Poland
 
Poland, no longer under the veil of its old Communist cloak, is emerging as an increasingly popular tourist destination.
Travellers are enthralled by its remarkable history and delight in the charming character of its cities and in the natural beauty of the countryside.  
Many visitors are surprised at the sheer natural beauty of Poland’s diverse scenery. It is home to the last remaining primeval forest in Europe, Bialowieza, home to the rare European bison. Then there are the enormous sand dunes of Slowinski National Park on the Baltic Coast, some of them reaching over 45m in height. And in the South, the Tatra Mountains provide numerous opportunities for skiing and hiking.
The ancient royal capital of Krakow rivals the elegance of cities such as Prague and Vienna. Having largely escaped the destruction of WWII, it is a stunning example of an unblemished medieval city, with magnificent architecture and charming old streets lined with pretty houses and churches. The Royal Castle, the grand Market Square, the old Jewish quarter and the nearby Nazi death camps of Auschwitz are all steeped in historical importance.
In direct contrast Warsaw, the capital, was almost totally destroyed by the war and now presents an unusual mix of beautifully restored historic buildings, communist-era concrete structures, and modern fashion and consumerism. There is also the maritime city of Gdañsk, home to the historic garrison at Westerplatte and the legendary Lenin shipyards, which staged the beginnings of the Second World War.
The unspoilt Baltic coastline and the rugged mountain ranges of the Tatras will impress any outdoor enthusiasts with a variety of activities and scenery to provide a peaceful and relaxing break from the intensity of the country's history.
Along with the legendary hospitality of Polish people, its tourist infrastructure is flourishing and the country is experiencing a remarkable increase in the number of visitors to its shores.
The currency in Poland is the Zloty (PLN). Currency and traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at airports, banks, major hotels and at border crossings. There are also currency exchange offices called Kantor, although they don’t accept traveller’s cheques.
Most large hotels, large shops, travel agencies, petrol stations and restaurants accept the major credit cards. ATMs are increasingly widespread especially in the major cities and can be used to withdraw cash using foreign credit and debit cards.

 

Krakow

Introduction

Situated on the banks of the Vistula River, Krakow is the third largest city in Poland, and an important university centre boasting the oldest university in Europe. As a consequence of the student populace, it has a lively atmosphere and a vibrant nightlife.  

The charming Old Town is a compact area encircled by leafy parkland that forms a green belt around the historic centre. The main entrance to the old city was through the Florian Gate, set within the original city walls.


The lively heart of the old town (or Stare Miasto), is the attractive main square of Rynek Glowny. In the summer it is filled with people sitting on café terraces, and in winter, with Christmas trees and a festive market. From here cobbled streets radiate, most of them lined with medieval buildings, shops, bars and restaurants.


Overlooking the city is Wawel Hill, topped by the striking Royal Wawel Castle. This was the main residence of Polish kings and queens until the 17th century. Also important is the city's Jewish roots, no more poignant than in the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, west of Krakow.

Another area of Jewish heritage, away from the old town, is the district of Kazimierz. Today it is one of the best areas for nightlife in the city.

 

See & Do

 
There are many museums and architectural sights to see in Krakow. It may be worth investing in a Krakow tourist card which gives you free admission to most attractions plus free transport over a 2 or 3 day period. They are available from tourist offices and some hotels and travel agencies. Below is a list of just a few of the attractions awaiting you.

 


  • Rynek Glowney (Main Square)
  • Wawel Castle
  • Wawel Royal Private Apartments
  • Wawel Catherdral
  • Kazimierz (Old Jewish Quarter)
  • Museum of Jewish History and Culture, Old Synagogue
  • Collegium Maius (University’s oldest college)
  • The Old Town and Krakow’s churches
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine
  • National Museum
  • Princes Czartoryski Museum
  • Galicia Jewish Museum
  • Archaeological Museum
  • Fantasy Park
  • Florian Gate
  • Zoological Gardens

 

Weather

 

The weather in Krakow in summer is comfortably warm with occasional heat waves. Autumn brings dry, warm weather but winters can be fairly severe with snow and temperatures at or below freezing. Spring is the best season in Krakow with bright, mild days.

 

The average monthly temperatures are:

 

°C

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Day

0

2

7

14

19

22

23

23

19

14

7

2

Night

-7

-5

-1

3

8

11

12

12

9

4

0

-4

 

Shopping

 

Don’t expect high class European shopping in Krakow because you won’t find it. There are no exclusive boutiques or huge department stores here. But Krakow does have a charm of its own when it comes to satisfying your craving for retail therapy.

 

Many of the streets in the old town are lined with shops. Many tourists find themselves at some point in Cloth Hall or Sukiennice in Rynek Glowney for their great selection of traditional handicrafts. For jewellery and clothes shops head for Ul Florianska, for amber shops your best bet is on Ul Grodzka and Ul Zwierzyniecka whereas Kazimierz is best for antiques.

 

If you enjoy browsing for antiques, Plac Nowy is a market held in the central square in Kazimierz every Sunday and is the ideal place to pick up a bargain. The other main markets are those held at Christmas in Rynek Glowny.

 

Popular items to look out for are traditional Polish handicrafts, jewellery (especially amber), lace, leather goods and vodka.

 

 

 

Food & Drink

 

There are a number of international cuisines on offer on many restaurant menus as well as traditional Polish fare. Look out for dishes such as wild duck Krakow style (stewed with wild mushrooms and served with pearl barley), barszcz (red beetroot soup) or semik (cheesecake), of course all washed down with some traditional Polish vodka.

There are many restaurants in the city and it would be impossible to name them all here. Therefore below is a list of just some of the best places you might like to try:

 


  • Jama Michalika
  • Pod aniolami
  • Pod Kominkiem
  • Café Camelot
  • Nikita Bar
  • Balaton
  • Cherubino
  • Pizzeria Pod Amorem
  • Edo Sushi Bar
  • Arka Noego
  • Bar Smaczny
  • Bombaj Tandoori
  • Grill 15/16
  • Indus Tandoori
  • Metropolitan
  • Orient Ekspres

 

Entertainment

 

Krakow has numerous entertainment venues to keep you occupied. For the latest information on what’s on where check out the free publications The Visitor and The Guide which are available from tourist offices, hotels and bars.

If you are into live music and you love Jazz, Krakow is the city for you. There are numerous venues including Art Club Cieplarnia, Jazz Club U Maniaka and Harris Piano Jazz Bar. If you are more of a classical fan, the best venue in the city is the Philharmonic Hall.

There are many theatres in the city but many performances are in Polish and if you enjoy opera, head for Slowacki Theatre. If you are more of a cinema person, many cinemas show international films in their original language with Polish subtitles. The most central one is Pod Baranami in Rynek Glowny or if you prefer there is the large Cinema City Panasonic IMAX Krakow complex on the edge of the city.

The epicentre for bars, clubs and cafés is Ryneck Glowny. Places tend to come and go quite regularly but below are some of the most popular venues at the moment:


  • Art Club Bledne Kolo
  • Lubu-Dubu Café Club
  • Kitsch
  • Rdza
  • Prozak
  • Black Gallery
  • CK Browar
  • El Sol

There are also several events that happen throughout the year. Below is just a selection you might enjoy should your travel plans coincide:

  • May – Krakow Marathon
  • May/June – Wawal Dragon Parade
  • June – Midsummer Night Festival
  • July – International Street Theatre Festival
  • December – Christmas Markets (Rynek Glowny)

 

Excursions

 

There are many things to see and do within Krakow but you may want to explore further afield during your stay. Your hotel should be able to provide you with details of excursions run by local tour operators, however, below are just a few suggestions of places you may want to visit during your stay.

 


  • Ojcow National Park
  • Pieskowra Skala Castle
  • Auschwitz
  • State Museum of Aushwitz-Birkenau
  • Zakopane & Tatra Mountains
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine

Health & Safety

Although theoretically the tap water is safe to drink in Poland, you are advised to drink bottled mineral water. The standard of health care isn’t very high. Medical treatment for EU citizens on presentation of an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) is free but it is advisable to take out comprehensive travel insurance before travelling.

As a city Krakow is relatively safe but you should take the usual precautions with your valuables especially in crowded areas as pick-pockets may be about. Also take care on the roads. Polish drivers can be a bit mad and have a tendency not to stop for traffic lights!

Warsaw

Introduction

Until the Nazi occupation of World War II, Warsaw was one of the most beautiful and sophisticated cities in Europe. But Poland’s capital was almost completely destroyed in the war with most of its population killed or sent to Nazi concentration camps.

After the war most of the historic Old Town was painstakingly rebuilt, returning it to its original 17th and 18th century appearance.

The Vistula River divides the city in half with the Old Town to the west (home to most of the attractions) and the modern city centre to the east. Its post-war appearance is of a modern urban landscape of high-rise buildings. Years of communist rule have left a lacklustre architectural legacy of drab concrete structures. Its skyline is dominated by the massive shape of the Palace of Science and Culture, Stalin's legacy to its citizens.

In direct contrast to this grey and uninspiring landscape are traces of Poland's grand past, including castles and palaces, open parklands, impressive churches and the restored streets of the historic old centre. More and more fashionable boutiques are appearing in its shopping streets as consumerism continues to grow.


Many people still do not see Warsaw as an attractive tourist destination. However as Poland's largest city and the political, economic, scientific and cultural hub of the country, it has a lot to offer tourists. It has many museums and historical monuments, galleries and historic attractions, a variety of restaurants and open-air cafes, and an energetic nightlife.  

See & Do

A great way to sightsee around Warsaw is by getting a bus day pass and hopping on and off bus 100, also known as the Warsaw sightseeing route. You can also invest in a Warsaw Tourist Card which entitles the holder to free or reduced admission to most of the main attractions plus free travel in public transport. These cards can be obtained from the tourist office.

There are many sights to see. Listed below is just a few of the main attractions that you might enjoy:

  • Gestapo Headquarters
  • The Old Town (Starego Miasta)
  • Jewish Cemetary
  • Konstytucji
  • Palace of Culture & Science
  • The Jewish Ghetto & The Pianist
  • Chopin Museum
  • The Palace on the Water
  • Łazienki Park
  • Monument of the Warsaw Uprising
  • The Royal Castle
  • Historical Museum of Warsaw
  • The Royal Way
  • Wilanów Palace
  • Pawiak Prison
  • National Museum
  • St John’s Cathedral
  • Warsaw Uprising Museum
  • Belvedere Castle
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Citadel
  • Island Amphitheatre
  • Koneser Vodka Factory
  • Maria Sklodowska-Curie Museum
  • Zoological Gardens


Shopping

There are lots of shopping opportunities in Warsaw – indoor, outdoor, over ground and under ground. Also some of the major hotel chains are attached to mini shopping arcades.

The streets of the new and old town offer a large variety of small local shops and souvenir retailers. The best streets for brand name boutiques are Ul Woloska and Al Marszalkowska which are also home to 2 of the biggest shopping malls Centrum Janki and Galeria Mokotow. Others include Arkadia and Sadyba Best Mall. The larger centres also house cinema complexes and restaurants.

If you are more of a bargain hunter, head for the underground shopping expanse below the train station and surrounding area at Warszawa Zachodnia. For general souvenirs the best place to head is the Cepelia chain.

Warsaw also has numerous markets including Photo Market (Batorego 10) specialising in bargain photographic equipment, The Russian Market (Station Dziesieciolecia) with is great for bric-a-brac and unusual items, Bazaar na Kole (Obozowa 99) for quirky items and the Old Market Place which offers more mainstream items.

Popular souvenirs include Soviet memorabilia, handicrafts, amber jewellery, clothing, vodka and Zubrowka.

Food & Drink

Warsaw has a wide range of cuisines represented by its numerous eateries. They are generally spread across the city but the Old Town Square is home to the highest density. Below is just a selection of some of the best restaurants you might like to try during your stay:

  • Grand Kredens, Al Jerozolimskie
  • Boathouse, Ul Wal Miedzeszynski
  • Na prowincji, Ul Nowomlejska
  • Byblos, Ul Wilcza
  • Fukier, Rynek Starego Miasta
  • Organza, Ul Sienkewicza
  • Sense, Ul Nowy Swiat
  • Karczma Wojtkowice, Rynek Starego Miasta
  • Podwale 25 Kompania Piwna, Ul Podwale
  • Warsaw Tortilla Factory, Ul Wilcza
  • Restaurant Polska, Ul Nowy Swait
  • Roma, Ul Grottgera
  • Living Room, Ul Foksal

Entertainment

Warsaw’s nightlife has certainly picked up the pace in recent years. There are no licensing hours so many bars and clubs stay open until the last guest leaves. A good source of information on the cafés, pubs and clubs is the Warsaw Insider. Here is a list of a few names of the best venues you might like to try:

  • Paparazzi
  • Między Nami
  • John Bull Pub
  • Chimera
  • Plan B
  • Piekarnia
  • Luzztro
  • Klubokawiarnia
  • M25
  • Fabryka Trzciny
  • Ground Zero
  • Organza
  • Labirynt
  • Barbados

If you prefer a more cultural form of entertainment then Warsaw can also offer you theatre, opera and ballet (National Theatre). The Teatr Wiekl is home to the National Opera and the Warsaw Philharmonic.

For those that enjoy a flutter you can always try your luck at the Grand Hotel and Casino. For lovers of film, Warsaw has many larger modern multi-screen cinemas such as the Atlantic Cinema and Silver Screen.

There are also several events that happen in the city throughout the year. Here are just a few that you might be interested in should your trip coincide:

  • May – Warsaw International Book Fair
  • June/July – Mozart Festival
  • July – International Street Arts Festival
  • October – Warsaw International Film Festival

Excursions

There is a lot for you to see and do in Warsaw, but you many want to take the opportunity to look further afield during your stay. Your hotel should be able to provide you with details of excursions run by local tour operators, however below are just a few examples of places you could visit:

  • Krakow
  • Auschwitz
  • Torun (medieval town)
  • Kampionski National Park
  • Zelazowa Wola (Chopin’s birthplace)

Health & Safety

Although the tap water is supposed to be safe to drink in Poland, you are advised to drink bottled mineral water. The standard of health care isn’t very high. Medical treatment for EU citizens on presentation of an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) is free but it is advisable to take out comprehensive travel insurance before travelling.

As a city, Warsaw is relatively safe but you should take the usual precautions with your valuables especially in crowded areas as pick-pockets may be about. Also take care on the roads. Polish drivers can be a bit mad and have a tendency not to stop for traffic lights!

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