Poles outline their country's attractions as "the mountains, the sea and the lakes". To make the most out of your time, it's perhaps best to follow their preferences. Yet you will not want to miss the best of the cities – Warsaw, Kraków and Gdansk - nor a ramble down the rivers where ancient castles, towns, and grand country mansions beckon to be discovered.
Bialoweiza National Park & Forest
This is probably the only intact primeval forest in Europe. Vast, deep and highly protected, the forest shares the border with Byelorussia, and is home to hoards of wildlife, Orthodox churches, Tartar mosques and the reserve of the world’s largest population of rare European bison. The Bialoweiza Forest is a protected site on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Located in Podlaski province.
A paradise for romantics, lovers of nature and restless drifters. The soft green mountains peppered with traditional wooden churches are one of the most secluded areas in Europe. The extraordinary wildlife and picturesque landscapes make it an ideal holiday destination. Bieszczady is the most beautiful in summer and autumn, whereas during winter they invite the fans of skiing.
Bieszczady National Park
Countless people are drawn here in search of silence, clean air and crystal clear water. The largest mountain national park in Poland is the only park which protects all of Poland's large mammals, including the Brown Bear, Wolf, Lynx, European Bison, Red Deer, Wildcat, Golden Eagle and Eagle Owl, among numerous birds of prey. Enjoyable in all seasons, visitors can explore the serene nature on horse back, bicycle, cross-country skis, or foot. This laid-back area is dotted with wooden churches, wild horses, and the unusual feel of a space and serenity.
The medium size city of Czestochowa lies in the heart of Krakowsko-Czestochowska Upland, the region characterised by picturesque Jurassic rocks. Czestochowa is usually associated with Jasna Gora Monastery which is the biggest Marian sanctuary in the country. For the majority of Poles it is an important pilgrimage destination and a main cult place of the Virgin Mary. The icon known as Black Madonna of Czestochowa crowned in 1656 as the Queen and Protector of Poland is credited with many miracles.
Black Madonna of Czestochowa
The world-famous Black Madonna should not be missed. This miraculous painting in the Jasna Gó?ra Monastery was crowned as Queen of Poland, playing a vital role in Polish history and ranks among the most important shrines of Christianity. Also impressive, is the sense of wonder, excitement and devotion the icon inspires in the pilgrims who come here. Located in Czestochowa Slaskie province.
The cheerful maritime city is popular with both tourist and holiday destination. Situated by the sea, it has a gentle climate and beautiful beaches. A famous seaside resort Sopot is nearby. The exclusive architecture of the Old Town, including the largest brick Gothic church in the world is undoubtedly worth exploring. The present image of the city was created by its complex history. Gdansk used to often change hands and in 1980 it witnessed the birth of the Solidarity movement, which brought the end of Communism.
Elbag-Ostroda Canal (Der Oberlä?ndische Kanal)
This 81-kilometre network of canals is a masterpiece of 19th century Prussian engineering. Take a fascinating voyage through a sophisticated system of choke-points, locks and slip-ways. Located in Warminsko-Mazurskie province.
The former country’s capital is one of the top tourist attractions in Europe. Most of the city guests are captivated by its magical atmosphere and the splendid architecture. In Krakow you can see mediaeval cathedrals, the Renaissance castle, Baroque churches, the Art Nouveau theatre and many other monuments. However old and beautiful it is, do not think that Krakow is limited to the monuments and museums. Thanks to an amazing density and variety of bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants, Krakow sparkles with life, especially during warm seasons.
The ancient royal capital is the most legendary and beloved of Poland's cities. It is a real crowd pleaser for both Poles and foreign visitors, rivalling the elegance of Prague and Vienna. This is the city where history hits you most powerfully. It is hospitable and fascinating. Along with its Renaissance charm, it is a place of national and spiritual charm. The old King’s castle of Wawel is to Poles what Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Canterbury Cathedral are to the British - only all rolled into one. The city boasts the largest old town square in Europe along with Gothic art masterpieces. A visit to Eastern Europe is not complete without checking out Krakow. The small suburb town of Wieliczka is often described as a fairy tale kingdom made of salt. The town features a mysterious labyrinth of 300 kilometres of halls, caves and statues carved in pure salt!
Formerly known as Danzig, this picturesque and cheerful maritime town is an ideal place for gentle strolls and shopping around for amber jewellery. Feast your eyes on its remarkably restored architecture, fabulous fountains, and the largest brick Gothic church in the world. The famous seaside resort of Sopot is nearby. Located in Pomorskie province.
The Teutonic Order was founded around 1190 in Palestine to crusade against the Muslims and pagans. In the 14th century the Teutonic Knights conquered a pagan tribe of Prussians and moved their headquarters from Venice to Malbork on the Nogat river which is now northern Poland. A trace of the their presence in the town is the imposing red brick castle from 1274 on the river bank, which is the largest Gothic fortress in Europe.
This is a beautiful pilgrimage site dear to Pope John Paul II and listed on UNESCO World Heritage. It features a Baroque Bernardine monastery with a Via Dolorosa (the Stations of the Cross) - a long sequence of chapels and Marian stations. Located in Malopolskie province.
This charming town is the best known of the many small Polish towns with charismatic Renaissance cores. A romantic castle ruin, Baroque churches, Three Cross's Hill, winding streets and a ferry across the Vistula River are some of the artistic attractions. Located in Lubelskie province.
Picturesque land of reputedly 3,000 lakes. For sailing fans, fishermen, hikers, cyclists and those who seek tranquillity, the Masuria is the number one holiday destination. Apart from the water sports and wandering around, you may explore a multitude of historical places. There are castles in Reszel, Nidzica and Gizycko, the amazing Baroque church in Swieta Lipka and the Hitler's wartime headquarters in the forests near Ketrzyn.
The modest provincial town of Oswiecim better known under its German name “Auschwitz” was a witness to an enormous evil caused by mankind. During World War II in the largest Nazi extermination camp around 1.5 million people perished. A gruesome exhibition in the former camp makes the visitors rethink the basic ideas of humanity and dignity.
This 13th century town was built under the Order of Teutonic Knights and evolved into the largest mediaeval castle in Europe. Though Malbork suffered damage in the World War II, it is a prime attraction for lovers of chivalry. Located in Pomorskie province.
This picturesque land of more than a thousand lakes is sought by sailors, cowboys, fishermen, and migratory birds. Try sailing the lakes or canals, enjoy the bucolic countryside, and discover forgotten mansions and pilgrimage churches. The deep forest at Ketrzyn hides the Wolf's Lair - the fortress from where Hitler oversaw the attack on the Soviet Union. Located in Warminsko-Mazurskie province.
The highest mountain range between the Alps and the Caucasus. Rocky peaks covered with all-year snow, sharp ridges, picturesque ponds, waterfalls and valleys make this place supposedly the most spectacular in Poland. About 250 km of trails and a wide range of slopes would satisfy the most demanding hikers and skiers. A stay in Zakopane town at the foot of the mountains is recommended to those who love admiring beautiful landscapes and original folk culture.
Spectacular, rocky and steep, Poland's prime highland playground is a paradise for hikers and skiers of all abilities. Enjoy relaxing rambles in sub-Alpine meadows, or hair-raising mountain ridge walks for the more avid hikers. Visit the traditional town of Zakopane and tantalize your taste buds with delicious highlander cuisine. The Tatras is the highest mountain range between the Alps and the Caucasus.
The capital of Poland. Rebuilt after World War II practically from scratch. Warsaw's vibrant business downtown takes pride in many skyscrapers and ambitious plans to build more. The catchy skyline is still dominated by the enormous Palace of Culture and Science – a Stalin's donation. Warsaw is a big world with an east European flavour. Do not miss the beautiful Old Town, the Royal Route, the Chopin museum, several magnificent palaces and the former Jewish ghetto.
The capital city had to be rebuilt from scratch after World War II. Although much of the city conforms to the stereotype of Eastern European greyness, the reconstructed Baroque palaces, churches and buildings of the historic centre, the lively street markets, sidewalk cafes, fine restaurants and the bright shop fronts of new Poland are entertaining. Warsaw is a strong a symbol of Poland's determination to rebuild in the aftermath of World War II.Wroclaw (Breslau)
The capital of Silesia (Slask) has a very large Old Town, built on seven islands with an impressive array of Gothic cathedrals and many more sights. Wroclaw has a complex history: as a genuinely German town it surrendered to the Soviets later than Berlin. After the war the German population was replaced by Poles from Lwó?w city, which became in turn a territory of the Soviet Union. Located in Dolnoslaskie province.
Poland was once home to one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in Europe, a presence that was all but snuffed out by the Nazis during World War II. The most notorious concentration camp of them all, Auschwitz-Birkenau, offers the most profound of insights into the nature of human evil, and demands to be visited. It displays an awesome museum and the extreme, numb space of Birkenau. Those who come here will be changed by the experience. Located in Malopolskie province.
Slowinski National Park
This park features an exotic natural attraction – shifting sand dunes of 44 metres tall at the banks of Lake Lebsko. The desert-like landscape used to be a training ground for Rommel's Afrika Korps. Today it is an important biosphere reserve and haven for rare bird species and nature lovers. Swim in the lake or sunbathe on the soft sand. An open-air folk museum is another nearby attraction. Located in Pomorskie province.
UNESCO listed the mediaeval town of Torun as a World Heritage site. Visit the Teutonic castle and the leaning tower (like the one in Pisa, Italy). Torun is a well-known university town and boasts numerous cellar pubs and delicious gingerbread. There is also an interesting museum inspired by Nicolas Copernicus - the founder of the heliocentric theory (the Earth rotates around the Sun), who was born here. Located in Kujawsko-Pomorskie province.
The capital of Lower Silesia (Dolny Slask) has a huge Old Town built on several islands connected by over 100 bridges. Apart from its unique location, Wroclaw amazes with a plenitude of Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture. An extremely complicated history, combining cultural influences of Germany, Bohemia, Austria and Poland, left its mark on Wroclaw's atmosphere. After World War II the German population was expelled and replaced by Poles from Lwow (L'viv) that remained within the borders of the Soviet Union.
This remote 16th century town is another UNESCO Heritage Site, unscathed by wars and very much preserved. See Zamoyski Palace, Zamoyski Academy, and beautiful tenement houses. Located in Lubelskie province.