If you’re visiting central Europe you’ll need a handy Poland travel guide. Luckily we’ve prepared the complete guide including where to stay, the best Polish food to try and the best things to do in Poland.
Poland is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations in Central Europe for a quick getaway, with many escaping to Krakow or Gdansk. There are many attractions, great museums and plenty to see. It’s also pretty big. Fortunately, our Poland travel guide covers every angle!
Travelling in Poland
Many first-time visitors to Poland often expect a very different place from what greets them.
The history is long and complex. However, Poland as it exists today is a perfect destination for European travellers. Cheaper than France or Italy, and less explored than Greece or Spain. Poland boasts four seasons and a wide range of activities.
Poland stretches from the Tatra Mountain range in the south—the highest portion of the Polish Carpathian mountains—up to the Baltic sea. It also boasts no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 3 Michelin-starred restaurants, and hundreds more Michelin recommended venues. Making a trip, memorable for visitors of any age.
A brief guide to the history of Poland
Legend has it that Poland was founded when three brothers: Russ, Czech, and Lech made their way across Europe. Russ, the oldest of the brothers, discovered Russia. Czech founded Czechia, and of course, Lech, the final brother, discovered Poland. Although, not before he had come across a white eagle spreading its mighty wings against the setting, red sun. Giving the country its famous crest and red and white flag. Nothing at all to do with the fact that red and white are the most commonly used colours on flags the world over!
It’s a nice story. In reality, the area was settled by tribes, of which, the Polania emerged as the strongest. They created settlements which Czech kings ruled over in the early years, but in the 10th century Mieszko 1st, became the first Polish-born High Duke of Poland. His son Boleslaw 1st (the brave), became the first king of Poland in 1025.
In the 14th century, King Casimer the Great (Kazimierz Wielki) began an ambitious building project and the cities we know today began to take shape.
The most prosperous period of Polish history started with King Władysław II Jagiełło in the late-14th century. The Lithuanian-born ruler united the two countries and started the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. This mighty empire encompassed the land of what is now, Poland, Moldova, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus and parts of Russia. It stretched 1 million kilometres across Europe! The capital city was Kraków.
Partitions of Poland
The Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth broke down as the area began to be invaded by the Ottomans, the Swedes, the Russians, the Prussians, the Austro-Hungarians, and just about anyone else. 1772 saw the first of three partitions to curtail some of the land, followed by a 2nd partition. Despite Europe’s 1st constitution in 1791 to try to settle political disagreements, the third partition in 1795, saw all of the land occupied by neighbouring territories. Poland disappeared from the maps of Europe for 123 years.
World War ii in Poland
The end of World War I in 1918 saw the collapse of the neighbouring empires and Poland reclaimed its territories and established independence. The freedom was short-lived. In what is undoubtedly one of the most torrid of European histories, Poland was then invaded by the Nazis and the Soviet Union combined. 1939 started the darkest period of Polish history.
Communism in Poland
After WWII ended and the German occupation with it, the Soviets- by that point, conveniently positioned on the Allied side of the war, liberated the country in January 1945. This ushered in the age of Polish communism. Although an independent state, the country was heavily occupied by Soviet troops until June 1989.
The efforts of Lech Wałensa and Pope John Paul II, among others, contributed to the downfall of Polish Communism, and in 1989, an independent nation (or at least a semi-independent nation) was declared. All in all, that means there is plenty to see and do in this historic part of the world.
Where to stay in Poland
Any Poland travel guide needs tips on where to stay. Number one on the list of many first-time visitors to Poland is a trip to its Royal city and former capital, Krakow. With its beautiful medieval architecture, the entire city was featured on UNESCO’s original 12-point list of protected places back in 1978.
Add to that, the connecting historic city of Kazimierz- the former Krakow Jewish quarter, with its enchanting cobbled streets and nearby filming locations for Schindler’s list across the Vistula river. There are also leading art and museums, including a painting by Leonardo DaVinci.
All in all, you start to see why Krakow comes so highly recommended—and we haven’t even got to two of its two most popular attractions. The nearby Wieliczka Salt Mines, as well as the notorious former WWII concentration camp, Auschwitz Birkenau. Both of which also features on UNESCO’s list and are each a day trip from Krakow Old Town.
Warsaw is the capital and largest city. It’s a metropolis comprised of old and new towns, that is home to around 3 million people. Almost completely destroyed by Germany during World War ii, Warsaw has earned the nickname the Phoenix city on account of the fact that it has risen from the flames.
Warsaw centre is a UNESCO world heritage site that was rebuilt, almost brick-for-brick how it used to be before the war. Some argue that it’s even better now than it was before the war. Particular highlights include the Warsaw uprising museum, the national museum of art, and beautiful parks like the Łazienki Royal gardens.
Alternatively, travellers to Poland can head north to Gdansk. Gdansk is a former fishing port on the Baltic sea. With its colourful tenement houses, Gdansk provides the perfect setting for a weekend European city break. Nearby, however, there is also the Baltic coast with its sandy beaches and history of Amber production.
Read more things to do in Gdansk
A guide to accommodation in Poland
Next for our Poland travel guide, is knowing where to stay. For the most part, the majority of people who visit either choose to stay in hotels or Airbnb apartments. The Old Towns of most of the major cities are filled with apartments; bookable either through booking sites or through private owners.
For luxury hotels, all the usual brands can be found in the major cities. Sheraton, Radisson, and Holiday Inns can be found in various locations.
Poland is also great for spa weekends. Particularly in the areas of natural beauty. Mountainous towns like Zakopane are filled with luxury spa hotels where you can have a relaxing massage after a long day hiking in the mountains.
For those who want a really luxurious Poland city break, you can opt to stay in Warsaw’s InterContinental Warszawa (an IHG Hotel), Krakow’s Bonerowski Palace- set in a 13th-century mansion, and many more 5-star options.
Best places to visit in Poland
Our Poland travel guide wouldn’t be complete without a list of the best places to visit. After all, this is a huge country with plenty to discover. From beaches to castles, and mountains to medieval cities.
Close to Gdansk lies Malbork Castle, the largest castle in the world. Malbork has been occupied by various rulers, including the Teutonic Knights. This enormous, red brick structure is a popular day trip for visitors coming from Gdansk or Torun and is another of Poland’s 17 UNESCO heritage sites.
Visitors coming from Germany should stop off at Wrocław (pronounced ‘vrotswav’). A beautiful, and still fairly undiscovered, city in southwest Poland. Wrocław is famous for its university, fabulous market square, and panoramic art-piece. As well as its collection of gnomes. Known as the German city of Breslau up until World War ii, Wrocław is the largest city in the Silesian area of Poland and is undoubtedly one of its best-kept secrets.
Torun—a quaint, medieval city in the North is still relatively unknown to tourists outside of Poland. The city is the proud birthplace of Nicholas Copernicus, the 15th-century mathematician who discovered planetary motion around the Sun. His statue lies in the centre of Torun market square.
Masurian Lake District
Poland also has its fair share of natural beauty. A few hours east of Torun brings you to the beautiful Masurian lake district. Which contains more than 2000 lakes.
Maybe it’s the mountain ranges you prefer? There are several mountainous regions. None are more famous than Zakopane in the Tatra mountains. Hiking here is perfect, but if you’re planning to visit in mid-summer, don’t forget your water bottle!
For a little luxury, many visitors to Zakopane book spa hotels that offer pamper packages, complete with relaxing massages and thermal pools.
Things to do in Poland
It might come as a surprise to the bachelor parties and stag dos that arrive each summer, but there is more to do in Poland than drink cheap beer!
Poland is filled with beautiful cities and historic sights. As already mentioned, there are 17 UNESCO world heritage sites to tick off the list. Don’t worry our Poland travel guide has you covered with things to do!
Visit museums in Poland
Being the starting point for the Second World War, Poland also has its share of concentration camps and important memorials. Auschwitz Birkenau is among the most widely known, as well as being the most visited attraction in the country.
You can also take in unique attractions, like the Wieliczka Salt Mine, located just outside of Krakow. We already discussed Malbork castle, but you can also find Wawel Castle in Krakow. As well as the Eagle’s nest castles—a chain of 14th-century fortresses, built to protect regions in the south, centuries ago.
Outdoor activities in Poland
Other than in Masuria, Poland’s lakes are dotted all around the country. Visitors can swim, take up water sports or just soak up the sun in the summer months.
Summer is great for hiking, with several mountainous regions and national parks offering perfect scenic trails. The country is also home to various wildlife, including eagles, bears, and Europe’s last bison herd, which roams the Białowieski National Park.
The Winter months are perfect for skiing. Ski resorts here, have just as much to offer as in Austria or the Swiss Alps, only at a fraction of the price.
Take a Poland guided tour
Of course, our number one tip for things to do in Poland is to join a free walking tour. Cities like Krakow and Gdansk are filled with the most incredible architecture and history. Unfortunately, without a guide, much of this can be lost on even the most intrepid traveller.
The City Walks Krakow free walking tours cover Krakow Old Town and Jewish Quarter. You can book for free through the City Walks Krakow website. If you’re visiting other cities, there are several other Poland guided tours you can take.
Polish food to try on your trip
There’s much more to Polish cuisine than kiełbasa sausages. Here are a few dishes to try on your trip.
There is one Polish dish that is more well known than any other Polish food, that is Pierogi!
The famous pierogi dumplings are loved by many people in many parts of the world. And they come in many varieties. Usually boiled or fried (and occasionally even baked), Pierogi come stuffed with pork, cheese and potato, cabbage, mushrooms, and even berries for dessert pierogi in the summer months.
Polish milk bars
A good tip for eating Polish cuisine is to find the local bar mleczny (milk bar). These relics of communism are famous for being among the cheapest restaurants to dine in.
Poles also love their soups. Other than vodka, very little warms the bones in winter quite like a hearty bowl of hot Polish soup. There are two in particular that you really must try.
Poland’s most famous soup is a red-coloured beetroot soup that is popular in many of the surrounding countries as well. It is popular all year round but can be found in particular around Christmas.
A sour-rye soup made using wheat, potatoes, chunks of sausage, and sometimes even a hard-boiled egg. A hearty soup that is popular with both locals and tourists. Sometimes served in a bowl made of bread, it is particularly popular in the run-up to Easter and is commonly served on Easter Sunday.
Bigos (Hunter’s stew)
A cabbage stew with various meats, often served inside a bread bowl. It gets its English name from when the Polish Kings would go on hunting trips and take the dish along with them to eat while in the forest.
English translations don’t always do the Polish food justice. That’s certainly the case for Gołąbki, which translates literally to ‘little pigeons’. It consists of two stuffed cabbage parcels filled with pork and rice and served with tomato sauce and potatoes. Sometimes the parcels are served inside a circle of mashed potato, leaving the dish looking like two pigeons sitting in a nest.
Poland’s delicious, fist-sized doughnuts are one of the most popular sweet treats. Pączki are usually displayed in the windows of bakeries in every city. The traditional flavour is rose jam, but you can find them with various sweet fillings.
Getting around Poland
Poland is a big country and how you get around depends on how much time you have and how far you want to go. By plane, train, bus or car rental, you have plenty of options for Getting around Poland.
If you want to keep to luxury travel, then by far the easiest way to see different areas of Poland is to fly. Polish national airline Lot, offers domestic flights between major Polish cities, including Krakow, Gdansk and Warsaw. This is handy, particularly if you’re visiting Gdansk- 500km from Krakow and don’t have a lot of time.
Between the major cities in Poland, there are high-speed Pendolino trains operating. However, if you’re going to smaller places, expect slower-moving trains. Polish train ticket prices, like everything else in Poland, are pretty reasonable compared to much of Europe.
Buses are a cost-effective and very popular way of getting around Poland. For shorter distances, each city has its own operating companies. However, for longer distances, German coach company FlixBus operates routes between major cities throughout Poland. It’s a cheap option for students backpacking Poland on a budget.
When it comes to navigating your way around Polish cities, a helpful mobile app for getting around places like Krakow or Warsaw is ‘Jakdojade’. This free travel app is a lifesaver when trying to navigate your way onto Poland’s local tram and bus services. The app offers up to date info on journeys, and you can even buy tickets directly through the app.
Other than regular local taxis, Uber, Bolt and FreeNow ride-sharing apps, all operate within the major Polish cities of Krakow, Warsaw, Poznan, Gdansk and some others. If you’re only going a short distance, you can also get around on the electric scooters from various companies that line the streets of many Polish cities.
When to visit Poland
Contrary to what many tourists think, Poland is not cold all year round. In fact, in the summer, it can get pretty warm indeed. It can, however, also get very cold in winter. Which leads many people to wonder when the best time to visit Poland is?
The answer here is—that there is no obvious answer. All of the seasons have their positives and negatives, so let’s break them down.
Spring in Poland
Spring is a mild and generally good time to visit. Temperatures are warm but not hot. It can get a little wet at times, but generally speaking, Spring is a popular time for weekend breaks to Poland. Easter also falls in Spring, which is one of the most important events in the Polish calendar.
Summer in Poland
It does get hot in Poland. Temperatures in July and August range between 25 & 30 degrees celsius. Tourists flock to the beaches, lakes and mountain ranges for hiking. Poland’s natural scenery comes into its own in summer.
As with most of Europe, the downside with Poland in summer is it is the busiest, and therefore, most expensive, time to visit. The plus here is that Poland is at least cheaper than most European countries, even at the height of summer. Major tourist cities like Gdansk, and Krakow, can also get very crowded in summer. As can Zakopane in the Tatra mountains.
Autumn in Poland
Although a little chillier than in summer, particularly at night, Autumn in Poland is a very popular time to visit. The weather is warm enough to not cause concern and the colours make Poland a beautiful place to be. All Saints Day and Polish Independence day also fall in November.
Winter In Poland
Poland can get very cold, with January and February very rarely getting above freezing. However, Poles are experts at keeping warm through the winter months. Hearty Polish food, vodka and hot wine are all tailor-made for winter in Poland. If that’s not enough, then Christmas is a pretty big deal, and most of the major cities have their own Christmas markets.
You can ski in Poland’s mountains, and snowfall is pretty much guaranteed at some point every winter.
A downside to winter in Poland is that old cars and houses with chimneys sometimes lead to a lot of pollution in some parts. However, on clear days, Poland in the snow is a truly beautiful sight.
Events in Poland
Poland has various events and annual celebrations throughout the year, most of which are dictated by religious holidays. Below you can find some of the most famous.
January in Poland– New Year’s day is a public holiday in Poland, which for most, involves being hungover or going for a nice winter walk. However, it gets pretty cold for the rest of January and most people hunker down inside to drink hot wine and wait for the long nights to pass.
February in Poland
Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday), the Polish equivalent of Mardi Gras, usually falls on the last Thursday before Lent. It’s a popular feast day in which Poles gorge themselves silly on Pązcki doughnuts (mentioned above).
March in Poland
National women’s day is celebrated in Poland (March 8th) by men giving flowers to the women in their lives. Ironically it is more celebrated than National Men’s day (which is on the 10th March), but then there is also International Boy’s day in September, which does get a little more attention.
April in Poland
Easter is a huge celebration in Poland. Poles mark the Easter weekend by painting eggs called Pisanki, as well as visiting family and church. Many tuck into a bowl or two of Żurek soup (mentioned earlier). Easter Monday is also a Polish celebration of sorts. “Wet Monday” or Śmigus-dyngus as it’s known, is an unusual but harmless tradition that involves people having water fights.
May in Poland
May the 1st and the 3rd are both national holidays in Poland (Labor day and Constitution day). Many will take a long weekend and head to visit family or take a trip. Cities can get very busy, with most organizing parades and local events. May 26th is also Mother’s day in Poland.
June in Poland
The main events in Poland in June are Children’s day (June 1st)- a celebration where children are given small gifts, and Corpus Christi (beginning of June)- a religious occasion celebrating the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Corpus Christi is also a National Holiday in Poland.
July in Poland
Summer in Poland is the peak season. It is a lively time when different areas have their own traditions and festivals, making the most of the light, warm evenings.
August in Poland
August 1st in Poland is marked in Warsaw in particular, as the memorial of the Warsaw uprising of 1944. The occasion involves cars all stopping in the road and sounding their horns. The entire city and many other cities come to a complete standstill for a couple of minutes. August also hosts another public holiday, with Polish Army day/ Assumption of Mary, falling in the middle of the month.
September in Poland
September sees the end of Summer and the start of the school year. The 1st is also marked as the day world war ii started, with the invasion of Poland in 1939. It’s also International Boy’s day at the end of the month.
October in Poland
Poles celebrate Halloween in late October, although it’s not the overly-marketed, commercial holiday that it is in places like the US. Halloween in Poland is a more humble affair with carved pumpkins and not much more.
November in Poland
All Saints Day (November 1st) is another Public holiday in Poland, as is November 11th (yes there are a lot of holidays), which is independence day.
December in Poland
Christmas in Poland is a wonderful time and December is dominated by the festivities. St. Nicholas day is celebrated on the 6th. Christmas Eve, although not a public holiday, is when most Poles eat their Christmas dinner, with Christmas day and the 26th, both public holidays. Sylwester, on the 31st Dec then celebrates welcoming in the New Year once again.
Luxury travel tips
Luxury hotels in Poland
Poland’s cheap prices, compared to much of Europe, mean that splashing out on that 5-star hotel or that Michelin-starred restaurant won’t set you back half as much as it might elsewhere. Skiing holidays and spa packages are also available in Poland for a fraction of the price they are in other countries.
The Baltic sea in the North attracts holiday goers in summer. There are large, classy hotels lining the beaches in places like Sopot—close to Gdansk. Here, the Sofitel Grand, Sheraton grand and Marriott hotels, all have views of the sea and private beach sections for bathing.
Luxury shops in Poland
In major cities there are luxury shopping centres where you can find designer clothing stores like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Yves Saint Lauren, Alexander McQueen and Ralph Lauren. Although not noticeably different in price, many of the stores will be marginally cheaper than their counterparts in other neighbouring EU countries.
Luxury travel in Poland
If you want to travel in style, you can also hire luxury cars such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis, as well as more standard vehicle rental options. Most trains and planes also have first-class and business-class sections, and an upgrade isn’t always much more than a standard ticket.
Cities like Warsaw—Poland’s one big city—and Krakow, are also known for their culture. There are regular theatre, ballet and opera performances and tickets usually cost less than in neighbouring countries of the EU.
Language and culture
Poland is a deeply catholic place. Religion dictates most public holidays and most shops are closed on Sundays. This also means that a political message of traditional family values gets pushed to its citizens— whether they like it or not.
Until fairly recently—1989, Poland was under the thumb of Communism. In some places, the communist past is still very visible. On the other hand, Poland’s Old Towns are a pleasant surprise to many, mostly because they were constructed before outside invaders came. Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and the country changed yet again.
As a tourist, visiting for only a few weeks or days, you should find it relatively easy to visit most areas of the country without any cause for concern. Poland is a very safe country.
One issue is the language barrier. Polish is regarded as one of the hardest languages in the world. Fortunately, most Poles, particularly in the major cities, understand this and pride themselves on speaking English. Making it easy on tourists.
Useful Polish Phrases
Many Poles possess excellent English skills. However it’s always nice to try your hand—or your tongue—at a few local phrases.
- Hello/Good day (formal)- Dzień dobry (Jen doh-bri)
- Good-bye – Do widzenia (Doh veet-zen-ya)
- Hi/Bye (informal) – Cześć (Cheshch)
- Yes- Tak (Tahk)
- No – Nie (Nyeh)
- Please – Proszę (Prosheh)
- Cheers! – Na Zdrowie (Naz- dro-via)
- Good evening (formal) – Dobry wieczór (Doh-bri vyeh-choor)
- Good Night- Dobranoc (Doh-brah-noats)
- Good-bye – Do widzenia (Doh-vit-zen-ya)
- Thank you – Dziękuje (Jen-koo-yeh)
- Excuse me/Sorry- Przepraszam (Pshe-prasham)
1 to 10 in Polish
- Jeden (yeden)- One
- Dwa (dva)- Two
- Trzy (tsh) – Three
- Cztery (Shtery) – Four
- Pięć (pyench)- Five
- Sześć (sheshch)- Six
- Siedem (shyedem) – Seven
- Osiem (oshyem)- Eight
- Dziewięć (dyje-viench)- Nine
- Dziesięć (dyeshyench)- Ten
Currency in Poland
Although part of the EU, the currency in Poland is not the Euro. Rather it is the Polish złoty (pronounced zwote). The exchange rate from Euros is usually around 1 euro to every 4.5pln. Most establishments accept card payments. Some, more remote places might only accept cash.
Power plugs in Poland
Poland uses the same 2 pin power outlets as the majority of the EU. Types C and E. Plug type C has two round pins and plug type E has two round pins and a hole for the socket’s male earthing pin. Poland operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz.
UTC +1 (Warsaw) CET Central European Time
Tipping in Poland
Tipping is not compulsory or necessarily expected. However, as a rule of thumb, if tipping in a bar or restaurant, adding around 10% of the bill is always a good guideline.
The vast majority of restaurants, hotels and bars in Poland in the major towns and cities have free WiFi. Mostly with a password for customers to access. It is also available in many public areas as well. Most accommodation will come with wifi access, however more rustic accommodation in more rural areas will be unlikely to offer WiFi.
So there you have it. The complete Poland travel guide. Everything you need for a fantastic stay in Poland.