From Krakow to Gdansk, the Old Towns of Poland mark the center of the cities they call home. From there, the ancient streets spread like veins to the outer districts, bringing stories, culture, and cuisine.
They continue into the countryside as the plains become more mountainous and the snow-capped peaks start to tower over the glacial valleys.
Poland is a heartwarming mix of humanity and nature. The nation’s storied past features tremendous heights and ruinous lows. An array of rulers from the Teutonic Knights to Prussia have added their own unique layers. While the destruction of the Second World War showcases both the fragility and power of life as Poland meticulously redeveloped both their present and past.
As you explore the best places to visit in Poland, it’s easy to immerse yourself in each destination. The rugged landscapes are magical, but accessible. The towns and cities have an allure and welcoming folks, so grab that pierogi and that Tyskie and let’s get to know them.
Map of Places to Visit in Poland
In this post, we'll cover:
Often overlooked, Lublin belongs on your Poland itinerary. The medieval Krakow and Warsaw may rightfully garner much of your attention. But there is something rather alluring about Lublin.
Upon arrival, you have to jump through some modern districts to make your way to the Old Town. But once you do, you’ll feel like you’re exploring Lublin’s incredible past without an abundance of fellow travelers.
The character of her old buildings is a sight to behold, and it marks the heart of a prominent trade city that dates back to the late 9th century. At its center is the Plac Po Farze square, almost entirely surrounded by colorful historic homes. One side, however, has terraced seating where you can grab a Rurki cream roll and watch the world go by.
Beyond the Old Town, you can explore the Lublin Castle. Dating back to the 14th century, it’s infused with traditional and Russian styles.
On the Baltic Sea, Sopot is a popular seaside getaway. It’s one part of the Tri-City that includes Gdynia and Gdansk. But the town has evolved in a different direction. The summer destination brings local and international crowds alike who make the most of Sopot’s lengthy beaches, waterfront restaurants and teeming nightlife.
Life here revolves around the shoreline. The developed waterfront leads to Sopot’s renowned pier that darts out into the Baltic Sea. As you wander out you’ll enjoy lovely views back to town and the golden sands that spread left and right.
Back on land, head to Monciak, a pedestrian street lined with boutique shops, cafe patios and restaurants. Just steps away, you can also discover the famous, and aptly named, Crooked House.
To enjoy some peace, head to Sopot Spa Park. Here you’ll find meandering paths through terraces of colorful flowers, graceful statues and the Fountain of Chopin.
14. Zalipie Village
Just a two hour drive stands between Krakow and Poland’s beloved painted town. Zalipie Village is an endearing place filled with elegant cottages, many of which have been intriguingly painted.
Transforming homes and many wooden structures around town into works of art has been a tradition here since the 1800s. From small beginnings, it’s become a central part of local culture to the point most residents participate. In fact, every year there is a competition.
Because of its diminutive size, it’s easy to explore Zalipie Village. As you go, you’ll find dozens of old homes painted in bright colors and captivating motifs, spreading pure joy. Many are emblazoned with flowers, commemorating the OG Felicja Curylowa who began this tradition.
Today, her former home has been transformed into a museum.
Undamaged after WWII, Torun boasts an opulent medieval aura. Gothic architecture, half-timbered homes and Teutonic castles are strewn throughout town, making it a delight to explore.
These highlights, alongside the Town Hall and St. John’s Cathedral, are set within the ancient fortified walls. These are a historic callback to the 1200s and the rise of the Teutonic Order, where you’ll also find the ruinous remains of the Torun Fortress.
One of the highlights of Torun’s Old Town is the Gingerbread Museum. Set within the factory, there’s no better way to learn about the Weese family and their famously delicious treat. The museum takes you on a journey over the last 300 years to see various gingerbread molds and the factory’s evolution.
Those interested in the stars and galaxies will also have the chance to explore the childhood home of Nicolaus Copernicus.
12. Masurian Lake District
Spanning from Vistula to the border of Russia, the Masurian Lake District is one of Poland’s most spellbinding landscapes. The Pleistocene ice age carved through the region over 11,000 years ago, leaving behind a valley of 2,000 lakes.
Small towns are spread throughout the district, putting a slight pause in the seemingly endless virgin wilderness. But they are complementary, a gateway to a majestic landscape. Here, lateral moraines tell the story of millions of years of grinding ice. While the wetland plains welcome white-tailed eagles, osprey, bison and pike.
Hiking is a great way to explore the district, but the best is on board a kayak. Paddle trails traverse the surface of Lake Śniardwy, plus the 100km Krutinya River.
For an immersive look into the district’s human history, one only needs to visit the Wolf’s Lair. This was Hitler’s headquarters for the Eastern Front.
Leba is a quiet, intricate town and one worth peeling back the layers. Local restaurants serve up kielbasa, kaszanka, smoked fish and bigos and major landmarks celebrate the town’s maritime heritage. None bigger than the Stilo Lighthouse.
Beyond the local culture, the gems of Leba show themselves along the wind-swept coasts. There, you’ll find Słowiński National Park. Explore on foot, bicycle or golf cart to see the famous moving sand dunes that create the visual of a vast desert.
The youthful university town of Poznan is the perfect spot to get to know the Polish way of life. You’ll still find ample history here, but its scenic streets are polished off with a vibrant bar scene along with inexpensive traditional cuisine.
It’s easy to latch onto the energy in Poznan. Rather than getting about on two feet, you can join the city’s thriving cycle culture and explore within the bike lanes. See the Poznan Castle, Market Square and Town Hall. Not to mention the famous street art, exemplified by Noriaki’s The Watcher.
Knowing you’ll have plenty of time to indulge in the food and drink at night, take time to explore the parks and gardens that add green to the hues of pastel-colored buildings. After stopping by Citadela Park, head to the Old Brewery. This is a thriving urban renewal project that has transformed a former brewery into a modern arts and shopping hub.
9. Tatra Mountains
Splitting Slovakia and Poland, the Tatra Mountains are laden with breathtaking scenery. After days spent exploring ancient cities, there’s something tremendously grounding about putting on those hiking shoes and heading out into the Tatras.
There are almost 300 kilometers of hiking trails throughout. If you could only choose one trail, it would have to be to the top of Rysy. The 2500m peak is as rewarding as it’s challenging. Once you’ve made it to the top, you’ll bask in the spoils encapsulated by the unforgettable views.
Known as the Eye of the Sea, Morskie Oko is another spot you should add to your Tatra Mountains bucket list. A two-hour trek through deep forests of Swiss pines awaits. But lying on the other end is a glacial-fed lake that mirrors the exceptional surrounding landscapes. The trail turns back into the foothills where you can enjoy an elevated look of the glistening lake.
On the banks of the Oder River, Wroclaw is one of the most unique places to visit in Poland. Over 100 bridges connect the city’s 12 islands with the flowing water meandering by ancient buildings that tell the story of the Piast dynasty and the Kingdom of Bohemia.
It’s safe to say, exploring on foot is an adventure in itself. Old streets lead to elegant architecture with prominent museums standing behind the doors. These include the Lubomirski Museum which divulges the interesting ancient and recent history of Wroclaw.
But all roads lead to the 13th century Main Market Square. Here, you’ll find a gorgeous assortment of culture and heritage, with the Old Town Hall and St. Elizabeth’s Church dominating the scene.
Beyond the beauty and bridges, Wroclaw is home to one rather fascinating phenomenon, the Wroclaw Dwarfs. Spread across the Old Town and Market Square, there are 600 of these dwarfs each with their own personality and story to tell. How many can you discover?
7. Bialowieza National Park
Spectacular old-growth forests, rich wetlands and blooming meadows make up Bialowieza National Park. As one of the best preserved primeval forests in Europe, exploring this national park is seeing the continent as it once was.
Long before the rise and fall of empires, these very forests covered large swathes of Europe. Today hiking and biking trails meander throughout the park. Trails like the 2.7km Żebra Żubra Trail showcase a wide breadth of landscapes from deciduous forests to wetlands.
Joining you on your adventure will be a collection of Bialowieza 250 species of birds, red deer and elk. You may even spot wolves, wildcats, and beavers. But as far as wildlife goes, none compare to Wisent, the European Bison. These majestic beasts are the heaviest land animals on the continent.
Among the stunning nature, there are hints of human history. This is encapsulated by Bialowieza village. This open-air museum features ancient wooden architecture, windmills, chapels and a traditional sauna.
Singing the tales of the Teutonic Order, Malbork, is shrouded in medieval grandeur and military excellence. Set on the banks of the Nogat River, this ancient citadel boasts (by land size) the biggest castle on planet earth!
I hear you saying, “well, size isn’t everything”. This is true, especially if the castle in question wasn’t so imposingly beautiful. Upon settling here in the 1300s, the Teutonic Order went about creating this brick masterpiece. It would be their headquarters until 1525. Today you can explore much of the castle’s three sections, the highlight of which is the Grand Master’s Palace.
With the picturesque Nogat River coursing through town, there’s more to Malbork than a ton of well-arranged bricks. You can take a cruise along the river from a different perspective. All before exploring the charming Old Town at night where a hearty bowl of żurek awaits.
Also known as Danzig, Gdansk is the largest city in northern Poland and its main seaport On the edge of the Old Harbor, the salty Baltic Sea crashes onto the shore. These waters have seen the rise, fall and reemergence of Gdansk. Those who visit will discover a maritime city whose streets and merchant homes tell a story of trade, warfare and resilience.
Along the waterfront, this history dances with contemporary life. Restaurants flood the area with the aromas for fresh catch and fairy lights dangle from entrances to bars.
Stepping away from the Baltic Sea takes you through Gdansk Old Town where Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture take turns filling Dlugi Targ Street with art. Continue on to experience the happening Long Market, the world’s largest brick church and, eventually, the Gdansk Crane.
But among the centuries-old marvels are stories that bring you right back to the present. Along the Westerplatte Peninsula, the first shots of WWII were fired. The Museum of the Second World War comprehensively explores this recent period.
In the foothills of the Tantra Mountains, Zakopane is the place to be when the snow starts to fall. As the daylight hours shorten, locals and fellow travelers make their way to this beloved winter destination. Along the way the snow-capped peaks of the Tantra’s whisper promises of the adventures ahead.
Kasprowy Wierch and Nosal are two resorts that offer some fantastic skiing and snowboarding for all abilities. But it’s Zakopane’s après-ski culture that makes the experience so memorable. The traditional Polish town retains much of its historic charm with the addition of the modern Krupówki Street festivities.
But say you aren’t a fan of speeding encumbered down a snowy mountain. Maybe you’re more of a summer sun kind of traveler? As the snow melts and wildflowers bloom, hiking trails reappear ready to guide you to epic vistas of the town and valley below. You may even spot the rushing waters of the Dunajec Gorge where rafting adventures are bound to get the heart racing.
With roots tying it back to the Middle Ages, Wieliczka has a story to go with its small town charm. Its economic prosperity blossomed on the back of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, creating a rich heritage that you can still discover today.
Old town streets guide you through quaint plazas and churches. The latter includes St. Clement’s Church, whose Gothic design dominates the city skyline.
But eventually, you’ll have seen enough of the world above and begin to wonder what lies beneath. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is an adventure through both time and geology.
One of the oldest known salt mines, visitors can embark on a subterranean tour to see much of the mine’s nine levels. Along the way, you’ll find carved masterpieces as good as any above the surface. None are better than the Chapel of St. Kinga, whose majestic chandeliers and altars have been created purely out of salt crystals.
Rising out of the ashes of the Second World War, Warsaw has undergone an immense redevelopment. Through the previous decades, green shoots have fully grown to once again showcase Warsaw’s vibrant cultural scene that intertwines with the city’s vast history.
Just by wandering Krakow’s Old Town, Stare Miasto, you’d be forgiven for thinking the war never happened. Such is the meticulous reconstruction of the former Baroque and Renaissance buildings, Krakow’s physical scars have healed.
The cobbled streets of Stare Miasto lead you to Castle Square. Shops and cafes line the edges, creating a space to gather or simply watch the world go by. It’s here you can admire the colorful merchant houses and the famous Warsaw Mermaid Statue.
After exploring living history, complement your experience at any of the city’s 60 museums. Some of our favorites include the Uprising Museum, a tribute to those who pursued freedom during the war, and the world’s only gallery dedicated to posters.
Once known as the “Paris of the North,” it also is famous as the home of classical composer Fryderyk Chopin. Another famous citizen was Renaissance astronomer Copernicus, who was born in Poland. Travelers of all ages will enjoy a visit to the Copernicus Science Center where hands-on activities abound.
Having escaped much of the WWII damage that beset parts of Poland, Krakow’s ancient past lives on. The city was inhabited as far back as the 600s, and today its array of medieval and Renaissance architecture captures your imagination.
During World War II, the Nazis herded Jews into the Krakow Ghetto where they were later sent to concentration camps; the movie Schindler’s List centered around one man’s efforts to save the ghetto residents from extermination.
Today, the colorful homes and buildings shimmer on sunny, summer days. In the winter months, these same old-time structures provide a sense of warmth in the snow. Importantly, the elegance of Krakow is not so high-brow, it feels more akin to a welcoming embrace.
Rynek Główny, Krakow’s Grand Market Square, is one of the premier examples of medieval history in Europe. Sit with a pierogi in hand and admire the facade of St.Mary’s Basilica, the Cloth Hall or the soaring heights of the Town Hall Tower.
As you branch out of the Old Town, you’ll find a city with 40 urban parks. The best Planty Park envelopes Krakow in green landscapes, perfect for stretching your legs or exploring on two wheels.