Travel to Poland

Travel to Poland

Rising from the ashes of history, resilient Poland astounds with lush woodlands and bustling market squares—not to mention the vodka and pierogi.

Warsaw, the Polish capital, showcases an amazing array of architectural forms, from Gothic to Neoclassical, as well as some of Europe’s most impressive skyscrapers. Beyond a wealth of historical landmarks, Warsaw’s extensive network of public greenspace — including Saxon Garden and Lazienki Park—provides the perfect venue for afternoon strolls. Poland’s second-biggest city, Kraków, is mesmerizingly beautiful, rich in tourist attractions such as the Wawel Castle and the Main Market Square. The homegrown cuisine, a fascinating cocktail of European influences, is a delicious realm to explore: From the celebrated Polish sausage (kielbasa) to the transcendent native cheesecake (sernik), you’ll certainly eat well here! Poland—which claims the great pianist/composer Frédéric Chopin as a native son—remains a vibrant hotbed for the arts: On any given evening, you can enjoy traditional folk music, cutting-edge jazz, or a classical recital. Outside the cities, Poland parks and preserves protect precious remnants of wild Europe, including the huge Bialowieza Forest, which shelters wisents, brown bears and gray wolves amid old-growth woods.

Polish culture is marked both by a wonderful admixture of Western and Eastern Europe as well as a remarkable resilience over centuries of geopolitical conflict and fragmentation. It’s an incredible place to see firsthand how centuries-old customs seamlessly mesh with the contemporary energy of hubs such as Warsaw and Krakow. Folk traditions, the societal influence of the Roman Catholic Church, and a full-hearted embrace of the fine arts (which have long been a tremendously important means of preserving the Polish spirit) present a rich cultural cocktail to any traveler. Poland’s magnificent artistic legacy includes leading lights such as the genius composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin, the 19th-century poet Adam Mickiewicz, and native son Joseph Conrad, best-known for his short stories and novels in English.

Hearty—and utterly delicious—country food remains a mainstay of Polish cuisine, and something you might equally enjoy in a trendy downtown restaurant or a welcoming family home. Some of the truly standout fare includes the national dish of pierogi—dumplings that may be filled and topped with all manner of ingredients, including mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and ground meat—as well as kielbasa or Polish sausage. Baltic seafood, garden-grown produce, and forest-foraged mushrooms, berries, and game all show up regularly on the menu. You might just find yourself toasting good health with the locals via friendly glasses of vodka (which may well have originated in Poland).

Harboring some of Europe’s most beautiful countryside, Poland rises north to south from the Baltic Sea coast and North European Plain to the jagged Carpathian Mountains. The grandest peaks lie in the Carpathian sub-range of the Tatras, which contain Poland’s loftiest point: an 8,199-foot crest of Rysy, a mountain straddling the Slovakian border. One glance at the map reminds you of Poland’s crossroads position on the European continent, bordering as it does Germany and the Czech Republic on the west and Eastern European nations of Kalingrad, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine on the east. Besides the rocky ridges and gorges of the Tatra Mountains (unforgettably showcased in Tatra National Park), great natural landmarks of Poland include the wolf-, wisent-, and boar-roamed Bialowieza Forest (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s only significantly sized old-growth forests), the Masurian Lakes, and the sun-splashed Baltic beaches.

From origins as a small Slavic chiefdom, Poland emerged as a major empire by the fifteenth century. It had expanded its territory from the Baltic to the Black Sea and was Europe's largest state. Sixteenth-century Poland was its golden era: The Renaissance enriched the kingdom culturally and spiritually, and politically Poland evolved into a parliamentary monarchy. Beginning in the 1700s, however, this once-powerful establishment crumbled, partly due to relentless invasions from bordering countries. At the close of the eighteenth century, Poland was split among Russia, Austria, and Prussia and its culture fell under direct threat. World War I raged savagely in Polish territory, as its ruling powers faced off against one another. Perhaps more than a million Poles were killed in the war, from the ashes of which Poland gained its independence. The country was to face an even more horrific loss of life during the Second World War, as it was contested—and pillaged—by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. More than six million Polish people—including the majority of the country’s Jewish population—died in World War II. Decades of Soviet sway followed, with the labor movement Solidarity a significant move toward Polish self-identity and liberation. It was the fall of the Soviet Union that ushered in Poland’s post-communist era.

Poland Vacations

Krakow at Its Best
Warsaw at Its Best

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