- World War II History
We’ll begin with the easy one. When many people think of Poland, they think of this nation’s (mostly sad) history in WWII.
The most obvious is the haunting and upsetting Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp, located about an hour outside of Krakow. It’s required to pre-book a tour around the camp. The guide provides great perspective on what could otherwise be a completely surreal experience. No matter how much you’ve read about what happened at Aushwitz throughout the atrocities of this war, being there’s a sobering and emotional experience.
Walking around Krakow, you can explore the former Jewish ghetto and Plaszow concentration camp. These are well known as the true location of many of the events depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. The relatively new museum in Schindler’s former factory is one of the best WWII museum’s we have ever visited (and we have been to a lot), and must be a must-see for anyone visiting Krakow.
A little more off the beaten path is Westerplatte, just outside the northern city of Gdansk.
“Beauty” and”Poland” are not two words most people put in the exact same sentence, but that’s a mistake. Despite considerable destruction during WWII, some older cities lived, and others have been rebuilt in much the same way as they existed before the war.
Most travelers think of just Krakow. Granted, the old city of Krakow is as amazing as it’s overrun with tourists. The old town of Warsaw is very underrated. While most (or all) of it had to be rebuilt after the war, it is still a beautiful and interesting place to explore, filled with restaurants, pubs, churches, and monuments.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the northern port city of Gdansk, which was probably our favorite city to explore in the entire country.
To get off the beaten path a bit, try Wroclaw. This town is know as the”Venice of Poland” because of the many canals through the city centre. Spend your time searching for the 300 gnomes scattered through the city.
Or Escape the centre of Krakow to check out the neighbourhood of Nowa Huta, a planned community given as a”gift” from the USSR to Poland and intended to be a communist utopia.
- Hiking in the Tatra Mountains
Poland has amazing hiking. Who knew? An (optimistic) two hour bus ride south of Krakow brings you to Zakopane, and alpine city that would not be out of place in Austria or Switzerland, but happens to be in the Polish Tatra Mountains. The opinions from popular Mt Giewont are magnificent if you can take care of the crowds coming up the cable car on busy evenings.
- Oh yeah, and the Food
Pierogies. What more do you require? Done! You need something sweet? No problem. For the true connoisseur, get to Krakow for the yearly Pierogi Festival each August.
Should you ever get tired of meat/potato/cheese/fruit stuffed dumplings, we found great pizza (CZIKAGO in Zakopane), amazing kebabs (Sapko Kebab in Warsaw), as well as decent sushi (Sushi Corner in Wroclaw), although the latter took a bit of searching on our part.
Make sure you wash all that great food down with a few local vodka!
- And lastly, the Beaches!
Yes, you read that right. Beaches. In Poland. Granted, the Baltic Sea can be a little nippy, but these Poles are hardy men and women. The shore at Sopot, near Gdansk, was beautiful and busy.