Poland may not have the riches or the regalia to advertise its historical heritage, but if you look closely you will know that it possesses a historical legacy like few others. Ravaged by the onslaught of two World Wars and occupied by some of the most fearful armies of all times, Poland is a country that has risen from the ashes of the destruction of Hitler’s army. From the war memorials of Krakow to the Gothic churches of Dachau, from the Nazi campgrounds in Auschwitz to the upscale nightclubs lining the streets of Warsaw, Poland is a country waiting to tell you a story.
Nowadays, Poland is a democratic parliamentary republic with a stable, robust economy, a member of NATO since 1999, and the European Union since 2004. Poland has also successfully joined the Schengen Agreement for an open border to Germany, Lithuania, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, and is on track to adopt the Euro currency on a future date.
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POLAND QUICK FACTS
Currency: Złoty (PLN)
Area: 312,685 km²
Population: 37,97 million (2019)
Electricity 230V/50Hz (European plug)
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POLAND PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 May, May Day
- 3 May, Constitution Day
- 15 August, Assumption of the Virgin Mary
- 1 November, All Saints Day
- 11 November, Independence Day
Also, Epiphany, Easter Monday and the Feast of Corpus Christi.
BEST TIME TO VISIT POLAND
The best (and most popular) time to visit Poland is during the summer, from June to August. Summer, the tourist high season, sees plenty of sun, particularly on the Baltic coast, where the resorts are crowded from June to August and temperatures are consistently around 24°C.
Spring is arguably the ideal season for some serious hiking in Poland’s mountainous border regions, as the days tend to be bright – if showery – and the distinctive flowers are at their most profuse.
Autumn is the best time to visit Poland if you’re planning to sample the whole spread of the country’s attractions: in the cities, the cultural seasons are beginning at this time, and the pressure on hotel rooms is lifting. In the countryside, the golden Polish October is especially memorable, the rich colours of the forests heightened by brilliantly crisp sunshine, and it’s often warm enough for t-shirts.
May to June - Stately Kraków returns to life after a long winter.
July & August - A brief but hot summer is good for swimming in the Baltic Sea or hiking in the mountains.
September & October - Warm and sunny enough for an active city break to Warsaw.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN POLAND
The snow sports season in Poland starts in December and lasts until the end of March. The busiest period is from mid December through to February, with the lesser crowded times in the beginning of December and March.
HIKING & CYCLING IN POLAND
The best time for outdoor activities in Poland is from July to October with September and October being the less busy months.
BEACH OPTIONS IN POLAND
You can enjoy the beaches of Poland from June to September, with the months of July and August being the warmest and busiest.
SURFING IN POLAND
While you may be able to catch a wave during Spring, Autumn and Winter in Poland, it will be a rather cold surf session!
KITESURF IN POLAND
You can kitesurf in Poland from May to November with the best conditions usually between June and September.
POLAND TRAVEL COSTS
Although prices have steadily risen in the post-communist era, Poland is still good value. How cheap it is depends on your budget and travel style. To help you plan your trip, here are some suggested budgets and travel styles.
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Poland for $30-40 USD per day. On this budget, you’ll be staying in a hostel or camping, cooking most of your meals, and using public transportation. Additionally, you’ll have to stick to mostly free activities like hiking or free walking tours.
On a mid-range budget of about $65-75 USD, you’ll be able to stay in a budget hotel, eat out at cheap local restaurants, do paid activities, drink more, and really have the flexibility to do what you want while here. You’re not going to live large here but you’ll be able to get by without worrying too much about your spending.
POLAND TRAVEL TIPS
Buses and trams are the most common ways to get around in each city. Only Warsaw has a subway system and the prices are the same as the bus and tram. Public buses and trams cost around 2-5 PLN ($0.60 - 1.30 USD) for one-way ride, depending on how far you go. For a single-day pass, expect prices to start at $4 USD per person. In Warsaw, a 3-day public transportation pass starts at $10 USD.
Poland has an extensive bus network so you can easily travel around the entire country by bus if you’re on a budget. Flixbus is the best option as it has comfortable buses for affordable prices.
While not as cheap as buses, trains are a good option for long-distance trips in Poland as they are more comfortable and wont require as many transfers. here are around 10 different companies operating trains here with a variety of train types. The 3 most important to travellers are the ExpressInterCity Premium (EIP), ExpressInterCity (EIC), and InterCity (IC).
Ridesharing apps like BlaBlaCar are a great way to get around the country for cheap. You simply download the app, find someone looking for passengers, and go! Everyone is rated and verified, and it’s usually more convenient (and cheaper) than other forms of transportation. For travel within a city, use Uber. It’s cheaper than the local taxis.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF POLAND
Ever since Poland joined the European Union, international travellers have rapidly rediscovered the country's rich cultural heritage, stunning historic sites, and just a gorgeous array of landscapes. Whether you're looking for architecture, urban vibes, or a taste of the past: Poland's bustling cities and towns offer something for everyone. If you'd rather get away from the crowds and enjoy nature, the country's vast natural areas provide anything from dense forests, high peaks, and lush hills to beaches and lake reserves.
Experience the beauty and history of Kraków's Old Town.
Enjoy the student-fuelled party vibe in Wrocław.
Remember the victims of the Nazi German genocide at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Relive Poland’s inspirational anti-communist struggle at the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk.
Ski or hike the Tatry mountains from Zakopane.
Prepare to be dazzled by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.
Spend a day exploring Warsaw, with a stroll around the Old Town and a stop at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Next day, head to historic Kraków for three days, visiting the beautiful Old Town, Wawel Castle, and former Jewish district of Kazimierz. Take a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former Nazi German extermination camp. Afterward, head to Zakopane for a day in the mountains.
Follow the above itinerary, then travel to Wrocław for two days, taking in its graceful town square. Head north to Gothic Toruń for a day, then onward to Gdańsk for two days, exploring the museums and bars of the main town and visiting the magnificent castle at Malbork.
Poland's vibrant capital, Warsaw, is the country's largest city and the epicentre of Polish commerce and culture. It offers an abundance of museums, clubs and concert halls, as well as the widest array of eating options. It's a major transport hub, and even if you're not planning a long stay, chances are you'll change trains here or arrive at/depart from one of the city's airports. Warsaw was levelled during World War II by occupying German soldiers and rebuilt in the 1950s and '60s in bleak Soviet-style. Modern touches added since communism fell in 1989 have softened the edges, however, and the passing decades have lent that old Soviet architecture a more hip, retro gloss.
Many Polish cities are centred on an attractive Old Town, but none compare to Kraków for effortless beauty. As it was the royal capital of Poland until 1596 and miraculously escaped destruction in WWII, Kraków is packed with appealing historic buildings and streetscapes. One of the most important sights is Wawel Castle, from where the ancient Polish kingdom was once ruled.
Many visitors pair a trip to Kraków with a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum & Memorial – or as it's known officially the 'Auschwitz-Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration & Extermination Camp' – in the town of Oświęcim. More than a million Jews, as well as large numbers of ethnic Poles and Roma, were systematically murdered here by occupying Germans during WWII. Both the main camp at Auschwitz (Auschwitz I) and a larger outlying camp at Birkenau (Auschwitz II), about 2km away, are open to the public and admission is free (though if arriving between 10 am and 3 pm from May to October, a guided tour is compulsory). A visit is essential to understanding the Holocaust, though the scope and nature of the crimes are horrifying and may not be suitable for children.
Poland's eastern metropolis of Lublin admittedly lacks the grandeur of Gdańsk or Kraków but does have an attractive Old Town, with beautiful churches and tiny alleyways. It's a natural jumping-off point for exploring south-eastern Poland. Thousands of students make for a lively restaurant, bar and club scene.
Zamość (zah-moshch) is pure 16th-century Renaissance - the splendid architecture of its Old Town escaped serious destruction in WWII and was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1992. This impressive Italianate Renaissance square (exactly 100m by 100m) is dominated by a lofty, pink town hall and surrounded by colourful, arcaded burghers' houses.
Zakopane, 100km south of Kraków, is Poland's main alpine resort, situated at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. It's a popular jumping-off spot for trekking and mountain hikes, as well as Poland's best ski resort. The busy high street, ul Krupówki, is a jumble of tacky souvenir shops, bars and restaurants, but away from the centre, the pace slows down.
When citizens of beautiful Kraków enthusiastically encourage you to visit Wrocław, you know you're onto something good. The city's gracious Old Town is a mix of Gothic and baroque styles, and its large student population ensures a healthy number of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The main draw is the city's magnificent market square, the Rynek, dotted at the centre by the old Town Hall (Stary Ratusz).
Poznań is the cultural, economic and transport hub of Wielkopolska. It's strongly associated with the early formation of the Polish kingdom at the turn of the first millennium, and Poland's first ruler, Mieszko I, is buried at Poznań Cathedral. These days, Poznań is a vibrant university city. There's a beautiful Old Town, with a number of interesting museums and a range of lively bars, clubs and restaurants.
Poznań City Card (1 day/35 zł), available from the city information centres, provides free entry to major museums, sizable discounts at restaurants and recreational activities, and free public transport.
Pomerania is an attractive region with diverse drawcards, from beautiful beaches to architecturally pleasing cities. The historic port city of Gdańsk is situated at the region's eastern extreme, while the attractive Gothic city of Toruń lies inland.
The port of Gdańsk grew wealthy during the Middle Ages, linking inland cities with seaports around the world. That wealth is on display in the form of a bustling riverbank, mammoth red-brick churches and a gleaming central square. Gdańsk's major sights are situated in the Main Town (Główne Miasto). Much of what you see, including the dazzling palaces that line the central promenade, Long St (ul Długa), was rebuilt from rubble after the bombardment of WWII.
Toruń escaped major damage in WWII and is widely considered the best-preserved Gothic town in Poland. The city is known around the country for the quality of its gingerbread and, indeed, with its handsome, red-brick churches and elegant, intricate facades, Toruń resembles nothing more than a beautifully crafted gingerbread cookie.
WHAT TO EAT IN POLAND
Traditional Polish cuisine tends to be hearty, rich in meats, sauces, and vegetables; sides of pickled vegetables are a favorite accompaniment. Modern Polish cuisine, however, tends towards greater variety and focuses on healthy choices. A dinner commonly includes the first course of soup, followed by the main course. Among soups, barszcz czerwony (red beet soup, a.k.a. borscht) is perhaps the most recognizable: a spicy and slightly sour soup, served hot. It's commonly poured over dumplings (barszcz z uszkami or barszcz z pierogami), or served with a fried pate roll (barszcz z pasztecikiem).
Żurek- Hearty, sour rye soup includes sausage and hard-boiled egg.
Barszcz - Famous beetroot soup comes in two varieties: red (made from beetroot) and white (with wheat flour and sausage).
Bigos - Thick "hunter's stew" with sauerkraut and meat.
Pierogi - Flour dumplings, usually stuffed with cheese, mushrooms, or meat. Arguably the country's most famous international culinary export.
Szarlotka - Apple cake with cream; a Polish classic.
Wódka - Vodka: try it plain, or ask for myśliwska (flavored with juniper berries).
LGBTQ IN POLAND
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Poland face legal challenges not faced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in Poland, however, Poland does not legally recognise same-sex unions, either in the form of marriage or civil unions.
The vast majority of the Polish population is not tolerant of LBGTQ people despite the fact that the LGBT movement in Poland hosts the equality parade in Warsaw every year since 2001.
WHERE TO STAY IN POLAND
Polish accommodation ranges from youth hostels, bungalows and mountain cabins to modest hotels and pensions all the way to upmarket boutiques and business-oriented chains.
Youth hostels are divided into 'older-style', where accommodation is offered in university dorms, and modern hostels, geared toward international backpackers. A dorm bed can cost anything from 40PLN to 60PLN per person per night. A private room in a hostel costs at least 150 PLN per night for a double bed.
A handy campsite resource is the website of the Polish Federation of Camping and Caravanning.
Hotel prices vary substantially depending on the day of the week or season. In cities, expect higher rates during the week and weekend discounts. In areas with more tourists, rates may rise over the weekend. A good start for online reservations is Booking.com.
In big cities like Warsaw, Kraków and Gdańsk, private apartments are available for short-term rentals. These can offer an affordable alternative to hotels.