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A Travel Guide to Poland

Updated on February 4, 2013

Located in the center of Europe, Poland has found its purpose as a holiday destination. In the first years after the 1989 revolutions, Prague and Budapest were appearing in all the newspapers’ headlines. Now, the travelers seek something new and further away. Poland’s beauty can be admired in both the old towns and in the wild landscape from the national parks and national reserves. The country’s regions are largely divided horizontally – the Baltic coast and the post-glacial lakes region. 

The center of Poland is divided in the northern low territories and the southern high ones, which include the calcareous area of Krakow-Wielum, grottos and medieval castles. In the south there are the Tatra and Carpathian Mountains, which offer facilities for various sports and folkloric tradition. Poland is a nation that is proud of its cultural heritage and the theatres and the music and opera companies are abundant. In the former textiles city of Lodz there is a film school, alma mater for the directors Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kieslowski. 

Even though this is the place where the composer Frederick Chopin was born, and also Marie Curie and the astronomer Nikolai Copernicus, Poland is best known for the strikes that took place on the Gdansk dockyard, when Lech Walesa and the Solidarity syndicate rose for the first time against the communist government, in 1980.

October in Poland
October in Poland

Poland Tourist Attractions

  • Visit Warsaw, where the historical center was restored using the original plans and the paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Visit a café from the market in the historical center, the Museum of History and the antique shops. 
  • Take the elevator to the 30th floor of the Culture and Science Palace, where you will find an observation bridge that offers you panoramic views of Warsaw. This building was given to Poland in 1953 by Stalin, as a symbol of the “Polish-Soviet friendship”. 
  • The Warsaw Riot Museum offers educational and interactive experiences through films, testimonies and artifacts from the times when the Warsaw’s inhabitants were activists in the resistance movement. 
  • Visit the manor where Frederick Chopin was born, in Zelazowa Wola, 53km west of Warsaw. The attractions include a lovely park, summer time concerts and 19th century musical instruments and furniture. 
  • Visit the Renaissance style square in Zamosc, one the many places in Poland that are enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 
  • Pass through the Krakow Gate, which was built at the end of the 14th century and was rebuilt in 1782. This gate is considered to be the architectural symbol of the city Lublin and is the main entrance in the historical center. It also houses a museum of history. 
  • Dive in the historical center of Krakow. In the middle you will find the biggest market in Europe and the city hall, which was rebuilt in the 19th century, in a commercial center from the 14th century. 
  • Also in Krakow, visit the Jagiellonski University, founded in 1364, one of the oldest in Europe. In the former Jewish district Kazimierz there is the Remuh Synagogue. The Wawel Castle contains the largest collection of tapestries in the world, and nearby there is a gothic cathedral. 
  • Discover the Wieliczka salt mine. Of all the 359km of corridor, only 2km are accessible to the visitors. The tourist track goes up to 135m deep and contains impressive chambers, bass relief, chandeliers and a chapel sculptured in salt. 
  • Admire the miraculous icon of the Mournful Virgin from the huge monastery complex Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, 100km north of Krakow. 
  • Look for the 100 bridges in the city of Wroclaw. Other attractions include the 15th century city hall, the Ethnographic Museum from the Royal Regal and the cathedral on the Ostrow Tumski (the Cathedral Island). 
  • Go towards Gdansk to see the biggest gothic church in the world – the St Mary basilica. The nearby seaside resort, Spot, has the longest pontoon in Europe (500 meters). A short distance from here, you can find the Hel Peninsula, the Kashubian lakes region and the Teutonic castles from Malbork and Gniew. 
  • Visit the medieval city of Torun and its historical center, built in gothic style. 
  • Go hiking in Poland’s national parks and national reserves – the Kampinos National Park is located near Warsaw. Further away, the Bieszczady National Park is part of the Carpathian mountain chain and contains large portions of the great forest Bieszczady, where brown bears, lynxes and wild cats roam. The Bialowieza National Park is one of the last refuges of the European buffalo. 
  • Go skiing or alpine climbing in the Tatra Mountains. Zakopane is a center for alpinism and winter sports, which offers a fairytale atmosphere – wooden houses and locals that still use their traditional outfit. Visit the Koscieliska valley, the Kasprowy Wierch Mountain and the Morskie Oko glacial lake. 
  • Relax on the beaches on the Pomerania – Kolobrzeg coast or Leba. The beach is connected to the Slowinski National Park, famous for its sand dunes that move a few inches every year. 
  • Pay homage to the Holocaust’s victims in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, 70km away from Krakow. It’s a sad experience, but it will offer you a perspective of the historical facts.

Polish Cuisine

The Polish cuisine has a distinctive flavor and its main ingredients are the dill, sweet marjoram, fennel, mushroom and sour cream, which are added to soups, sauces and boiled meat. The soups are an important part of any regular meal and are usually thick and rich. For dessert, apple pie (szarlotka) is served, jelly doughnuts (packi) and opium poppy pie (makowiec). The national specialties include – bigos, cabbage and meat, herring fillet with pickles and onions, sausages, pierogi, meat dumplings, cabbage, cheese or fruits and kasza (buckwheat).

Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw, Poland

Poland's History

Nobody knows for sure who where the ancestors of the modern Polish. It seems that they were living somewhere in Europe-Asia and they were descendants of the Slavs. In second half of the 10th century these tribes formed Poland, this Christian kingdom soon becoming a regional power. Then almost two centuries of domestic battles and decline followed. After the restoration of the Polish kingdom in 1320, with Krakow as its capital city, it succeeded in dominating the eastern half of Europe, in the 15th and 16th centuries. Meanwhile, Poland became Europe’s main crops supplier and a republic that was lead by chosen kings and an almighty parliament. The continuous fierce wars in the 17th and 18th centuries drained Poland’s strength, which was eventually shared between the nearby empires – Russia, Austria and Prussia. The next century was marked by a series of Polish riots. In 1918 Poland regained its sovereignty, sealed in 1920 with the victory against the Russian Red Army. 

In 1939 Hitler’s army joined forces with Stalin’s troops, and this union of evil invaded Poland, which became the first Allied nation that fought in the Second World War. The Polish troops fought battles with the Nazis in Norway, France, England, Africa, Italy, Normandy and Russia. When the war ended Poland had lost the eastern half of its territory to the Soviets, who also took the leadership of the country. In 1956, 1968, 1970 and 1976 the population engaged in waves of riots, followed by drastic countermeasures. 

The riot that took place on the Gdansk dockyard in 1980 aroused solidarity movements all over the country, forcing the communist regime to agree to the liberalism. This is how the Solidarity syndicate was formed, which eventually lead to creating democracy in the entire Central and Eastern Europe. In the end of the year 1981, the communist Polish had to use terror – hundreds of activists were arrested, but others continued to secretly develop a strong democracy. Since the communists had brought Poland into a state of bankruptcy, they agreed to the peaceful transition towards the democracy.

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