Backpacking is a great way for people to see the world on a budget. Rather than jet setting from country to country in five-star accommodation, backpackers experience travel in a more grounded way.
This form of low-cost and independent travel means you won’t splash the cash. You’ll take a more conservative approach to visiting another country, trying to save money where you can.
Those who backpack through Europe commonly make a stop in Poland and fall in love with this magical country. With budget-friendly accommodation, cheap flights in and out, enticing food and drink, fascinating history, and reliable public transport, here’s why Poland is the best place for backpackers to visit.
Polish Food and drink
If you’re looking to keep your food and drink bills low while backpacking Poland, then it’s essential you visit Polish milk bars. These are former government-subsidized cafes that serve traditional Polish food at very reasonable prices.
From pierogi and Hunter’s stew to potato pancakes and cabbage rolls, Poland’s dishes are honest food made for hungry mouths. The biggest challenge is knowing when to stop! It’s comfort food made with heart, making it the perfect cuisine to warm you up on a freezing winter’s day.
To get a taste of Polish cuisine and vodka, check out our Krakow food tour where you visit two of the best restaurants in Krakow, offering tasty Polish food and a brief history of Polish vodka and the country’s rich culture.
No Poland itinerary would be complete on your backpacking vacation without sampling some Polish street food to really get a taste of the country. In Poland, the most popular street foods are zapiekanka (a Polish version of pizza), rurki (like a sweet cannoli), and obwarzanek Krakowski—which is similar to a bagel. In fact it’s thought that obwarzanki might have even been the inspiration for bagels (which most likely originated in the Krakow Jewish Quarter).
As for drinks, vodka is a must for those who drink alcohol. It comes in all kinds of flavours and varieties. You will find plenty of beer on tap too as Polish lager is served across the country. During the festive period, mulled wine is drunk frequently. You should also check out Wisniowka, Polish cherry liquor. For non-alcohol drinkers, Poland’s traditional drink of kompot is made from fresh or dried fruit with added sugar and spices.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Poland is home to some of the finest natural and architecturally significant sites in the world. As things stand there are 17 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites across Poland.
On the list are some notable and world-famous sites such as Auschwitz concentration camp, and the Historic Centres of Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk. However, a backpacking trip through Poland is one of discovery and there are many more jewels in the crown.
For example, the Białowieża Forest is a lush green haven that is home to the largest free-roaming population of European bison. A year-round destination, visitors to Białowieża Forest need little more than a sturdy pair of boots, some snacks and water, and mosquito repellant for the summer.
Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow must be seen, including the breathtaking chapel used for weddings and concerts. Alternatively, you may choose to visit Malbork castle—the largest castle in the world! This impressive landmark was built by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century.
If basking in the glory of medieval architecture is high on your list for your Polish adventure, be sure to visit the Medieval town of Toruń. With its beautiful town square, Torún is one of the less visited cities in Poland. This historic city was the birthplace of famed mathematician Copernicus. While its Slavic trading streets are well preserved from its early history.
Anyone visiting Poland for the first time should make the journey to Auschwitz concentration camp. Here you can discover the dark history that unfolded here during World War ii. As uncomfortable as it may be, a trip to the former Nazi death camp can really put life into perspective, teach us about the horrors of the past, and ensure we don’t repeat them.
Although a harrowing trip, you can enter this sorrowful place as an independent traveller. However, if you visit as part of a guided group, you will learn more from your host. Visiting Auschwitz is a must for Polish backpacking adventures to truly put into context the grave circumstances of the Holocaust.
The great thing about visiting Poland is that depending on the time of year, your experience will differ. From beautiful summers basking in the sun, to the winters that paint everything white and usher in Christmas markets, skiing, and comfort food.
For those reasons alone, winter is an essential time to visit Poland, with the season lasting from November until February. Backpackers can get lost among stalls in the bustling cities of Warsaw, Gdańsk, and Krakow or brave the cold and venture into the wilderness for some of the most breathtaking photography opportunities.
From looking after your body, and making sure your travel insurance is up-to-date, to ensuring your equipment is protected against the elements, there’s plenty to consider. Winter photography in Poland can have some amazing results but plenty of fails too. It’s important to ensure that not only do you bring warm weather clothing, but also your camera for the best possible shooting conditions.
Poland is also filled with great National parks and amazing scenery. For a treat, consider hopping onto the slopes. In Zakopane in the Tatra mountains, or Szczyrk, closer to the Czech border, you can stay for as little as $25 per night in a ski resort. Ski passes begin at $27 per day, but are discounted for buying in larger chunks, and can be further reduced if skiing in the off-peak season.
Vibrant city life
Many backpackers explore nature spots, because they take up plenty of time and are relatively cheap. But, Polish cities offer affordable prices for most activities. Each packs plenty to see and do, whether you love history, food and drink, partying, or anything in between.
Warsaw, the capital city, is a metropolitan starting point and the closest thing Poland has to big city life. However, it also boasts a historic Old Town, that has been carefully rebuilt following heavy shelling in World War Two. Buildings to look out for if you visit Warsaw include Sigismund’s Column, St, John’s Arch Cathedral, and the Warsaw Royal Castle. Be sure to also check out the Warsaw uprising museum which tells you about one of the most significant events in Polish history during the Second world war.
Krakow, on the other hand, was preserved and this Renaissance city has architecture to rival the likes of Prague, Paris, and Budapest. If you’re longing for the buzz of a market, then the historic cloth hall in Krakow market square operates year round. There are many hostels available at rates as little as $5/$5 per night—sometimes with a free breakfast included. Even private rooms in some backpackers’ hostels won’t see you back much. You can even choose to stay at party hostels full of other party-going backpackers.
Speaking of partying, Polish major cities boast plenty of nightlife. However, if you’re looking to party the night away, Wroclaw is the place to go. This student city is set on a collection of islands, similar to Amsterdam or Venice, and enjoys a thriving student population ensuring fun at all times.
Wild landscapes perfect for hiking
On top of an incredible array of historic areas and big cities, Europe has some of the best hiking on the planet. Poland is no exception and those looking get off the beaten path will not be disappointed by the diverse landscape. With mountains, hills, lakes, and forests, the type of hiking trip you take is up to you.
A notable Polish hiking destination is the High Tatras mountain range that borders Slovakia. The Słowiński National Park, on the Baltic Coast, with over 20 miles of coastline to enjoy, is also definitely worth visiting. As is the lake district of Mazury. Of course, the summer is the best time for hiking in Poland as the winters are harsh and conditions can be tough.
Some of the most scenic Polish hiking trails include:
- Three Crowns at the Pieniny: A rugged route overlooking the Dunajec gorge among one of Poland’s favourite mountain ranges
- Giewont at the Tatras: A gentle but reasonably long trek lasting 5-6 hours from Kasprowy Wierch
- Orla Perc at the Tatras: For adventurous and experienced hikers this demanding route is approximately 6-7 hours and features some stunning views across the Tatras mountain range.
Visiting Poland is much cheaper than western Europe
To paraphrase many backpackers, Poland is ‘dirt-cheap’ in comparison to other European Union countries. When it comes to budget travel, you can have a great holiday at a fraction of the price by visiting central Europe, than western Europe —with all the same benefits. And yes Poland is in central Europe, not Eastern Europe!
The price of a beer in Poland, even in major cities like Krakow and Warsaw, costs around 12-15zl (€2.50 – €3.20). Getting around Poland, either by train travel or flixbus, is also very affordable. As is public transport on trams (as well as the metro if you’re visiting Warsaw). In Poland, buses are also a popular form of transport.
Poland is safe for solo travellers
Many tourists ask our walking tour guides the same questions each day. ‘Do people speak English in Poland?’, ‘can I pay by card in Poland?’. However, the most common question asked by tourists has to be, ‘Is Poland safe?’. The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’. Poland is just as safe, if not safer, than visiting any other country in the European Union. Crime rates in major cities are low compared with countries of comparative populations. You’ll also find, most people, particularly in the cities, are friendly and approachable. Also, many Poles speak excellent English if you get stuck.
Take free walking tours to learn Poland’s incredible history
Most first-time visitors to Poland, know very little about the country before arriving. For many people, their knowledge of Poland ends with the country’s involvement in World War II. Most don’t know that Poland was once one of the big power-houses of Europe in the 16th century. Or that Krakow was once the capital of a vast empire that stretched 1 million kilometres across Europe. There is far more to Poland than just pierogi dumplings and vodka. It is recommended to join free guided tours in whichever city you visit.
It is better to take a free walking tour, rather than other types of tour because the central areas of all main cities in Poland are pedestrianized which rules out bus tours or other vehicles. Another reason a walking tour is best is most of the main historical buildings do not allow visitor access with bikes, segways, or scooters. This includes castles (including Wawel castle in Krakow and the Royal Castle in Warsaw). As well as universities, and churches (like St. Mary’s basilica in Krakow or the Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption in Gdansk).
Poland is a wonderful country, filled with diverse experiences, landscapes, and architecture that make it a must-visit place. From its collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites to its vibrant cities and fun ski resorts, there is never a dull moment. Throw into the mix Poland’s budget-friendly accommodation, low-cost food, and cheap entrance tickets for major attractions, and it’s easy to see why Poland is so popular with budget travellers around the world.