15 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Poland
Poland boasts a history dating back nearly two millennia. It began when tribes of nomadic people first wandered across the plains and swamps of what is now central Europe and settled in the lush valleys of the Vistula River. However, it wasn't until the 15th century that Poland emerged as a unified kingdom and began to take its place in Europe's history.
Travel to Poland and discover this dynamic and fascinating country. The list of things to see in Poland features some of the most important historical and cultural sites in the country. You can also visit popular tourist attractions like the Warsaw Uprising Monument, Warsaw's famous City Palace, the Wawel Castle, the National Museum, and the National Museum of Poland.
Poland's natural landscape is sprinkled with picturesque mountain peaks, grand canyons, rolling meadows, fertile valleys, and numerous rivers, making it one of Europe's most scenic destinations. Consider taking advantage of this land of untamed beauty during your next vacation to Poland. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in Poland.
Huge for centuries and overgrown with vegetation for much of the past 20, Gdańsk, or Danzig as it was once known, is situated on a low-lying peninsula, fringed with a gorgeous coastline that stretches to the North Sea. When you leave the post-industrial outskirts and make your way to the harbor, it's hard to imagine that the grand old Danzig Castle (16th-century), or the fishing quay that overlooks the harbor, is little more than a couple hundred meters from the beach. This is a striking part of the city. Aside from the sight of the modern panorama, the harbor has an atmosphere of a small medieval town, with warehouses, restaurants, and cafes. This cultural haven can boast one of the largest architectural parks in Europe, the Historic Garden of Eden, the largest urban forest, and several museums. The excellent Maritime Museum (the former Customs House) of Danzig is home to world-renowned decorative ship carving and superb displays on medieval and modern shipbuilding. The Baltic Sea National Museum (not to be confused with the Maritime Museum) tells the story of the region with a rich collection of archaeological artifacts.
Kraków, once Poland's capital, has a number of world-class attractions, many with a Jewish connection. Among the most important are the Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral, which in the 18th century became home to the Kraków King, Stanislaus II, who tried in vain to hold on to his throne before being dethroned by the Poles in 1764. Perhaps the best day-trip is the Wieliczka Salt Mine, located about 30 miles south of Kraków. Unlike many of the other mines of this type, the Wieliczka opens its full length rather than as a hole in the ground. Entrance to the giant salt-making caverns is on a tour that includes a boat ride through the vast subterranean spaces. The tours depart from Kraków's Wawel Castle and are open daily from 10:00 to 20:00.
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A fine example of a town set on a river bend, the fortified, walled city of Sandomierz is one of the oldest towns in Poland and the birthplace of king Jan III Sobieski. Built in the first half of the 15th century, the richly decorated buildings, many of which are in excellent condition, have recently been restored. The most prominent feature is the extraordinary monastic ensemble, now the largest and best-preserved in the country. A visit to Sandomierz gives a feel for what life was like in Poland as late as the 18th century. Also of interest is a memorial to Jan Sobieski, which honors one of the Poles' most prominent and heroic figures. The town is situated in the southeastern corner of the country on the site of a former fortification. The section along the River Sandomierz is still connected by fortifications, and most of the buildings along the river can be visited. The other section, enclosed by a double ring of walls, is protected by a drainage system for its impressive basements. The monumental portal from 1460 was erected as the gate of the Castle's urban enclosure and provides the only route between the two parts of the city.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Wieliczka Salt Mine is an underground complex of salt caverns that have been used for thousands of years as a refuge from water and weather. And now they provide the ultimate subterranean adventure for tourists. Here you will see trolleys that ride down the steep limestone walls, shimmering river water as deep as 100 meters, and more than 100,000 bats and 80 species of plants growing in the subterranean world. Aside from being an authentic salt mine with a long history, Wieliczka Salt Mine is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with dozens of different species of fascinating flora and fauna, making it a very attractive attraction for nature lovers. It's also a great choice for those interested in Polish folklore and culture, as some of the more than 600 underground objects on display are replicas of burial chambers dating back to the 17th and 18th century. There are also a number of shops and exhibitions on display, with high quality souvenirs, including exquisite saltwater jewelry and unique pewter. The salt mine is located in a valley at the foot of the 1000-meter-tall Wieliczka Mountain, and is best reached by bus or train. With a stay at the Monuments Travel Suites Hotel, located just outside Wieliczka, you'll be within a short drive of the mine and a free shuttle will be waiting to whisk you to the surface to catch your next tour.
The imposing Wawel Castle is regarded as the architectural heart of Poland. It dates back to the 12th century and is surrounded by a moat. The original structure was reconstructed in the 14th century, but most of the present structure dates to the 15th and 16th centuries. Inside the castle are two museums, the Royal Castle Museum and the Palace of Sigismund, and the Royal Treasury. The Royal Castle Museum is known for its treasures, including the Orda Regia (Royal Orb), the biggest of its kind in the world. The palace contains the Hall of the Painted Gallery, the Chamber of the Golden Room, the Mirror Room, and the Ambassadors' Hall.
Częstochowa is a beautiful and largely Protestant region. Its Częstochowa Cathedral, dating to the fourteenth century, is the largest gothic building in Poland and the largest wooden structure in Europe. At night, the cathedral is lit up with spectacular stained glass and a spectacular setting for classical music concerts. Other notable places to visit include the Solitude Monastery, the Jan Hus Chapel, and the Museum of Carol Magdalene (the model for which is believed to be the biblical Queen of Sheba). There are many outdoor activities on offer including the Pirkow Nature Park.
Katowice, a city in southwestern Poland on the beautiful Vistula River, is one of the largest metallurgical plants in the world. Because of the heavy industries established here, the city is much more industrialized than many people realize, and its rather industrial feel can be seen in its old center. However, it's a pretty, if stark, city, with old lanes and crooked streets lining its lively and picturesque markets and squares, as well as a beautiful cathedral and several charming neighborhoods. Things to do include getting to know the people of Poland through one of the many bars or cultural centers, taking in a performance of the very well-known and popular Polish Circus Kasper, wandering around the Botanical Garden or taking in a fashion show in one of Katowice's popular street markets. If you'd prefer to just visit Katowice's natural attractions, check out the nearby Dom Kultury as it was designed to protect the city's historic river and town from floods. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a popular site for visiting families, and one of the city's most impressive buildings. As well, the nearby panoramic viewpoint known as Wielki Wez Pierwszy offers a stunning view of the city and its surroundings. While in Katowice, be sure to visit the nearby castle at Stary Sącz. Constructed by a wealthy nobleman, it's one of the oldest surviving castles in the country and one of the country's most beautiful historical monuments. Visit the park and zoo and dine at one of its cafes.
The town of Lublin is a lively university town with around 200,000 inhabitants and plenty of students. It is a charming place with cobbled streets, pretty squares and historic buildings which boast a magnificent medieval town hall and a Franciscan church, the most important religious monument in Poland. Visitors can spend time watching the students, see the impressive Polish National Revival-style Main Town Hall, see a typical town square with a statue of King Jan III Sobieski, and walk through the maze of medieval streets. One of the top attractions in Lublin is a famous museum of Polish history. The Museum of The History of Jews in Poland houses a large collection of Jewish cultural artifacts, including a rich and diverse collection of medieval rabbinical books, a 10th century Jewish prayer book, and the largest private library in the country. The place is worth a visit even if you aren't interested in history as its beautifully designed rooms are lit by dramatic spotlights, and filled with unusual exhibits.
A stunning medieval fortress, Malbork Castle (Pałac malborkowski) was the main residence of the Teutonic Knights, a militaristic order that took control of a large part of present-day Poland in the late 13th century. The castle sits atop a 300-meter cliff overlooking the Vistula river. During the Middle Ages, the castle was used to control the neighboring towns and protect the lands against invaders and to isolate the region from the rest of the country. Built from local gray stone, Malbork's fortifications include a three-story inner and outer wall with an array of towers, along with an external moat, fortified gatehouses, and the massive Malbork Bridge (built from 1309 to 1328 and the longest stone bridge in Europe), which spans the Vistula. A portion of the bridge is still in use today. One of the most popular stops on Malbork's castle is the fortified tower Teutonic Knights (Kamienia Obrony), which has been carefully preserved and offers one of the finest views of the castle and Vistula. The tower also has displays and a film on its history and architecture, but it's best for those without a walking stick, as the climb is quite challenging. As Malbork Castle is quite popular, admission for the castle and the adjacent St. Mary's Basilica is highly restricted to a limited number of tickets per day.
Warsaw Castle (Wawel) is the biggest and best-preserved of all the castles in Poland. It was built for King Wladyslaw Jagiello in 1443, and has been the residence of Polish kings ever since. Wawel is a solid, burglar-proof stone fortress with thick walls and huge battlements, an inner courtyard, and a large square tower called the Royal Gate (Brama Królewskiej). Inside, a vast, gloomy hall has superb paintings and medieval tapestries and once served as the courtroom of the kings of Poland. Inside the castle is the Royal Treasury (Bazylika Królewskiego) with its astonishing collection of priceless treasures and armaments, including golden crowns, gold goblets, state coaches, armor, and the Black Eagle Sword of the Jagiellons, the fabled last sword of Vlad the Impaler, which was used to kill his horse in the Battle of Varna. While the castle can be explored, it's the view from the walls, from the Eagle's Tower (Tower Kanonik) which looks out over the Vistula River and the Vistula Lagoon, to the city of Warsaw below, that's the main attraction.
Warsaw's Old Town
In modern terms, the Old Town is the former Wawel Castle district, which since 15th-century ownership by the Polish kings has provided the seat of the Polish monarch. Almost lost among the architecture of contemporary Warsaw is the surviving elements of the powerful Jagiellonian-era splendor of the late-16th century and the golden age of Polish royalism in the 18th century. Wawel Castle dates back to 1138 and was built by the last member of the Piast dynasty, Boleslaus III, who reigned for most of the late-medieval period. His brother Mieszko III was the first to convert the castle into a royal palace and the first meeting place of Polish and Lithuanian nobles. A veritable metropolis during the reign of the first Polish king, Jan II (Jan I Laski), and the court and residence of the next six monarchs, Wawel Castle is by some distance the largest surviving example of an early Renaissance castle. Although the fortress has been the palace of more than forty kings and queens and the home of stately banquets, the foundation of the famed Chorzow confectionery company and the House of Wysocki have all passed from hand to hand. Nevertheless, the Wawel Castle grounds offer an almost perfect evocation of medieval Europe: from the wealth and prosperity of the palace's magnificent halls and massive gates and the glory of the Garden to the conviviality of the covered arcade, the cellar café and the outdoor theatre.
Wrocław Old Town
Wroclaw is the most charming place to visit in Poland and, with its lush green environs, ancient city walls, large cobblestone squares and lovely old houses, the city is one of Poland's most attractive places. It is known for its beautifully preserved 18th-century and 19th-century Baroque and Rococo buildings. Wroclaw also has the largest church in Poland, the St. Martin's Cathedral, which dates from the early 12th century and its Wroclaw Castle, which dates from the 12th century. One of the city's highlights is the Museum of Old Wroclaw, which showcases an elegant 17th-century town hall and a fascinating display of clothing from the 14th to the 20th centuries. It is a pleasure to walk in Wroclaw and there are some pleasant pedestrianized streets, the Main Square, Bielańskiego, one of the most delightful squares in Poland, and the Memorial of Henryk Sienkiewicz. Wroclaw is an elegant town that offers many things to see, to experience and to do.
Czartoryski Museum, Kraków
After one of the biggest changes of the 18th century in 18th century architecture, Krakow's Royal Castle (Wawel Castle) was built in 1705 by Prince Kazimierz Wielki. It served as his family home until his death in 1709. As such, the place was already a large residence when the museum was created in 1895. The museum contains an important collection of Polish paintings and 19th- and 20th-century decorative arts. On display are classical and historical paintings, works by Jan Matejko, Juliusz Kossak, Stanislav Novy, Antoni Gronowicz, Jan Matejko, and Kuprian Poradowski.
Chełm is a beautiful little town on the shore of the mighty Vistula River in the northern part of Poland. Its medieval streets, including an Unesco-protected old quarter, give it a charm that is hard to beat. Chełm also has a long maritime history, with one of the first-ever European voyages taking place around AD 110. During the German invasion in World War II, Chełm was the site of a bloody battle between the Wehrmacht and Red Army, after which the Nazis torched Chełm's historic center. Only a handful of the town's buildings escaped the bombs and fire. Once the most famous Baltic seaport, Chełm today is a charming little city on the sea with a number of famous names in Polish culture including the great children's writer, Jerzy Żuławski. The city also has numerous cultural events, including folk music, classical music and art exhibitions.
As the capital of a nation that prides itself on pride and is frequently referred to as the "Warsaw Pact", the city of Warsaw is among Europe's most tightly controlled. Warsaw has a long history of political repression and domination by other countries, and a recent wave of reconstruction of its new and older architecture is under way. It has a thriving arts scene, is home to many world-class museums, including the famous Museum of Contemporary Art (Muzeum XX wieku), and is noted for its nightlife. There are daily flights to Warsaw from New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, Prague, and various European cities. The oldest and best known hotel in Warsaw is Hotel Bristol, which dates back to 1670.
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