11 Best Places to Visit in Poland
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Poland has a history that dates back almost a thousand years, with stunning medieval architecture, remnants of WWII and its devastation, and castles and palaces in every corner of the country.
But this ancient country is also home to expansive national parks, mountains, and lakes, with seemingly endless trails cutting through virgin nature waiting to be explored.
No matter why you're heading to Poland, discover the most stunning destinations with our list of the best places to visit in Poland.
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One of the oldest cities in Poland, Krakow was already inhabited back in the 7th century. Because the city escaped most of the WWII destruction that fell on other Polish cities, Krakow's Old Town center still retains its stunning medieval architecture. The Wavel Castle and the historic district of Kazimierz — also known as the Old Jewish Quarter — in the area are both designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Krakow is home to around 40 urban parks, including 19th-century Planty Park, which covers an area of 21 hectares and forms a green ring around the city center, and the Lasek Wolski forest, which offers hiking and biking trails in a large woodland area just minutes from the city center.
On rainy days, Krakow's 28 museums are a must-see, especially the National Art Collection at the Wawel, where visitors can also see period furniture, a massive collection of Flemish tapestries, the royal jewels, and a collection of weapons and armor dating back to the 15th century.
For an unusual, in-depth look into ancient Krakow and its streets, there's the Rynek Underground Museum.
A number of major attractions are located outside the city and are popular as day trips. Notable points of interest include the world's oldest functioning salt mine Wieliczka, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, and the Tatra Mountains and national park.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Poland
Poland's capital was left in ruins after WWII — almost 85 percent of its buildings had been turned to ash or systematically razed by Nazi forces. As soon as the war ended, the city embarked on a massive effort to reconstruct its historic center using original plans. As a result, the Baroque and Renaissance merchant houses you see today are perfect replicas of the originals.
Although WWII also caused the loss of collections held by museums and palaces, the city is still home to over 60 museums today. In addition to art and history museums, Warsaw also offers some unusual choices, including the world's only Museum of Posters, a museum dedicated to the WWII Warsaw Uprising, a Neon Museum, and a Museum of Caricature.
The National Museum, which chronicles the history of the city, also houses the largest collection of paintings in Poland — including a number of works of art that came from Adolf Hitler's private collection.
Warsaw might not have as many parks as Krakow, but Lazienki Palace and its formal gardens more than make up for it. This 18th-century palace is surrounded by 76 hectares of urban forest and is home to a planetarium, an outdoor theater, pavilions, and much more.
For a very different outdoor adventure, walk down Krakowskie Przedmiescie, Warsaw's best architectural street. Old homes, monuments, the Presidential Palace, and the Polish Academy of Sciences are all steps from each other here.
3. Tatra Mountains
The Tatra Mountains and National Park form a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, though most of the mountain range falls into Slovakia. Because there are no borders between EU countries anymore, it's now possible to hike between countries easily. The Polish side of the park has over 270 kilometers of hiking trails.
Poland's highest mountain, Rysy, is located in the Polish Tatras. At 2,500 meters, it's the highest Tatras peak in either country that can be climbed without a park guide. In addition, the park is home to over 600 caves, with the limestone cave system, Wielka Sniezna, being the longest (23 kilometers) and deepest (824 meters).
The Tatras have waterfalls, streams, and mountain lakes. Morskie Oko lake is the largest lake in the park. Located deep within the park, it can only be reached after a two-hour hike through hills and a thick forest of Swiss pines.
The city of Wroclaw hasn't always been Polish — over the centuries, it has belonged to everything from the Kingdom of Bohemia to Prussia to Germany. Wroclaw has only officially been part of Poland since 1945, after the end of WWII changed some of the border lines in Europe.
The Lubomirski Museum is a good place to visit to learn more about the history of the city — the museum covers the invasion of the city by Nazi forces and later the Soviet Union, as well as a number of WWII events. The Wroclaw City Museum completes that history with an overview of Wroclaw over the past 1.000 years.
Wroclaw's oldest area is the 13th-century Main Market Square, which includes St. Elizabeth's Church and the Old Town Hall. Just a few steps away is the Pan Tadeusz Museum, with multimedia exhibits dedicated to Polish customs.
In summer, visitors can hop on open-top historic buses to travel around the city. Those exploring on foot can search for Wroclaw's dwarfs — over 350 tiny bronze figurines of elves can be found throughout the city, hiding around corners, on sidewalks, and on lampposts.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Wroclaw
5. Bialowieza Forest Reserve
Europe's largest remaining section of the primeval forest that once covered much of the continent, the Bialowieza Forest Reserve has definitely earned its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The forest sits on the border between Poland and Belarus — a border crossing for hikers is actually located within the forest itself — and covers an area of over 1,400 square kilometers.
Bialowieza is a bird-watcher's paradise, and aficionados can join bird-watching tours headed by local ornithologists, but the forest is also home to bison and other large species.
The small village of Bialowieza is within the forest, and so is the open-air Museum of Wooden Architecture — windmills, wooden huts, a tiny wood chapel, a barn, and even a banya (sauna).
6. Bieszczady Mountains
The Bieszczady Mountains are a massive range that extends all the way to Ukraine and Slovakia. They are unique because of their polonyna (a type of mountain meadow) that only occurs in the Carpathian region. Because the valleys and meadows softly slope up and down — rather than being too steep — they are a perfect destination for hiking.
Polonyna Wetlinska, topping at 1,255 meters, is one of the most famous meadow trails — a picturesque, soft climb that shouldn't take more than two hours. At the top, a small guest house — the only one in the entire mountain range — offers snacks and drinks plus a warm bed for those who want to extend their adventure.
A large section of the Bieszczady Mountains is part of the UNESCO East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, home to brown bears, wolves, and bison and mostly covered by beech forest.
The tiny village of Ojcow, just 16 kilometers outside Krakow, is the gateway to Ojcow National Park. Poland's smallest national park at just 21.46 square kilometers, Ojcow is heavily forested and home to towering limestone cliffs, over 400 caves, and two river valleys. More than 500 species of butterflies inhabit the park — in spring and summer, they take over the trails and the flowering valleys and are a sight to behold.
The Trail of the Eagles' Nests, Poland's most famous tourist and hiking trail, connects 25 castles and watchtowers, including the Renaissance castle at Pieskowa Skala and the ruins of a Gothic castle, both of which fall within the park boundaries. There are also two museums in the park, including a branch of the National Art Collection.
Official site: https://www.ojcow.pl/en/
Sitting right on a bay on the Baltic Sea, the ancient city of Gdansk is home to Poland's main seaport. Most of the old part of the city — known as the Royal Route — dates back to the 17th century and is beautifully preserved. Some of the main structures here include the City Gates, the Prison Tower, and a number of merchant houses.
Gdansk is also home to the world's largest brick church, St. Mary's, as well as the star-shaped Wisloujscie Fortress and the Gdansk Nowy Port Lighthouse.
Although Gdansk wasn't directly affected by the war, its Museum of the Second World War is one of the best historical museums in the country. It features a number of vehicles — including a Polish Sherman tank and a German DKW motorcycle — as well as artifacts, documents, and photos connected to the war and the Holocaust.
9. Zalipie Village
The tiny village of Zalipie is best known for the folksy flower paintings that adorn almost every building in the area. This tradition started over one hundred years ago, when local women used a mix of powdered dye and milk to cover dirty surfaces with colorful designs.
Today, almost every cottage, barn, fence, and even Saint Joseph's church is painted this way — and so are many indoor spaces, including walls and furniture.
Of the many decorated buildings, The House of the Women Painters is perhaps the most stunning. The building is the former home of Felicja Curylowa, an early 20th-century painter born in Zalipie — her entire home, inside and out, is covered with flower paintings and has been converted into a folk museum. The museum showcases the history of the tradition and how the flowers are painted — and visitors even have a chance to try their hand at it.
One of the oldest cities in Poland, Torun's history dates back to the 8th century. Because Torun wasn't bombed or destroyed during WWII, the city's medieval Central Marketplace and its many Gothic houses and wood-beam 16th-century buildings are still standing.
One of these houses is the birthplace of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, which has been converted into a museum about the scientist's life and work. The other must-see museum in town is Muzeum Piernika, dedicated to a type of gingerbread unique to Poland, where visitors can try hands-on baking.
The entire Old Quarter area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site — it's a great area to explore on foot, getting lost in little streets to discover the architecture and soul of the area.
Torun's 13th-century Teutonic castle is located here — it is partly in ruins, except for the sewage tower and cellars, as well as a nearby watermill.
11. Isle of Usedom
Since 1945, this island on the Baltic Sea has been legally divided between Poland and Germany. Nicknamed "the sun island" because of how many hours of sunshine it receives every year, Usedom is a popular holiday destination for both countries.
Soft white beaches, seaside resorts, and plenty of summer sports and activities are the main attractions, but the island is also home to a private botanical garden (open only during the warm months), the remnants of the Karnin Lift railway bridge (now designated as a Historic Symbol of Engineering in Germany), and the Dannenfeldt Mausoleum and cemetery. Lakes, nature reserves, and manicured gardens are also dotted around the island.
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Discovering Poland: This Eastern European country often makes it into the lists of top-rated cheap places to visit in Europe — it offers all the history, culture, and natural beauty you might want without breaking the bank. For an introduction to some of the most stunning destinations in the country, take a look at our list of the Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Poland.
Exploring Around: Poland shares its Western borders with Germany and the Czech Republic — both of which are close enough for a great weekend trip (or sometimes even a long day trip). For a stunning mix of natural beauty, history, and culture, take a look at our list of the Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Germany. For castles and more hiking than you could ever want, hop over to our article on the Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Czech Republic.