Zamek Krolewski (Royal Castle), Warsaw © Carolyn Van Sligtenhorst
Poland Travel Guide
Ever since joining the European Union in 2004, Poland has been undergoing a true tourism renaissance as more and more visitors are seeking out the rich history and undeniable character of this troubled but resilient nation. There is much to see and do in modern-day Poland: Most visitors will start in the capital Warsaw, where the beautiful Old Town district has been rebuilt brick by brick in a telling show of Polish moxie. From Warsaw, many travellers make the four-hour train journey to Krakow, by far and away Poland's most popular tourist destination.
Poland's cultural capital, Krakow, is an exciting, cosmopolitan city, boasting a remarkably well-preserved medieval centre and several key cultural sites, such as the famous Wawel Hill, where the Royal Palace and the Gothic Wawel Cathedral can be found. The historic port-city of Gdansk - where Lech Walesa and his Solidarity trade union first rose to oppose Poland's Communist government in 1980 - is also a popular destination, featuring a sympathetically restored Old Quarter and several fashionable restaurants and cafes.
Most visitors to Poland do not venture too far into the countryside - which is a shame, because the country is home to some excellent scenery and walking and hiking trails. The southern Bieszczady Mountains are particularly beautiful, featuring tall forests and rural houses that seem to have been lifted straight from Grimm's Fairy Tales; while the Bialowieza National Park is a UNESCO-protected area that guards the last remnants of the primeval forest that used to cover most of Europe. Poland is also a great (and surprising) choice for an affordable European beach holiday, with the charming seaside town of Sopot offering cut-price fun in the sun on the Baltic Coast.
Best time to visit Poland
Poland's climate is moderate, with continental influences from the east and maritime influences from the west. The weather in Poland is highly changeable, with great inconsistency from year to year (and even from day to day in some seasons). There are, however, four distinct seasons, and spring and summer are usually lovely in Poland. The best time to visit Poland is during these warmer months, from May to October, with the peak tourist season in July and August. Be warned that many Poles take their annual leave at this time, and so tourist hotspots like Krakow and Sopot can be overcrowded in the height of summer. Read more on Poland's Climate and Weather.
What to see in Poland
-Warsaw's Old Town (Starego Miasta) area has been lovingly and painstakingly rebuilt after the destruction of WWII.
-The port city of Gdansk features some of the loveliest cityscapes in all of central Europe.
-Warsaw's Polish Poster Gallery (Galeria Grafiki i Plakatu) houses an excellent collection of graphic art and posters displaying 20th-century Polish culture.
-A trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must for visitors to Poland.
What to do in Poland
-Head to the cosmopolitan city of Krakow, and take in a show at the famous Piwnica pod Baranami underground cabaret house.
-Tour the Holocaust memorial sites of Auschwitz and Birkenau, and get a renewed appreciation of the tragedy of this dark period of European history.
-Visit the Bialowieza National Park and check out the (protected) collection of European bison, huge beasts that once roamed freely across the continent.
-Take a trip to the Baltic Coast, and get some world-class spa treatments at the lovely seaside resort town of Sopot.
Getting to Poland
Direct flights to Poland are easy to find from the UK and US. Flights to Poland's three main airports of Warsaw, Krakow or Gdansk are all common. Budget-conscious travellers should note that cheap flights to Poland are available on a variety of low-cost European carriers. Get more information on Poland Airports.
The Collected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert, A Minor Apocalypse by Tadeusz Konwicki, Night by Elie Wiesel, and The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi.
Schindler's List (1993), The Pianist (2002), Jakob the Liar (1999), and The Double Life of Véronique (1991).
Barszcz czerwony (red beet soup, also known as borscht), pierogi (stuffed dumplings), bigos ('hunter's stew' served on pickled cabbage), and zapiekanki (open baguette sandwiches topped with grilled cheese).
Local pilsner beer varieties such as Tyskie and Lech, and local vodkas like Wyborowa and Luksusowa.
What to buy
Carved wooden statues and figurines, linen and enamel products, crystal glass and amber jewellery.
What to pack
When packing for Poland, bear in mind that the weather is highly changeable. Take a selection of warm and cooler clothing, and make sure you have a good coat for cold snaps and a lightweight rain slicker to carry around for unexpected showers.
What's on in Poland
St Dominc's Fair, held in Gdansk in July and August, is the largest open-air cultural festival in Poland and one of the oldest celebrations of its kind. The Warsaw Chamber Opera's Mozart Festival (June and July) is one of the highlights of Europe's classical music events calendar, featuring full stage performances of Mozart's most popular operas. More information on Events in Poland.
Did you know?
-Of all the EU member countries, Poles, on average, marry at the youngest age.
-Poland can boast 17 Nobel Prize winners, including four Peace Prizes and five prizes for literature.
-There is a dedicated Pope Channel on Polish TV.
A final word
After years of struggle and hardship, Poland is re-emerging as a fantastic holiday destination, offering uniquely interesting historical sites and beautiful natural scenery.
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