Travelers seekers have named Poland as the country of charming Old Towns, cobblestone streets skirted by medieval castles, and quaint Jewish quarters overlooking scenic canals. I saw Poland no different! Really, there’s plenty that makes Poland the city of aficionados and history lovers. Add to the list the year-round pleasant weather, welcoming locals, laidback way of life, and mesmerizing outdoors, and you’d get into a never-ending love affair with this place! Poland trip was my chance to catch the best of unexplored Europe. Yet, a lot remains to be explored and I wouldn’t mind another trip soon.
Anyway, let’s begin with some of the most striking elements of the northeast European nation that thrives even after suffering at the hands of the Nazis. My first morning in this country started with a lazy stroll around the rustic streets of Krakow.
Not for a moment did I get tired of looking at those clean porches of gothic structures that encircle the Old Town! December – January is the right time if you want to get besotted with a glimpse of the Christmas market. I so miss the bread, lard and hot red wine – a breakfast one of its kind!
Today, Warsaw has done well to become the fast-paced capital city and a growing corporate hub. Gdansk, Krakow, and Zakopane, on the other hand, are the proud bearers of Poland Tourism. Tatras Mountains in the south and the Baltic Sea in the north skirt the city in the most remarkable style, allowing nature seekers to savor every bit of its glorious diversity.
Be it any time of a year, Poland trip is, for sure, rewarding for every onlooker. Century-old traditions and culture still thrive in modest Polish towns. Kudos to the people and the wonderful Poland tourism who have done remarkably well to preserve even their tiniest heritage sites.
Over this blog, I’ve tried to record all the wheres, hows, whats, and whens of a comprehensive trip to Poland. But before I start, let me confess – Poland in winter is straight out of some fictional location; every wanderer’s fantasy!
Ideal duration to explore Poland: To explore these top 4 Poland’s cities, one must keep at least 14 days handy
Approximate budget required to explore Poland: Neither I’m going to play around with words here, nor will I give you the exact figures. When traveling to Europe budget can fluctuate subject to several aspects – whether you are traveling solo or you have a company; your choice of accommodation; food; and mode of transport favored. Since I had a local friend accompanying me, it didn’t cost me more than INR 70000 for 10 days in Poland.
This includes my to and fro flight tickets (INR 32000) and visa (INR 6700) – which was a tough nut to crack. Soon I will share my experiences in a separate write up and what needs to be done to have greater chances of scoring a Schengen Visa.
Of course, I’m not going to mention the loss incurred in the process of failed visa attempts when my request was twice turned down by French Embassy. I will come up with a separate write-up on how I learned after throwing away 13000 bucks for a Schengen visa, and what a bachelor, traveling for the first time outside India (especially Europe), must keep in mind, apart from amassing tons of required docs, while applying for a Schengen Visa.
Best time to visit Poland: Poland is the country of all seasons. While the winter here can get mercilessly cold at -7 to -8 degrees Celsius, summers soar at 30 – 35 degrees.
Getting around in Poland: Trams, government-run buses, ferries, and local trains make the perfect mode of public transport in Poland. In the Polish mountains, horse-drawn cart/sled is a popular tourist attraction. Horse-drawn carts can be seen around on normal days, while it snows the carriage is replaced with a sled. Polish people also prefer to walk around when they’re inside the city and it’s evident when are walking around. Water boats are a popular mode of public transport in the coastal city Gdansk.
Best cities in Poland that must be on your itinerary
1. Krakow – Poland’s cultural capital
I took the Polski Bus from Germany to Krakow, thus Krakow became my first point of contact in Poland. Charming spirited faces, city lights well clubbed with the colors of the vibrant buildings and sleepy streets – bursting with charm resembling those which I walked in Paris a day ago, I saw the reason why Krakow Poland’s favorite city. While wandering the city street early morning, I found myself lost in the maze of alike structures.
You can walk around the city, dine in the highly recommended eateries or just take a guided tour, Krakow walks you through a remarkable history which is next to no other European nation. The city is the focal point of ancient and contemporary charm epitomized by corporate hubs, renowned institutes, and medieval structures.
Popular city attractions in Krakow: City center, Old Town Square, Krakow Cloth Hall – Polish art museum, St Francis’ Basilica, and St Mary’s Basilica – from 1220 AD, Galicia Jewish Museum, St Benedict’s Fort, and Oskar Schindler Museum
Best things to do in Krakow: Plan a visit to the Kazimierz neighborhood, adore the stunning architecture of Nowa Huta, tour the Wawel Cathedral, climb the Kościuszko Mound, explore the Wieliczka Salt Mine, get your dose of contemporary art at MOCAK, and attend the popular Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow: Zion
Best places to stay in Krakow: Antique Apartments Plac Szczepański, Senacki Hotel, Hotel Maltański, Wielopole Hotel, Hotel Columbus, Little Havana Party Hostel, Greg & Tom Party Hostel, Cracow Hostel (overlooking the main square)
Best places to dine in Krakow: Albertina Restaurant & Wine, Stylowa, Ristorante Sant’Antioco, Pod Aniołami, Kuchnia Polska Gaska, and Bunkier Sztuki (for art & vintage cafe vibes)
2. Zakopane – The best of Polish mountains in Tatras
I’ll always remember Zakopane as the sleepy little town in Southern Poland with a vigilante in the backdrop – ‘The Sleeping Warrior’. No matter which part of the city you go, the massive mountain frame casts its shadow on the town. Adorable people high on life and the calm laid back vibe of this place make it special. Zakopane is the last Polish town in the south located next to the border near Slovakia. The Tatras makes the mountain town suffer the perils of extreme winters.
Lovely bar, pubs, and restaurants with local cuisine and live music, upscale showrooms, and flea market in Krupowki constitute Zakopane making it an idyllic place to spend the best times in Polish mountains. There are a few quaint wooden cottages towards the south of Zakopane. Moments spent at this place account the warmest experiences ever!
Snow and mountain activity make the heart and soul of Zakopane, you have to try them when you are around! A 2-hour bus ride from Krakow Glowny will take you straight to the highlands of Zakopane. The fact that this place isn’t much popular outside Europe should be sufficient to make it more exciting.
Popular city attractions in Zakopane: Tatra National Park, Gubalowka, Morskie Oko Lake, Tatra Mountains Museum, and Krupowki street
Best things to do in Zakopane: Snowboarding, hiking, funicular train and cable car ride to Gubalowka, Morskie Oko Lake hike, fun park in Krupówki, drink śliwowica (Polish plum brandy), head to the world’s largest ice maze, go thermal bathing at Gorace Potok, and savor the delicious Oscypek
Best places to stay in Zakopane: Nosalowy Dwór Resort & SPA, ULisa Homestay, Mercure Kasprowy Zakopane, Rezydencja Nosalowy Dwór, and Benita rooms in Zakopane (budget)
Best places to dine in Zakopane: Bąkowo Zohylina Wyźnio, Karcma Po Zbóju, and Stek Chałupa
3. Bydgoszcz – A fun loving city perfect for shoppers
One of the lesser hyped cities in northern Poland, Bydgoszcz flourishes amid the uptown crowd, rustic charm, and a myriad of city lights. A 3.5 hours drive towards the northwest of Warsaw will take you here. Bydgoszcz is lesser crowded and equally exciting when compared to major cities like Warsaw and Krakow! The city is traversed by the Brda and Vistula rivers and boasts of a modest city center.
Cheap commodities, excellent facilities, and to top it all, the remarkably humble people here make things terrific for everyone looking for best experiences in Northern Poland. Just another place to chill, head to Bydgoszcz if you are looking to spend a memorable weekend watching cinema or enjoying shopping.
Popular city attractions in Bydgoszcz: Mill Island, Deluge Fountain, Opera Nova, Muzeum Mydła I Historii Brudu, and District Museum Leona Wyczółkowskiego
Best things to do in Bydgoszcz: Walk the bridge over Brda river and put a lock there in the name of your beloved, enjoy a day out at Casimir the Great Park, enjoy the view of Passes Through The River Monument, and take a boat ride at Barka Lemara
Best places to stay in Bydgoszcz: Hotel Mercure Bydgoszcz Sepia, Hotel Restaurant Campanile Bydgoszcz, Holiday Inn Bydgoszcz, and Hotel Chopin Bydgoszcz
Best places to dine in Bydgoszcz: KURKUMA Sushi & Fusion Restaurant, Czosnek i Oliwa Restaurant & Bistrot, Sushi Garden Fusion Restaurant, Hotel Bohema, and Greeks Greckie Bistro
4. Gdansk – More colors by the Baltic coast in Northern Poland
Sample all the inherent charm of Poland in one place and the shape thus formed will be that of Gdansk – the city strengthened by the bone-chilling Baltic wind. The port city of Poland basks in its historic charm and has the best of medieval architecture, restaurants, Jewish Quarters, and plenty of tourist attraction from WWII. The warm and welcoming Polish people and colors embossed in every bit of the city make Gdansk one of the topmost places to visit in Europe.
Of late, Gdansk has gained a lot of popularity amidst tourists and people have upvoted the city as one of the top upcoming tourist attractions in the world. Talk about the quality of life, food, nightlife, and local transport, and Gdansk won’t disappoint you even a bit! Gdańsk is studded with an array of great restaurants.
These places are well adept with good food and great interior design. Gdansk has also been known to organize the campaign “Taste the Tricity”, during which people can try local cuisines at different recommended places at great discounts (especially for students). More information can be found here.
Popular city attractions in Gdansk: Neptune’s Fountain, Mariacka Street (ulica Mariacka), Old Town, Motlawa River Embankment (Dlugie Pobrzeze), and Gdansk Crane
Best things to do in Gdansk: Ride the Amber Sky Giant Wheel, dine at Thai Thai, take a tour of the Gdansk Museum, get photos clicked in the sleepy streets of Gdansk, walk around the river embankment area, visit the Sopot Beach, and explore the central market space
Best places to stay in Gdansk: Novotel Gdańsk Marina, Hotel Opera, Qubus Hotel Gdańsk, Hotel Hilton Gdańsk, Novotel Gdańsk Centrum, and Moon Hostel
Best places to dine in Gdańsk: Rada Miasta Food & Wine, Gdański Bowke, Winne Grono. Restauracja i winiarnia, Mito Sushi, Restauracja Gvara, and Restauracja Bazar
Most popular things to do in Poland to make your trip worthwhile
1. Ferry ride in Gdansk
2. Metro ride in Warsaw
3. Giant Wheel ride in Gdansk
4. Medieval Castles tour across Poland
5. Morskie Oko Lake hike in Tatras Mountain
6. Horse-driven sled ride in Polish mountains
7. Cable car ride to Gubalowka in Zakopane
8. Funnel ride in Zakopane
9. Tour of Krakow Glowny – it has a bus stop, airport, and train station at one place divided into different levels
10. A walk across the sleepy city streets at night
11. Experience of snowfall from a mountain lodge/cottage
12. A walk around Krupowki flea market, it has some of the best hand-woven dress and accessories in Poland
13. Snow activities in Polish Mountains
Most important things to keep in mind while on a Poland trip (dos & donts)
1. “Dzień Dobry” is the key to a good day in Poland. Polish people are warm and welcoming and really appreciate the gesture of greeting. Start by wishing someone good day and you can have more than you’d have asked for.
2. Local transport in Poland is so cheap and widespread, make good use of it. Intercity trains are the best and cheapest in Poland. Trams and ferries are other popular means of local transport that can be used in Poland. Local buses are widespread too.
3. There are some amazing hostels and homestays in Poland. They are far better than most of the hotel. Look beyond, there’s a lot of stay options.
4. Pierogi (there are a lot of them to try), Bigos, handmade vodka, żurek, white sausages, and Oscypek are a few local dishes everyone must try in Poland.
5. Tap water is absolutely drinkable. If you are keen on buying packaged water make sure that it has been labeled as ‘no gas’.
6. Try walking around the Old Towns and City Centers and you might stumble upon a few exceptional local things.
7. Polish people are so particular about handmade goods, be it chocolate, vodka, wooden stuff, or leather accessories. You can sample a lot of these from here.
8. If you are traveling to Polish Mountains in winters don’t forget to carry a trekking pole and an extra pair of shoes with spikes. It snows often in Poland and you won’t want to hurt yourself while walking.
9. Start your day tour early in winter. The sunset takes place around 3:30 pm in winter, while summer is exactly opposite and you can take advantage of the excellent weather and prolonged day hours.
10. DO NOT use money exchange counters! Avoid it as much as you can. Your debit card is international and every ATM will dispense the local currency (Zloty) after charging a nominal sum of few bucks per transaction.
The entire write-up and recommendations here are based on my 10 day trip to Poland. But there’s a lot more to the beautiful nation than what I tried to jot down here. Should you have any suggestions or queries please feel free to write in the comment box below! Thanks
Further Read: 5 Days In Zakopane: The Best Of Poland Trip