and Cloth Hall, Krakow

One of the most beautiful churches in Krakow (and possibly Poland) is the Church of Saint Mary (Kosciol Mariacki) and was built between the 13th-16th century by the locals who wanted to rival the Royal Cathedral near the castle (more on that later on). The main feature is the two towers to which one has a story. The taller one known as the Hejnal Tower has a famous trumpet call and is sounded hourly from the tower. The call is unfinished because this is in memory of a medieval trumpeter who was shot whilst surrounding the alarm. When visiting the church, just stand outside the main entrance just before the hour market and listen to this beautiful trumpet call. Also the call which is done at noon is also broadcasted live on Polish radio.

Church of Saint Mary (Kosciol Mariacki), Krakow, Poland
Church of Saint Mary (Kosciol Mariacki), Krakow

On the outskirts of the old town is the Barbican and is one of the remaining parts of the medieval fortifications. Wondering why most of the beautiful buildings and medieval fortifications remain? Just in short, Adolf Hitler and his German friends during the Nazi German occupation of Poland actually liked Krakow for its grandeur, splendid buildings and tried not to destroy the city. OK, some buildings got destroyed but most remained. Another building to see some amazing medieval fortifications is the Florian Gate located on Ulica Florianska. I love the stone work on this building.

Florian Gate, Krakow, Poland
Florian Gate, Krakow

Walking south eastwards away from the Market Square and down a few streets (passing many churches), is the Wawel, a citadel built on a hill which has a series of buildings including the castle and cathedral. The area was once the site of coronations and royal burials and the Gothic looking cathedral is regarded by locals as a spiritual shrine. Surrounded by fortifications (which have been replaced and strengthened several times since the medieval times to the 20th century), walking around the grounds gave me the peaceful feeling, a calm feeling and relaxing feel as I took in the architecture, the greenery of the grass and the surrounding views. This is one of my favourite parts of the city, as it is not as touristy as the centre of the old town. 

Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland
Wawel Castle, Krakow

From the top of the Wawel, visitors can walk (after paying a small fee) down inside the hill to an enclave of caves at the bottom which comes out near the river. Known as the Dragon’s Den (Smocza Jama) there is a story behind this place. The village (which it was back then many moons ago) ran out of virgins (shock horror!) and the King promised the hand of his only daughter to whoever could kill the dragon nearby (did Dragons really exist in Poland?) Many men took on the challenge but either got killed by its claws or burnt alive by its smoky breath until a poor cobbler named Krak somehow tricked the Dragon (whose name is Smok by the way) into eating a sheep which was stuffed full of sulphur which ignited inside his stomach. The dragon ran to the nearby river and drank half of the water until he exploded. The village was saved, Krak married the princess and became King, built a castle on the dragon’s den and the locals built a city around it named ‘Krakow’ - after the king and that is also how the city got its name. Visitors who want to visit the den should leave this to last whilst visiting the Wawel as it goes down to the ground level and can’t come up the other way.

When leaving the den, nearby is a monument to Dzok (Jock in English) the dog. He was a happy puppy until one day back in 1990 he was left orphaned. A terrible tragedy had happened when his owner had a heart attack in his car on a nearby roundabout. The puppy was left behind whilst his master was taken away in an ambulance. Dzok waited and waited for his master to return for a YEAR before finally going to live with a kind old lady who used to come and feed him every day whilst he waited. More bad luck came for Dzok in the late 1990s when the old lady died and he was orphaned again but this time taken to a dog hostel, where he escaped on his second day of his stay and was run over by a train. I felt really sad when researching the story behind this dog and is not a happy story to tell but everytime I come to Krakow, I pay my respects to Dzok and remember that all animals are part of this world and that we should look after each other (unless it’s a Great White Shark which decides to eat me then I pull its teeth out, right?). Back to the statue which was unveiled back in 2001 and is close to where his original owner died with an inscription reading ‘Most faithful canine friend ever and a symbol of a dog’s boundless devotion to his master’. The sculptor (who also designed and is to blame for the Wawel Dragon nearby) has put a collection box in the back of the dog which goes and helps orphaned animals in the city.

Dzok, Krakow, Poland
Dzok the Dog, Krakow

Outside the Old Town: one of the top places to visit has to be the Jewish Quarter with its old Synagogue and cemetery as well as its restaurants and cafes. I didn’t get much time here but I had a great time walking around and taking photos. I am not going into the history of the area but if visitors know their Second World War history then this area was under attack by the Nazi Germans quite a lot and prisoners taken away to the nearby Auschwitz death camps.

Krakow, Poland
Jewish Quarter, Krakow

One of my favourite areas (but also very depressing at the same time) is the Soviet style buildings in the area known as Nowa Huta. After the Second World War it was time to rebuild most of Poland and under a communist government, the buildings built were grey, horrible designs which carried a lot of doom and gloom to the place. Nowa Huta was an experiment and is totally different to the rest of Krakow. I didn’t see any tourists here (as well as Gothic churches with Gargoyles on them or colourful cafes full of people inside them), there was nobody. The people who live here carry on with their daily lives and there is nothing to see here. Unless visitors are into their cold war history in Europe like I am. This settlement is one of only two entirely pre-planned socialist realist cities ever built (for those who want to know, the other one being in some god-forsaken town called Magnitogorsk in Russia).


The settlement took in a lot of agricultural land when it was built (and also built on top of an ancient village in the process) and was paid for by the lovely people over the border in the former Soviet Union. Built for 100,000 people, the settlement was built in no time and was built to impress people from outside Krakow. Walking around I noticed tree-lined avenues, lakes, parks and if I say so, a beautiful church. Researching into the area, planning was down to a fine line whilst building the area. The wide streets would prevent fire spreading to buildings across the streets, the layout of the buildings could easily be turned into a fortress if the city came under an attack and the weirdest one for me, the amount of trees (according to the planners) could easily soak up a nuclear blast. Nowa Huta can be reached by tram and is about twenty minutes away from the Old Town (depending on the traffic).


Wieliczka Salt Mines - located not very far from Krakow is the ancient salt mines which a part of has opened up to visitors. Not just any old salt mines, workers in bygone days have made sculptures down here made out of salt, the highlight being the Underground Chapel of St Kinga and its amazing fine artwork down there.  

Wieliczka Salt Mines, Poland
Wieliczka Salt Mines

And of course, a lot of visitors hitting up this area tend to go to Auschwitz death camps which is about an hour’s journey to the west. I have written a post on my experience here.

Auschwitz, Poland
Auschwitz

To the north-east of Krakow is Częstochowa. I had to check out one of the most religious icons in Poland, the Black Madonna (also known as Our Lady of Częstochowa). Located in the heart of the Jasna Góra Monastery, the Virgin Mary has been recognised by several pontiffs including Pope Clement XI way back in 1717. Arriving at the monastery on top of the hill which overlooks the centre of the city on a cold dreary rainy day, I was glad to take shelter inside. Heading to the main part of the church which is in the heart of the monastery, it was just a typical place of worship with the stained glass windows and rows of wooden benches everywhere (but the organ above the main entrance is pretty impressive). 


However, walking to the part of the building next to it, I saw a lot of people sitting down and a service about to start. Looking ahead at the far end of a small room was the Black Madonna and she was looking totally awesome. It's not often something in a church would amaze me but this sure did. There was something about the Black Madonna but I  just couldn’t put my finger on it. There were people on their knees, saying prayers, kissing the wall behind the painting (pilgrims can walk around the painting via a separating wall) and to be honest, it was an amazing sight. The monastery estimates that roughly 100,000 pilgrims come here to see this amazing lady.


There is a little story about the Black Madonna. I noticed that on her right cheek there were two scars. Some guys stormed the monastery many moons ago (back in 1430 according to historians) and stole a lot of goods including the Black Madonna. Jumping into the wagon, the guys (known as Hussites - think it was their gang name or something along those lines) could not make their horses move. One of the men got really angry and threw the portrait of the Black Madonna down to the ground whilst the other man drew his sword and inflicted two deep strikes into her to stop her controlling the horses as they thought the portrait was cursed. However when the man tried to inflict a third strike into her face, he fell to the ground and died very slowly. Well, that’s one story of how the scars got there but another reason was that as the rubber struck the painting twice, the face of the Black Madonna started to bleed. Both men got very scared, ran towards the hills and left the painting on the ground.


To this day, the scars are still there and can be seen. Someone has tried to repair it with wax but to no luck. Even though I am not catholic I was glad to make the pilgrimage to Częstochowa to see this amazing art work and to see what this means to others who come here to pray, to seek guidance, to hope, to find answers and above all, to find their way in life.

Heading north from Częstochowa and about an hour's drive is Łódź, is one of the biggest cities in Poland and located nearly, directly, in the middle of the country and is a city well connected by air, plane, train and road. First off I will have to explain the history of the place. Four hundred years ago there were a few rivers, a hut with a leaky roof and the odd rabbits roaming about. Three hundred years ago there were maybe was a couple of huts. Two hundred years ago a small town was built here and then BOOM! The industrial revolution hit the city. It expanded big time. The good times were here. The city became the textile heartland of the country then all of a sudden, the Second World War. The Nazi German’s came in, moved out a lot of jewish people who were running the textile show here and the city never recovered. It was crumbling big time. A lot of people left. Then recently it became Poland’s Hollywood, a lot of films were filmed here and film premiere’s are shown. A massive revamp of the city followed, a lot of money poured in and is now bringing people back to the city for work. Something has happened over the last ten years. It has boomed big time with the locals and the tourists are starting to sit up and take note. 

Lodz, Poland
Art work in Lodz

I start off with the city centre and the heart has to be one of the longest commercial streets I have come across (at 4.2km long), Piotrkowska ul. My first image of the centre is that it is a huge urban mess with many streets clogged up with cars. I have been told by locals that Łódź is the slowest city to drive around due to all the traffic jams. There are some touristy bars and restaurants along here (I prefer to eat and drink in places just off the main street) and lots of shops but there are some things to see as well. I mentioned that the city is Poland’s Hollywood earlier and there is the Polish version of the Walk of Fame. Starting from the Grand Hotel, the stars on the western side of the road have the names of actors and actresses who have made it big in the Polish film industry whilst on the eastern side are names of directors and cameramen.

Piotrkowska ul, Lodz, Poland
Piotrkowska ul, Lodz

Nearby is Róża's Passage (Pasaż Róży) is a fantastic creation by Joanna Rajkowska. The passage which links up two streets has a small courtyard in the middle. It used to have a hotel here but later turned into apartments. The place was rundown, dark and gloomy so Joanna decided to make a mosaic which reflected natural light off a lot of mirror shards (and I mean a lot...like, er...thousands!). This has really transformed the place and is even bright at night. I was completely gobsmacked when I saw this at night and took the time to appreciate the effect that Joanna put in to produce this fantastic piece of street art.

As well as the Piotrkowska holding the record as Europe’s longest pedestrian street, it also holds the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest piece of graffiti in the world but now just holds the record of being the largest piece of graffiti in Europe. Way back in 2001, the ‘City of Łódź’ mural took two months to complete and is symbolic to the folks of the city. It features Wolności Square and the Kościuszko monument, an old tram, the Old Town Hall and has the city’s logo on the side of a boat. The mural combines the modern with the traditional and is worth checking out.


To the north of Piotrkowska is the area known as Manufaktura which is Poland’s largest renovation project since rebuilding the Old Town of Warsaw in the 1950s. The buildings I was looking at were once a set of factories which produced textiles back in the 19th century. The area was booming but then World War Two came along and then the place was deserted. Back in the day the factories were designed by Hilary Majewski who was a student at Saint Petersburg University. The mills were built in a red-brick industrial style and based on those from Northern England. The factories were the property of a Jewish merchant who knew that high quality textiles in the Japanese, Chinese and Russian markets were needed. At the time when the factories were built, Łódź was the westernmost city in the Russian Empire. With his expertise in western textile and industrial knowledge and his access to those markets in the east, he was onto a winner! It made him a fortune and put the city on the map. 

Work to restore the buildings started in 2003 and the site was opened in May 2006 and took more than five years to plan and construct this massive project. As you can see from my nighttime photos, the finishing result is amazing. The original 19th century brick buildings are the main part of the complex as they have been totally renovated. The only buildings which are brand new to the complex is the shopping centre and it doesn’t look out of place either. I entered the complex through the Poznański gate and found out that this was the area where workers used to go into the complex everyday to work at the mills. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked down the cobbled street to the Rynek (main square), this is when I first took note of all the buildings around me! It was simply stunning to take in this part of the city’s history and see what the locals have done with it.


Away from the main area of the centre to the eastern outskirts, I visited the area known as Księży Młyn, which was also a place of producing textiles. Built up with the backing of the Herbst and Scheibler families in the second half of the 19th century, the area was booming in no time and hundreds of workers were happily working in mills and production as well as schools, hospitals and a railway line being built and used. The two families who sparked life into this area were considered the wealthiest and most influential industrialist families in all of Poland.


I discovered the Herbst Palace (I wanted to check out the Scheibler Palace which is not too far away but is having some work done to the building and won’t be open until the end of 2020), where of course, the Herbst family lived when times were good here. When the city council, in this case, the Museum of Art took over the palace, it was in a bad shape, a lot of original furnishings were not there and the place needed much more than a tin of paint to bring the building back to life. After a while the palace was eventually restored and is now much closer to the original style and it has been done very well. From master bedrooms, children bedrooms, the office, the guest rooms, the hallway with the grand staircase, this is a palace worth checking out. On the ground level is a small museum with displays of photos of the family when they were the ‘granddaddy’s’ of the city.

Also in the palace grounds is an art gallery but I have to admit, I spent most of my time wandering around the garden in the Autumn sunshine. It may have not been colourful but it was great seeing green leaves on trees and bushes in the middle of this brick-clayden city to which I haven’t seen many parks.


Outside the palace, I checked out some of the Księży Młyn area. I saw the old railway station which is converted into a cafe with the railway line and sign outside. I walked through a small park with red bricked buildings overlooking it from each side whilst leaves on the ground gave this park a cozy-rustic feel to the place. There is the old fire station whilst the main complex has been converted into a hotel and a few shops. Also is the Księży Młyn brewery which I checked out and found out that they have the best beers I have tried in Poland so far on my travels.

Overall thoughts on the city: At first when I arrived in Łódź and took a ride from the airport to the centre, I was thinking what a boring, grey-looking Soviet-style city. Don’t get me wrong, I have been to a lot of cities in Poland, Eastern Europe and Russia but I felt that this place on first impressions was depressing and really, I was thinking why the hell am I here! But soon afterwards, discovering the area, walking around, talking to the locals, checking out the food and drink scene as well as major renovation works, turning this city from a textile power to an outdoor ‘Hollywood’ movie studio, my views changed and they changed a lot. This place is not depressing. It might have been a decade ago but now with a lot of work done, people moving back to the city for work, the place is starting to boom again. Inside the old factories, the old buildings, hidden passageways, there is life inside them. People smiling, people being happy, the interior with its modern design, colourful, majestic. There is a lot of words I can describe this city now but the one sentence I thought about towards the end of my visit which best describes the city of Łódź to me is: ‘when your down, you rebuild, rebuild to greater things’, and that is what the locals have done and I am pretty sure they have some ideas which will come to fruition soon. Łódź is a must see city, even if you only do one or two days here and also makes a great day out from nearby Warsaw.

Lodz, Poland

Warsaw, the capital of Poland has had its drama of course during the Second World War thanks to the Nazi Germans destroying everything but since then the city has been rebuilt during communist times to the modern day era. I have checked out Warsaw on a few occasions and the city to explore gets better and better. 

Warsaw, Poland

The Old Town of Warsaw: this part of Warsaw was completely destroyed in the Second World War but walking around the main square (Rynek Starego Miasta) it feels like nothing has gone and the buildings are of that of their original structures. The locals have rebuilt the square and surrounding side streets to its original designs. I am so pleased about this as it felt like I was taking a step back in time but in the summer months it’s fantastic to see people sitting outside the bustling cafes and restaurants. 

Warsaw, Poland

Just off the square on ul. Nowomiejska is the Barbican and some of the city walls which have survived over the years. The building known as the Barbican was built here to defend the city from attackers from the north but was destroyed in the Second World War. Now it has been rebuilt since then despite the fact there is no need for it as it wasn’t in use many years before it got destroyed.

Baribcan, Warsaw, Poland

Walking around the old town visitors can check out the Cathedral of Saint John (as well as the old town’s other 10,000 churches (I am joking but there are several as Poland is a very religious Catholic country) but the other main sight to check out is the Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski) which was built in the 16th century when the capital of Poland was moved from Krakow to Warsaw. Once again this castle was destroyed by the Nazi Germans in the Second World War but has been reconstructed in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Just northwest of the Old Town Square on pl. Krasinskich is the monument to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising which commemorates the heroes of this historic event. Walking around this amazing monument was a quiet, somber one, thinking about those who gave up their lives to fend off the Nazi Germans. The sculptures represent soldiers and are separated into groups around the square. One group is shown defending the barricades and the other group going into the sewers. The locals used the sewer system to move around Warsaw during the uprising and near to this monument, one of the entrances can be found into the system.  

The area around the Old Town is probably the best place to grab some food and drinks. Like most cities in Europe, the restaurants around the touristy centres can be the most expensive but don’t even worry about that in Poland. For at least ten years Poland has been one of the cheapest countries to visit and is great value for money, so even a good three-course meal with drinks can be very cheap, so my advice is don’t worry about splashing the cash. Also personally speaking, Poland offers some of the best food and cuisine in Europe and is definitely worth checking out. 

The City Centre: Visitors to Warsaw are most likely to start and finish their adventures of the city here as the Central Train Station and bus station is located here and also plenty of taxis and airport buses which run passengers to and from the main airport plus the small airport in nearby Modlin (mostly used by no-frills airlines). If doing a journey after Warsaw by public transport and need some snacks, there are plenty of shops and cafes around here to get by on.


The first sight most visitors see when leaving the station is the huge (but ugly looking) Palace of Culture and Science. This horrible building was a gift to the nation of Poland from its neighbours, the then USSR and was built in the early 1950’s. It is said that the o’mighty Stalin (leader of the USSR and a big bully who likes to kill his own people) said he offered Warsaw a metro system or this building. The people wanted a metro system, Stalin didn’t listen and gave them this building. When it was built it was the second tallest building in Europe but now has the record of being Poland’s tallest. Now for some stupid facts, it has 30 storeys, 40 million bricks were used and the spire is 230m (750ft) high. Anyway, some locals still hate this building because of the history with the Soviet Union (Stalin was a funny character, saved Poland from the Nazi Germans but then was acting like a puppet master with the Polish government, I don’t do politics but thought I would mention this) and still calls for its demolition. 


However, for a small fee (and I have been up here twice), I made my way to the top level and managed to get some amazing views. Well, Warsaw isn’t the prettiest of cities, it can be ugly in fact with many ugly-grey-concrete-Soviet style buildings but there is a nice river and a modern sports stadium worth checking out. Walking around I was taking in the marvel of the bricks and the architecture and thinking, well, it is an ugly building but this ugly building has its charm and good points as well. I couldn’t put my finger on it but without the history, this building wouldn’t have been built and where then could visitors or myself get views of this amazing city.

Overall: Don’t get me wrong, Warsaw has many other interesting things to see and do, many churches to take a peek in, many memorials and museums but what I have written about are the top places to hit in the Polish capital. I usually use the city as a passing through point to get to other towns in the country or take the train eastwards towards Minsk and Moscow or get a cheap bus northwards towards Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and while I have a few hours, I always tick off something new here. Also accommodation in Poland and Warsaw itself are very cheap compared to other countries in Europe and there are plenty of options to choose from.

Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw, Poland

To the south-east of Warsaw is the small city of Lublin and is one of those cities which is off the beaten track when it comes to exploring Poland. Flung out in the eastern parts of the country near the Ukrainian border and surrounded by fields and tractors, Lublin for me is not very touristy but very unique to go for a wander. The city itself is not to be missed and can be easily reached. On my discovery I would say a day or two is enough. There is plenty of history, culture, sights to see and cuisine to try out at this time. Easily reached by main motorway if coming by car or a two hour train journey from Warsaw and with a nearby airport, there is no excuse to skip Lublin. Within the city there is a very good trolleybus, bus and taxi service but in the centre, everything can be reached just by walking.


The top sight to check out is Lublin Castle which is located next to the eastern gate of the old town, the castle looks like a palace from the outside but inside the main courtyard there is a tower which is one of the remaining parts of the old castle from many centuries ago The castle buildings surrounding the courtyard look like they have been rebuilt and painted in a bright colour to look more like a palace.


The tower itself has been used for different purposes but the main one I was interested in was the history of the Nazi Germans using this as a prison during the Second World War. In the several years they were here, over 40,000 people were held. Inside the tower there are a few rooms which have displays of the history of the castle but at the top there are amazing views of the city to be had. Mind you I had to mind my head on several occasions while walking up the dim-light, brick staircase with a low ceiling.


The buildings of the castle host various displays such as coins and weaponry found in the local area to some splendid paintings but the highlight of walking around the castle (and the city) has to be the Chapel of the Holy Trinity. This historical monument is very unique and I noticed it has a combination of architectural elements of the West and the East. Built in the 12th century, all the walls of the chapel have fully preserved Byzantine-Ruthenic paintings (with some having graffiti on them which was done back in the 16th century!). The frescos here are also original and have not been reconstructed. Walking around the place I was totally gobsmacked as I never come across anything like this on my travels and was looking up all the time in amazement with eyes and mouth wide open.

The Old Town of Lublin: known as 'little Krakow', the old town has a lot of historic architecture and there is an 'feel-good' ambiance in the air around the market square. As well as the buildings which host churches, restaurants, hotels, bars, there is a feel of magic in the air when I was walking around along the cobbled streets. Lublin is a university city so there are a lot of students around, which means this area has a vibrant music and nightclub scene and some fantastic bars.

Lublin view from castle, Poland
A view of Lublin's old town from the castle

I am not going to blabber on about the churches and the cathedral here because like all other cities, towns and villages in Poland, the country is very religious (one of the most religious countries I have come across in Europe and everyone takes it very seriously here, even a group of students who I met up with on a Saturday evening stop drinking around 01:00 and went home as they had church service the next morning. Anywhere else in Eastern Europe and we wouldn't have left the bar or club until breakfast time!) but the market square is one of the main places to be as I found several top restaurants here (and possibly the only place in Lublin to do a cooked breakfast until lunchtime!).

Underneath the market square is a hidden gem where there are a series of tunnels to explore. The entrance located on the side and leads down a set of stairs going underneath the building known to locals as the Stary Ratusz-trybunał koronny, is where tours of this network starts. There are not many tunnels to walk along as a lot of it is closed and not open for the public but where the tour did take me, it led me into several rooms where the tour guide (speaking in Polish) talks about the history and the layout of the city over the centuries. The tour was finished with a wooden moving display on what happened when fire struck and spread across the city and was saved by three wise men (I won't say more about the story, it is nice to see and I don't wanna spoil the outcome). Lucky for foreign visitors the tour does come with a script in English and is good to follow while the tour stops in the rooms (just don't bother reading this in the tunnels as the lighting is not so good).

Zamość is a small town which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was founded in the sixteenth century by a Polish nobleman, Jan Zamoyski. He designed the city from scratch with the main square in the centre with two small markets on each side of it. This town makes an excellent day trip from Lublin and is easily done by train or bus. I went by train so after arriving in the town, the walk from the train station towards the old city is a nice brisk walk and the first thing I saw was the fortress walls. These were built from day one but over time the walls were expanded and the old city became the fortress I see today. The walls did their job impressively as Zamość was attacked many times but was never conquered (until the Nazi Germans came along and basically walked in as well as the Soviet Union’s Red Army who had the city for a very brief time during the Second World War)

Zamosc, Poland

The top area to check out is the Rynek Wielki (Wielki Square) and is one of the most beautiful squares I have come across in Poland. The town houses and arcades surrounding the square are simply wonderful to look at. I found out that the houses were built by Armenian traders who made the city their home. They were rich, so to express their wealth, they decorated their homes with sculptures and painted the facades in bright colours. The heart of the square is the town hall where there is a beautiful staircase directly in front of it.

To the west of the main square is the Cathedral of the Resurrection and Saint Thomas the Apostle. From the outside it just looks like another boring and bland place of worship, nothing to speak about but once I stood inside the cathedral, the place was full of gold and silver. Somehow over the centuries, the city and the cathedral were never raided, so all the decorations I saw here are the originals. I am even surprised when the Nazi Germans were in the city that they never took the treasure and got rich.

Zamosc Cathedral, Poland

Very close by is the Arsenal museum where a lot of armoury is displayed and a lot of information on the city during all the wars it has been involved in. Also there are underground tunnels which go from one bastion to another which visitors can walk through (but I was unlucky and they were closed the day I came to Zamość).

Back in the center of Poland and an hour's drive north of Lodz is the small city of Toruń. I was passing the area on a drive from Lodz to Malbork. I had time to head to the historic centre to check out the area which is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. After quite a bit of time here, I learnt the city is the birthplace to astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, that the city is one of the oldest in Poland as it dates back to the 8th century but was expanded greatly by the Teutonic Knights in the 12th century and hosts the Museum of Gingerbread which the town has been backing gingerbread here for quite some time.

Torun, Poland

The city once was one of the four biggest in Poland (around the 17th century) before being part of Prussia, then the German Empire. The city returned to Polish hands after the country regained independence in 1918 and somehow was spared bombing and destruction during the Second World War. O’ Adholf and his Nazi friends must have liked the city as it’s architecture is beautiful, ranging with different types from Brick Gothic, Baroque and Mannerism, so they left it alone. Also in the olden days, Toruń was believed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. 

Torun, Poland

As I parked next to the river Vistula on the outskirts of the old city, the first thing I noticed straight away was the fortification walls. Not much of the fortress from olden times remains but dotted around the city are old towers and walls made from brick. There are also some entry and exit gates of the old fortress at certain parts of the city.

Torun, Poland

The first place I checked out was the ruins of the castle which was first built around the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights. The best bit of the castle which is preserved is the dansker, a sewage tower (basically where you would go to the toilet and the waste falls down the tower into the stream down below which connects to the river). There is a building which is newly built on the castle grounds which hosts a hotel.


Along the cobbled street heading westwards (passing many shops but many beautiful buildings at the same time) I landed up at the Old Town Hall which has stood here since 1274. Here the building now houses the Regional Museum but it was the clock tower I was interested in. After buying a ticket from a small shop in the courtyard of the town hall, I headed up the brick staircase (not one of the faint hearted and there are no lifts going up). It seemed never ending at first, then I finally reached the bells behind the clock face where the staircase was now made out of wood.


Finally I made it to the top and what a great view I had. Despite it being cloudy and windy, I took my time up here, checking out the nearby buildings of the old town. In front of me I could see the cathedral, a church, the rooftops of all the pretty buildings down below (there is even one building with a yellow star on top, the building is known as ‘the house under the star’). Even the house of Nicolaus Copernicus can be seen. Not too far away is the river with a lot of trees dotted alongside the shores. For me, despite all the red brick buildings (too much brick for me), I actually enjoyed the views of the old town.

Whilst exploring the city I found out that the folks around here love the theatre and there are quite a few around here. There is even a children’s theatre near the ruins of the castle and I managed to find some beautiful decor around the building. Also as the city is home to Nicolaus Copernicus, there is a planetarium here (unfortunately the shows are in Polish, I would have loved to check this place out as I do love educating myself about space, the moon and the stars). 


Away from the old town and driving out of the city, the place looked rather industrious, as if all the buildings were quickly built, having that old Soviet look about them but lucky when a new building was passed, it did brighten up the place. The city has a mixture of the old and new. Do not let the new parts of the city let you down because once in the old town, walking around, trying the gingerbread, doing some shopping, this place is a hidden gem in Europe which is worth checking out.

I love exploring castles around Europe and there are quite a few in Poland too. I did a road trip whilst exploring nearby Łódź and Torun, where I took in several castles which included the very large Malbork Castle which I start off with first. It wasn’t until I arrived at the ticket hall next to the car park that I found out the castle is the world’s largest & also the world’s largest structure built entirely of brick. Before I arrived all I knew about the castle was that it looked very pretty next to the river on a sunny day (lots of postcards showing this image) and that it was in northern Poland. That is all I knew. I came here with a clear head and ready to learn (as well as to do a lot of walking).

Before I even walked into the main courtyard, how can someone class this as the world’s biggest castle. Is it the entire complex or is it just one building? What about buildings which were attached and expanded from the original building and land? Do fortresses count as a castle? I never really thought about these questions before when it came to exploring a castle. Today I had these on my mind. Researching later that day answered some of the questions. Malbork Castle is measured by the land area which is 143,591 square meters making it the world’s largest.

Malbork Castle, Poland

The castle was built in the 13th century and constructed by the Teutonic Knights, a German-Catholic religious order of crusaders. The Teutonic order named the castle Marienburg in honour of Mary, mother of Jesus. Then the castle was sold during some sort of war in the fourteenth century by the Bohemian mercenaries who held the castle at that point. They sold it to King Casimir IV of Poland and then served as Polish royal residence (which was interrupted for several years when the Swedish Empire came in and ran the show!). Then in 1772 the Germans came in and ruled the area, holding onto the castle right up until the end of the Second World War in 1945. The land was assigned to Poland. The castle was heavily damaged so was renovated towards the end of the 20th century and what I saw when I was there, is the finishing result. The castle is now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of two in the region, the other one being the ‘Medieval town of Torun’ which is around 200km south of Malbork.

After paying the admission ticket which included an audio guide, the cost was around €10 (2019 price). Through the main gates I was standing in the middle of the central courtyard. Here there are museums showing furniture, amber, paintings as well as restaurants and souvenir shops dotted around the place. I was quite fortunate to come in the Autumn and there weren't many visitors around but I could imagine the place in the summer months when there would be a lot of visitors. This gave me a lot more freedom (and time) in all the rooms I explored and checking out the fine staircases. There was a chapel which I came across and I loved the stained glass window but also here were displays of old books dating back memory centuries to which I stood here for a very long time studying them, the fine print work and trying to understand what language they were written in (back then, European languages were not the same as of today and I found it to be a mixture of Slavic, German and Swedish...but I could be wrong).


Once I checked out the rooms in the main building, I took a walk around the grounds, inside the main fortress walls, checking out the cute little gardens, the vines going up the buildings and the graveyard. After I checked out the castle, I left the grounds and headed over to the Nogat River. Here there is a bridge to which I walked across, turned left and about 100 meters further on, stopped and tried to get that picture postcard view. It wasn’t sunny but I tried my best to capture it. It’s been many years since I wanted to come here so I tried my best to get the best photo possible. Looking around there were also a few outside bars and restaurants near the bridge serving grilled meats and vegetables with a glass of beer. Also in the summer months there are river cruises which go along here and is another way to capture the castle. Seriously, this is the best area to check out how big the castle really is! 

Malbork Castle, Poland

Now as I mentioned earlier there are four other castles nearby which are a short drive away (some of them can also be done by train from Malbork/Gdansk). First one is located in the small town of Sztum, the castle is located by Lake Zajezierskie which has stood here since the 1320s. Built in the shape of a polygon with two towers, the castle was built by the Prussians. Eventually it became part of the Kingdom of Poland in 1410, before getting destroyed by the Swedish Empire (those Swedes!). After coming back to Poland, two wings of the castle exist but had to be reconstructed in the 19th century alongside the fortification walls, gates and the prison tower. Nice little castle with a nice courtyard but I loved doing the short walk alongside the lakeside before getting back into the car and heading south.

Sztum castle, Poland
Sztum Castle

Kwidzyn Castle: A great example of bricked-building alongside some wonderful architecture built by the Teutonic Knights is found in the small town of Kwidzyn. Built at the start of the fourteenth century which was used as a chapter house for the Pomesanians (one of the Prussian clans who had control of this area) before the King of Poland came along and took over the castle whilst doing battles against the Teutonic Knights further north. Eventually the castle was ceded back to the Teutonic Knights, then the Swedes came along (those Swedes!) who partially destroyed the castle, then after a few centuries, the castle was restored to what I see today.


One of the highlights for me is seeing the Dansker (which was supported by five arcades/pillars). Now I thought this was a nice looking tower (as seen in my photo) which overlooks the river down below. I had to research what a Dansker is and found out that they are common on German/Prussian castles built in the 13th and 14th centuries, these were used to house the toilets so the sewage can go into the river below. However the Dansker I saw was rebuilt and has lost many of its medieval features.

Gniew Castle: I did a short visit to Gniew and the castle is located on top of a hill overlooking the nearby river. Built again by, you guessed it, the Teutonic Order in 1290. As like the other castles, it became a part of Poland (Poland’s borders have changed a lot over history until its current state in 1945) and has been rebuilt a few times but was totally restored in the 20th century. Today it also hosts a hotel and a conference centre and I think I was gate crashing a wedding which was about to start due to what I saw inside, the tables all lined out with the finest dining cutlery and white balloons dotted all over the place.

Gniew Castle, Poland
Gniew Castle

The last castle was in Nowe which is also located by the banks of the River Vistula and again, built by the Teutonic Order for the Pomeranians in the fourteenth century (those guys really went on a ‘building-castle-crusade’ in this period of time). Again, the castle was eventually destroyed by the Swedes (again...those Swedes!), and then was handed to Poland. Back to Prussians after a while who deconstructed the castle (not sure why they did this) but they kept the main wing which was turned into a church. After a while it was a warehouse and a fire station before being renovated and turned into a museum. Not quite sure what to make of this castle but it does remind me of the chalet buildings used in the Alpine regions of Europe.

Nowe Castle, poland
Nowe Castle

One of my favourite cities in Poland for history, architecture and generally a good time has to be Gdańsk, right in the north of the country, flung out so far away from other cities like Warsaw, Kraków and Poznań. Gdańsk is Poland’s biggest seaport and has half-a-million people living here, making it the country's fourth largest city. Lying on the mouth of the Motlawa River which is connected to the main river of Vistula nearby (Gdańsk likes on a delta), the city combined with a trip to nearby Sopat (a resort town) and the port of Gdynia, there is a heck of a lot to do here.


But first I need to tell you a little bit about the history. Gdańsk has been under the rule of Polish, Prussian and German and there was a period when the city was kinda, independent from anyone and everyone. In the Middle Ages shipbuilding was the name of the game around here whilst being a member of the Hanseatic League (trading movement agreement between cities on the Baltic Sea). Before Warsaw became huge and regarded as the country's capital, Gdańsk was the largest and wealthiest city.


Over the centuries Gdańsk was at the heart of a huge dispute between Poland and Germany. Both countries laid claim to the city. This caused a lot of tension which would eventually lead to the Invasion of Poland in the Second World War (more on that later), before the Nazi Germans gathered up the Jews, some Roma and a lot of Polish people who didn’t agree with them and took them away, most never to return to Gdańsk.


After the war and under communism, the city was one of the first places in Europe to get away from the red fist of Moscow and the communist government runned by Warsaw. Gdańsk was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement (which eventually saw the fall of the Berlin Wall amongst other things) and a few years later, communist rule was only seen in Russia (and Belarus) after the USSR collapsed.

That’s basically the history guys, now it's time to show you around the city. All the sights are pretty much around the ‘Old Town’ area (as I like to call it) which is around the main street of Długi Targ. This street means ‘Long Market’ and is one of the most beautiful places to check out in the city. I love walking up and down this cobbled street, looking up and checking out all the amazing facades of the colourful buildings. It is here also where you find a lot of good bars and restaurants but remember there are a lot of side streets in this area which also offer good eating and drinking holes, to which some places are slighter cheaper (but not much cheaper, another reason why I love coming back to Poland, it's great value for money!). 


The street has stood here since the thirteenth century and started up as a merchant road which led to the marketplace. Over the years it became known as the Royal Route as Polich monarchs would use this road from the riverfront when visiting the city. Some monarchs even went into some of the houses on the street to be ‘entertained’ and other places would host feasts for them. Even back in medieval times, the street also hosted executions of criminals and witches.


In the middle of the street (towards the western end) is Neptune’s Fountain which has stood here since 1617 and later on, a fence with Polish Eagles was added. However during the Second World War, the fountain got destroyed and moved to a nearby village, whilst at the same time, Nazi Germans took away the Polish Eagles and destroyed them. This was a way to get rid of traces of Polish history. Eventually the fountain was restored and put back together in the 1950s. Whilst standing around here, I noticed the fountain is used as a meeting place for locals and is also a great place for young children to run around chasing the hundreds of pigeons which would wander the street here looking for food.

Gdansk, Poland

Overlooking the fountain is the Gdańsk Town Hall. This is surely one of the finest buildings on the street with its Gothic-Renaissance facade. Visitors can go inside the building as it hosts the History Museum for the city. 


At the Eastern end of Długi Targ is the Green Gate which separates the street and the river. The designer for the building back in the sixteenth century was clearly inspired by the building in Antwerpen (Belgium), the City Hall. The building also used to host Polish monarchs when visiting but these days life is a little bit calmer as it hosts the National Museum and a few offices which were once used by local politicians. 


At the Western end of the street is the lesser known Highland Gate as most visitors believe the street ends at the Golden Gate. This Gothic-style gate was built in the seventeenth century along with the Highland Gate and the Prison Tower close by, which were part of the old fortification walls for this part of Gdańsk. The gate, unfortunately like most places in the city, was destroyed in the Second World War by Nazi Germans but was restored in the 1950s. I love the inscription here written in German (which was originally put onto the gate during the war) - Es müsse wohl gehen denen, die dich lieben. Es müsse Friede sein inwendig in deinen Mauern und Glück in deinen Palästen which means in English: "They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces."

Away from the street and down by the riverfront, another noticeable landmark worth checking out is the Gdańsk crane. This is the only fully restored crane from medieval times in the world. It was intacted until the Second World War but needed to be reconstructed due to the damage made. The Zuraw Crane is open to visitors during the summer months but here is a handy tip, it's free to visit on a Saturday.

Gdansk Crane, Poland
Gdansk Crane

Want views on the city? Then head to St. Mary’s Basilica. This place is one of the largest brick churches in the world but a lot of visitors (especially those from outside Poland) tend to go up the 405 steps in the seventy-eight metre high tower. The views from up here are just amazing (however this was the moment in time my camera battery went dead and I have no photos to show my readers...ffs!).


Another place in Gdańsk if you are interested in Second World War history like I am is the Post Office which is on the outskirts of the Old Town. When the Nazi Germans were firing the first shots of the war at Westerplatte nearby, the troops also targeted the Post Office. The workers here (with no military training but had guns) held off the Nazis for an amazing seventeen hours before they surrendered. Then we all know what happened after that, Poland fell very quickly and came under Nazi control for a while (despite a few uprisings in Warsaw). These days there is a large memorial at the front of the building and behind the building is a display of all the postal workers who were captured and killed by the Nazis. It's very moving and one to see.


One place of huge historical interest is at the shipyard. Here is the European Solidarity Center which is a newish feature to the city, however I came here to see the famous Shipyard Gate number two and the monument of the fallen shipyard workers of 1970. All of these are situated in the same area. In December 1970, this was the place of a huge anti-communist demonstration but during the protest, the military and police opened fire on the protesters and a lot of people were killed (hence the monument). Ten years later the shipyard was the birthplace of the Solidarity trade union movement. Eventually this movement turned more politically and eventually by the late 80’s, the communist party was ousted and the leader of the Solidarity movement, Lech Wałęsa became the president of Poland from 1990-1995. He is still highly regarded and respected by a lot of Polish people (some may differ but isn’t that the case with all politics across the world).

Poland afterthoughts: So there you have it, an in-depth guide by me on what places which should be on your itinerary when visiting Poland. However there are a heck of a lot of places in the country to visit and hopefully I will be checking out more soon. Have any thoughts, any advice or recommendations, then please leave them in the comments below. I hope this blog post really wants to make you visit this beautiful, historic country with its warm-welcoming locals and to eat their fantastic food (and of course, drink beer and vodka!).


Essential information on Poland


How to get to Poland: Poland is very easy to get to. The main airports are located in Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk, Lodz, Wroclaw and there are other regional airports which host the European non-frills airlines. The railways are being upgraded and Poland is very well connected to surrounding countries, Germany, Czechia and Slovakia. Hopefully after Ukraine wins the war of 2022-2024 (at the time of writing) services will resume to Ukraine and who knows, Belarus as well. The road network is also been improved and I am loving the main highway from Berlin to Warsaw which is a toll road, its cheap, and the top speed is 140kph (80mph), so getting across the country now is a lot quicker than it was when I first started driving across Poland.


Accommodation: There are a lot of accommodation options and a lot of websites which can do some great deals. My first point of call is always Booking.com and can offer a range of hostels, hotels, campsites, apartments, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts and they can also be booked up on my website (just go to the right hand side of the screen). After that I always have a look through AirBnb for great deals on apartments and other lodgings especially when traveling as a family. 


Currency: Poland uses the Polish Zloty currency which is also widely used in most European countries. Currency can be exchanged at the airports and train stations (for a huge fee) so I would recommend either going to a currency exchange place downtown, to a bank (if they have good rates) or if you got a good bank account with fantastic exchange rates, then use an ATM machine (may incur a small fee but I always do this option as I got good bank accounts).

 

Language: It’s Poland, so it would be Polish. However at major tourist sites, a lot of staff do speak English 

 

Flying into the area: Then I would recommend using Skyscanner to find flights as that is my first point of call. Then if necessary use the airlines directly to find a good deal. I sometimes use Momondo as well to compare prices before booking. 


Travel insurance: Need insurance? Safety Wing offers coverage for a lot of adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and so forth. I never travel without travel insurance. I highly recommend them for those who need travel insurance.


Need a visa for Poland? Always check if you need a visa when coming to Poland, especially for those who come from outside Europe.


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Disclosure: Please note that while I was not working with any companies in Poland, my review and experiences written about in this post are 100% genuine. I value my readers too much to lie to you. My blog would be nothing without you and your continued support! There maybe some links above which are affiliate and are at no additional cost to you. If my readers use them, I earn a commission to buy their products and remember, I only mentioned products and companies I use. The income from this keeps this website going. Thank you.  

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