Poland is a beautiful country, with an impressive history, rich culture and welcoming people. Though not that popular and unfortunately underrated, there are amazing cities to visit in Poland and some unique tourist attractions that anyone should see once in a lifetime. If you want to find out what’s so interesting about this county, here is the first part of the series A tour across Poland: best places to visit. So stay tuned! There is more to come!
This series puts forth an idea of a complete tour across Poland covering those must-see cities and attractions. Our first destination is Krakow, and, moving clockwise across the country, we will finish the trip in Warsaw. If you consider visiting any two or more of these places, I recommend seeing them in the specific order that I (will) have proposed for this complete tour. It’s time-saving and more convenient for you!
1. Krakow (Kraków)
Our journey is going to start with the beautiful city of Krakow, situated in the south of Poland, on the Vistula river.
Krakow is a blend of diverse architectural styles, many of which we can admire if we take a stroll around the historic centre. In the mesmerizing Old Town lies the Main Square (Rynek Główny) – the largest medieval square in Europe – where tourists can admire some of the landmarks of Krakow: St. Mary’s Basilica (Kościół Mariacki) from where you can have a beautiful panorama of the Old Town, the Renaissance Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) housing art galleries of major cultural value, and the Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa).
The Wawel Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski na Wawelu) is another highlight of the city, whose cathedral, museum, exhibitions and gardens are a must-see. We can’t forget about the Barbican of Krakow (Barbakan), the old medieval fortified outpost of the city, one of the three of its kind in Europe that has survived, and definitely the best preserved.
If you are an avid visitor of churches, Krakow is the right place for you! The most famous of them can be found around the Old Town and they include: Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Kościół św. Piotra i Pawła), St. Andrew’s Church (Kościół św. Andrzeja), Monastery-Church of the Franciscan Order (Franciszkani), Dominican Church and Monastery (Zespoły klasztorne Dominikanów), St. Anne’s (Kolegiata św. Anny).
Krakow has numerous museums (it worth mentioning Oscar Schindler’s Factory Museum), parks and breathtakingly sceneries that are worth visiting, but you can’t leave this city without exploring Kazimierz, the old Jewish district and Podgórze, the former Jewish Ghetto, which are a significant part of the city’s history and culture.
Not far from Krakow, there is a small town called Oświęcim, where you can get by bus, car or train. There functioned the former Auschwitz extermination camp, which was transformed into a museum that is now open to the public. Brace yourselves for a different, overwhelming and important touristic experience that you must have.
The largest concentration camp of World War II, Auschwitz is a black stain in the history of mankind and the place where one of the greatest genocide of all times took place. In this death camp, 6 million European Jews tragically lost their lives during the Holocaust era, as part of the Nazis’ plan for the Final Solution.
Though visiting Auschwitz is not a pleasant experience due to the emotional charge it produces, it is one of the most important places in the world that each and any of us should see, as all humans of this planet must understand the dimensions and implications of the tragedy of Holocaust so that nothing similar ever happens again. Auschwitz raises awareness of this thing from the very entrance of the museum, through the quote on a wall: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).
The complete (guided) tour of the museum is split into two parts, the first at Auschwitz I and the second at Auschwitz II – Birkenau. There is a one-hour-break between the two parts, and the museum bus will shuttle you between the two locations. The first is indoors, and there you will see documents and moving exhibitions with post-camp relics, while the second location is in open-air: it is the place where most of the barracks, the platform and the gas chambers were, where the famous “Arbeit Macht Frei” entry gate leads you.
The tickets have to be booked in advanced on their website. There are several options of which you can choose, but all the tours last several hours, so I would suggest allotting one separate day to visit Auschwitz.
3. Zakopane and Tatra Mountains
Apart from these cultural and historical places, Poland also has natural beauties to boast with. If you want to have true communion with nature, you have to deviate a little from the route and make for the south, where Zakopane, the Tatra Mountains and the river Dunajec are waiting for you.
Situated at about 100 km south-way from Krakow, near the border with Slovakia, Zakopane is a mountain resort in the heart of the Tatra Mountains. The so-called “winter capital of Poland” is a popular destination for skiing in winter or mountaineering in the summertime. The aesthetics of the town and the local cuisine are staples of the unique Góralski culture.
Zakopane’s impressive environment is definitely worth exploring, but what makes for an authentic escapade in the middle of nature is the Tatra mountain range, which forms the natural border with Slovakia. There is a complex network of hiking trails leading to its majestic peaks. If you are passionate about mountain sports and thirsty for incredible high-altitude panoramas, the most beautiful views are offered by Mount Rysy, the Orla Perć trail, Gewont, Świnica, or Kasprowy Wierch.
4. The river Dunajec
If you want to admire the mountains from a different angle, you should go to Dunajec, the border river between Poland and Slovakia. It is a true oasis of silence and peace in the middle of the mountains Pieniny that tourists can enjoy from a wooden raft taking them along the river. These three-hour raft trips are organized every day, and they start from the village Sromowce Wyżne-Kąty.
It’s a rare feeling you get when you know that, while floating downstream for a few hours, you have Poland to your right and Slovakia to your left. You can say that you are visiting two countries at the same time!
Once done with this excursion into nature, we will go back to Krakow and continue our travel across Poland to the west. Part 2 and Part 3 of this trip are coming soon, so keep an eye on our website!