Poland has survived centuries of conflict to emerge as a proud, independent country, ready to assume her new role in modern history. Visitors to Poland are discovering what the locals have long known, that Poland is a country rich in fine culture, scenic landscapes and extraordinary historical sites. Whether exploring the nation’s vibrant cities, the lakes and forests of her picturesque countryside or some of the other tourist attractions in Poland, visitors are sure to bring away rich memories.
People have lived upon the site of Wawel Castle since the Paleolithic Age. The castle itself was first built in the 14th century, at the command of Polish monarch Casimir III the Great. The Gothic castle is home to the only preserved piece of the Polish Crown Jewels, the legendary sword Szczerbiec coronation sword. Decorated with symbols and floral patterns, the blade is notched to hold a small shield, giving the sword its nickname, the Jagged Sword.
A visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau is a powerful experience that words can scarcely describe. The immense size of the infamous Nazi concentration camp is the first thing to strike visitors as they approach the entrance to the memorial and museum in Oswiecim, Poland. Devoted to the memory of the murders in the camps during World War II, Auschwitz-Birkenau has been visited by more than 25 million people.
Located in an area that encompasses the lower Vistula River to the Lithuania border, the Masurian Lake District contains more than 2,000 lakes connected by an extensive system of canals and rivers. The Masurian Lakeland is the most popular tourist destination of Europe’s lake districts. Hotels, guest houses and camp sites are plentiful in the villages that surround the lakes, and visitors often travel by bicycle or boat to tour the scenic area.
Situated in northern Poland, the Slowinski Sand Dunes are part of the Slowinski National Park located on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The park is named after the Slovincians who once lived there, and an open-air museum in the town of Kluki features artifacts of their culture. The dunes themselves are formed as waves and wind carry sand onshore and can reach as high as 30 meters. Their forms change with the season and are known as the “moving dunes.”
Malbork Castle was founded in 1274 by the Teutonic Knights who used it as their headquarters to help defeat Polish enemies and rule their own northern Baltic territories. The castle was expanded several time to host the growing number of Knights until their retreat to Königsburg in 1466. Today it is the most popular tourist attraction in the city of Malbork.
Located on the outskirts of Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is considered one of the oldest companies in the world. Salt has been mined from the site continuously since the 13th century. The site features an underground city, all carved out of the rock salt, including a chapel that is said to have the best acoustics of any structure in Europe. Dozens of ancient sculptures carved from salt are augmented by new sculptures from contemporary artists.
The Bialowieza Forest is a large remnant of the primeval forests that once covered much of Europe. The forest straddles the border between Poland and the Republic of Belarus, and there are border crossings for tourists on foot or on bicycles. The Bialowieza Forest is home to around 800 wisent, a protected species of European bison. While the wisent are kept within fenced areas, guided tours are available either on foot or in horse-drawn carriages.
Located on the Baltic coast, the city of Gdansk’s history includes a long occupation by 14th century Teutonic Knights whose fortresses contrasted strongly with the existing town that came to be known as Altstadt, or “Old Town.” In the 15th century, Casimir IV of Poland allowed the structures built by the Teutonic Knights to be demolished. Gdansk’s Old Town area includes many 17th century structures, including granaries, mills and churches.
Founded in the late 13th century, Warsaw and the city’s central marketplace were the heart of Polish culture for five centuries. The original Old Town Market Place was destroyed in World War II but was carefully reconstructed almost immediately after the war ended. The market square features a bronze sculpture of the Warsaw mermaid, the symbol of Poland’s capital.
Dating back to the 13th century, the Main Market Square in the Old Town in Kraków is the largest medieval town square in Europe and one of the main tourist attractions in Poland. The square is surrounded by historical townhouses, historic buildings, palaces and churches. The center of the square is dominated by the Cloth Hall, rebuilt in 1555 in the Renaissance style, topped by a beautiful attic.