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Equal parts quaint, grand, and charming, landlocked Austria is a gorgeous addition to any Central European itinerary. Each of its nine federal states offers distinct scenery, tradition, and attractions, making a thorough exploration quite desirable. Austria is known for its wedding-cake castles and cathedrals, its extraordinary artistic heritage, and its heartbreakingly lovely landscapes. Divine inspiration is on display at every turn—between the humbling breadth of human magnificence on display in the museums and theaters and the inimicable majesty of nature all around, one can’t help but feel a tug at the spirit.
For the uninitiated, Polish food is a delicious surprise! Savory pierogi, mouth-watering preparations of beets, sausage, and cabbage, and hearty hunter’s stews are all quintessential dishes. You’ll find toothsome grub in the many local pubs and small restaurants, but, should you be so lucky, don’t turn down the chance to try some home cooking. You won’t be disappointed! It’s not a well-known fact, but Poland also serves up some of the best pilsners in Europe. Much of the continent’s beer-and-alcohol culture originated here, so you can rest assured that the tipples will be top notch. And yes, the vodka is really that good.
Both sophisticated cities and stretches of rambling, picturesque countryside exist in Poland, as well as some truly stunning shoreline along the country’s long Baltic coastline. Big metros like Krakow and Warsaw offer historic city centers, a bustling pace of life, and plenty of opportunities to chat, laugh, and make friends with whatever degree of Polish you’ve mastered. Fantastic old architecture and great museums are just about everywhere. The natural beauty of less-developed areas, for their own part, is breathtaking. Go birdwatching, indulge in horseback explorations of pastoral trails to nowhere, and let your senses run wild.
Top Poland Attractions
The Old World meets the new and modern in the Polish capital. Warsaw is a real stunner, combining the best of Eastern and Western Europe with rich, engrossing history. The architecture alone is well-worth a visit, both to gawk at its beauty and marvel at how seamlessly new construction was matched to the old buildings when reconstructing after World War II. Walking tours of old Warsaw are plentiful and rewarding, and often introduce out-of-towners to tucked-away galleries and cafes that they might otherwise have overlooked! Some of the most popular tours follow the path of Chopin, the classical composer who is one of the city’s most beloved sons. Check out the Copernicus Science Center, one of the largest and most advanced institutions of its kind in Europe. Clubs in the city center are chic and pulsing with great music and energetic patrons, a great way to spend the evening and interact with locals!
Huge, beautiful Krakow is Poland’s second-largest city, and a significant tourist destination. The city was once the royal capital, and thusly is jam-packed with history and majesty. A must-see stop is Europe’s largest medieval market, Rynek Glowny, where the Polish kings once sat in state to reap the adoration of the masses. Today, museums, eateries, and historic homes are open to the public. The Royal Way cuts right through the center square, so it’s a logical stop if you are making the trek from St. Florian’s Gate to Wawal Castle. Twenty-six shafts lead underground to the Wieliczka salt mines, which are seven hundred years old and encompass at least nine levels and thousands of chambers. Spend hours exploring subterranean chapels carved of salt and placid, yet mysterious underground lakes on a guided tour. Catch a romantic ride in a dorozka horse-drawn carriage, take a leisurely cruise down Vistula River, or take the informative and emotional tour at Schindler’s Factory Museum for an inside look at life in Krakow under Nazi occupation during World War II.
Every turn of the seasons brings a new delight to Gdansk. From soaking up the summer sun on Sopok beach to brisk autumn bike rides along the coast to cozy winter nights in front of a roaring fire and then luxuriating in a balmy spring sunset at the beer gardens, this city is perfect at any point on the calendar. Astounding architecture contributes to Gdansk’s reputation as the most beautiful city on the Baltic coast! The towering statue of Neptune, the town’s patron, welcomes you to the Long Market of the old city. The historic hall is a popular site for tourists, as are the Green and Golden Gates. Gdansk is known as the Amber Capital of the World, owing to its unmatched production of this semi-precious stone. Baltic amber is said to possess a number of healing properties in addition to having a beautiful appearance, and jewelry of all types is sold in the local markets. To experience the city like a local, catch a bite to eat at one of the milk bars. The decor is likely to be dated and the exterior nothing to look at, but the food is all but guaranteed to be authentic and delicious.
Lublin has long been somewhat of a crossroads, historic home to a massive Jewish population and the closest big city to Poland’s Eastern European neighbors. World War II was especially brutal on the city, and reconstruction efforts continue to this day. Six universities are located here, appropriate for the fact that Lublin has long been regarded as the academic heart of Poland. The neo-gothic Castle of Lublin is a highlight of any visit to the city. Not only is the stark white castle an architectural marvel, but 13th century Byzantine wall hangings displayed inside are worth the price of admission all by themselves. The 17th century St. Joseph Church and monastery is another highlight. In the center of the old city, find Krakow Gate. The chock there has been keeping time faithfully since the 16th century, and a trumpeter calls the hour at noon each day. Scores of festivals and celebrations throughout the year celebrate history, heritage, and arts!
Bustling, busy Lodz is the industrial capital of Poland. While it is a huge city, its attractions are not especially “touristy.” Consequently, Lodz is a great place to make like a local and really get a feel for the culture and lifestyle.Rickshaw rides down Piotrkowska Street, the largest commercial street in Europe, are great for shopping or sightseeing, as well as getting from place to place on an avenue jammed with restaurants, clubs, and pubs! Catch a concert in the Old Market Square, or stroll the Walk of Fame within “the Polish Hollywood.” Lodz is also the greenest city in the country, and riddled with parks and botanical gardens blooming with beauty. Prominent among these are the Palm House, Lodz Hills Landscape Park, and Old City Park. The creative industry of the city is readily apparent in the amount of museums, galleries, and theaters. You’ll get your fill of the arts here for sure.
Visiting the largest Nazi death camp complex is a sobering experience, but one that most visitors conclude with an overwhelming feeling of hope. Auschwitz was preserved for history with the thought that future generations could learn a powerful lesson from being reminded of man’s inhumanity to man, and, accordingly, the exhibits strike a powerful balance between the provocative and the respectful. After walking beneath the iconic, unnerving motto inscribed over the gates (arbeit macht frei, or “work makes [you] free”), you can either tour the camp on your own or with the assistance of a guide. You’ll see massive piles of personal belongings confiscated from inmates as they were booked into the camp, as well as two tons of human hair shorn from prisoners (originally intended for use in the German textile industry). There’s a small museum featuring a short film of footage shot the day the camp was liberated in 1945. Nearby is Birkenau, another massive concentration camp. Here, visitors can view the gas chambers where thousands of people unceremoniously lost their lives during some of the worst wartime atrocities in human history.
|Primary Airports: Warsaw Frederic Chopin International Airport (WAW), Krakow Jana Pawla II International Airport (KRK), Katowice International Airport (KTW), Gdansk Lech Walesa International Airport (GDN)|
|Currency: Zloty (PLN)|
|Population: 38,415,000 (2012 est.)|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (Euro)|
|Time Zone: UTC +1|