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