Cobbled market squares, towering church spires and medieval old towns that have stepped from the front of a Christmas card are just some of the reasons Polish cities rank amongst the most atmospheric in Europe. The secrets of Krakow have long been spilled, but Wroclaw and Torun are just as handsome and come without the tourist crowds.
Poland’s cities have long stolen most of the tourist headlines, but it’s also worth looking past the city gates for a holiday here. In the north you’ll find a stretch of golden beaches that culminate in the spa resort town of Sopot, while Zakopane, in the south, offers ski resorts and snow adventures in the towering Tatra Mountains.
Read on for our pick of the five best places in Poland to visit.
Filled with cobblestoned backstreets and grand townhouses, Wroclaw has the sort of Cinderella architecture that will keep you reaching for your camera. The fairytale is completed by a stunning market square in the heart of the centre, where you’ll find dozens of al fresco cafes, bars and local breweries making the most of the stunning scenery. The city is also famous for its islands. There are more than a dozen sprawled along the Odra River playing host to parks, boat rides and Wroclaw’s grand cathedral.
Better known for its snowfall than its sand, Poland’s beaches are long, white and powder soft. The seaside scene is best explored in Sopot. This 19th century spa town was once favoured by Kaisers and Kings, and its long wooden pier, gourmet fish and chip spots and recently renovated spa facilities meant it was only a matter of time before Sopot once again turned up on lists of the beach beaches in Europe. Pair Sopot with a trip through the history of Lech Walesa’s solidarity movement in nearby Gdansk.
Little know and all the better for it, Torun’s beautiful timber framed townhouses and red brick churches make up a medieval old town that is one of the best preserved in Europe. With few visitors, you’ll be able to explore the Gothic town walls and flashy baroque churches at your own pace. You’ll also learn about local celebrity Nicholas Copernicus. The astronomer was born in Torun, and his birthplace is given over to a museum filled with artefacts from his life.
With prime access to first class ski runs in the peaks of the nearby Tatra Mountains, Zakopane is Poland’s winter capital. Not that you need skis or snow to enjoy the region. In summer there are hikes into glacial valleys decorated with waterfalls and mountain lakes. The toblerone-shaped log cabins that dot the foothills belong to the Gorale, an independent community with their own distinct folk traditions. Spend the evenings back in Zakopane watching them cross axes in a Gorale dance and listening to fiddles by the fireside.
If it’s your first time in Poland, you have to see Krakow. Its meandering cobblestone streets, grand royal palaces and soaring spires of ancient churches combine to create an unrivalled classical collection of European architecture. UNESCO agrees, and didn’t just put Krakow’s individual buildings on its heritage list but the whole Old Town district. This is also the best place in Poland to discover the country’s rich Jewish heritage. I n the renovated Kazimierz district bookshops, restaurants and synagogues document the vibrant community that once lived here.