Poland is, above all, a surprise. The 9th largest country in Europe with a population of 38.5 million seems to pop up out of nowhere and puts down its trump cards one by one: The world’s largest Gothic fortress, the largest sand dunes in Central Europe, the best kite surfing spots, Europe’s longest wooden pier, the oldest health resorts on the Old Continent and the world’s oldest oil well. 70 years after the end of WWII, which left Poland greatly devastated, the Polish nation is slowly becoming known as a proper travel destination that caters for adrenaline junkies, beach potatoes and history buffs alike.
Situated in central-eastern Europe with Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus in the east, giant Russia to the northeast, and Europe’s power engine Germany in the west, as well as Slovakia and Czech Republic in the south, Poland stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Carpathian Mountains, boasting a variety of geographical landscapes. Being cradled in between so many countries is an indication of its fate for many centuries: colonized, divided, unified, exploited and ruined by reckless occupying forces that all sought to gain the maximum of its strategic coastal cities and bountiful plains.
Poland boasts fantastic architecture above the ground, and mysterious salt and gold mines as well secret cities and tunnels under the ground. Take a journey through this Vodka belt country that is the mother of all Vodka tradition, and also serves no less than 100 million Paczkis (Polish doughnuts) alone on the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday in lieu of Carnival celebrations. It is a nature haven that serves as Europe’s most important bird breeding ground, while simultaneously producing the world’s largest amount of hard coal, estimated at 45.4 billions tons. With a good currency exchange rate for most Western travellers, Poland is a historically rich, beautiful and friendly country to travel in that is just waiting to be discovered by globe trekkers from around the world. It should be noted that English isn’t spoken everywhere, public transport remains mildly to severely challenging and smaller towns in the country side pride themselves with almost unpronounceable names and bizarre food dishes, making travelling ever the more fun.
- Practical details
- Eat, drink
- Useful websites
- Useful books
- Must do
- Festivals and Events
When To Go
All year round, although it can get very very cold in winter.
What to Wear
Casual dress; good shoes for the more rural areas is a must – high heels and Polish fields don’t go well together.
International flights via Warsaw. In Europe, flights to all major cities such as Krakow, Gdansk, Poznan, and Wroclaw are available.
Trains are the best bet when bridging long distances between cities. They are cheap, comfortable and relatively quick. Buses, city buses and overland buses, still seem to be the most popular form of transport in the more remote areas and you can occasionally hail one down from the side of the road. Incredibly cheap, but slow way to move around.
Polish Zloty – PLN. £1 = 5 PLN, $1 = 3.30 PLN
Polish, Kashubian, English in the major cities
Polish cuisine is at once heavy and hearty. It incorporates many meat dishes, but also features a large variety of locally grown vegetables and homemade soups, the latter certainly inspired by the extremely cold and harsh winters the country endures. Its long meat menu is, however, beaten by the drinks menu – from Goldwasser liquor to Sobieski vodka, to Bison vodka… Poles seem to find an excuse to drink whenever and wherever they go and are not shy to share their bottles with friends and acquaintances.
Blow Up Hall 5050 has become the city’s icon, both for its iconic architecture and interior design. Certainly for travellers who like to travel high-end, but well worth to stick your head in the door and get a 21st Century feeling in a town otherwise known as the city of Polish kings only. Reception has been replaced by a concierge only, check-in is via iPhone app, and rooms are decorated with crazy funky colour patterns, which seems to have been to the liking of many international stars who have stayed here, including Sting, Alicia Keys and others.
1. Lonely Planet Poland
2. The Tin Drum by Günther Grass
3. Eyewitness Travel
4. Poland: A History
5. Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore
Great restaurant and also the original Goldwasser factory in Gdansk. Bottles of Goldwasser can be obtained at the bar here and are certainly the real deal, 22 karat gold flakes included.
Owner and jewelry artist Zbigniew Strzelczyk has been working with amber for more than 20 years and is a certified natural amber artist. His amber jewellery is of the finest quality and his workshop home to annual amber seminars for international artists. And the location of his shop next to the medieval crane certainly the icing on the cake.
- Hat – for both warm and cold weather
- Small bills for tipping (10% as an average)
- Polish phrase book
- Gifts for friends or business partners
- First aid kit
- Mosquito repellent for outdoor/kayaking trips
- The Tin Drum by Günther Grass
The absolute best way to explore the city of Wroclaw is searching for these little dwarfs around town, which have an amazing contemporary history and story of political activism behind them.
Wolf’s Lair is certainly not an easy location to visit, given that it is one of Hitler’s headquarters during WWII. But since it is also the memorial place for the famously failed assassination attempt by Duke Schenk von Stauffenberg, it is a not to be missed historical location that gives insight into WWII history in an unprecedented way.
Who would have thought that Poland is famous for amazing kayaking trips? Traveling along the Augustow Canals and passing the 19th century locks is exhilarating and a great work out at the same time. Kayaking trips can be booked for 1, 3 or 6 days with SZOT, who know the area intimately and go out of their way to create personally tailored itineraries. You can even do 3 countries in 3 days – Poland, Belarus and Lithuania in the midst of beautiful primeval forests.
The small and quiet town of Malbork would have probably never made it on a traveller’s must see map if it wasn’t for the gigantic brick Gothic fortress in its midst (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Built in 1272 on an area of 21 hectares, 250 meters wide and almost 700 meters long with a volume of 250,000m3, it is the largest Gothic fortress in Europe and simply awe-inspiring. It became the seat of the Grand Master in 1309 when they moved here from Venice, and from 1324 onwards it was the Capital of the State of the Teutonic Knights. Separated by moats, guarded by towers and drawbridges, it is highly symbolic for the many battles, conquests and power struggles in the region. An absolute must-see for architecture lovers and history buffs.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch the famous Polish Husaria come to life in the small town of Gniew. Their hand crafted battle armour for men and horses is as impressive as are the battle songs and charges on open fields, catapulting one back in time to the 16th century before one has even blinked with their eyes twice. Their living history lessons are attended by thousands every year and are a formidable way to learn about Poland’s struggle for independence from its neighbours for centuries.
Festivals and Events
Every year in mid July, the Battle of the Nations takes place at Grunwald, Poland. It is the largest re-enactment of a 15th century battle in which Polish and Lithuanian forces defeated the German Teutonic Order. It was fought on 14 July 1410 and was one of the most important medieval battles in history. Today, it has become a spectacle for more than 80,000 people every year with re-enactment groups from all over the world.
Pierogi are a Polish national dish and are in essence just dumplings with hearty fillings – sauerkraut and mushrooms, cheese and potato, or meat. Or all of the above. Pierogi can be found in every city and the smallest village in the country, and are super affordable and extremely satisfying.
Polish kitchen tends to be heavy on the meaty side of things, including beef tongue and pig knuckle as popular main dishes. The one who beats it all, including pierogi, is a good, hearty Polish soup. Frequently served in hollow bread loafs, Polish soups are vegetarian or meaty and hearty, but always warm and comforting, making you feel just like home. If you are ever in Wroclaw, try ZUPA near the university – the best soups in town and in the country, super cheap, super big and super tasty.
Held every year in the summer, this international street art festival engages the audience, the street and everything in between. Poland has, to many people’s surprise, a vibrant and dynamic art scene, and political street art is ever so popular in a country that was the birthplace for the famous solidarity movement in the beginning of the 80s. A not to be missed opportunity to engage with contemporary Poland at its finest.
Celebrated every year on 19 March, this day commemorates the first historical mentioning of the Kashubians by Pope Gregory IX. Held in a different Kashubian city each year, it celebrates local art, folk music, tournaments as well as local cuisine and dance. A great way to explore and learn about this culture within a culture in Poland.
Czech Republic & Poland
10 Christmas Markets You...