- 1 Explore Krakow’s historic old town area
- 2 Hike to Morskie Oko
- 3 Tour the Wieliczka Salt Mines
- 4 Relax in the Masurian Lake District
- 5 Visit the site where WWII began
- 6 Explore Warsaw’s old town
- 7 Tour the largest castle in the world
- 8 Go hiking in the Tatra Mountains
- 9 Take a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau
- 10 Search for dwarf statues in Wroclaw
- 11 Learn about the Warsaw Uprising
- 12 Visit the Renaissance town of Zamosc
- 13 Hike the Swietokrzyskie Mountains
- 14 Pay tribute to the victims of the Katyn Massacres
- 15 Visit the painted village
- 16 Search for reminders of Jewish history in Warsaw
- 17 Explore Gdansk’s Old Town
- 18 Tour Warsaw’s Praga District
- 19 Visit historic Poznan
- 20 Go for an old fashioned sleigh ride
- 21 Learn through play at the Copernicus Science Centre
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Explore Krakow’s historic old town area
Krakow’s old town is one of the most gorgeous areas that I’ve seen in Europe and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’m usually on the go all the time when I’m traveling, but this is one of the few places I’ve found where I could just sit and enjoy the beauty for hours. And, unlike many other European cities, this area sustained very little damage during WWII so the buildings you see are actually as old as they look. There are several great sights to see in this area. The Rynek Glowny is a historic market square where trading has been happening for centuries. The square around it is always bustling with activity and full of vendors, tourists, and street performers. You’ll also notice St. Mary’s Basilica towering above the square. Visitors can visit for a small fee to enjoy its gorgeous ceiling and ornate décor. Just a few blocks away, you can tour the Barbican, a medieval fort that once guarded the city. In the opposite direction, you’ll find Wawel Castle, which was the seat of Polish royalty for centuries. Its usage evolved over the years and some buildings were altered or destroyed, but the parts that have been restored are beautiful. You pay individually for the sections that you want to visit, so you can pick and choose what you want to see.
Check out my 3-day itinerary for Krakow!
Hike to Morskie Oko
In the heart of the Tatra Mountains is Morskie Oko, one of Poland’s largest lakes, located amongst towering mountains and evergreen trees. The scenery surrounding the lake is spectacular, with high mountain peaks emerging from every side, providing hikers with amazing views as if out of a movie. The lake, reaching depths of nearly 52 meters with colors resembling a light shade of emerald green, has an aura of mystery as many legends are told of how it came to be. The lake itself is only part of the wonder of this place.
Surrounding the lake are numerous Swiss pine trees, providing a green backdrop along the sloping hills, as well as rocky footpaths to continue your hike. As one of the most visited locations in the Tatra Mountains, Morskie Oko is also a great adventure for all tourists. By foot, it takes approximately 10 km or more than 2 hours of a constant steady incline along paved and unpaved roads, forest trails, and stone and needle pined steps. There is an option to take a horse wagon up quite a way, but tourists will still have to make up the remaining 2-3 km by foot. A restaurant is located at the lake, where tourists are able to refuel with food or a local beer, and while people are not allowed to swim in the lake, they can spot trout swimming around the “Eye of the Sea.” Morskie Oko, one of Poland’s gems, is a must see for avid hikers, mountain lovers or those simply seeking nature’s beauty.
By Diana from The Elusive Family
Tour the Wieliczka Salt Mines
These unique salt mines just outside of Krakow produced salt for centuries before active mining ended. Modern visitors can take a tour deep underground and explore the caverns left behind after salt was removed. This isn’t any old mine tour though. The Wieliczka Salt Mines, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are full of salt sculptures created by miners over the years. Depicting notable visitors and historic figures, these are carved from the same grey rock salt that was mined here. There is also a full chapel underground complete with carved replicas of the famous Last Supper painting and chandeliers made from white salt crystals. The entrance to the chapel down a sweeping staircase is nothing short of grand. You can also do some souvenir shopping or grab food in the underground restaurant while you’re there. If you want a longer, more challenging visit, you can take the Miner’s Route tour where you’ll be able to explore areas that the regular tours don’t visit. For a more relaxed visit, you can visit the health spa.
Relax in the Masurian Lake District
I will not lie if I tell you that the Masurian Lake District is the most unspoiled region in Poland! There is hardly any industry in this area and the pace of life is way slower than in other regions. In some places, time seems to have stopped some, uhmm, thirty years ago. The countryside is untouched and free: you can see all kinds of animals, eat fresh fruit in the forest, swim in one of the thousands of lakes and enjoy the blissful songs of frogs, birds and cicadas. If you love nature as much as I do, you will surely love this Polish countryside.
It is still an unappreciated region, which at the same time is a big advantage: Mazury are quite wild and there are plenty of things to explore and get surprised with! You can go sailing, fishing, hiking, swimming. You can pick fungi, herbs or wild berries in the many forests around. The Mazury are fairly easy to reach thanks to the many highways and national roads connecting it to the rest of the country. There are buses and trains as well that connect the region with the biggest cities in Poland.
Don’t make me convince you more, just go and see for yourself!
By Monika from Bewildered Slavica
Visit the site where WWII began
Westerplatte is ideal for a short trip while visiting Gdansk, especially for those who are interested in history and would like to see one of the most important locations of the WWII. The peninsula lays at the mouth of the Vistula on the Baltic Sea shore and you can easily reach it by car. City buses also go there, but the travel time is about an hour.
The first battle of World War II took place on Westerplatte after German forces opened fire on the Polish military on 1 September 1939 without warning. You will find the ruins of barracks, guardhouses, and two shells across the big green area. You can walk along the sea wall and imagine the area before the war, while it was only a transit depot for the Polish military. A small museum in one of the old barracks has detailed displays of the events of the war. Besides the remains, on a small mound, there is a tall Monument of the Coast Defenders to commemorate the lost lives and is also a perfect spot to take a view of the city from a far distance.
By Katalin from Our Life Our Travel
Explore Warsaw’s old town
Though Warsaw’s old town area may look old, it was actually completely rebuilt after WWII to resemble the historic buildings that had been destroyed as closely as possible. This labor of love resulted in a very close replica of the old town area, including the Royal Castle, for modern day visitors to explore. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has plenty of shops and restaurants for you to enjoy, or you can just stroll along the cobblestone streets and enjoy the beauty of the Rynek Starego Miasta, the main square. The Royal Castle can also be toured, and it features some gorgeously designed wooden floors and other ornate touches. The nearby Barbican is an excellent example of the type of medieval fort that protected cities during that era. There are several monuments and memorials in the area, as well as the Warsaw Mermaid statue.
Tour the largest castle in the world
Originally built by the Teutonic Knights, Malbork Castle in northern Poland is the largest castle in the world by land area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has changed hands and served many purposes throughout its lifespan, serving as a castle fortress for the knights, a residence for Polish royals, being occupied by Swedes for a number of years, and then passing back into German hands until WWII. It sustained significant damage during the war, but has been restored to its former glory. Visitors can tour rooms inside the castle with a GPS-enabled audio guide six days a week. The castle grounds are open every day, so even if you happen to pass through on a Monday when the interior is closed, you can still get a sense of its scale and enjoy the landscaping. Even today, it remains the largest brick building in Europe, so it’s really quite impressive. Visiting can be done as a day trip from Gdansk, though tours from Warsaw are also an option.
Go hiking in the Tatra Mountains
If you are looking for a winter trip with a difference, head to the Tatra Mountains in the far south of Poland. Nestled on the border with Slovakia, these soaring mountains are beautiful in summer, but really come into their own in the winter months.
Head an hour or two south of Krakow to the towns of Zakopane and Szczawnica for the best of town infrastructure and easy access to the mountains. The spa town of Szczawnica is perfectly located along the banks of the Dunajec river which forms the border with Slovakia, and it is possible to take the ski lift from the town center and ski or snowboard directly back into town again.
The Dunajec River gorge is a spectacular hiking destination; the path runs along the Slovakian bank and is covered with snow in the winter months. Walking poles are advised, but the path is relatively flat; as you hike, admire the crashing river and the soaring cliffs on either side.
Another popular activity in the region is snow-shoeing. Strapped to your hiking boots, the snowshoes of today are made of wide plastic to help you walk effortlessly on the powdery snow, with metal crampons which give grip on icy patches. Climb the footpaths to mountain huts where you can indulge in coffee and cake, before drifting back down the mountain on the fresh powder. Then finish your day of adventure in one of Szczawnica’s many spas or enjoy a local folk music performance. The Tatra Mountains are a totally different Polish experience, and absolutely magical.
By Jill from Reading the Book Travel
Take a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau
Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camp stands in stark contrast to the fun, scenic activities on the rest of this bucket list, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site is incredibly important to visit. No one knows exactly how many mainly Jewish prisoners were killed in Auschwitz, but estimates are over 1,000,000. Those who weren’t murdered immediately were forced to perform labor, underwent medical experiments, and gradually starved due to meager rations. Touring the remaining camps is painful, but it’s an important reminder of what humans are capable of doing to each other. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance and guided tours have a small cost. Visitors can see some of the barracks, a reconstructed gas chamber, and exhibits showing some of the possessions that were taken from arriving Jews. Despite the fact that the horrors committed here seem unfathomable, it’s important to remember that they happened in the span of the lifetimes of people alive today. Visiting and paying your respects is an important way to honor the victims and survivors and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.
Search for dwarf statues in Wroclaw
When you visit Wroclaw, you will find lots of colorful buildings, one of the biggest market squares in Europe and a beautiful Cathedral. However, the most memorable and unusual attraction are the many bronze statues of dwarfs scattered around the city. Krasnale, as they are called in Polish, are a unique addition to Wroclaw, that became quite a phenomenon in recent years.
As cute as they are, the dwarfs have a deeper meaning and are linked to a dark period of time in the country. Back in the day, during communism in Poland, the dwarf was a symbol of the Orange Alternative Movement. The first dwarf, Papa Krasnal, was created in 2001 as a symbol and tribute to that movement. A few years later, a local sculptor created 5 more dwarfs, that were placed throughout the city, and they quickly became a hit. More and more dwarfs started appearing and fast forward to 2019, there are over 300 dwarfs on the streets of Wroclaw.
Hunting for dwarfs has become a fun activity for those who visit, both kids and adults. Although it’s impossible to find them all, trying sure is fun. You can pick up the map at the Wroclaw Tourist Office and set off on a mission to find as many dwarfs as possible. Each dwarf has a name, and represents a part of daily life or a profession. Whether you follow the map, or decide to find them randomly while strolling through the beautiful city of Wroclaw, hunting for dwarfs is a fun and unique activity.
By Aga from Traveling with Aga
Learn about the Warsaw Uprising
The German occupation during WWII was brutal, and during 1944, the Polish Underground organized an uprising to help push the Germans out of Warsaw. The ensuing battle initially swung in favor of the Polish forces, as they briefly gained control of central Warsaw, however the Soviet troops pushing toward the city ignored their requests for assistance. With limited supply drops from British and American allies, the Germans were eventually able to regain control of Warsaw and end the uprising. Thousands of Polish troops died in the fighting, and even more civilians died in mass executions afterward. A quarter of the city was destroyed in the battle, and even more was intentionally demolished by the Germans afterward. The Warsaw Rising Museum commemorates the efforts of the Polish resistance and contains many well-done exhibits detailing the battle they waged against the German occupiers. The museum does a great job giving you an idea of the lives and struggles of the people involved in the uprising. After visiting the museum, don’t miss the Warsaw Uprising Memorial located near Old Town.
Visit the Renaissance town of Zamosc
A unique Renaissance town in Central Europe, the city of Zamosc in Poland should be on everyone’s bucket list. The product of the collaboration between the founder, Jan Zamoyski and the architect, Bernardo Morando, Zamosc has the features of an ideal town with the colorful, majestic buildings that surround the Great Market Square of its Old City.
Begin your exploration of the city by admiring the City Hall, the most photographed architecture marvel of Zamosc. Then, explore the Old Town Square where the multi-colored cottages and buildings will make you feel like you are walking in another era. Make sure to visit the cathedral at the edge of the town square and climb to the top of the tower to see panoramic vistas of the city below. A few kilometers from the center of Zamosc is a zoological garden that was built in 1918 and currently is home to 2,542 animals.
The most convenient way to get to Zamosc is by driving from Lublin on the E372. For public transportation, taking the train is recommended as it is the most straightforward. For those who are looking into flying there, the closest airport is near Lublin, which is around 40 kilometers away from Zamosc.
By Karolina from Lazy Travel Blog
Hike the Swietokrzyskie Mountains
The Swietokrzyskie Mountains are a great place for all types of travelers – nature lovers, hikers, history aficionados, and also families with children who want to spend their holidays in a picturesque area close to nature. The Swietokrzyskie mountains are also a perfect idea for a Krakow day trip – they are located just a 2-hour drive from the most important city in southern Poland.
The Swietokrzyskie are geologically the oldest mountains in Poland. Because of their beauty and natural value, this region is protected as Swietokrzyski National Park. Travelers visit these mountains not only because of their nature, but also for traces of ancient history. There are quite a lot of unique monuments connected with people who lived in the Swietokrzyskie Mountains long time ago.
The region is perfect for birdwatching and animal photography – around 4000 animal species live in Swietokrzyski National Park. From biologists’ points of view, the most interesting species are some types of insects and snails which are postglacial relics.
Trails in the Swietokrzyskie Mountains are easy to hike – they are wide and not very steep. They are suitable also for hiking beginners. The highest mountain is Lysica – it reaches 612 meters. Trails leading to Lysica are not very demanding – the shortest option takes only about one hour to get to the top.
Another popular hill in Swietokrzyski National Park is Lysa Gora (it reaches 595 meters). Near the hill’s top there is Holy Cross Abbey – a must-see for those interested in architecture. Holy Cross abbacy is the oldest sanctuary in Poland – it was built in the 15th century. It is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region.
By Joanna from Over Here
Pay tribute to the victims of the Katyn Massacres
The Katyn Museum, like many of the memorial sites and museums in Warsaw, was created to educate us on the atrocities of WWII and ensure we never forget. But Poland is full of these sites, so what makes the Katyn Museum important enough to be on a Poland bucket list? Well, because so few people outside of the country are aware of its significance in Polish history.
Starting in April 1940, an estimated 22,000 Polish officers, prisoners of war and intelligentsia were massacred in the Soviet Union. Although the murders happened in various locations, it is collectively named after the Katyn forest where a mass grave was discovered by the Nazis in 1943. However, rather than accepting fault, the Russians accused the Nazis of carrying out the attacks in 1941.
The Katyn Museum tells the story of what happened to those massacred, and of those who fought to find out the truth of what happened. It is surprisingly large, and though not all the information is in English (enough of it is), it was easy to spend an entire afternoon reading everything we could about the atrocity.
Throughout the museum are artifacts found on the bodies discarded into the mass graves. Once you reach the final room, you are surrounded by cases of thousands of found items. Many of their owners are unknown. It is a very emotional experience, but one I can’t recommend enough.
If you’re the kind of traveler who likes to better understand a place’s history, or makes a point to visit memorial sites, Katyn is a must see!
By Dagney from Cultura Obscura
Visit the painted village
One of the most fascinating things we found in Poland was Zalipie situated 125kms from Karakow. While it is accessible by public transport, it does take a long time so we hired a very cheap car for the day and enjoyed a day in the countryside as well. Zalipie is commonly known as the ‘Painted Village’ because of the tradition from the 19th century where after the installation of furnaces, the women painted the internal walls to cover up the soot left behind. This soon spread to the outside of their homes as well, but what makes it so unusual is instead of painting the walls just one color, they covered them in floral bouquets and this tradition continues today.
The village is filled with beautiful native artwork, covering the homes, churches, and schools – even the local chickens live in art-filled coups. Every year after the Feast of Corpus Christi (which seems to be roughly two months after Easter) a competition is held and all the houses revive their paintings plus add new ones. Using homemade brushes from cow hair and paints made from cooking fat and dye, they keep the old traditions alive. This village is a beautiful reminder of days gone by and thankfully not yet overrun with tourists.
By Ron and Michele from Legging It
You can book a guided tour from Krakow to Zalipie here!
Search for reminders of Jewish history in Warsaw
Before World War II, Jews made up about one-third of Warsaw’s population. Almost all of them were exterminated during the war. Those who did not succumb to typhus epidemics or starvation in the Jewish ghetto were deported en masse to the Treblinka death camp. The Warsaw ghetto was established by the Nazi German authorities in occupied Poland in November 1940 and was the largest Jewish ghetto in German-occupied Europe. The word “ghetto” was first coined in Venice, Italy and was used to describe a part of a city where members of a minority group lived.
In the case of the Warsaw ghetto, a wall was built around the area, and all of Warsaw’s Jews were imprisoned inside. Once word got out that the residents rounded up from the ghetto for “resettlement” were actually being sent to gas chambers, an armed resistance known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out. In the process of suppressing this uprising, the Nazis completely destroyed the ghetto.
In recent years, there have been efforts to preserve and memorialize the little that remains today. A few fragments of the ghetto wall are still standing, and boundary markers have been set up to mark the rest of its borders. On Próżna Street, there are four residential buildings at numbers 7, 9, 12 and 14 that housed Jewish families. The street is the focal point of the annual Warsaw Jewish Festival. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, established in 2014, traces the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland. Nożyk Synagogue is the only synagogue that survived the war, and it is now active once again.
Lastly, visitors can take a stroll through Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery, also known as Gensha Cemetery, which was the largest Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. The earliest graves date from the early 19th century, and there also mass graves for victims of the Nazis.
By Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan
Explore Gdansk’s Old Town
A walking tour through Gdansk Old Town is definitely the highlight of any visit to the Polish city. Known for its beautiful architecture, the Old Town is simply stunning.
Your admiration of the lovely facades lining the sides of the streets in the Old Town will be enhanced when you realize that their medieval charm was painstaking recreated after almost the entire place was bombed to the ground in World War II. In the two decades following the war, the residents of Gdansk sought the assistance of Flemish and Dutch architects to rebuild their torn historic center and the results are just amazing.
Among the many beautiful sights to enjoy on your walk is the historic Gdansk crane on the waterfront, used in medieval times to load and unload maritime cargo. Also worth visiting is St. Mary’s Church, an enormous brick church with multiple spires. You can climb to the top of the bell tower for fabulous views over the city. Mariacka Street, which leads to the church, is one of the prettiest streets in the Old Town. It is lined on both sides with stores and stalls selling amber jewelry, so if you love shopping for jewelry, you’ll definitely want to stop and browse!
Dlugi Targ, the main square, is more like a street, with the famous Neptune’s Fountain and the beautiful buildings on both sides. Hang out here and have a drink while you admire the architecture and people watch. It’s a fun way to end your walk through Gdansk’s Old Town!
By Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles
Tour Warsaw’s Praga District
The Praga district is one of the most intriguing places to visit in Warsaw. It allows you to experience both the historical and modern Warsaw, making it a must-have on your Poland bucket list. While 80% of Warsaw was completely ruined during World War II, only 20% of Praga was destroyed, which means there are a lot of pre-war buildings still standing. The contrast between these authentic buildings that have bullet holes in them and modern pastel houses is captivating to observe, and the fascination doesn’t end there. One of the best things to do in Praga is take a free street art walking tour where you’ll see the most amazing murals, and learn about the local street art scene and the district’s history.
Praga is also home to one of the busiest zoos in Europe. It was bombed and closed during World War II, and its owners used it to save more than 300 Jews from the Holocaust. It reopened in 1949, and today, more than 4,200 animals are living in it.
Other things to enjoy in this district are cool museums like the Polish Vodka Museum at the Koneser Praga Centre and the Neon Museum. If that’s not enough, Praga also offers a buzzing nightlife scene and houses some of Warsaw’s trendiest cafes and restaurants.
By Or from My Path in the World
Visit historic Poznan
Poznan is one of the bigger cities in Poland in terms of population, but when it comes to tourism, it’s a hidden gem. It is an important city with a historic heritage and a key location between Warsaw and Berlin.
Poznan is one of the oldest cities in Poland and has lots of cultural and historic sites to visit. My favorite part of the city is the old town where you can see the old colorful houses. The most famous landmarks in the city include the Poznan Town Hall, Grand Theatre, National Museum, the Cathedral and the Castle. Poznan used to be the seat of a voivodeship during the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, so that’s why you will find many beautiful and historic buildings around the city.
Visitors who like to check out the local nightlife will also find some clubbing and bars here. Poland is famous for vodka and you will find plenty of places where you can order different types of locally produced vodka. There are several airlines flying to Poznan from various destinations in Europe. Ryanair offers very cheap flights. I got a ticket for 4 euro.
By Alex from Swedish Nomad
Go for an old fashioned sleigh ride
The old tradition, the horse-drawn sleigh ride in Poland, called “Kulig” in Polish, is a popular winter activity. Originating from the times of the nobility, “szlachta” it has been treated as a patriotic event organized against foreign invaders in order to cultivate Polish traditions. Apart from being deeply rooted in the Polish culture, riding the sleigh, which is pulled by horses through the snowy, picturesque countryside, is a lot of fun. I remember as a kid going on those types of trips with the whole school and then with my family at least once every winter. The best horse rides can be found in the small horse studs in the mountains. One that we always visit, is located in the south of Poland, in Beskid Niski, not too far from my hometown Gorlice. The horses there are from the special breed and the landscape is stunningly beautiful. The typical ride involves a big bonfire either out in the forest or back in the inn with barbecued sausages and traditional dances. The area of Beskid Niski is not very touristy and therefore much quieter to visit, offering you a real Polish countryside experience. Next time you visit Poland, try a horse-drawn sleigh ride!
By Aga from Worldering Around
Learn through play at the Copernicus Science Centre
The Copernicus Science Centre – named after one of Poland’s most famous scientists – is one of the best science museums I’ve ever visited. There were tons of hands on exhibits that were fun for kids and adults alike. My grown siblings and I loved doing things like building a replica of a portable bridge designed by Leonardo da Vinci, getting a portrait drawn by a robot (don’t worry, artists, they’re not going to replace you any time soon), and playing with mirrors. There was also a mini hoverboard that made you feel like you were flying on a magic carpet. There is plenty of signage in English, so you don’t have to speak Polish to get full enjoyment out of the experience.
Ready to visit Poland? Check out these other guides:
- Itinerary for 3 days in Krakow
- Exploring the Wieliczka Salt Mine
- The Best Pierogi in Krakow: Pierozki U Vincenta
- Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland
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