With borders on the Baltic Sea in the north and the Tatra Mountains in the south, Poland pleasantly surprises with its historic sites, the impressive architecture of its castles and cathedrals, the culture and vibrant energy of its cities, and the warmth and hospitality of its people. The country's medieval capital - Krakow, rivals Prague for architectural magnificence; the modern capital Warsaw is a truly 21st-century city; and Wroclaw was chosen the 2016 European Capital of Culture.
Away from the large cities, much of the countryside feels unchanged and unspoiled. While large parts of the country are flat, the Tatra Mountains along the southern border have well-marked hiking paths leading through dense forests, along wide rivers, and through scenic mountain passes. Much of northeastern Poland is covered by interlinked lakes and waterways perfect for kayaking and canoeing.
First-time travelers to Poland understandably focus on Krakow and Warsaw. You would need a minimum of two days to experience the beauty of medieval Krakow and cover the main sights – the Old Town, the Wawel Castle and Cathedral, the former Jewish Quarter, and Schindler’s factory (now a museum). Many visitors to Krakow also take day-trips to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial complex and to the Wieliczka Salt Mines. A few hours’ drive or train ride north, Warsaw has a beautifully restored Old Town which is worth exploring together with the Lazienki park and a good selection of museums.
If you have more time, hit the outdoors and transfer south of Krakow to Zakopane – the gateway to the Tatra Mountains National Park which has marked trails for walkers of all abilities. Also near Krakow, the Ojcow National Park features lush forests and rocky hills with castle ruins. Other options would be to continue from Krakow to Wroclaw and tour its historic Old Town or to travel from Warsaw north to the Baltic coast and spend some time in Gdanks and visit the medieval Malbork Castle built by the Teutonic Knights.
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