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Did You Know … ?

  • Poland’s Nicolaus Copernicus was the first person to show that the planets move around the sun.
  • To meet public transport needs during communism, the government paid drivers to pick up hitchhikers.
  • Poland was the first country in Europe to adopt a written constitution (1791) and second worldwide after the U.S.
  • The brick castle at Malbork is Europe’s largest medieval castle.
  • An oil well was sunk at Bobrka in 1854, possibly the world’s first such well.

A survivor, big time

It’s a wonder Poland even exists as a separate entity. Its people have lived in the area for more than 1,000 years. They also were once part of a big empire, sharing a king with Lithuania, that sprawled across large parts of central and eastern Europe, including Belarus and Ukraine. The empire was at its peak in the 1500s.

However, later, the nation was so much weaker that three rapacious neighbors, the Hapsburg’s Austria, Prussia and tsarist Russia, helped themselves to pieces of the territory, three times, until in 1795 there was no Poland.

The country was reborn after World War I, only to be reinvented after World War II with new borders somewhat farther west. It then faced nearly half a century under communism and in the shadow of the Soviet Union, until non-Communists swept elections in 1989.

Through these trying times, no outsider has crushed the Polish identity, an identity that manifests itself in religion, festivals, music, food and other cultural features of interest to visitors. Poland is a Roman Catholic country, and several religious sites around the nation are magnets for pilgrims. Other visitors — descendants of Polish emigrants — journey to the ancestral home in search of their roots.

Tourists with different interests, including history and architecture, come to explore the remarkably varied and numerous collections of medieval town centers, castles, monasteries and cathedrals which are well scattered around the country. Warsaw attracts the same crowd to see its Old Town, in this case a historic center that, after the destruction of World War II, was completely rebuilt to replicate the original. The reconstruction was worthy enough for UNESCO to designate Warsaw’s rebuilt Old Town a World Heritage Site.

As for nature’s contributions, they include the Baltic seacoast and thousands of lakes and rivers, as well as mountains, for summer and winter sports. The lake regions are in the north; the lowland farming areas are at the center, and the Carpathian and Sudeten mountains are in the south. Poland, as a result, can lure active visitors with options for fishing, rock climbing, sailing, skiing, windsurfing and more.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Plan a kayak trip. Poland boasts about 150 kayaking routes and some 10,000 lakes suitable for paddling. For a multiday trip, the rivers with the best set-up for equipment and campsites are the Brda, Czarna Hancza, Drawa, Drweca, Krutynia, Rospuda and Wda rivers.
  • Go sailing following the 50-mile Great Mazurian Lakes route, which starts in Nidzkie Lake and goes to Wegorzewo on Lake Mamry. You need to obtain a license to be your own captain, but alternatively you can hire a boat with pilot.
  • Set aside time in the cities for after-dark clubbing. Also, nighttime choices may include, depending on your schedule, rock concerts and, definitely, some jazz in Warsaw or Wroclaw.
  • Try your hand at windsurfing. There are several choices, but Pucka Gulf is deemed one of Europe’s most popular spots for the sport. Besides, there are several windsurfing schools in the area if you want to hone your skills.
  • Rock climbing is popular in Poland. Ascend the rocks at Jura Krakowsko-Czestochowska, or look at your options on the Zborow and Koloczek mountains near Podlesice.
  • Poland offers around 15,000 miles of marked hiking trails, including sections of trans-European trails. Go for a long walk.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Sample a couple of traditional local foods: stuffed cabbage rolls and pierogis, which are the Polish version of filled dumplings.
  • Go biking in the Suwalki National Park. The route begins in Smolniki and will take you through meadows and along lake trails while offering mountain scenics for background.
  • Overnight in a re-created Polish manor house called Dworek nad Lakami, at Kiermusy. Sleep in the Royal Chamber, the Russian Room or Jewish Suite, and relax in Rasputin’s Steam Bath. At meals, meats are prepared based on old recipes, and food is served with Kiermusy liquors.
  • Attend the September Grape Harvest Festival in Zielona Gora, a town with an attractive historical center. Also, the nearby village of Ochla has an open-air museum featuring rural architecture.
  • Do your bird-watching on the ornithological reserve known as the Barycz Valley. Here, a number of fish ponds built in the 13th and 14th centuries provide the habitat for the birds.
  • Attend the colorful Corpus Christi procession in Lowicz. The town is known for the event, during which participants don traditional costumes. In addition, the area’s open-air museum is in nearby Maurzyce.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Get tickets for a Chopin music recital at Frederic Chopin’s birthplace in Zelazowa Wola.
  • Work in some wildlife viewing in the Bialowieza National Park, which can only be visited with a guide as a protection for the animals and Europe’s oldest primeval forest. You have a chance to see the bison for which the park is famous, as well as the tarpan, a Polish cousin of the extinct Ukrainian steppe horse, and the zubron, a cross between a cow and bison.
  • Shop for Polish crystal. Also, shop for traditional handicrafts, which include prettily painted wooden boxes.
  • If astronomy is of interest, make a pilgrimage to Torun, birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus. The family home — now a museum — is here, and the town’s medieval center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Climb to the top of the town hall tower for a panoramic view of this former Hanseatic League river port.
  • Make a religious pilgrimage to Czestochowa, home of the famous Black Madonna. The city is called Poland’s spiritual capital, but another newer pilgrimage destination is Wadowice, birthplace of Pope John Paul II. Visitors seek out the city’s basilica, where the pope was baptized, and his family home, now a museum.
  • Be prepared to be impressed by St. Kinga’s Chapel, carved out of salt under ground, in the salt mine at Wieliczka. Even the chandeliers are carved of salt. The mine dates from the 13th century, but miners did the carving in the 17th.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Polish National Tourist Office at