Poland Holiday Planning Guide
A massive country in eastern Europe, Poland offers much to those who venture beyond the continent's more traditional touristic destinations. Dating back to the first millennium, the republic has over a thousand years of heritage to explore during your Poland holiday, including an abundance of World War II history. Bordered by Germany to the west and Ukraine and Belarus to the east, Poland was the rope in a game of tug of war between German Nazis and the Soviet Allied forces. Major cities like Krakow, Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw, Lodz, Poznan, and Lublin offer an array of cultural attractions. The infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, near Krakow, is a difficult experience but a must for anyone visiting the area. Be sure to sample hearty comfort foods rich in meat, cabbage, and spices--the Polish secret to making it through harsh winters.
Places to Visit in Poland
Regions of PolandSouthern Poland
: Boasting the most tourism traffic in the country, the southern region is surrounded by mountains and houses the nation's capital as well as internationally known World War II sites like Auschwitz-Birkenau.Central Poland
: Poland's middle section features flat countryside and popular cities like Lodz and Poznan, as well as Warsaw's Old Town, a World Heritage Site and a poplar Poland tourist attraction.Northern Poland
: Sandy beaches and coastal towns draw visitors to northern Poland, which harbors a unique history due to various different cultures that once ruled the area.Greater Poland Province
: As one of the larger provinces in west-central Poland, this pine-forested region was once an important hub in early years with several centers of royal power in the area.Lesser Poland Province
: This smaller region is hailed as the center for all things culturally Polish, with Krakow and other cities boasting long royal and political histories and World Heritage Sites spread throughout the area.Mazovia Province
: Green valleys, national parks, and forests characterize this region, which hosts some larger cities like Warsaw; its also famous for its Grojec apples, which feed the entire country.Pomerania Province
: Hugging the Baltic Sea, Pomerania offers sandy beach resorts, national parks, and medieval cities that help to create the complete Poland vacation package.Lower Silesia Province
: After shifting its borders and being passed through various imperial powers multiple times, this region harbors a unique cultural mix of German, Polish, and Czech influences.Kuyavia-Pomerania Province
: Tourists traveling around Poland are likely to make a stop in this region, the transportation hub of the country and home to some of the nine Landscape Parks.Lodz Province
: Featuring small cities and forested plains, this picturesque region of unspoiled nature is dotted with medieval cathedrals and castles and boasts seven Landscape Parks.
Cities in PolandKrakow
: Based at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, Krakow houses an Old Town, a World Heritage Site, and serves as a cultural, educational, and economic hub.Warsaw
: Known for its nightlife and music scene, the nation's capital also features an Old Town with World Heritage Site status and showcases important cultural and political attractions.Wroclaw
: Relax on your Poland trip in the mellow atmosphere of Wroclaw, a city steeped in cultural heritage with a rich historical center that includes a medieval town square of striking architecture.Gdansk
: Despite its age, this city boasts a very modern center with a popular tourist sector featuring a historical central district with monuments and museums easily toured on foot.Oswiecim
: Known by its German name, Auschwitz, this city brings most visitors for the Holocaust memorials and museums as well as facilities once used for Jewish extermination and forced labor camps.Wieliczka
: Known as the site of one of the world's oldest salt mines, also a listed World Heritage Site, the city attracts tourists looking to explore the underground salt chambers that halted operation in 2007.Poznan
: As Poland's original capital, the city boasts centuries of rich history in medieval architecture and world-class museums, but you'll also find breweries, festivals, universities, and theaters here, making it popular among the college scene.Zakopane
: Featuring lots of outdoor Poland things to do, this city serves a year-round getaway for tourists and locals alike as a jumping-off point for exploring the surrounding natural scenery.Sopot
: Established as one of Poland's high-class destinations, this seaside resort is famous for its spa and wooden pier--one of the longest of its kind in Europe.Lodz
: A center for shopping, dining, and entertainment, this city harbors some newfound tourist attractions and hosts several internationally known film festivals each year.Torun
: This medieval town avoided most destruction from World War II and is now recognized as a World Heritage Site due to its preserved Gothic architecture.Gdynia
: Serving as a base for Poland sightseeing along the Baltic coastline, Gdynia welcomes visitors as a college town with a colorful culture and nightlife.Malbork
: Home to Europe's largest Gothic castle, this rural town suffered massive damage during World War II, however, it held on to its medieval atmosphere and status thanks to the preserved 13th-century castle.Karpacz
: Frequented by hikers and skiers, this small city resembles a mountain village and serves as a base for tourists looking to venture into the county's wilderness.
Things to Do in Poland
Popular Poland Tourist AttractionsMain Market Square
: Built in the 13th century and surrounded by historical churches, palaces, and townhouses, this square stands as the largest medieval square in Europe. You'll find it based in Krakow's Old Town district.Oskar Schindler's Factory
: Dedicated to the period of Nazi occupation, this museum is housed in a former enamel factory and displays Schindler's original office as he left it and a recreated ghetto apartment.Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau
: Topping most lists on a Poland itinerary, this museum commemorates those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and displays the history and artifacts from Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the most infamous concentration camps in world history.Wieliczka Salt Mine
: Only recently shut down after seven centuries in operation, the salt mines now allow visitors to explore the dark tunnels and find statues, chapels, and cathedrals exquisitely hand carved by generations of miners.Jewish District (Kazimierz)
: This district features modern cafes and upscale restaurants adjacent to old synagogues and renovated churches that date back to the early 1900s.Old Town
: This oldest part of Warsaw, a World Heritage Site, was rebuilt after World War II and features a central-square housing cafes, shops, and restaurants with a bit of remaining medieval architecture.Historic Old Town
: Tour one of the largest medieval squares in the world at Krakow's Historic Centre, a World Heritage Site with architecturally notable palaces, churches, theaters, and museums that collectively house more than 2 million works of art.Wawel Royal Castle
: Include this castle on your list of Poland places to visit, and explore the home of Poland's kings for several centuries. Today it features one of the country's major art museums and art pieces from Italian Renaissance masters.Warsaw Uprising Museum
: Dedicated to the 1944 rebellion by the underground resistance movement against Nazi occupation, this museum exhibits hundreds of artifacts, including weapons and love letters written by some of the more prominent insurgents, all augmented by audio and video displays.Lazienki - Royal Residence Park
: Escape the city in what once served as kings' hunting grounds, a park that features a palace and an amphitheater inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture where the stage is set on a small lake island and still hosts concerts and plays.
Planning a Poland Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Poland with Kids
If you're traveling with kids, start your Poland itinerary off in Warsaw
, the capital city. It's a hub for attractions and activities like parks, shopping, entertainment venues, and museums. You can find similar establishments in other cities like Krakow as well.
Prefer something to do in nature? Explore Poland's unspoiled pine forests and towering mountains. Head to Mazovia Province
and hike through the forests and valleys. The area's national parks are great places to learn about local plant life and wildlife, or head to Grojec's apple orchards and pick a few in the right season. For a different outdoor scene, visit Pomerania Province
, a region hugging the Baltic coastline. Here you can play on sandy beaches or storm the medieval ruins, including impressive castles, throughout the area.
Things to Do in Poland with Kids
While World War II and Holocaust memorials may be too much for young children, older kids can learn a lot from Poland tourist attractions like Oskar Schindler's Factory
and Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau
. Your family can get quite an education on the terrible tribulations experienced by the Jewish community under the rule of Nazi Germany. When you are ready for something more uplifting, spend a day at Lazienki - Royal Residence Park
and enjoy the peace of the gardens. Check the park's schedule ahead of time and try to catch a live play or concert.
You'll find that hiking is one of the most popular activities in Poland. Trails vary in difficulty, from flat, steady trails to rugged, mountainous terrain for more adventurous family members. If you visit during the winter, consider a trip to a mountain resort for world-class skiing. Whether your family members are beginners or experts, you'll find slopes for everyone, and classes are usually offered for inexperienced skiiers.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Poland
Discounts and free entry are offered for children at most hotels, attractions, and transportation services. While the bus system is usually dependable in Poland, it can sometimes be arduous for children, so consider taking a taxi if your young travelers are getting cranky. Finally, if you and your honey are hoping to have a date night without the kids, many upscale hotels in Poland offer babysitting services that have been tested and praised by other travelers.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Poland
Cuisine of Poland
The Polish diet mainly consists of meat, bread, and potatoes. Breakfast usually includes eggs, meat, cheese, and bread, and a second breakfast is eaten in the late morning. Dinner, served mid-afternoon, is the main meal of the day and the largest; expect it to almost always contain pork. If you need a meal without pork, you will have to make a special request.
Shopping in Poland
Whether you are looking for brand-name clothing or handcrafted souvenirs to remember your Poland vacation, the country offers numerous shopping malls, outlets, streets, and markets to keep you busy. Look for small shops on the main streets of cities like Krakow
, where you can find antiques, bookshops, sweets, and baked goods. Fairs and flea markets are also quite common, like the flea market based in Warsaw
in the Kolo district. Everything from cutlery to furniture covers the tables and stalls in this eclectic market.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Poland
History of Poland
Poland's history as a territory began in the 10th century as the Piast dynasty under the first king, Meisko I, who adopted Christianity as the national religion. The Polish lands were nearly first united in the 13th century by the Silesian branch of the Piast dynasty, but the Mongols devastated the country and won the Battle of Legnica where Duke Henry II the Pious died. However, a century later, the country was finally united under Władysław I.
Following the unification, the Polish kingdom thrived under the rule of the Jagiellonian dynasty and united with Lithuania to create a powerful Polish-Lithuanian kingdom. For the next 400 years, the Polish-Lithuanian union was one of the most powerful states in Europe. The dynasty eventually ended, and the country was divided up in 1795 between Russia, Austria, and Prussia.
During World War I, about 2 million Polish troops fought with occupying powers and 450,000 died in the battles. According to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's proclamation in his famous 14 points, Poland regained independence in 1918.
World War II, however, destroyed Poland and resulted in the death of millions of citizens, including about 3 million Jews as part of the Holocaust. The war formally began with the invasion of Nazi German troops on Polish land in 1939, followed by the Soviet invasion. Despite the suffering, Poland developed one of the three largest wartime resistance movements of the entire war and the country operated an underground state complete with degree-awarding universities and a court system. During World War II, six major extermination camps operated in the heart of Poland, including the infamous Auschwitz. After the war, the Poles were recognized as the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the war--risking the lives of themselves and their families--and saving hundreds of thousands of Jewish people.
Visitors to Poland can learn about the unspeakable experiences of World War II in Poland tourist attractions like Oskar Schindler's Factory
, Warsaw Uprising Museum
, and Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau
After the war, the Communist Party took control of Poland, and Poland became a puppet state of the Soviet Union. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland began to work towards a democratic government and a free-market economy; the country joined the European Union in 2004.
Customs of Poland
The people of Poland take politeness seriously, and you will be more respected if you follow Polish customs during your Poland holiday. Men are expected to kiss ladies' hands and behave like gentlemen. When visiting someone's home for dinner or otherwise, an acceptable gift for the lady of the house is an odd number of flowers, regardless of your own gender. For men, the standard gift is alcohol. When sharing in dinner or festivities with the Polish people, never drink straight from the bottle; only drink from a glass.
Holidays & Festivals in Poland
Easter is a widely celebrated holiday in Poland--natives paint eggs, prepare large meals, and attend Catholic services (visitors are welcome to attend most churches). Another holiday, Constitution Day every May 3, is marked with parades and fireworks to celebrate the creation and signing of Europe's first codified constitution for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Christmas Eve is the most important holiday, called Wigilia in Poland. Do not decline an invitation to join one of the special meals consisting of 12 meatless dishes and join in the decoration of a Christmas tree.
Poland Travel Tips
Climate of Poland
While summers are warm and temperatures are most pleasant in late spring to early autumn in Poland. Temperatures in winter average -4 C (25 F) in January, but such temperatures offer great skiing conditions in the mountains. Be prepared with warm clothing for your Poland trip and rain gear for the frequent rainfalls.
Transportation in Poland
Public transportation is well developed and extensive, making it easy to get around Poland for sightseeing. Subways, buses, and trams provide city-wide transport, while outlying areas and small villages are reachable by other bus routes.
Language of Poland
The official language of Poland is Polish, which holds the second-largest number of speakers among Slavic languages after Russian. Some people in large cities speak English, but it is best to brush up on your Polish before visiting.
Tipping in Poland
If a service charge is not included in your restaurant bill, expect to add 10 percent on top of the total for gratuity. Try not to use your card to give tips, because the server is then forced to pay tax on the service charge. Often you are not allowed to pay tips with a credit or debit card, so keep small amounts of cash on you when dining out.