Poland, with its incredible history and fourteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is a wonderful – and too often overlooked – destination. Most travelers come visit Krakow, maybe spend a day or two in Warsaw, and then go somewhere else. Over the years, I’ve encountered very few people who have really explored this country in its entirety. That’s a real shame because Poland has a lot to offer – from beautiful parks to old historic cities to cheap beer to empty coastlines. The country is still finding its way politically and economically but Poland is a country on the move and the new generation is global, educated, and loves a good party! Give Poland the time it deserves.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Poland
1. Auschwitz Concentration Camps
2. Visit Krakow
3. Explore Wroclaw
4. Wander through Bialowieza National Park
5. Explore Warsaw
Other Things to See and Do
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1. Tour the Szczecin underground tunnels
These concrete tunnels lie beneath the city of Szczecin and were designated as a bomb shelter in the 1940s, and then used as a fallout shelter thereafter. Tours follow either a WWII or a Cold War theme. Entry is 25 PLN, though you can pay extra for a guide.
2. Visit a national park
Although national parks only cover 1% of the country’s territory, there are 23 that you can visit within Poland. Ojcowski National Park is a very small (12 km) park filled with stunning caves and castles while Slowinski, Biebrzanski, Narwianski, and Poleski parks offer great bird watching. Entry to the parks is usually less than 10 PLN per person.
3. Climb up to Wawel Castle
This site in Krakow may be one of the finest examples of a medieval castle and possibly the most historically important site in Poland. There is an art museum inside that has medieval tapestries, the former Polish crown jewels, and Ottoman empire treasures. Basic admission is 4 PLN, though there are extra costs for some of the exhibits.
4. Visit the Wooden Churches
The Wooden Churches of Southern Lesser Poland are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites and consist of six Roman Catholic churches that reflect the periods of religious architecture in Poland: from Medieval to Gothic, Rococo, Baroque, as well as the occasional onion dome or Greek cross.
5. Tour the Wieliczka Salt Mine
This mine was first used in the Middle Ages as one of Krakow’s main industries and produced table salt until 2007. Today, it is no longer in use and is a recognized UNESCO site for tourists to visit and marvel over the cavernous chambers, statues, chapels, chandeliers, and cathedrals, all carved out of salt by the miners! Admission is 84 PLN for foreigners, with discounts available for families.
6. Stroll through Gdansk
Formerly known as Danzig, Gdansk is a beautiful old city with a delicate past. Much of the city had to be rebuilt after the war, but you can still find plenty of history here. As it’s located in the north along the Baltic sea, it’s a good jumping-off point for further exploring.
7. Admire Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
Yet another UNESCO site, this is a monastery and important pilgrimage site. It dates back to the 17th century and is still in excellent condition, representing the Mannerist architectural style. Tours are free (though they must be booked in advance) but donations are welcome.
8. Head to Lublin
Lublin is eastern Poland’s main city and was an important trading and military center during the Middle Ages. Lublin developed its own architectural style which has become known as the Lublin renaissance. Be sure to visit the castle, the monastery, and the old city gates.
9. Visit the world’s tallest pope statue
Located in Czestochowa, this statue of Pope John Paul II (who was Polish) stands 13.8 meters tall and is made of fiberglass. There really isn’t much else to see here, but it makes for a quirky photo op if you’re in the area!
10. Visit the Exploseum
This abandoned Nazi explosive plant, founded by the inventor of dynamite, is now a museum open to the public. Here visitors learn about Alfred Nobel, his company, life for Polish residents during the German occupation, weapons used during the war, and about modern weapons of war. It’s an interesting, if not sober, museum. It’s tucked away in Bydgoszcz and the museum takes 1-2 hours to explore and costs 15 PLN.
11. Visit the Churches of Peace
These are the biggest timber-framed churches in Europe and are located in Jawor and Swidnica. They were built in the mid-17th century as the first Lutheran churches constructed in Roman Catholic Poland. These are also another feature on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. Admission is 10 PLN.