5 awesome places to visit in Poland (besides the obvious)

5 awesome places to visit in Poland

For a country that’s been smushed flat by its neighbors just about a billion times over the centuries, Poland has proven remarkably resilient. I mean, it’s still there. For a long time, it wasn’t.

And somehow, practically every city in Poland looks absolutely adorable and results in a “wait, that’s what Poland looks like?” sort of reaction from anyone who sees your billion pictures. Like this one:

Gdańsk old town, Poland
Wandering the old town of Gdańsk, where spiky towers appear from every corner.

But you know what? Most people visit just a few places, and miss the whole rest of the country. And it’s a big country. Yet most visitors only see Warsaw, Krakow, and Auschwitz. And although Poland has some spectacular sites, there are plenty of other great places to visit in Poland, with all the cobblestones and spiky towers you could want.

Allow me to elaborate.

Great lesser-known places to visit in Poland

(some of them, anyway)

1) Gdańsk

Gdańsk old town, Poland
As you can see, wandering through pseudo-old-town Gdańsk will drain your camera battery.

Gdańsk has changed hands more times than a poker game. It has been Polish, German, Prussian, Russian, its own free city, and probably 16 other things over its history. Now that it’s Polish once more, it’s one of the most charming places in the country to visit.

The city was largely rebuilt after the destruction of WWII, and designed to rid itself of German architectural influence. As you might imagine, Poland and Germany weren’t getting along back then. But the reconstruction efforts have given the city some beautiful pedestrian streets, surrounded by lovingly rebuilt old-fashioned buildings, and spiky towers. It’s great.

It’s also a great jumping-off point for a few other sites around the region, including the massive Malbork Castle, which is the world’s largest brick castle, and the spa town of Sopot.

Gdańsk is also famous as being the birthplace of the Solidarity movement, which began in the city’s shipyards, and eventually brought down the communist government of Poland.

2) Wrocław

Wrocław town square, Poland
Wrocław’s main square makes for a great “I just want to drink a cup of coffee and sit around for 6 hours” type of day.

Okay, time for some pronunciation instructions. It’s not pronounced rock-claw. It’s pronounced vrots-wof. Good luck!

This is another gorgeous city that was completely smashed by World War II and lovingly recreated in the aftermath, and, once again, is a city that has changed hands over and over again throughout the centuries.

Nowadays it’s a beautiful Polish city that not so many people think to visit, but whose main square is a nice, quiet, relaxing, picturesque place to spend an afternoon. In fact it’s sort of the only thing there, so it makes a great place to visit if you just want to relax, instead of fill your day with sites and stuff. There’s plenty to see, but it’s more like a lazy stroll type of place, in a good way.

3) Lublin

Lublin, Poland
If you don’t like castles we can’t be friends.

Castles! Everybody loves castles!

And Lublin has a castle right in the middle of everything, with this nice ramp leading up to it that makes for a spectacular photo. As you can see.

The main square of town, as you may have guessed from all the other Polish towns that have one of these, is an adorable place to lazily spend the day.

But Lublin also has some other monuments of historical significance, so it offers more sightseeing opportunities than just a nice town square (though I like those too).

Over the years it has been a significant center of trade, as well as hosting a major student population, so it’s a lively place that still feels small and cozy, while also offering visitors some great castle-related photo opportunities.

4) Poznań

Poznań main square, Poland
Poznań’s market square, bustling and adorable.

I’m sorry to say I missed Poznań, but then again, everywhere I went in Poland was a good decision.

Poznań is a bigger city than some of the others here, especially if you count some of the surrounding towns that blend into the major metropolitan area, but as you can see, it has all the old-timey charm you could possibly expect from delightful Polish towns. Small town charm and big-city business all in one.

It also has quite a few sites, from churches to museums to castles. Two of them, in fact. The king’s castle, and the emperor’s castle. Two castles in the same city! Hooray!

5) Zakopane

Zakopane center, Poland
Zakopane’s busy town center, where Poles come to hang out, and set off on hiking adventures.

This is the smallest of the places listed here, with less than 30,000 people. It’s a popular getaway spot for plenty of Poles, who come for the winter snow, or the summer sun, and go hiking in the Tatra mountains, where you’ll find some of the most picturesque mountains anywhere in the region.

The town itself is a small resort town, with plenty of shops and restaurants, rather than magnificent monuments. The attraction of the town is really the hiking opportunities it provides, and the atmosphere of being on a town that feels like a vacation spot all the time.

Be sure to try the Oscypek, a local specialty of the region, of smoked cheese carved into elaborate patterns. They look like one of those things you’d roll up and down your back to give yourself a massage.

My takeaway from visiting Poland

You know what I found interesting about all these places? Most of Poland was utterly destroyed during World War II, and Poland managed to rebuild itself so well that you’d barely know.

Zamość, Poland
Zamość, another adorable town, where I have some ancestry.

This is in stark contrast to many other Eastern European countries, including those just over the former Soviet border, which emerged with nothing but Stalinesque grey concrete apartment blocks and massive car-dominated streets. To be fair, I think they have a certain appeal and historical importance, but really…Poland could have turned out a whole lot differently.

Poland wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for a sequence of historical events that put it back on the map. And it certainly didn’t have to rebuild its cities as adorably as it has.

But here we are. And there it is. Lovingly recreated from the ashes of its darkest hour, with some of the most charming old town architecture anywhere in Europe. No wonder whittling down the list of places to visit in Poland is such a challenge.

So go visit, and enjoy the wistful what-might-have-been that turned out to be exactly the way things are. It’s not so often that history works out this way, and we’re lucky it did. Poland, too.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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23 Comments on “5 awesome places to visit in Poland (besides the obvious)”

  1. You are right, tourists often forget about visiting Wroclaw which is plain stupid. It’s such a great city to explore with so many spots to see and amazing cheap milk bars :). There are plenty of students there so nobody will feel lovely!

    1. I keep thinking it must be “discovered” by now, but I also keep hearing it’s still comparatively quiet, if you’re coming in from Prague or other popular places. Either way, it’s a great place to be.

  2. I’m Polish and I’ve never been to Wroclaw :P Although I did put it on my Prague-and-back trip later this year, as it’s on the way. One city you’re missing here is Toruń, my home :) It’s smaller than most of what you’ve listed, but the Old Town is on the world heritage site list. It’s worth seeing, especially when it gets dark and the only light comes from the many lanterns and illuminations.

    1. Maybe I’ll go back and add that one…It’s hard picking favorites in Poland, because all the old towns and cities have that nice architecture and walkable centers.

  3. Hey I know another great place in Poland to visit Niemodlin Polish Castle

    I have been there myself and the Castle is Amazing the guide was very nice and they answer all your questions you can also take as many photos you can manage
    There is a nice hotel 10 meters away in future there will be a few hotel rooms in the Castle. The castle itself have very unique mysterious atmosphere, when I was there in the hotel 20 m away from the castle in my room whisperings could be heard like a ghost’s are plotted something strange I must been very unlucky because this night there was lots of fog and you could beryl see the castle 20 meters away that night u couldn’t sleep, maybe it was just my imagination but I could see a girl dressed white in one of the windows I could swear that it was real when I turn around she disappears ,the Castle gate start slowly opening then she walked out and start walking on the street towards my hotel there was no one at that time aground , it was very weird, her face was blurry it might heed been because of the fog there but I’m not quite Shure about that. Just to give you a bit of teased how mysterious is that palace . maybe the white girl was haunted the people who have stolen some stuff from the castle and tried to get it back then the story will make sense. I recommend to not visit that place after dusk.
    The best place to visit for your holidays.
    http://polishcastle.uk

    1. Hi Aleksaner, I’m from Niemodlin! The castle has only been open to the public for the last few months… I had been living in Niemodlin for most of my life and never had a chance to see the castle inside. Its now on my “to do” list next time I’m in Niemodlin.

  4. Great list, I personally have been to the first 3 on this list.
    There’s another that should have been here though- Szczecin.
    I might be a bit biased because it’s my hometown, but it’s absolutely beautiful. Despite being filled to the brim with castles, plazas and fun tourist spots, it’s also filled with more vegetation and natural plant life than any other city in Poland.
    Its harbor is also awesome- the ships over there are quite a sight.
    Visit it if you can, it’s amazing.

    1. I’ll definitely have to visit again. There’s so much to see in Poland that I missed the first time, even though I was there for a few weeks and was moving pretty quickly.

  5. Actually – Poland was on the map since 966 – there were threats of putting it under attack because it was pegan, so it got baptised.
    Later on, it was surrounded by 3 hostile countries which have had fought against since around1410 (Grunwald). Then things got bad for Poland. Major Polish greatness was when Poland was spread from Black to Baltic sea and had unions with Countries such as Lithuania. In the 1800 Poland was various with ethnicity and religion, it was very diverse. Although Prusy (todays Germany), Russia and Asutria kept attacking it time by time taking parts of its territory. There were three take-overs. Then in late 1800 Poland was taken completely by those Counrties. It defended itself 126(might be wrong) years with uprisings and had a Goverment abroad or underground. Polish did never – change their language, took on the new culture, or give up at anytime fighting back.

    Want to learn more.

    Drop me a line

    It gets better – Teheran’s agreement…:(

    Oh, and Gdańsk, as I learned at school was always independent, Polish, state.

  6. I live in Poland and I agree with the article. However, I really think the Polish nature is still undiscovered by people from abroad. Check destination-poland.com

  7. I’m going there surely! I’ve never been in Poland and I cant wait to go there! :) Just waiting for my id card from clubcard com pl and I’m ready :D

  8. And how about Szczecin? It`s a wonderful city :)
    You can stay at Dana Hotel. It is located near the Philharmonic Hall. Entertainment guaranteed

  9. Great article :) I live in Poland too and I think its beautiful country. Next time you should to visit Szczecin too. It’s great place and I am sure you will love it. If you don’t know where you should to stay then I can suggest Hotel Dana. Beautiful historic and renovated place with soul. You will be have sweet dreams there for sure :)

  10. I can see that a lot of people choose Hotel Dana :) My parents stayed there too when when they visited Poland in last year :) I am planning to go there too, I know that they have SPA too :) Thats right ?

  11. Great guide! I go to Poland quite often, but always choose the obvious destination – usually it is Warsaw, because I have some friends there. It is one of the most popular cities in Poland, there are many amazing places that are worth visiting. One of my favourite spots there is a bar called Bubbles. I always go there with my friends to relax and hang out in the afternoons, because the atmosphere of this place is awesome and very casual. I am going to Poland again soon, so it will be a perfect opportunity to visit at least some of the places you’ve recommended! :)

    1. That’s always the challenge of being a frequent traveler. The more you see, the more you realize how much you’ve missed.

  12. This is all true.Poland is beautiful country, worth spending at least a couple of days. About the best cities, I would also recommend visiting Gdansk. Lots of attractions, good hotels and restaurants. My children were delighted with the zoo and maritime museum. When we were planning a trip we used the visitgdansk.com – super helpful site!

  13. We only discovered Poland this year and have already been back, with a plan to return again next year.
    We have done the usual Warsaw, Krakow, Auschwitz, but have also visited Wroclaw twice, which to date is our favourite city in Poland.
    As well as the sights you mention, you can spend hours meandering around the city hunting for the “Wroclaw Dwarfs”, a fun way of sightseeing.
    Next summer we are hoping to visit Gdansk, Poznan, Lubin and Zakopane
    (Although my ultimate goal is to visit Zakopane in winter for the ski jumping)

    1. So this year was the 99th anniversary of their independence; next year is going to be absolute madness. They might run out of liquor for a week.

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