More than a thousand years of rich and varied history vies for your attention in the fascinating country of Poland. The culture and history of this eastern European gem is recognised by UNESCO, with no fewer than 14 World Heritage Sites.
The Historic Centre of Krakow
The former capital city of Krakow (aka Cracow) is home to Europe’s largest market square and home to Jagellonian University, one of the oldest universities in Europe, where Pope John Paul II attended. In the center of the historical city of Krakow you will find the Skiennice, aka Old Cloth Hall (pictured above) which used to be an ancient cloth market. There is the Gothic cathedral where visitors can stand on the ruins of buried Polish kings. If you move past this and up the hill of the Wawel you can see a couple historical gems including the Royal Palace, which was destroyed in the war and is now home to a museum filled with gorgeous tapestries. Before WWII, Krakow was home to large Jewish communities signified by the ancient synagogues surrounding the city.
Don’t miss impressive Wawel Castle, the ancient Krakow Market Square and fascinating Cloth Hall. There are also plenty of free things to do across the city, including exploring Rynek Glowny, enjoying a free walking tour of Krakow and discovering the 19th Century Polish Painting Gallery.
Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines
Stopover in Southern Poland and feast your eyes on the mysterious underground art of Wieliczka, which is chiselled into the ancient Bochnia royal salt mines. The touring grounds were made back in the 19th century. Not only will you witness art and sculpture, but you can also look at real mining artifacts that illustrate mining advances throughout Europe.
Historic Centre of Warsaw
Continuing with the history of Poland in the 1940’s you should explore the Polish capital city: Warsaw’s historic center is a completely rebuilt area with exact replicas of churches, palaces and the old market-place that once stood before the area was destroyed back in 1944. Warsaw (pictured below) is also important, because it was the first place to adopt a Democratic way of governing in Europe. The European Democratic Constitution was signed back in 1791. Whilst in Warsaw, don’t miss the sombre Gestapo Headquarters Museum, impressive 14th century St John’s Cathedral and the fascinating exhibits within the Wilanow Poster Museum and Palace.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha/Białowieża Forest
Enjoy a day trip to one of the last surviving primeval lowland forests that dates back to 8000 BC. Revel in the different types of trees, flowers and wild life lining the forest grounds. Just a few of the endemic animals that you’ll come across are bison, wolves, deer, white-tailed eagles and elk. This is the only natural listing within the World Heritage Sites in Poland and was inscribed in 1979.
Here marks the incredibly sombre and thought provoking site of Auschwitz Birkenau, which was home to the biggest German Nazi concentration camp within Europe during the 1940’s. The remaining barracks, barbed wire and fortified walls tell the horrific story of the 1.5 million people held here. Needless to say, the Auschwitz Birkenau site is a very moving experience.
Old City of Zamość
Zamość was once a major center for trade between western and northern Europe as well as an area of great religious tolerance. It was one of the only places to not be destroyed in WWII. Zamość is also a great example of Renaissance life and architecture adopted from Italy that was still thriving during the 16th century.
Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork
Take a trip down medieval lane at the Castle of the Teutonic Order, a representation of Christian turmoil during the middle ages. The history of the castle began when the Polish state had accepted Christian ideals while Prussia had not. Polish missionaries travelled to Prussia to spread their ideology, however, these trips eventually backfired leading to Prussian military making multiple raids on the castle. In the end the war had stopped and the Malbork Castle was reigned by the Polish Crown. It was partly destroyed in WWII, but great efforts have been made to restore it back to its original form.
Centennial Hall in Wroclaw
Wroclaw’s Centennial Hall was built by Max Berg back in 1911-1913 when Poland was still part of the German Empire. Its circular dome shape was revolutionary in terms of architectural style at the time. Today, it is home to many sporting events and concerts.
Medieval Town of Toruń
Toruń became a one of Poland’s World Heritage Sites in 1997 mainly for its preservation of its original street pattern and early medieval architecture. Toruń was also a major trading area in the 13th century; some of the materials traded were fur, timber and metals in return for fish and luxury goods. You can also enjoy Gothic cathedrals and multiple historical museums here. Watch the YouTube video of Torun above.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park
If you want to spend a day exploring the rich heritage of old churches then Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is the place for you. Resurrected by the famous mathematician and astronomer, Feliks Żebrowski, Kalwaria specifically symbolizes great moments in Christian history including the Passion of the Christ and remains of the life of the Virgin Mary.
Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica
The Churches of Peace are powerful monuments dating back to the 17th century and one of the only artifacts of religious refuge for the Lutheran community, who desired shelter from the mission-oriented religions as well as a place to continue to practice Lutheran ideals.
Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska
The churches of Southern Małopolska represent the Roman Catholic culture in Poland, and is different than other churches you will witness, because they’re made out of wood. This type of architecture was meant to illustrate the artistic talent of noble families during the middle ages. Inside you will find medieval stencilling on the ceiling and 77 motifs.
Muskauer Park / Park Mużakowski
Find tranquility at the Muskauer Park also known as the ‘painting with plants.’ Bordering Germany the park is equipped with ancient bridges, flower gardens, meadows and the River Neisse that runs through it.
Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine
One of the only churches in Eastern Europe that symbolizes the Orthodox and Greek Catholic faiths that were prevalent from the 16th-19th century. Magnificent pieces of religious art can also be seen. This is most recent addition to the list of World Heritage Sites in Poland; added in 2013 it forms one of the 13 cultural sites.