In June 2023, we visited Poland. We drove 1,800 kilometers and visited Krakow, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Wroclaw, Poznan, Turon, Gdansk, Sopot, and Warsaw.
Poland is a land of outstanding beauty, with large forests and rivers, wide plains and high mountains. Warsaw, the country’s capital, combines modern buildings with historic architecture, most of which was badly damaged in World War II but has since been faithfully restored in one of the most thorough reconstruction efforts in European history. Other cities of historical and cultural interest include Poznan, known for its universities and historic center; Gdansk, one of the busiest ports on the busy Baltic Sea; and Krakow, a historic center of arts and education and home to Pope John Paul II, who personified for Poles their country’s struggle for independence and peace in modern times.
We started with Krakow and its beautiful Main Market Square (Rynek Główny). It is one of the largest cities in Poland and is primarily known for its historic architecture and cultural leadership; UNESCO designated its area of the old city a World Heritage Site in 1978. After visiting the city center we went to a typical Polish restaurant for a sumptuous lunch with very generous portions.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
In the evening, we visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Admission is free but must be booked well in advance on the official website. We were very moved when we passed under that gate with the famous writing Die Arbeit macht frei. What happened during the Holocaust far exceeds the most barbaric and violent imagination. One gets goosebumps upon entering the blocks where the prisoners were held, especially after seeing the photographic documentation and relics that bear terrifying and horrific testimony to what really happened.
The next day we visited Wroclaw, much more colorful and lively than Krakow. The food in Poland is always very good and affordable. For lunch, we had pork knuckle (pata), a typical Polish dish. Yummy!
Wroclaw is one of the most beautiful cities in Poland. Some describe Wroclaw as The Venice of Poland as the Oder River splits into separate tributaries that flow through the city. With over 100 bridges, small islands, a charming market square, picturesque green spaces, and vibrant nightlife, Wroclaw is one of Poland’s most alluring and magical places. It is like a fairytale city, with its atmosphere and the hundreds of gnomes hiding around the buildings and a lighthouse keeper walking around Ostrów Tumski.
Poznan is a beautiful city but unfortunately, the whole old town was under restoration during the summer of 2023. Construction materials, potholes, and dust were everywhere. This is a very good reason for going back once all work is completed.
Toruń is a beautiful medieval town in Poland. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for the Gingerbread Museum and for being the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus, an astronomer who changed scientific thinking in the 15th century. Nicolaus Copernicus demonstrated that the Sun rather than the Earth should be considered the center of the universe.
Gdansk is by far the most beautiful place in Poland. Walking through the old town feels like entering a fairytale gingerbread place. There are endless rows of colorful houses and numerous medieval churches, city gates, and towers. But Gdansk is much more. Reduced to rubble during WWII, this city has risen from the ashes, with many old buildings fully restored. It later became the birthplace of the Solidarity movement which led to the fall of communism in Poland in the 1980s. Today, it is a modern port city that looks confidently to the future without ever forgetting its past.
A few kilometers from Gdansk is Sopot, the most famous seaside resort in Poland. Magnificent views of the Baltic Sea can be found here, especially on the Sopotskie Pier, the longest wooden pier in Europe.
With less than 25 euros per person (round trip) we left for Norway.
But that’s another story 🙂
After 4 days in Norway, we picked up our car parked at the airport, and left for the capital Warsaw.
World War II almost destroyed Warsaw, but this city has risen like a true phoenix from its ruins. Warsaw is now one of Europe’s most exciting and fastest-growing metropolises. It is hard to believe that the picturesque streets and beautiful buildings of the UNESCO-protected Old Town are the painstaking work of restorers. The Stalinist Palace of Science and Culture is the icon of the Polish capital.
Of all the places in Poland we’ve been to, Warsaw is the only city where we’ve seen a minimal amount of garbage or litter lying around, and some form of vandalism. We drove around 1,800 km without ever seeing plastic or any sort of garbage on the road, not even in small villages. Poland has an excellent infrastructure and is undoubtedly a rather underrated country from a tourist point of view. Perhaps, based on our experience, Polish people are not as welcoming and warm as in other counntries we have visited, but overall it was a great trip!