Poland has been the geographical centre of Europe, but as a travel destination it has long lingered on the fringes. Never a part of a grand European tour, for instance, the country isn’t a standard stop when you are visiting the continent.
However, tourists are increasingly discovering the hidden gem Poland really is. During a tumultuous 20th century, the country went through independence and the foundation of a democratic republic, two world wars, communism and independence again.
Today, it is an open and easily accessible EU member state that promises multifaceted travel experiences to suit any budget.
The Polish landscape is wide-ranging, while the country’s cosmopolitan cities allow a glimpse of post-Eastern Bloc realism set against a rich historical and cultural backdrop. So, here are eight reasons to discover Poland.
Skiing in this central European country will take you to sprawling resorts — not half as crowded or expensive as some better-known Alpine locations — in quaint mountainous regions. In Zakopane, the most renowned winter-sports destination in Poland, cosy log cabins, horse-drawn carriages, elaborately embroidered traditional costumes and ornate wood carvings are a regular part of the streetscape — without ever veering into the kitsch territory. The High Tatras Mountains offer numerous skiing options; however, more experienced skiers will find few challenges here.Visit Zakopane.pl
Nightlife in the Polish capital has a monument of its own. Called Tecza, it’s a giant rainbow covered with artificial flowers and arching across the historic Savior Square, where most Warsaw nights begin or end. The hottest clubs in town are within walking distance of this testament to peace and love.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this brand of multiculturalism, and the rainbow has been set ablaze and vandalised several times since it first appeared in 2012. However, the fact that it keeps coming back up with flowers blossoming anew indicates that Warsaw’s party crowd will always prevail. Visit Culture.pl/en/artist/julita-wojcik
To ignore Poland’s Baltic region is your loss. Although the area is not really known as a summer destination outside Europe, there’s a reason people from neighbouring nations flock to its various hotspots during the season.
From the wandering sand dunes of Leba to the stunning natural beauty of the Masurian Lake District, there’s plenty to explore. If you want to chill out by the sea, head for the sweeping beaches of Swinoujscie or Usedom and Wolin islands.
However, if you prefer to go to a beach that’s not far from an urban centre, visit the flashy resort of Sopot, a short train ride from the picturesque port city of Gdansk. Visit En.visit.sopot.pl
Poland’s second-largest city has long been known as the country’s cultural capital. The perfect destination for a weekend break, it is compact enough to explore on foot.
Start with St Mary’s Basilica, next to the Main Market Square. A massive brick Gothic structure, it is home to the world’s largest altarpiece designed by German artist Veit Stoss. Next, head across the square to the iconic Krakow Cloth Hall, where you will find the Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art in Sukiennice — a division of the National Museum — on the upper level. Here you can enjoy the largest permanent exhibit of Polish painting and sculpture from the 19th century.
Fast-forward through time as you visit the Museum of Contemporary Art (Mocak) in Krakow. Housed in a former Oskar Schindler factory, it’s a great example of repurposed space, built beside the Holocaust museum to keep its place in history alive. Visit Mocak.pl
There are many spa resorts in Poland, some dating back to the 14th century. They include those with thermal baths along the southern border, such as the former Bad Landeck, which the Prussian royalty frequented in the 18th century.
Nestled between the Golden Mountains and Snieznik Massif, it is now known as Ladek Zdroj and offers holistic treatment in its famed hot sulphur baths. And while some wellness resorts by the Baltic may have faded away, others have kept up with the times to offer therapies with a modern touch. Visit Ladek.pl
Head thousands of feet below the ground just outside Krakow to the Wieliczka Salt Mine for some high art and folk art. A Unesco World Heritage site, it isn’t only a sprawling web of miles of tunnels but also a cultural setting.
Over the centuries, miners created an underground world that includes a sanatorium, concert hall and a cathedral out of salt, right down to the gleaming chandeliers. These spaces are permanently populated with religious reliefs, statues depicting famous Poles or fairytale figures, and regularly host concerts, theatre productions as well as religious services. Visit Wieliczka-saltmine.com
From medieval knights and wealthy bishops to Prussian princes and Pomerania’s gentry, generations of nobility and various potentates have left a lasting architectural legacy over the past millennium.
You can explore the historic castles in the Krakow and Warsaw city centres, or idyllic lakeside palaces and romantic hilltop ruins in stunning rural locations. But, if you want to live like a king, check into one of the many palace hotels offering luxurious stays, particularly in Lower Silesia. Visit Poland.travel/en/
Bialowieza National Park is Poland’s oldest national park and protects the largest surviving area of a primeval forest that once covered most of Europe. Most visitors are attracted by the unique, largely intact ecosystem of the ancient woodlands and the abundant wildlife it nurtures.
In addition to a host of birds, wolves, elk, wild boar and deer, there is the elusive European bison. Having narrowly escaped extinction in the 1920s, these magnificent creatures — the largest land-based mammals on the continent — once again roam the forest and can be encountered in their natural habitat on a guided tour. Visit Pttk.bialowieza.pl