Poland: Main Sights
A country with new world cuisine, a bustling nightlife and a haunting past
There is much to see in Poland, from historic towns and cities to stunning scenery. Below is a quick summary of the main sights
Almost completely destroyed by the Nazi's during the second world war, and with its population decimated by around around half, Warsaw has rebuilt itself today into a city of contrasting styles. A walk through the painstakingly reconstructed Old Town gives a sense of Warsaw's older history, whilst elsewhere in the city evidence of both Poland's communist past and present European resurgence and free-market society can be seen. Next to the Old Town, you'll also find the Royal Palace, home of the Royal Court, and later the Polish president until it's destruction in 1944. Today, along with the surrounding area, the building has been reconstructed and houses a museum. Elsewhere in Warsaw, Park Lazienki Krolewskie (The Royal Baths Park), which used to be the royal summer residence, but which today is a beautiful park and palace containing a several small lakes. A walk here in the summer, offers a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
In the centre of Krakow is one of Europe's oldest and largest medieval squares, dating back to the 13th century. The Rynek Glowny, or Main Square, is filled with people coming and going, street performers, market stalls, and fantastic architecture, including the grand 16th century Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) and St Mary's Church. Around the square are myriad shops and restaurants as well as lovely streets leading off in all directions. A short walk from the centre of town is the Wawel castle and cathedral. Surrounded in myths and legends, both buildings' history date back to the 11th century and have played key parts in the history of Krakow and Poland as a whole. The cathedral houses many works of art from Gothic to Modern as well as tombs and sarcophagi of some of Poland's past kings, queens and saints. The castle, a former residence of the Polish Royal Court, houses several exhibitions, and there are a number of tours run daily. Although, much of the grounds are open between 6am am 5pm daily, tourists are advised to arrive early if they want to take part in one of the tours, are there are limited places available.
Located about an hour and a half's drive west of Krakow is the town of Oswiecim, known to the western world by its German name Auschwitz. Two camps make up make up what is today a museum and memorial to those who lost their lives in one of the worst atrocities ever committed. The smaller Auschwitz camp, whose entrance gate still carries the sardonic "Arbiet Macht Frei" sign, houses many exhibits and displays. The larger Birkenhau camp which was largely destroyed in an attempted 'cover-up' by the Germans as they fled, remains much as it was found when it was liberated in 1945. Many of the exhibits and displays in both camps are poignant and upsetting, not least the piles of spectacles, children's clothes, shoes, suitcases and other paraphernalia and possessions piled high in various rooms. Yet, it is at Birkenhau, where one really gets a sense of the vast and shocking scale of this Nazi operation. Day trips and tours leave regularly from Krakow, and although it can be uncomfortable and upsetting, the thought provoking experience will linger long in the memory.
Zakopane is one of Poland most popular tourist destinations for the locals. Located in the Tatra mountains in the south of the country, Zakopane is a place of beautiful mountains, lakes, waterfalls and forests. During the winter, tourist flock from around the country to what is regarded as the winter and skiing capital of the Poland. During the summer, visitors can explore that surrounding area with many hiking and cycling trails as well as many opportunities for rock climbers. Near by there is also the chance to visit Wieliczka Salt mine, which had been in operation from the 13th century right up until 2007. The most amazing aspect of the mine is that houses a church, and many sculptures and statues, even chandeliers, all carved out of rock salt, including the church itself.
Wroclaw is enjoying a growing reputation as one of Poland's most sophisticated and cosmopolitan cities and is one of Poland's hidden gems. Wroclaw has a large student population and the night life reflects that with a good number of bars and clubs all located near the centre or just a few streets away from the main square (Rynek Glowny). The main square here rivals that of Krakow in terms of beauty with a magnificent Gothic Town Hall located in it's centre, surrounded by colourfully painted buildings housing restaurants and shops. On the north-east side of the square lies St. Elizabeth's Church with its 90m high tower offers, for around 5PLN and a climb up some tightly winding steps offers, some spectacular views of the city. Another must-see attraction in Wroclaw is the Panorama Raclawicka; a stunning cylindrical painting commemorating a famous battle housed in its own purpose built rotunda.
The Tri-city area of Poland is an urban area consisting of the three cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Sopot. Situated along the coast of the Baltic Sea in the north of Poland. Each city is as individual as the next.
Gdansk, the oldest and largest of the three towns is filled with history. It was from that the spark that ignited the Second World War was struck. Like many of Poland's other older cities, there is the customary Old Town, and Gothic architecture. Today, Gdansk is a major port and tourist destination and many of Poland's festivals and cultural events take place in here. Gdynia, the youngest of the three cities, is another of Poland's major ports. Being a relatively new town, there are few historic monuments here, However, Gdynia there are many places here to enjoy seaside walks along the beaches and marinas. Sopot, on the other hand, is known for its bohemian atmosphere, attracting artists, musicians and the like who come to enjoy the party atmosphere of the town. The main street, Monte Cassino,filled with shops and restaurants, is also home to one of the town's main attractions, the Krzywy Dom ( Crooked House). Looking like one of Dali's dripping clocks, inside there are many shops and restaurants and bars. An hour's drive north will take you to the peninsula of Hel, a thin strip of land arching out into the Baltic Sea which is Poland's most popular seaside resort.