Besides Germany, no country fulfills my Central Europe wanderlust better than Poland. With cities as magical as anywhere in the region and perfect battery-recharging nature, Poland is the European escape you’ve always craved, but never seriously considered. Until now.
Kickstarting what to do in Poland is never hard. From the Hanseatic seaside grace of Gdansk to the show-stopping architectural prowess of Krakow, Poland might have the best selection urban gems in the whole region. Seeking serenity in the deep woodlands of Białowieża National Park or clearing your lungs with the mountain air of the High Tatras near Zakopane is no less compelling.
Even with a little as 10 days in Poland, both are possible. Dig into this amazing Central European country on this unforgettable 10-day Poland itinerary.
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Deciding what to do in Poland? Get started with this 10-day Poland itinerary…
Launching an epic Poland itinerary is easier than you think. A modern and ever-improving transportation system connects major Polish cities and even lesser-known gems. Distances in Poland are becoming less of a problem, making it no more challenging to travel though than modern Central European destinations like Germany.
Poland’s a little different, though. It’s beautiful is enough to appease travellers used to classic European grace while just rough enough around the edges to give rustic backpackers their due. However you decide to dole out your plans of what to do in Poland, I guarantee it’ll be satisfying. (Just make sure you choose to visit Poland at the right time of year!)
Poland Pre-Planning Checklist
Ready to plan out your Poland itinerary? Don’t forget the following travel essentials before you go!
- Travel Insurance: Planning to get active in Poland? Don’t even dream of travelling without insurance! Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
- Guidebooks: As much I rely on technology these days, I rarely travel without print guidebooks as a backup. Lonely Planet Poland offers one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date travel guides for the country.
- Phrasebooks: Don’t let a language barrier get in the way of your travels in Poland. The Lonely Planet Polish Phrasebook is the perfect companion to get things done!
My suggestion to start your Poland itinerary in Warsaw is bound to attract a few detractors. Warsaw isn’t necessarily an immediately loveable destination, but a necessary one. Unless you’re simply popping into Poland for a weekend, no trip to Central Europe’s heartland should leave out Warsaw.
I can’t guarantee it’ll be love at first sight. But Warsaw’s not so hard to get to know either.
Polish history surges through the veins of Warsaw as does the present and future of the nation. From the timeless streets of Old Town to an ever-evolving food & drink scene with more than a dash of the past peppered in the mix, Warsaw can be deeply satisfying in more ways than one.
Give yourself at least one day in Warsaw, more if you’ve got the time, and give Poland’s upbeat capital a chance to snatch your heart.
What to Do in Warsaw
While Warsaw doesn’t exude the classic European charm of Krakow in the south, that’s not to say that it won’t keep your interest peaked. There’s a little of everything here: hip restaurants, world-class museums, medieval squares, and even a waterborne palace.
Why not get started exploring Poland’s capital with a few of these top things to do in Warsaw:
Experience the grace of Old Town (Stare Miasto)
It’s a bit of a misnomer to describe Warsaw’s Old Town (Stare Miasto) as “old.” On the surface, yes. The foundations of Old Town were laid long ago, in bygone centuries.
But as with so many cities in Central Europe, World War II was not kind to Warsaw. Much of the original Old Town was flattened, leaving little beyond rubble in its wake.
The Old Town seen today in Warsaw is an modern era restoration that flashes back perfectly to the grace of its pre-war existence. With UNESCO swooping in and declaring Warsaw’s Old Town a World Heritage Site, the importance doesn’t appear to be giving way any time soon.
The best way to experience Old Town is to wander through the alleyways spoking out from Old Town Market Square. If you’re interested in art and history, don’t miss a visit to the Royal Castle, the reconstruction of Poland’s 16th-century royal residence.
Relive the resistance at the Warsaw Rising Museum
There’s no more fascinating place to whet your appetite for modern Polish history than the Warsaw Rising Museum. Opened on the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising, this museums documents the history of the movement that ultimate shook the Nazis grip of Poland with a variety of interesting exhibits. The admission of 20zł (free on Sundays) is well worth it.
Swoon over Warsaw from above at the Palace of Culture & Science
With almost unanimity Warsovians despise the monstrous Palace of Culture & Science. This hallmark of communist architecture, often dubbed “Stalin’s Last Erection” in reference to the Soviet leader that “gifted” it to Poland, is hard to ignore while visiting Warsaw.
Putting aside the impossibility of avoiding gazing up at the 231-metre-high building that clogs Warsaw’s skyline from nearly every angle, the Palace of Culture & Science is a must-see for the panoramas from atop. As locals often joke, the reason the views are the best in the city is that they are the only that exclude the building!
Entrance for the observatory deck at the Palace of Culture & Science is 20zł.
Experience the “real” Warsaw in Praga
Not long ago, no smart traveller would dare step into Praga. Oh, how things have changed! Today, Praga is Warsaw’s coolest up-and-coming district, the Polish capital’s answer to Berlin’s Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain.
Sitting just east of the tourist bubble of Old Town, getting over to Praga for a grittier look at Warsaw is hardly difficult. To witness the district’s transformation from shab to shab-chic, meander along ulica Ząbkowska, a lively street sprouting art galleries, bars, cafes, and restaurants from its sidewalks. For more background information on the district, pop into the new Praga Museum (ul. Targowa 50/52) located on ulica Targowa just a block south of ulica Ząbkowska.
Where to Stay in Warsaw
There’s a good selection of accommodations in Warsaw, especially around the centre of town. Warsaw’s no longer a bargain-basement destination. Expect prices in line with most other major Central European cities. Get started looking into the best places to stay in Warsaw with these options:
- Warsaw Hostel Centrum: A centrally located hostel with both private rooms and dorms. Good compromise between budget and comfort.
- Old Town Castle Apartment: Comfortable apartment in the heart of Old Town. Many of Warsaw’s top tourist attractions are just a short walk away. Apartment offers superb value compared to nearby hotel. Book early as this place is insanely popular!
- Hotel Chmielna Warsaw: A comfortable and quiet 2-star hotel with a very central location at the fraction of the price as nearby chain hotels. Everything you’ll need for your stay in Warsaw is within a short walking distance from here.
- Sheraton Warsaw Hotel: A luxurious 5-star property in the heart of Warsaw. The hotel is home to two fine restaurants and a bar to unwind after a long day. A 24-hour fitness centre, sauna and steam bath is also available for guests.
Getting to Warsaw
Several airlines fly into Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW) including LOT Polish Airlines, the flagship carrier of Poland. From the United States, the best fares to Warsaw start at about $415 return. From Canada, you’ll be hard-pressed to find flights much under C$800. If you stopover in the UK, you could find low-cost flights for as little as £30 one-way.
Hanging onto Poland’s Baltic coast, Gdansk rarely features on first-time Poland itineraries. And it’s a huge mistake. Gdansk is one of the best places to visit in Poland, even if it can’t stack up in popularity with Krakow, Warsaw or even Wroclaw.
The charms of Gdansk are intricately tied in with its seaside setting. Centuries of merchant trade left its mark on Gdansk, namely leaving behind a stunning architectural legacy that feels more Germanic than Polish. On the surface, Gdansk has more in common with Copenhagen or Hamburg than Warsaw or Krakow. This distinction among Polish cities alone makes the trip to Gdansk worthwhile.
Give yourself at least 3 days to explore Gdansk. The city itself could captivate for the entire time, but the real treats are the day trips from Gdansk that lie in every direction. From medieval castles to seaside resorts, the whole of northern Poland is well connected to the region’s biggest city. Use this chance to explore it as much as possible.
What to Do in Gdansk
There’s not just a ton of things to do in Gdansk itself. The whole Gdansk area is ripe for exploration. With just three days (surely you could squeeze a few more, couldn’t you?), you’ll have to compromise. Get started with a few of these ideas:
Explore Gdansk’s Main Town & Old Town
Getting to grips with Gdansk begins with a thorough exploration of its delightful Main Town & Old Town. Start by sauntering along Długa, a beautiful main drag that once catered to Polish royal processions, leads to the heart of Gdansk, Długa Targ. This main market square breathes more than a little Germanic flair with its distinct restored merchant houses, a reminder of its Hanseatic seafaring days.
Elsewhere in Main Town, don’t miss St. Mary’s Basilica. Thought to be the world’s (or at least Europe’s) largest brick church, St. Mary’s Basilica has long been the most important religious symbol of the city. The church sustained heavy damage in World War II. Like most of Gdansk, most of what you’ll see at St. Mary’s Basilica is a painstaking reconstruction of the 15th-century original. Scale up the over 400 steps to the top of the church tower (6zł admission) for fabulous views over Gdansk.
Show your “Solidarity” at the Gdansk Shipyards
I generally avoid ports. But when they are as important as the Gdansk Shipyards, skipping out isn’t an option.
Flashback to 1980, the Gdansk Shipyards witnessed one of the first blows to communism in Europe when shipyard electrician Lech Wałęsa founded Solidarity (Solidarność). What started as a trade union in these shipyards became much more. Solidarity was one of the most important social movements of the era, sounding the death knell to communist rule in Poland and beyond.
To learn more about the Solidarity movement, visit the European Solidarity Centre (Europejskie Centrum Solidarności) at the entrance to the shipyards. The centre features a permanent exhibit with multimedia displays that detail the movement’s founding and its impact on politics in Poland and, more generally, Europe.
Discover the medieval grace of Malbork Castle on a day trip
It’s rare to find a castle where a mere glance can surge all your medieval childhood fairytales to life. Malbork Castle is it. The history of Malbork Castle slips back to the Crusades when the Teutonic Knights fled northward from the Arabs. Their original fortress grew over the centuries, eventually becoming the largest Gothic fortification in Europe.
Malbork Castle is no less impressive today. The reconstruction projects that followed World War II restored Malbork Castle to its former glory, no easy feat considering the damage sustained over the years from war, neglect and fires.
Besides the turrets, ramparts and towers that look as if they were plucked from the pages of legends, the inside of the Malbork Castle features exhibits that walk through the castle’s history.
This vast castle, the largest in the world by area, isn’t a quick drop in. Set aside a couple hours to truly soak in Malbork Castle’s medieval glories.
Where to Stay in Gdansk
There’s a good selection of accommodations in Gdansk, but with the city’s increasing popularity among travellers, it’s getting harder and harder to find deals without booking well ahead of time. To grab the perfect room in Gdansk, start your search early. Try out a few of these options:
- 4-friendshostel: A great guesthouse/hostel in a superb location. Offers both clean private rooms and dorms. Many of the top Gdansk attractions are just a short walk away.
- Old Town Panorama Apartments: An excellent apartment in the heart of Gdansk. Apartments are spacious, perfect for travelling as a family or in a group. Self-catering kitchenette offers an excellent way to save money on eating out.
- Liberum: A super central hotel in a historic building with a ton of character. Rooms are comfortable, bright and quiet.
- Radisson Blu Hotel Gdansk: A luxurious 5-star hotel occupying a stunning historic Gothic merchant house on Dluga Targ in Main Town. Can’t get more central than this!
Getting to Gdansk
The upgraded train services between Warsaw and Gdansk make the train by far the best option. Direct trains between Warszawa Centralna and Gdańsk Główny depart every hour and take less than 3 hours (150zł to 229zł). Check schedules and prices here.
For a city many outside of Poland have never heard of, Wroclaw packs a punch. Crowned the 2016 European Capital of Culture, Wroclaw has nabbed the attention of travellers, at least in Europe, over the past two years. Wroclaw feels a bit like Krakow before the big crowds swooped it. But don’t wait too long; a (relative) secret like Wroclaw will only last so long.
I can hardly think of another city whose fate has laid in the hands of so many. Wroclaw has been ruled by Austrians, Czechs, Hungarians, Germans, and Poles over its long history. Each left a mark on the capital of Lower Silesia, giving Wroclaw an interesting aesthetic not quite like any other Polish city.
Try to carve out at least two days in Wroclaw. You should be able to cover most of the major sites in town in that time.
What to Do in Wroclaw
Although the city is home to over 600,000 people, you can cover many of the best things to do in Wroclaw on foot throughout the compact city centre. Get started with a couple of these ideas:
Wandering through the Old Town
I feel I’m repeating myself within this Poland itinerary with this recommendation. For me, the excitement of exploring a Polish city starts with the Old Town. Wroclaw’s Old Town, a lovely mix of Central European influences, doesn’t disappoint.
Nowhere is Wroclaw more picturesque than Market Square, the centre of Old Town. Around the 14th century, Wroclaw really hit its groove. The city was, at the time, one of the largest trading centres in Europe, beckoning goods from all over the continent and beyond. Wroclaw much like its northern counterpart of Gdansk, became a member of the Hanseatic League, shaping the architectural canvas that still charms the pants off of travellers today.
Keep on the lookout for the Town Hall (Ratusz), a Gothic masterpiece on Market Square that, even in a city as beautiful as Wroclaw, stands out.
Get stunned by the Gothic tranquility of Cathedral Island (Ostrów Tumski)
Even though the hordes in Wroclaw can’t rival Krakow, escape the buzz of Old Town for the quiet cobblestoned alleyways of Cathedral Island (Ostrów Tumski). Propped up on the northern banks of the Oder River, Cathedral Island is the oldest part of Wroclaw and one of the city’s true gems.
The area offers a flashback to Wroclaw’s humble beginnings. Long before the city centre blossomed around Old Town, the town of Wroclaw flourished on Cathedral Island. After scuffle with the invading Tatars, who left much of Cathedral Island in ruin, the shift to the “mainland” surged forward. Cathedral Island waned in importance, becoming a idyllic spiritual escape rather than trading centre.
Its ancient legacy left Cathedral Island jam-packed with stunning medieval and Gothic architecture. Cross over Tumski Bridge (Most Tumski) for a stroll down ulica Katedralna.
Not to be missed is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist at the end of ulica Katedralna. Besides the epic 16th-century Gothic altarpiece and massive church organ, the cathedral’s tower (5zł), offering the city’s best panoramic view, is worth the trip.
If you can, visit Cathedral Island in the evening. Under the faint glow of gaslights, Ostrów Tumski is at its most atmospheric.
Where to Stay in Wroclaw
Finding accommodations in Wroclaw isn’t as much of a challenge as in Krakow or Warsaw where the size of the city and the selection can overwhelm. For travellers, Old Town and Śródmieście are the best areas to narrow your search for convenience. Try one of these out for size:
- Moon Hostel: An excellent choice for budget travellers wanting to stay in Old Town. Offers both dorms and private rooms. The larger quadruple and family rooms offer private bathrooms.
- B&B Hotel Wroclaw Centrum: A nice budget hotel located within walking distance of both Cathedral Island and Market Square. Rooms offer few frills but are spacious, comfortable and clean.
- Centrum Dikul Hotel: A stylish boutique hotel in the heart of Old Town. Offer large rooms with splendid modern decor. A rarity among hotels anywhere are the electronic adjustable beds installed in the rooms. An excellent breakfast is also included with most bookings.
- Hotel Monopol: The best 5-star hotel in Wroclaw. Pamper yourself with the hotel’s wellness offerings including an indoor pool, sauna, steam bath and massages. Rooms are incredibly spacious with excellent city views available. Two fine on-site restaurants serve delicious Polish and Mediterranean fare.
Getting to Wroclaw
Trains between Gdańsk Główny and Wrocław Główny leave about 4 times per day. The journey takes between 5h29m to 6h10m (70zł to 91zł). If you have extra time and find the trip too long, break it up with a stay in Poznan.
No visit to Poland is complete without a visit to Krakow. In fact, most Poland itineraries start—and end—here. Now that you’ve already experienced a couple of the best places to visit in Poland, Krakow is just the cherry on top.
It’s Poland’s top tourist destination for a reason. Travellers fall in love with Krakow nearly unanimously. And if not, they probably didn’t dig quite far enough. Not only are the treasures of Krakow obvious, the city has an intangible vibrance that always leaves you wanting more.
Dedicate at least three days to Krakow. In addition to a hearty exploration of the city, there’s a handful of vital day trips from Krakow that every traveller to Poland should take. With only 3 days, you’ll need to make a judgment call or put the pedal to the metal to fit in everything I’ve mentioned here. The more time you can stretch out in Krakow, though, the better!
What to Do in Krakow
For the record: I don’t recommend skimming through Krakow. There’s just too much complexity and too many things to do in Krakow to stuff it all in to a vacuum-packed Krakow itinerary without leaving something to be desired. In any case, here are a few pointers on where to start:
Let your love of Krakow blossom in Old Town
Here’s a unsurprising confession: I love Krakow’s Old Town. Even if it’s gotten a lot more crowded over the past decade, Old Town still exudes magic. From Gothic churches to castles rising above the riverbank, Krakow’s Old Town is an absolute gem. Don’t miss your chance to find your own love for it.
Start off in Rynek Glowny, a massive market square that’s been the centre of Krakow for centuries. The square is surrounded by incredible architecture, none more impressive than the superlatively large Cloth Hall and St. Mary’s Basilica. Take time to explore each, especially the Rynek Undergound beneath the Cloth Hall and the interior of St. Mary’s where you’ll find Veit Stoss’s masterful Gothic alterpiece.
At the southern fringes of Old Town don’t miss the grandeur of Wawel Hill, home to the Wawel Cathedral and Wawel Castle. Although Wawel Castle isn’t as striking as Malbork Castle near Gdansk, exploring the castle’s array of extravagant treasures will surely spark reaction. The ornate chapels of Wawel Cathedral are no less impressive.
Descend into the mysterious caverns of Wieliczka Salt Mine
With a free half-day or so, find your way to the fringes of Krakow for a (maybe literal) taste of one of Europe’s most unique attractions, Wieliczka Salt Mine. As one of the first UNESCO Heritage Sites in the entire world, Wieliczka Salt Mine is clearly a special place.
The regular tourist route through the mine snakes through dozens of chambers and galleries carved out from rock salt. Along the way you’ll encounter intricate formations from monuments and statues to underground lakes and chapels. Most impressive on the tour is the Chapel of St. Kinga, an otherworldly church whose every decoration and adornment is painstakingly carved from salt.
TIP: To make the most of your time, book yourself on a Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour from Krakow. The guided half-day tour leaves twice a day from Matejko Square in Old Town and includes transportation and admission to the mine.
Experience an all-too-real history lesson at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Set aside at least one day in your itinerary for Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the best day trips from Krakow. It’s hard to stomach the horrors of these two Nazi concentration camps, but it’s an absolutely necessary trip for anyone who wants to better understand the 20th-century history of Poland, Europe, and, indeed, of the world.
The museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau is a sombre scene, bringing to life conditions at the camps with a number of exhibits. Most haunting are the personal effects of the prisoners—from eyeglasses and uniforms to toothbrushes and journals—left behind as they were erased from history with precision. Equally shuddering are artefacts from the German side. Among them, empty canisters of Zyklon B, the poison used in the gas chambers, sit idle having long ago fulfilled their deadly duty.
Spend at least one-and-a-half to two hours at both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) to fully absorb the scene.
TIP: Want the full experience? I’d recommend booking a guided tour like the Auschwitz and Birkenau Tour from Krakow.
Where to Stay in Krakow
With its ever increasing popularity, finding accommodations in Krakow is hardly as easy—or cheap—as it once was. The best properties for travellers looking to explore the city centre lie within Old Town and Kazimierz. You’ll need to book well ahead of time to avoid disappointment. Start your search with one of these:
- Mundo Hostel: A budget-friendly hostel with both private rooms and dorms on offer. International design touches give each room a unique vibe. A short five-minute walk to Wawel Hill.
- Aparthotel Stare Miasto: An amazingly central apartment/hotel hybrid. Offers spacious and comfortable rooms with a unique design aesthetic that combines modernity with a rustic touch.
- Hotel Legend: A modern hotel located between Kazimierz and Old Town. The cozy and quiet rooms are the perfect place to put up your feet after a long day of sightseeing in Krakow.
Getting to Krakow
Travelling between Wroclaw and Krakow by train is no longer the slow tedious trudge it once was. Direct trains between Wroclaw and Krakow depart every couple hours, taking only about 3h20m on average (45zł to 81zł). Buses cost a little more and take about the same time.
With most of this Poland itinerary taking place in and around cities, I simply couldn’t leave you without suggesting a trip to Zakopane, Poland’s most famous outdoor retreat.
Visiting Zakopane at anytime of year is fanastic. In the winter, the area bustles as Poland’s top ski resort; in summer, the hiking trails around Zakopane swell with travellers looking to escape to the stressors of the city.
What to Do in Zakopane
Entering into the world of Zakopane means confronting unrivalled nature head on. Start with a couple of these things to do in Zakopane:
Breathe in the sweet mountain air on a hike from Zakopane
If you’re visiting in the late spring to early fall, there’s no better way to soak in Zakopane than to take to the trails. Hiking around Zakopane is among the best experiences you’ll have anywhere in Poland. Clear your head and your lungs from European city life. A few of the most easily accessible and best hikes from Zakopane include Gubalowka, Kasprowy Wierch, and Strazyska Valley.
Marvel at the beauty of Morskie Oko
Of all the reasons to visit Zakopane, a trip to Morskie Oko takes the top spot. This crystalline glacial lake buried deep in Tatra National Park is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Poland, reflecting the majesty of the High Tatra mountains in its emerald waters.
The walk to Morskie Oko starts about 20 kilometres from Zakopane at Lysa Polana. From here, it’s an 9-kilometre (approximately 2-hour) trek to the lake along a mostly paved tarmac road. No cars are allowed, but you can save time by taking a horse carriage ride. Truthfully, it’s an excellent option since the most interesting part of the hike is around the lake itself!
Where to Stay in Zakopane
With the unique timbered homes that the area is famous for, accommodations in Zakopane aren’t quite like anything you find elsewhere on this Poland itinerary. Even if you’ve never heard of Zakopane, remember that every Pole has. This place is an insanely popular Polish escape year round. Book well (very well) ahead of time or see your choices dwindled. Try out these few properties:
- Willa Anna: A cozy guesthouse showcasing classic Zakopane style. A short five-minute walk to the Szymaszkowa Ski Lift and 15 minutes to Krupowki Street at the centre of town. Self-catering apartments and suites are available for bigger groups.
- Lipowy Dwór: A rustic guesthouse located on a quiet street not far from the centre of Zakopane. Rooms are cozy with a homey atmosphere. Views of the surrounding area are simply breathtaking.
- Walkowy Dwór: A modern inn with stylish rustic touches. Offers incredible views and is located close to Zakopane’s ski facilities.
Getting to Zakopane
Buses are by far the quickest way to get between Krakow and Zakopane. The frequent and cheap MajerBus routes take about two hours and cost 15zł.
Need more ideas for things to do in Poland? Apply these 10-day Poland itinerary tweaks.
- Have more time? Give the capital Warsaw a couple more days to truly dig into and better appreciate the beating heart of the Polish nation. Extend your stay in Zakopane to take full advantage of hiking in the High Tatras and unwinding in incredible natural surroundings.
- Craving more urban Poland? Slide a couple days in Poznan and/or Torun between Gdansk and Wroclaw. Both are loaded with culture and personality and are the perfect addition to this Poland itinerary.
- Want to get off the beaten path? Penetrate the deep woods of Białowieża National Park on the Belarusian border. Relax in Europe’s most primeval forest, spotting European bison in their natural habitat.
Finished your 10 days in Poland? Here’s where to go next…
- Germany: Poland’s mega neighbour to the west might be, on the whole, the best country to travel in Europe. Start scratching the surface with this 10-day Germany itinerary.
- Czech Republic: With Prague smack atop of most European bucket lists, there’s no reason to not give this awesome Central European country a gander. In tightly packed Czech Republic, much of the country is up for grabs on a time-crunched trip. Get started with this 10-day Czech Republic itinerary.
- Slovakia: Pierce through Poland’s mountainous southern border to launch a trip into Slovakia. Like its former Czechoslovakian brethren, Slovakia is compact and easy to travel through even with time restrictions.