A few months ago, my family decided to take a trip to Poland. Being Polish (or at least partly Polish), we wanted to actually get to know the country our ancestors once inhabited. Fast forward, and you get the jam-packed two week tour of Poland that consisted of Gdansk, Malbork, Wroclaw, Krakow (and various side trips), Zakopane, and Warsaw. It was crazy, and it was amazing.
Here is the best of Poland, at least in my opinion.
If You Love Fresh Air and Feel at Home in the Woods:
Check out Zakopane.
I planned for only one day in Zakopane because my family was unconvinced by my need to take a break from the cities. Turns out they were all wrong, and they loved it. Everyone wished we could have spent more time out there (but perhaps, this was because the weather and the hotel was so nice).
We arrived mid-day on Monday and were gone by mid-day Tuesday. To maximize what we could see, we opted to take the cable car up Kasprowy Wierch and hike down. Since descending 6,515 feet five months after knee surgery is not always recommended, I heavily researched the best path down. We made it about 4 hours later. It was not an easy descent because it is pretty steep and the rocks are sometimes hard to find footing on. But the views made it really worth it; the entire thing was just jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
Note: there are all types of trails and paths in the area for all types of hiking abilities. I would encourage you, whatever your fitness level is, to find one that is right for you and do it!
Being me, the second morning was spent poking my head into some of the cool regional architecture, but if we had more time, there were plenty of other outdoorsy awesome things to do (like rafting down a river). I can not speak highly enough of our hotel either; props to the Aries Hotel (and this post is in no way sponsored or affiliated with them). The best part had to be the pool and bubbling hot-tubs (yes, bubbles!). The perfect way to unwind after making your way down the mountains.
If You Love History:
Go everywhere. And really, I mean everywhere.
I cannot emphasize enough how much history there is in all these cities. And we are not just talking your normal museums, but also ones that are different. These are subjects that aren’t really ever covered in history classes (or at least none of the ones I took).
You can bet I soaked up as much as I could.
For Those Interested in WWII:
Auschwitz is one of the top things recommended by almost anyone that has been to Poland. It is impactful, important and so incredibly moving. Auschwitz is one of those places where the grass seems too green and the flowers look out of place. You can’t really quite process the atrocities that occurred, until you see all the things left behind (and even then it is hard).
But for those that want something a little different, Warsaw has a few museums that touch on aspects not often covered elsewhere. One such museum is the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The topic restores a little faith in humanity as you hear about people that refused to go down without a fight.
For Those That Really Just Wanted to Be in Amsterdam:
See Gdansk. This cozy town on the Baltic sea brought me right back to the canals of Amsterdam. It doesn’t hurt that the Hanseatic League city has a lot of similar architecture that makes the comparison even more evident.
On another note though, Gdansk was probably the most relaxing of the cities we visited. It felt easy. For those that just like to wander picturesque streets, eat good food, and laze about, this is the place for you. And for those of you that go with those kind of people, there is a lot of interesting things (including this building here) to keep your days busy too.
For the Lover of Castles:
Malbork is the motherlode of all castles. It is more than just huge and wide-encompassing, it feels like its own city. You could spend days peeping through all the nooks and crannies.
Before this castle, I do not think I could really comprehend a castle of this size. And really, history classes do not teach us enough about Teutonic Knights, at all. This place will.
For the Palace Lover in All of Us:
Warsaw’s royal castle is where it is at.
More about this one in this post. But in synopsis, this amazing castle was painstakingly reconstructed after being destroyed by the Nazis. It has completely returned to all of its splendor and it’s breathtaking. This is literally David (from David and Goliath) in built form.
For the Museum Lover:
The History of the Polish Jews Museum was hands-down the best museum we went to in Poland, and could quite possibly be the best museum I have ever been to. Although there is a section that touches on WWII, the majority of the museum talks about the rest of their thousand year history in Poland. It is interactive and jam-packed. I really cannot emphasize how awesome this museum is. I could have easily spent two full days there, and my mom literally had to tell me that it was time to move along. We emerged bleary eyed 6 hours after entering and I honestly don’t feel that I covered even 70% of the material.
For the Shrine-Goer:
A trip to Our Lady of Czestochowa is in order. I was extremely impressed with the Jasna Gora complex and the knowledge our guide was able to share. I would highly recommend a guide if you choose to go. There is just so much here, we are talking about multiple churches, a cathedral, a museum and the icon itself. And after seeing the real icon, everyone had a good time pointing her out in all of the other cities and churches we stumbled upon.
For the Best Perch:
You need to climb to the top of St Mary’s in Gdansk. It’s quite the climb, but completely worth it. We climbed a lot of towers – but this one remains unrivaled.
For the Inner-Spelunker:
Don’t miss a trip to Wieliczka Salt Mine. You can find out all about this one in this post. Although I wouldn’t have said this was my favorite activity of our trip, a lot of people in our group really loved it.
For the Garden Lover:
Don’t miss the Jagellonian Botanical Garden. My brother says it was his favorite, and we sure went to a lot.
For the Crowd Haters:
A trip to Wilanow palace is in order. This structure, built outside of Warsaw, is not hard to get to by Metro and taxi and it’s really idyllic. It seemed almost as if we were wandering around completely alone.
For the Hipster Museum Goer:
Make sure you don’t miss the Neon Museum (in Berlin) and the Poster Museum (at Wilanow outside of Berlin). Both were surprising hits with my non-hipster family. The Poster museum showcases graphic design and is continually changing it’s exhibits. The Neon museum actually has a ton of Neon lights collected from all over the city on display. Both are small museums and can be done rather quickly, but both were really memorable.
For the Competitive:
Wroclaw’s dwarves can inspire some of the best healthy competition. With over 400 dwarves scattered around the city, catching them all is pretty much impossible. But you can have a blast trying.
Poland was a trip of a lifetime and we covered so many beautiful things and saw so many beautiful places. We also ate a lot of really good food. Make sure to try some pierogis, beef stew, potato pancakes, and pastries. You won’t regret it.
I think for the rest of my life I will be telling people to go to Poland. It is so extraordinarily awesome and relatively affordable compared to the rest of Europe. It’s a shame that more people don’t think of it when thinking about places to explore, but it could be a major benefit for you.
And as always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions, I would love to help. I truly feel like I didn’t even scratch the surface here. I could write a book and it might not be enough.