This week I was meant to be in Poland with my family for a wedding. However, due to the Pandemic the wedding has been pushed back a couple of months, but I’m not sure Americans will be eligible to travel to Europe for the new date. I suppose only time will tell.
A fun fact about me is that I was actually born in Poland. Although, I don’t remember much of living there my mom and I have traveled back a few times throughout the years. The most recent trip being the summer of 2018.
I believe Poland is a wonderful country to visit, especially during summer, because it’s completely underrated and therefore not as touristy as other European countries. In major cities/destinations English and other languages are becoming more widely available, but fair warning you may come across some language barriers in smaller towns.
Krakow is my favorite city in Poland. Sitting in the main square of Old Town you’re transported back a few decades and it’s easy to spend hours at an outdoor cafe people watching. The city is classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site. While visiting Krakow you will want to stay as close to Old Town as you can and from there you’ll be able to walk or take the tram all around the city.
Exploring Wawel Castle is a must while you’re in Krakow. There has been extensive restoration to the castle and to this day it feels as if kings were recently roaming the yards. Entrance to the property is free, but going into any of the exhibits tickets are required.
It’s heavy, it won’t be a fun day, emotions will run high, but it’s so important to remember and educate ourselves about the horrors of WWII. I truly recommend everyone to make it to Auschwitz one day. The site is such a significant part of our world’s history and the countless lives lost should be forever remembered. I honestly will try to make a trip out here every time I visit Poland. I would recommend taking a guided tour and then spending the rest of your day walking throughout. There are many day tours and transportation options that go out of Krakow. Most tours will pair with the next destination, however, I would advise to do two separate tours on different days. Fully take the day and really spend time at Auschwitz. Fair warning you’ll be emotionally drained after.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Wieliczka is a very unique experience – I haven’t been to anything quite like it. Wieliczka was an operational salt mine for more than 700 years. The costs of mining salt grew too expensive, and the area now serves more as a museum/exhibit with tours throughout the day. You take stairs deep underground and are guided through various tunnels. One of the most impressive rooms is a beautiful chapel featuring sculptures, chandeliers, and more all made out of salt! It’s located only 14 km from Krakow and it’s an easy day trip. However, there is a hotel on the property as well as a spa. The microclimate is said to have health benefits.
If you feel comfortable driving my suggested route for a couple of days would be to drive from Krakow to Auschwitz and then to Wieliczka on the way back. Stay the night at the Grand Sol hotel and take the salt mine tours the next morning before driving back to Krakow.
Northern Poland touches the Baltic Sea making this area significantly different from the rest of Poland. Trying fresh fish around this area is a must. Gdansk’s history is deeply rooted in the wars and due to air raids from WWII the city essentially had to be totally rebuilt. Post-war the city had Dutch and French influence and it reminds me a lot of Copenhagen. Gdynia and Sopot join Gdansk to form the Tri-City which line the Baltic Coast and can all be done in a day via train or car/Uber. Sopot is known as a ritzy resort town with many health spas and a beach. Gdynia is known for their museums and again a very easy day trip from Gdansk or stop before reaching Sopot.
Malbork Castle is one of the largest castles in the world. It’s just a short train ride away from Gdansk and a favorite day trip location from the city. The castle dates back to the 13th century and has a fascinating, deep history. Buying tickets in advance and getting there early are the best ways to visit.
If you’re flying internationally it is very likely your flight will land in Warsaw, Poland’s capital city. The city was also completely rebuilt after the war and a must to explore and wander. Far less crowed than most capital cities, it’s very enjoyable to stroll around. Similar to Krakow, Warsaw also has a bustling Old Town, which is really nice for exploiting during the day or a nice dinner. We stayed at an apartment overlooking Old Town and although it was a little tricky to find at first it was a wonderful spot. There are a few museums and monuments to check out while exploring the city. The Warsaw Uprising Monument was one of my favorites.
Wilanów Palace took my breath away. The property is absolutely gorgeous and each room in the Palace is remarkable. Dating back to 1677 and actually surviving both wars is unfathomable. During the summer months, live music and concert series take place in the surrounding park. I think visiting the Palace is a must do while in Warsaw.
Admittedly, I have yet to visit the Bialowieza Forest and this was a major stop on this trip’s literary. The forest straddles the Belarusian border, but on Poland’s side is the Białowieża National Park. Throughout the park you may stubble upon the European bison, the largest land mammal on the continent. The space was once a private hunting ground for kings and tsars, but now it can only be admired by nature lovers. It’s located over 200km from Warsaw, but staying around the park is recommended.
I think Poland is underrated as a destination, but there are so many wonderful spots and things to see here. It’s a country rich in history and that alone draws me to visit. I would personally suggest coming to Poland during summer as winters can be brutal.