Poland. The land of castles, dragons, colorful buildings and of course, pierogis. Whereas Poland is not nearly as visited as other countries such as France, Italy, Germany and Spain, it is one of the most culture rich countries in all of Europe. Surprisingly, Poland sits at 10th on the list of most visited countries in Europe even with having some of the best destinations on the entire continent. When you ask people where they would like to go the most in Europe, it is doubtful they mention Poland on that list, but why?
This country is easily one of the best I have ever been to all over the board and not to mention, one of the cheapest. For how much I want it to remain the same with its true charm and less touristy vibe, it is hard for me not to talk so highly about it and convince people into wanting to visit. Maybe it is a blessing in disguise that this gem of a country can sit back and remain as wonderful as it is.
I spent a week in Poland and I can say it is one of the best places I have ever been to. After growing up with a Polish grandmother, I wanted to learn more about the country and its people. I knew Poland was going to be great, but to be honest, I did not expect it to be the masterpiece that it is.
Everyone knows about the devastating time Poland had to endure during the late 1930’s and into the 1940’s. The second World War started in Poland as the Germans invaded many of its towns on September 1st, 1939; and the battles continued through out its landscape until the war ended. Not only were battles fought, extermination camps were spread out across the country during the Holocaust where some 6 million people lost their lives. Auschwitz is the most infamous of them all and is open to visitors for anyone who is looking for an eye opening and tear jerking experience. A place I would have liked to visit, but I didn’t have the guts to go.
This is the Poland people think and know about. What people don’t know about Poland is how hard these people fought back to rebuild their country to make it into what it is today. We do not know about the medieval past and the folklore stories of dragons and knights that have been passed down for generations. Many don’t know that the country is full of some of the largest and oldest castles through out Europe. Poland has a very rich and amazing history, yes, but what is it like today?
Poland is one of the largest countries in Europe, 9th on the list to be exact, which means there is a lot to see and do. I spent one week through out the Western half of Poland and I can tell you, it was not nearly enough. From the second I arrived to Poland I immediately knew that I wanted to come back. So, what makes Poland this cultural paradise? There are 4 things that instantly come to mind.
I cannot say enough good things about the people here. I have been to many places and I can tell you with 100000% honesty, these are the nicest people I have ever come into contact with. They are always willing to help when needed and will be very kind while doing it. On top of that, the majority of them speak at least some English. Polish is a very difficult language to learn at first, so it is very helpful that they are able to communicate in the English language.
I don’t know how many times I asked a random person for help with something and was assisted immediately. In some other countries through out Europe, there are moments when people will push you away and refuse to help, but not here. I always figured Polish people would be great though. My grandmother was raised with Polish parents and I think she is a hell of a lady!
The small towns in Poland are some of the most scenic and charming you will come across. Can I use the British term here and just say that these towns are “lovely”, Many of them have streets lined with thin, historical and colorful buildings. Each town is unique though as it truly seems that they are competing with one another to have the prettiest or coolest architecture. All the towns have some sort of area known as the “Old Town” that they typically revolve around. Many of these “Old Towns” date back to the 9th century or older which makes them sincerely historic. These are the areas in which Poland come to life and truly shows off its appeal. There are many incredible towns scattered through out Poland, but four stand out on that list. Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk. I cannot say that I visited Warsaw, but I can talk forever about the other three…
Krakow is one of the most visited areas in Poland and for good reason. The town itself revolves around a famous legend of a dragon and a castle.
As the legend goes, The Wawel Castle was once endangered by a fierce and ferocious dragon. During the reign of King Krakus some time in 700 AD, Smok Wawelski, or Dragon of Wawel Hill, lived in a lair beneath the castle on the bank of the Vistula River. There the dragon demanded weekly offerings of cattle or else it would devour humans. Noble men traveled from far across the land to try and defeat the dragon, but none succeeded. Until one day, a poor shoemaker told the king that he could defeat the dragon by tricking it into eating a fake sheep with tinder, tar and sulfur inside. The dragon excitedly took the sheep as his weekly offering and immediately felt heat swelling in his stomach. He went to the river to quench his thirst and put out the flame, but he exploded and never returned. Although his remains still sit outside at the base of the castle, blowing fire every few minutes, reminding people of the legend.
How do I know this story? From a children’s book! This town is full of the legend. Each store through out the town is full of dragons. From brass statues to plush toys for little kids. There are dragons in every direction which is a constant reminder of the legend of Smok Wawelski. This town is one of the most fun towns to go shopping in. Part of the experience is walking through out the town into all of the different stores trying to figure out which dragon you want to take home as a souvenir.
One of the top areas to shop in Krakow is the Cloth Hall, or Sukiennice. The Krakow Cloth Hall is considered the World’s oldest shopping mall and dates back to the 1500’s. It is lined with different vendors and restaurants all selling their best homemade Polish designs and delicious foods.
Not only is the hall a good place to stop and shop, it is a beautiful building as well as it sits in the middle of the Old Town’s Market Square, or Rynek Glowny, one of the oldest town squares in all of Europe.
The Wawel Castle is not only the centerpiece of the legend, it is one of the top destinations. The Castle sits on top of a hill in the middle of the city and dates back to the 11th century. A visit into the castle walls is a must as the gardens and the cathedrals inside are gorgeous. After a walk around inside the walls of the castle, a walk across the Vistula River will give you some of the best views.
For a full guide of everything you need to do in Krakow, follow this link!
Wroclaw is probably the most colorful of the towns. The centerpiece of the town lies in the Market Square, or Stary Rynek, where the surrounding buildings of this huge square are built in different styles and colors.
The center of the square consists of two large blocks of houses as well as the Old City and New City Halls. This Medieval Square is so old that it dates back to the early 1200’s!
A trip to Wroclaw is not complete without crossing the Tumski Bridge into Omstrow Tumski. If the beautiful and short walk across the love lock filled bridge isn’t enough for you, the buildings across the way are some of the oldest around.
This area of the city dates back to the 10th century, lets talk about old. It is like taking a walk back in time as the quiet and charming streets are not filled with gawking tourists and the massive Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist towers above you.
If history and architecture are not your thing, Wroclaw has something for everyone. One of the most unique things to do in Wroclaw is to go dwarf hunting. Yes, you heard that right. These small bronze sculptured dwarfs are scattered all over the city. There are currently 163 of them, but that number is growing as people can’t get enough of them. I too fell into the craze of searching for dwarfs. A lot of them are hard to find and you really need to be on the look out for them as they seemingly pop out of nowhere.
For a full guide of everything you need to do in Wroclaw, follow this link!
Yet again another old city in Poland, dating back to the early 1000’s, Gdansk lies in the northern part of Poland on the edge of the Baltic sea. Where the town itself does not actually touch the Baltic, the Motława River creates a beautiful waterfront view of the town.
One of the most popular things to do in Gdansk is spend some time walking around Długi Targ, or the “Long Market”. This is a vast merchant road that came about in the early 1300’s. The famous and picturesque street stretches all the way from the Golden Gate to the Motława River.Whereas the other towns mentioned above have very large and open squares, Długi Targ is a beautiful long and enclosed pedestrian street full of shops, restaurants and you guessed it, gorgeous and unique architecture. Długi Targ looks different through out the day as it is very enclosed. Depending on when the sun hits it, the buildings may offer a different color scheme. Sunrise is the best time to visit the long market as it is the one time of the day this tight pedestrian street is not full of people.
The Town Hall is the main centerpiece of Długi Targ and the town. Every hour, some of the most beautiful bells ring across the town in song for all to listen to.
If heights and views are your thing, you have the opportunity to go to the top of the clock tower for a panoramic view of the long market and the surrounding area. You may even get a chance to see a golden replica of King Zygmunt August on the top of the Town Hall spire sparkling down on you as he watches over his city.
The most popular symbol of Gdansk is Neptune. The Roman God of fresh water and the sea stands in the middle of a fountain just below the Town Hall. The Artus Court building sits behind the Neptune Fountain for some very cool views.
This famous statue has been around since 1549 and had to be hidden during World War II. It was not until 1954 when the fountain was placed back into its rightful place and the symbol of Gdansk came back to life as the town was rebuilding from devastation. My man Neptune is always on the look out to stab someone with his trident.
For a full guide of everything you need to do in Gdansk, follow this link!
The Polish culinary scene is possibly the true masterpiece of the country. While Italian and French food typically dominate the culinary world of Europe, Poland definitely rivals them. As the most famous food of Poland is of course Pierogis, there are many other things one must try on a visit.
The most common foods you will find in Poland revolve around the likes of meat, potatoes, cabbage and beets. The Polish use whatever is available to them, therefore the specialties may vary based on the region you are in. However, you can make sure that you always find Pierogis, Beet Soup, Bigos, Gołabcki, Pork, as well as a wide range of baked goods and desserts wherever you go.
An eating tour of Polish cuisine is not for the faint hearted. I am a big health nut, but I also consider myself a foodie as I like to try everything. You have to throw the calories and fat intake to the side whilst visiting Poland. These hearty dishes are cooked with a lot of butter and creams and contain a lot of meat. Every dish is beneficial to try as they are to die for and the little bit of weight gain you may have in Poland is beyond worth it. These dishes are truly made with love as they are demanding and time consuming to make.
For a full guide on everything you must eat in Poland, follow this link!
What more can I say than what I mentioned above? This country is full of history. Whether you are interested in Medieval castles and dragons or the fierce battles of World War II, Poland has it all. You can feel this historic atmosphere walking through the streets, and you can see it at every corner. Poland may have a grim past at times, but the people cherish it. They do not let their history go forgotten and untold, rather pass it down to each new generation that comes.
As tourism may not be as big here as it is in other places around Europe, Poland is place that should be on everyone’s list. Whether it is the people, the scenery, the food or the history, Poland has it. This is the perfect place to travel to for any culture seeker, thus making it a cultural paradise.
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