One of the most prominent countries in Central Europe, Poland is filled with rich history, some dating as far back as the first century. A country often overlooked by travelers, Poland is home to countless historic structures, a vast Baltic shoreline, hills and lakes formed in or around the Pleistocene Ice Age, and flora and fauna species that may not be found anywhere else in the European continent. Besides the popular cities of Warsaw and Krakow, there are a few extremely adorable villages and small towns in Poland that are worth every bit of your time and effort.
The Royal Free City of Sanok sits directly below the Carpathian Mountains and on the San River. There aren’t enough words which can describe the stunning panoramic views that the town offers along with its rich history and architecture. This little town dates back almost one thousand years and houses the Sanok Castle and the Icon collection – one of the largest collections of its kind in Central as well as Eastern Europe. The Old Town and the Museum of Folk Architecture are also popular attractions in the area. For nature and outdoor lovers, the exquisite town of Sanok has a 70-kilometer trail which can be used by hikers as well as bikers.
Situated within the boundaries of Krakow metropolitan area, Wieliczka is most famous as home to one of the oldest functional salt mines in the world – Wieliczka Salt Mine. One of the extremely distinct features of this beautiful town is the practice of the Easter tradition of Siuda Baba – Wieliczka is one of the last areas in Poland to keep up with the practice.
Once a popular urban center in not just Lesser Poland but the entire country, Sandomierz is best known for its Old Town – the most popular attraction in this little town. During your visit, explore the underground tourist route and many castles and churches. Also significant is the Collegium Gostomianum which is regarded as one of the oldest schools in the country and Sandomierz Cathedral which was originally constructed in 1360 and later renovated in the 18th century.
A tiny town with a little over 1,000 inhabitants, Chochołów is a true gem for history lovers in the way that the entire town comprises almost all 19th century historic Polish wooden structures constructed by Góral highlanders. Perched somewhat in between the High and the Low Tara Mountain Ranges, the town is surrounded by surreal evergreen forests that are covered with snow come winters and offer perfectly enchanting hiking trails to visitors in the summer.
Złotoryja, supposedly the oldest towns in the country, is located by the foothills of Kaczawa, also known as the ‘Land of Dormant Volcanoes. Once a famous gold mining town, Złotoryja can be best viewed from the 13th Century Church of Birth of Saint Virgin Mary. Outside the little medieval town is Baszta Kowalska, also known as the Blacksmith’s Tower, which looks over the city and is one of the many leaning towers in the country. While here, pay a visit to the Gold Mining Museum to educate yourself about the town’s celebrated gold mining past.
On the foothills of the mighty Carpathian Mountains sits this glorious town which was once considered one of the most significant trading towns in Poland. Known for a lot many historic acts, Biecz is the place where Wacław Potocki penned the “Chocim War.” Often dubbed as the “little Krakow” in modern Poland, the charming town is characterized by the late-Gothic parish church that houses a 1633 music sheet and is known as the biggest landmark in the region. Walk down the narrow alleys, admire the historic hall at the Chodor House, and visit the museum at the Kromerówka.
Home to one of the largest fortifications in the world, the Malbork Castle, Malbork is one of the most picturesque little towns in Poland. Nestled between the wetlands and waterways of the Vistula Delta, Malbork is definitely an unmissable sight on your trip to Poland, especially when it houses the largest Gothic structure in Europe.
Host to Europe’s second biggest trade fair during the 16th and 17th century, Jarosław once welcomed businessmen from all around the globe. Today, the underground cellars and storage facilities are a primary tourist attraction. Much of the town’s extravagant past has faded but the imposing townhouses remain till date as a reminder of the times gone by. Admire the town’s historic palaces and fortifications to know more about the history and architecture. Visit the Orsetti House which houses a museum entirely dedicated to Jarosław. Explore the many churches and synagogues to learn about the prominent personalities who lived here. But, most of all, appreciate the brilliant layout of the town which has almost remained untouched since it was first built in 1375.
A quaint yet delightful town in the province of Wielkopolska, Rydzyna is often nicknamed as the “Pearl of the Polish Baroque”, because of the several baroque palaces and structures that line the town’s streets. Most of the architecture in the area are accredited to 17th century architects Jan Stier and Pompeo Ferrari. Today, the historic structures from the 18th and 19th century complement the surroundings they stand within, along with the most historically significant edifice in the town, the Rydzyna Castle. Also notable is the late Baroque style St. Stanisław’s Church, the final resting place of the town’s founder. The Holy Trinity Figure, erected in honor of the 1709 plague that decimated most of the town’s population.
Once a moated community of a prehistoric Prussian Tribe, Reszel is a town stuck in time. Savaged by battles and their aftermaths, Reszel now stands quietly as a reminder of the medieval atmosphere it once harbored. The striking Gothic Episcopal Castle stands as the most prominent structure in the town. Also significant is the St. Peter’s church, designed in the similar Gothic-style and dating as far back as the 14th century. You must also find time to explore the other remarkable structures scattered around the town, including the Classicist town hall from the 19th century, St. John’s Church, the Jesuit Complex from the 15th and 16th Century, and the nearby Catholic shrine of Święta Lipka, a highly revered pilgrimage site for Germans, Polish as well as Lithuanians since the 17th century.
A favorite stop among Polish Kings and Lithuanian princes for some alcoholic refreshments, Tykocin once housed around 36 beer taverns, 15 vodka joints, and 10 mead inns! Situated by the River Narew, this small town is one of the oldest settlements and is home to over one hundred historic structures, including but not limited to the Tykocin Castle, the baroque Church of the Holy Trinity, the Jewish Cemetery – one of the oldest in the country, and the Baroque Tykocin Synagogue – one of the best-preserved in Poland and a major tourist attraction.
The town derives its name from an old Polish word ‘chelm’ that means hill. Chełmno, a town spread over nine hills near River Vistula, was one of the most developed towns during the State of the Teutonic Order. While all that glory may have faded over the last few centuries, this charming, little town has an extremely-preserved medieval center with a splendid Renaissance town hall in the heart of the market square and five astonishing Gothic churches. Allegedly, one of these churches may have once held the relics of St. Valentine which is why locals and tourists at times also refer to this town as the “town of love” – the many “lover’s benches” around the town, promising a blissful love-life are proof of this belief.
Located on the banks of River Vistula, Kazimierz Dolny was once an important town for the region’s grain-trading business. But, it is now regarded as one of the most preserved historic towns in the country. Due to its thriving art scene, this little town has attracted creative geniuses from all over the globe since the 19th century, some of whom have even made it their summer retreat. Art and sculpture galleries of almost all kinds can be found around the town’s streets. The town is home to several notable structures such as the Parish church of St. Bartholomew and John the Baptist, the remnants of the Kazimierz Dolny Castle, St. Anne Church, and the many historic granaries. Kazimierz Dolny is also surrounded by lush greenery and wonderful hillsides.
Forever regarded as the “Winter Capital of Poland,” Zakopane is a small, charming resort town with lots of restaurants and shops, and the strikingly gorgeous snow-clad Tatra Mountains that give the town it’s much-acclaimed fame. Though the town carries a picnic vibe throughout the year, as soon as the first snow falls, hundreds of visitors make their way to Zakopane to fathom its many hiking trails and catch up on the action that goes on around the bustling streets of Krupowki. Don’t miss out on Oscypek, a local specialty involving smoked cheese.