Poland is terrible at marketing itself to the outside world as a tourist destination.
There, I said it.
After living here for almost 10 years, I think that opening statement has a grain of truth to it.
But perhaps it’s ‘safer’ to say that, compared to other tourist destinations in the West of Europe, Poland often gets overlooked as a destination to explore.
There’s no giant tower, no ancient colosseum, and no Church painted by a Renaissance artist.
And sure, like most other European cities, Poland’s tourism is ‘just’ old towns, market squares, history, food, attractions, nature and castles. A lot of the same.
But it does those things so incredibly well.
Throw in random things like Salt Mines, Skull Chapels, towns built by planners with insane OCD and Island cities and yeah, sure, Auschwitz, and Poland is Europe’s best-kept secret that you’ve overlooked until now.
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In this article, I, an Australian who’s been living in Poland for quite a while, am going to take you to some of the best places I’ve been in Poland. Some that are pretty common, and some that are not listed in any other material you’ll read while planning your trip.
Hell, I’ll even tell you how to pronounce the weird names of these places and throw in some fun facts where I can.
Oh and by the way – People in all these cities will speak English. In the ‘hidden gems’, maybe not, but they’ll certainly understand when you talk. They probably just won’t talk back in English.
Here’s a quick overview of where we’re going today:
Quickfire Hidden Gems of Poland
While cities like Warsaw and Krakow are popular tourist destinations, many hidden gems in Poland often go unnoticed. These lesser-known places offer unique experiences and attractions that will make your trip truly memorable.
Kłodzko’s Fortress, Mountains & Skull Church
One of the hidden gems of Poland is Kłodzko’s Fortress, located in the Kłodzko Valley.
This stunning castle, perched on a hilltop, offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. Explore its rich history and admire its impressive architecture. In its underground labyrinth and a repository of different objects, from old fire engines to local glassware.
While exploring the region, don’t miss the remarkable Skull Chapel (Kaplica Czaszek) in Kudowa-Zdrój.
This singular chapel, serving also as a mass grave, is adorned with bones from individuals who perished in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), the Silesian Wars (1740–1763), and those who succumbed to cholera epidemics, plague, syphilis, and famine.
Świnoujście & Międzyzdroje: The Weird Corner
Swin-ooos-cheh & Mends-ie-droy-yeh
Head to the coast and discover the charming towns of Świnoujście and Międzyzdroje. These lesser-known destinations offer a blend of natural beauty and, well, the fact that you need to get on a boat to visit the town of Świnoujście – or drive 3 hours into Germany.
Take a stroll along the sandy beaches, soak up the sun, and enjoy the refreshing sea breeze in a part of the country that’s less explored by tourists – both foreign and local.
Don’t miss the famous wooden pier in Międzyzdroje, known as the “Polish Hollywood,” where you can find sculptures of famous actors. There’s also Wolin National Park, a reserve where you can find the European Bison living it up.
Częstochowa: The City Of Religion
If you’re interested in religion in Poland, Częstochowa is a must-visit.
It is home to the Jasna Góra Monastery, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Poland.
The monastery houses the famous Black Madonna painting, believed to have miraculous powers.
Explore the monastery’s stunning architecture and learn about its significance in Poland’s religious culture.
Zielona Góra: Poland’s Wine District
In the western part of Poland, you’ll find Zielona Góra, known as the “Green Mountain.”
This hidden gem is Poland’s wine district, where you can indulge in wine tasting and vineyard tours.
Explore the beautiful landscape, dotted with vineyards and wineries, and savour the flavours of Polish wines, known for their unique characteristics, hailing from the driest part of Poland.
Olsztyn: Poland’s Lake District Gem
Located in the heart of Poland’s lake district, Olsztyn is a hidden gem that offers a peaceful retreat and abundant opportunities for outdoor activities.
Explore the stunning lakes and forests, go hiking, fishing, or simply relax by the water. Take a leisurely boat ride or enjoy a picnic surrounded by the serene beauty of nature.
Zamość: The perfectly planned city
Zamość, a quintessential example of an ideal Renaissance city, was designed following the principles of Italian polymath Leon Battista Alberti.
Founded in the 16th century by a very famous Pole, Chancellor Jan Zamoyski, it exemplifies the Renaissance concept of a utopian town, boasting a symmetrical layout, carefully planned streets, and harmonious architecture.
Today, Zamość is celebrated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, enchanting visitors with its meticulously preserved Old Town, Renaissance buildings, and vibrant central square. Its status as a ‘perfectly planned’ city continues to draw admirers of its unique historical and architectural legacy.
Fun Fact: Constructed in the 1950s under Communist rule in Poland, Nowa Huta, which now forms part of Kraków, stands as a significant yet incomplete representation of a ‘utopian ideal city’ from a communist perspective.
It remains one of the most expansive planned socialist realist communities or districts ever established, renowned globally as a striking example of intentional social engineering.
Explore the Historical Elegance of Warsaw
War-saw or War-shav-a
We’re now onto the bigger cities.
And it’s worth noting that many travellers face a difficult decision – Warsaw or Kraków? <- Read my article on it and make your own decision!
Warsaw, the capital of Poland, is a city that seamlessly combines historic charm with modernity.
Begin your exploration by visiting the carefully reconstructed Warsaw Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Admire the beautiful architecture of the Royal Castle and St. John’s Cathedral, which reflect the city’s glorious past.
The Warsaw Rising Museum delves into the heart of Poland’s fight against oppression in World War II.
The museum not only narrates the historical events of the uprising but also evokes emotional connections, highlighting the profound impact of resistance on the city’s social fabric and its enduring legacy in shaping Warsaw’s identity.
A visit to this museum is an immersive journey into the courage and determination of a city under siege.
Explore the National Museum to admire its extensive collection of Polish art and historical artefacts.
One of my favourite Museums is the Polish Geological Institute – and it’s free!
Take a stroll along Nowy Świat, one of Warsaw’s iconic streets, lined with elegant shops, cafes, and historic buildings. Indulge in traditional Polish cuisine and savour the flavors of pierogi, zurek, and enjoy some Polish beer.
Whether you’re captivated by history, art, or gastronomy, Warsaw offers a diverse range of experiences that will leave you enchanted. Discover the historical elegance of Warsaw and immerse yourself in its rich cultural heritage.
Discover Krakow: Poland’s Cultural Jewel
Krakow, often regarded as Poland’s cultural jewel, is a city steeped in rich history and home to a vibrant arts scene.
See the best way to explore Krakow on a budget.
One of the must-visit attractions in Krakow is the historic Krakow Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. As you wander through its charming streets, you’ll encounter iconic landmarks like the Wawel Castle and the impressive St. Mary’s Basilica.
But to truly immerse yourself in the captivating history of Krakow, consider taking a walking tour.
These tours will take you on a fascinating journey through the city, providing insights into its past and uncovering hidden gems along the way.
One of the highlights is exploring the Jewish Quarter, where you’ll discover the poignant stories of Krakow’s Jewish community.
After a day of cultural exploration, Krakow also offers a vibrant nightlife scene. The city is dotted with numerous bars, clubs, and music venues, where you can enjoy live music, traditional Polish cuisine and drinks, and the company of friendly locals and fellow travellers alike.
Krakow Pub Crawl is a fantastic optic: a ticket online for 55zl offers excellent value, as it includes complimentary admission to five pubs, a free shot at each venue, and an entire hour of included drinks.
There’s plenty to see and do in Kraków!
Wrocław: A Tapestry of Colourful Market Squares
Wroclaw, located in western Poland, is a vibrant city known for its picturesque market squares that resemble a beautiful tapestry of colours.
When you visit Wroclaw, one of the must-see attractions is the Market Square, filled with stunning architecture and a lively atmosphere. As you wander through the square, you’ll be captivated by the vibrant facades of the buildings and the charming alleys that lead to the Ostrow Tumski, also known as the Cathedral Island.
But Wroclaw has much more to offer beyond its market squares. The city boasts a rich cultural heritage, which you can explore through its numerous museums.
The National Museum of Wroclaw is a treasure trove of art, history, and culture, where you can immerse yourself in the city’s past and present. Another remarkable museum is the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice, which showcases a stunning panoramic painting depicting a significant historical event.
Whether you’re interested in history or art, Wroclaw has something for everyone. From the Gothic-style architecture of the Wroclaw Cathedral to the modern exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, you’ll find yourself enchanted by the city’s diverse cultural offerings. Wroclaw is truly a city that offers a unique blend of history, art, and vibrant city life.
Fun fact: Wrocław is famous for its small bronze dwarf statues, which started appearing in 2001.
Wroclaw is home to several world-class museums that provide fascinating insights into the city’s history, art, and culture. Here are some must-visit museums in Wroclaw:
- The National Museum: Explore a vast collection of art, including Polish paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts.
- Museum of Contemporary Art: Immerse yourself in the world of modern and contemporary art through thought-provoking exhibitions and installations.
- Panorama of the Battle of Racławice: Experience an incredible panoramic painting that brings to life one of Poland’s historical battles.
- Museum of Architecture: Discover the architectural heritage of Wroclaw through exhibitions that showcase the city’s diverse architectural styles.
- Museum of Natural History: Get up close with the wonders of nature through displays of fossils, minerals, and animal specimens.
These museums offer a glimpse into the rich history and cultural tapestry of Wroclaw, making your visit even more enriching and memorable.
Gdansk’s Coastal Allure
Gdansk, located on Poland’s Baltic coast, is a city that combines history with the beauty of the sea.
Take a stroll along the captivating Long Market and admire the colourful facades of the merchant houses. Visit the iconic Crane, a symbol of Gdansk’s maritime heritage – and an element of the city of Novigrad from The Witcher 3!
The Main City area, rebuilt post-war in the style of a Hanseatic city, is a key attraction.
Here, you can explore the Old Town to the north and the Old Suburb to the south, each brimming with character.
Gdańsk is not just about history, though. The city is alive with vibrant culture, bustling streets, and a thriving culinary scene. From traditional Polish cuisine to contemporary dining, there’s something to satisfy every palate. The scenic waterfront adds to its charm, offering picturesque views and a chance to relax by the sea.
For those seeking adventure, Gdańsk’s location makes it an ideal base for exploring the Baltic coast or venturing further into the Pomeranian region. Whether you’re interested in cultural immersion, historical exploration, or just a relaxing getaway, Gdańsk is a destination that promises a memorable experience for every traveller.
Fun fact: Westerplatte, a small peninsula off the coast of Gdańsk is historically significant as the place where the first shots of World War II were fired.
Poznań & its Goats
Poznan, located in western Poland, is a city that seamlessly blends tradition and modernity.
One of the main attractions in Poznan is the Old Market Square, which happens to be one of the largest in Europe. As you explore this historic square, you’ll be captivated by the colourful and beautifully preserved buildings that surround it. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the past as you stroll along the cobblestone streets and admire the stunning architecture – including the goats that butt heads every day at midday!
Gastronomy lovers must try the St Martin’s Croissant (Rogal Świętomarciński), a semi-puff pastry with white poppy seed, celebrated with its very own museum.
For nature and history enthusiasts, a ride on the ‘Maltanka’ train to the New Zoo, and a visit to the former Imperial Castle, now a hub for culture and arts, are unmissable.
See the best Castles in Poland to explore while you’re here.
The Old Brewery, transformed from a 19th-century brewery into a centre for commerce and arts, offers an array of shops, beer gardens, and art centres. Poznań, blending history with modern vibes, is an extraordinary city waiting to be explored.
Fun fact: Poznań Palm House is a large greenhouse complex that is one of the largest in Europe, housing a diverse range of plants.
Lublin: A Gateway to the East with Enchanting Streets
Fun Fact: In 1569, the Lublin Union was signed here, uniting Poland and Lithuania, and beginning the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Toruń: Birthplace Of Copernicus
One can’t talk of Nicholaus Copernicus without mentioning his hometown of Toruń.
Alongside Malbork castle, Toruń happens to be one of only two UNESCO sites in all of Poland. The entire city has hardly changed since its foundations were laid in the 11th century. One of Toruń’s biggest attractions is Toruń Castle. What’s left today is nothing more than ruins, as the castle was destroyed in an uprising against the Teutonic Knights.
What’s left of Toruń Castle though it truly a step back in history, with real siege weapons, clothing and weapons from eh time showed off in a museum that’s dedicated to the preservation of the castle.
Toruń is Poland’s home of gingerbread. Poles love their Pierniki (Gingerbread), so much so that Toruń has an entire Gingerbread museum that’s built around a bakery that’s been baking gingerbread for almost 1000 years.
Fun fact: Director of 90’s TV show Twin Peaks, David Lynch loves Toruń so much that he owns a house there and houses his personal art collection in the Toruń Art Gallery.
In one of the more bizarre tourist attractions of Poland, not unlike the upside-down building in Gdansk, Toruń in the home it’s own leaning tower.
Nothing more than a normal medieval tower that’s leaning because of the sandy ground it’s built on, it’s become a real tourist attraction for both locals and foreigners.
Białystok: The Green Lungs of Poland
Białystok, the largest city in northeastern Poland and the capital of the Podlaskie Province is a serene and slower-paced destination perfect for those seeking tranquillity.
Surrounded by natural beauty, including fields of sunflowers, enchanting forests, and lush parks, Białystok is known for its green landscape.
It is close to the Białowieski National Park and the Białowieża Forest, a UNESCO site and home to the only wild European bison, offering a unique wildlife experience.
The city’s cultural diversity is reflected in its range of local customs and folklore. Visitors can explore the Branicki Palace, sometimes referred to as the “Polish Versailles,” and enjoy the city’s vibrant cultural scene, including a calendar full of sporting events and buzzing nightlife.
This city offers a peaceful retreat in one of Poland’s quieter regions, making it an attractive destination for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle.
For those seeking serenity and a connection with nature, Białystok’s green spaces offer a sanctuary. Explore the city’s parks, such as Planty Park or the Branicki Garden, and enjoy the fresh air and lush surroundings.
Fun fact: Białystok is the birthplace of Ludwik Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, an international auxiliary language.
Your Unforgettable Summer in Poland’s Cities
Poland offers something truly special for every traveller. From the hidden gems to huge cities, each destination holds its unique allure.
Embrace this journey through Poland’s cities; where history, culture, and nature intertwine, creating a tapestry of experiences that will linger in your memories long after your journey ends.
Discover Poland this summer – an adventure awaits in every corner!