I think Poland is often overlooked by the eager European explorer- but it is a gem! Less crowded than other parts of Europe but equally beautiful with a rich history.
This country has a special place in my heart. I spent a year and a half in Poland as a young adult learning the language and rendering service as a church missionary. I loved being back!
Tucked away between Germany and Ukraine lies Poland. The beautiful country of Poland has a lot to offer. From beaches in the north and mountains in the south with beautiful rolling fields in between. I can't say enough good things about this country. They've had a tumultuous past, but have built something beautiful out of the ashes.
Join me as we dive into Western Poland cities
(and ok a little of Warsaw, too)!
You will most likely fly into this city, as it is the capital of the country. There is so much to do in Warsaw that you could spend most of your time here. I will highlight a few things... but the purpose of this post is to lead you to some cities that you may have never heard about before!
Explore the museums and monuments to the Warsaw Uprising and Jewish Ghetto during WW2. I think it would be a disservice to Warsaw and to YOU to not understand what this country went through during WW2. It will give you a new appreciation for the Poles!
Take a wander through Old Town Warsaw. You can't go wrong wandering this beautiful city centre. The Old Town is a bustling tourism hub, with cobblestone alleys and medieval buildings reconstructed after WW2.
Recommended route- Get off on metro stop Ratusz Arsenal and walk down Ulica Dluga. Head down the road until it ends, take a right and enter Old Town through a medieval gate. Your turn to take control and wander the streets, but don't miss the Starego Rynek where the mermaid statue protects the city of Warsaw. Keep wandering until you make it to the Royal Castle of Warsaw. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in this area, before making your way down Krakowskie Przedmiescie. This road is home to many universities and you can also find the President of Poland's palace. This street eventually turns into "Nowy Swiat" and is one of Warsaw's main shopping streets.
If you want to continue your walk, I recommend turning west and head toward Palac Kultury- the huge skyscraper that dominates the center of Warsaw. You can't miss it! Rumor is that after WW2 Russia wanted to make peace with Poland by offering a gift. They allowed Poland to choose between a tall building or a metro system. Poland wanted the metro system... so Russia built them a building! LOL
Visit Wilanow. In the Southeast corner of Warsaw lies a lovely bright and flowery area. At the heart is Wilanow Palace. It was built between 1677–1696 for King of Poland John III Sobieski. Wilanów Palace survived Poland's partitions and both World Wars, and so serves as one of the most remarkable examples of Baroque architecture in the country. The building is bright, the inside is beautiful and the gardens are lovely.
Travel Tip- Warsaw's metro system is VERY simple and user friendly.
There are ticket machines at every stop.
There is one line traveling north/south and one line traveling east/west.
If this is still overwhelming to you, Uber is VERY affordable in Poland!
Most people head to Krakow when they come to Poland, but I am here to say that Poznan deserves your attention. Do I dare say it? I think Poznan is prettier than Krakow! Today it is Poland's fifth largest city, is also one of the country's oldest cities, and was an important political and religious center in the early Polish state of the 10th century. In fact, it is home to the country's oldest church containing the tombs of the first Polish rulers.
Poznan Cathedral was originally built in the second half of the 10th century on a little island in the river called Ostrow Tumski meaning- Cathedral Island. Mieszko himself was baptised in 966 at Poznań and this is regarded as a key event in the Christianization of Poland. The whole area of Ostrow Tumski is a peaceful vibe with lots of outdoor space for kids to run around.
Old Town Poznan is gorgeous. The buildings are so colorful and the town hall is impressive AND fun for the kids. Everyday at noon at the "Ratusz" two billy goats appear out of the tower and butt heads. The daily appearance of the goats is one of Poznań's best-known tourist attractions.
A legend behind the original addition of the goats to the clock mechanism states that a cook, while preparing a banquet for the voivode and other dignitaries, had burnt a roast deer, and attempted to replace it by stealing two goats from a nearby meadow. The goats escaped and ran up the town hall tower, where they attracted the attention of the townspeople when they began to butt each other. Because of the entertainment provided, the voivode pardoned both the cook and the goats, and ordered that two mechanical goats be incorporated into the new clock being made for the building.
Chocolate making classes happen on a small side street just off the town square. Although this isn't necessarily unique to Poland, it was a fun kid-friendly activity that we all enjoyed!
Parish Church of St. Stanislaus is a beautiful must see. You can see this imposing pink church from a corner of the town square, looking down a side street. The interior is striking, with huge marble pillars and towering ceiling. In July and August you can find classical music performances happening inside.
St Martin’s Croissant is one of the most recognizable and undoubtedly tastiest symbols of Poznan. Their unique taste is beyond words. Visit the Poznan Croissant Museum to learn all about these little pastry gems!
The Imperial Castle is actually more of a palace than a castle, and was built when Poznan was under German rule in 1910. It traded hands between Germany and Poland a couple times, and during WW2 was used as a residence for Adolf Hitler. It is now used to house art exhibits, pubs, music clubs and restaurants. Check their schedule in the summer for performances in the courtyard.
The Royal Castle dates from 1249 from the reign of Przemysł I. It was largely destroyed during the Second World War but has since been partly rebuilt. We headed here for their observation tower and great views over the city!
Food in Poznań- we ate at some really great places while here and will link them below! All recommendations are fairly close to the old town centre.
Kura Warzyw- Build your own kebab. Really delicious and fresh. This was a winner!
Pierozak- On the same street as above, lies a pierogi shop. Check out the workers making fresh pierogi in the window! Make sure you try a savory and a sweet.
Piccolo- Super cheap spaghetti bar with pasta and sauce. Quick and kid-friendly!
Travel Tip- Most travel around Poznan is done by tram.
There aren't very many ticket machines around the city to buy tickets,
so I would suggest buying multiple rides at a time when you do find a machine. You can find a machine at the main train station or at several train stations close to the town square.
Another beautiful town in Western Poland is Wroclaw- pronounced "Vroht- suav". Not Ro-claw. Please don't call it Ro-claw! The history of the city dates back over 1,000 years; and at various times, it has been part of the Kingdom of Poland, the Duchy of Bohemia, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Habsburg monarchy of Austria, the Kingdom of Prussia and Germany. Lots of greedy fingers for this area of the country!
Old Town Wroclaw is beautiful. I think I say this about every city... but Poland really does have the most amazing old towns and town squares! I would suggest coming near sunset when everyone is out for dinner. The square is alive with music, outdoor seating and beautiful light.
Wroclaw Gnomes are small figurines that first appeared in the streets of Wrocław to commemorate the Orange Alternative (Polish anti-communist movement), a monument of a gnome (the movement’s symbol) was officially placed on Świdnicka Street, where the group’s gatherings used to take place. Now there are over 600 to find around the streets! Talk about a kids dream come true. Scavenger hunt bliss.
Pokutnice Bridge is located between the two towers of the Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene and is probably the most famous viewpoint in the center of Wroclaw. The cathedral is an easy five minute walk from Old Town and has great views over the city.
Ostrów Tumski is the gem at the centre of Wrocław’s crown. This, after all, is where the city began, making it one of the most historically significant parts of town, in addition to its most archaically picturesque. The district’s history has always been closely tied to Catholicism and today you’ll find an incredible concentration of religious buildings across the river, making it an incredibly peaceful place to explore and relax. And yes, you're correct. There is a "Cathedral Island" in Poznan AND in Wroclaw.
Day trip to Boleslawiec is so easy to do from Wroclaw! Does the name Boleslawiec ring a bell? It is the main manufacturing town of the infamous Polish pottery! From the Wroclaw train station you purchase a ticket and catch the train that comes every hour or so out to Boleslawiec; taking 1.5 hours to travel there. Once there, walk out and around the station to Kosciuszki street and have a hey day making great purchases. There are at LEAST ten different shops on this street with all of them having a different vibe, different pieces, and different designs. I would suggest perusing first as you make your way up the street, and then as you make your way back down the street to make your purchases. If you're traveling by train, I would suggest bringing a roller suitcase for all your great finds! Polish pottery is heavy and can become cumbersome in a shoulder bag.
Food in Wroclaw was also amazing. We had delightfully delicious experiences at the restaurants below...
Pierogarnia No. 26- Wow. Just wow. You can choose to have your pierogi boiled or oven baked. Both are delicious and I recommend you eat them all. Remember- there is no such thing as too many pierogi.
Khinkalnya- Georgian food was a winner! I had never had it before and I was blown away. Definitely get some khinkali and khachapuri- so yummy.