If you follow travel news like me, you may have notice that Warsaw, the capital of Poland, was recently awarded the prestigious honor of most attractive tourist destination in the European Best Destinations contest of 2023. Not only did Warsaw win this competition, voted on by travelers around the world, but it received a record number of votes. Maybe this competition is what gave you the idea to come to Poland. However, Poland is so much more than just Warsaw (although Warsaw is pretty swell).
As a university student at the University of Warsaw, I have also had the opportunity to branch out and explore other parts of the beautiful country that is now my home. And it has yet to disappoint. Even the cities that I was told where “grungy” or “not really cool” have all had their charm! And Poland, being such a large country, has a city for everyone to visit.
In this blog, you will find 17 cities. One thing is certain, from gothic architecture, to buzzing nightlife, to beautiful nature, there is a Polish city calling to every person who comes to Poland. Find yours below!
Best Cities in Poland: The Classics
These cities, in my opinion, are the most important cities of Poland. They are the largest cities, and thus also have the most to do. They have history, architecture, nightlife, food, culture, and nature sprinkled in too. They are good cities to serve as your base of operations for exploring other parts of Poland. And due to their size, I will cover them in more detail than other cities on this list.
Kraków is the most visited destination in all of Poland. While it may not have the influence and size of its northernly sister Warsaw, there is a reason that is the most popular city amongst tourists. The history of the city supplies ample opportunities to learn about the progression of Poland as a nation. The city also has its fair share of beautiful buildings, parks, and a bustling nightlife. Kraków’s proximity to other popular tourist destinations also makes is a great home base for further travel in Poland.
To start, the key part of visiting Kraków is visiting the Old Town and the monumental Rynek Głowny, the heart of Kraków. Most of Kraków’s most popular sights will be found in the pedestrian streets of the Old Town, and the nightlife. The heart and soul of the town square is St Mary’s Church, a beautiful dual-towered building that is the guardian of the city. Every hour on the hour, there is a trumpet performance from the upper tower, to commemorate the city guard of years passed who was tragically killed in one of the many wars that Poland endured. Additionally, relatively affordable cafes (although more expensive than other parts of the city) line the square, and are a perfect place to grab a coffee and pastry, and enjoy the sights and sounds of other tourists.
The Old Town has many interesting museums to visit. First visit the Princes Czartoryski Museum. This museum holds one of Poland’s treasures, this being the painting “Lady with an Ermine,” attributed to Leonardo DaVinci. But the museum also has many Polish artists as well, and one can spend many hours admiring the art within its regal halls. Returning to the town square, another interesting museum is found below the thousands of people passing through. The Rynek Underground Museum tells the story of Kraków while you walk amidst subterranean tunnels, and see evidence of civilizations past.
However, the most important figure in Kraków’s history would be the Wawel Royal Castle. Sitting prettily on the top of a hill overlooking the Vistula River, hundreds of years of Polish history happened within its walls, when Kraków used to be Poland’s capital. There are a variety of exhibits to choose from, and lots of history to be perused. After completion, walk down to the riverbanks and visit the Smok Wawleksi, a dragon statue that breathes fire, and along the Kraków Avenue of Stars.Nearby Kazimierz, the Old Jewish Quarter of Kraków, is also a must visit. Here you will find restaurants, bars, and history. This is where the locals relax, so get your authentic Krakówian experience here.
Kraków also has several beautiful parks to visit. Planty surrounds the Old Town, and is a perfect place to get some shade and find a nice bench to sit on. Henryk Jordan Park supplies a British botanical garden experience without having to leave Poland. Bielańsko-Tyniecki Landscape Park supplies opportunities to hike, and also a city view from the top of Piłsudski’s Mound. Finally, for a really unique experience, visit the old quarry Zakrzówek, where you can enjoy still blue waters and beautiful cliffs.
Kraków is also a great place to make day trips. Nearby unique attractions include the UNESCO World Heritage Wieliczka Salt Mines. Take the stairs down into the salt caverns, and learn about the industry that helped make Poland rich, and also see the wonders of an underground church made entirely of salt. Also, nearby Kraków is Energylandia, one of Europe’s most impressive theme parks. For a more somber experience, head west to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and reflect on the terrible tragedies of World War II.
Warsaw, as Poland’s capital has much to offer for visitors! You can easily spend anywhere from two days to a week exploring what it has to offer. With so many things to do, it can be overwhelming to decide what to visit. As a resident of Warsaw for the last seven months, I will supply my “novice expert” insight on the sights that are must see in Warsaw.
A good place to start is the center of Warsaw. Here you can find the Palace of Culture and Science, a building with a much-discussed history, and is disliked by many Poles. The main interest to tourists it the ability to take an elevator to the top and get a stunning view of the impressive Warsaw skyline. Many people do not realize that Warsaw has so many skyscrapers, and the best way to appreciate them is from above, such as the recently completed Varso Tower, the tallest building in the European Union.
The other important part of the city is the Old Town and the Royal Route. First, walk through the beautiful Saxon Gardens, and make your way to the University of Warsaw. From here, you can take a route through the rebuilt Old Town, past the Presidential Palace, the Royal Castle, and St John’s Church. Once to the Old Town Square, you can eat some Polish cuisine, buy a souvenir, and take lots of pictures. In the winter, this area becomes a public ice-skating rink, with lights and trees adorning the rebuilt buildings.
Other important sights in Warsaw are its many museums. The most beautiful is the Wilanow Palace, a beautiful yellow and white palace full of art and history, with a stunning garden surrounding it. During the winter, it houses a festival of lights that is a perfect place for a romantic evening with that special someone. Other museums of interest include the Warsaw Uprising Museum, telling a sad tale of a WWII atrocity, the National Museum of Warsaw, housing art and history, and the Chopin Museum, for those music lovers interested in learning about and listening to Poland’s most famous musician.
Warsaw is also a city of parks, with 25% of Warsaw being green spaces. The most famous is Łazienki Park, a huge park in southern Warsaw home to beautiful palaces and forums, as well as swans and peacocks. Other beautiful green spaces include the unique rooftop gardens of the University Library, which supply beautiful views of the Vistula River. Also, consider visiting Park Wodny Moczydło, a personal favorite of mine. Here you will find a duck pond, and most importantly, an artificial hill with a view of the city skyline, and benches and hammocks to relax on.
While Warsaw’s location provides it as a key location to traveling through Poland, there are not as many easy day trips as in Kraków. Some you could consider are visiting the green spaces outside the main city boundaries. Visiting Kampinos National Park, which is reachable by city bus, allows for all-day hikes and bike walks through sand dunes, marshes, forests, and other environments, and you might even see a moose on this trip! To the east, Mazowiecki Landscape Park supplies an opportunity to travel through lush forest, and even stop for a drink at a bar in the middle of the forest! Finally, one can visit Kabaty Woods in Warsaw’s southern reaches, a park full of summer barbeques and even the ability to ride off-road bikes if you have them!
Yes, I admit I am cheating, because this is three cities, not one. However, these three cities all meld together, and are sort of a tri-city urban area. Thus, it is easy to visit all three if your first destination of choice is Gdańsk. And Gdańsk is certainly a wonderful city, my favorite city in Poland to visit.
The most beautiful part of Gdańsk is certainly its Old Town. The Beautiful St Marys Church supplies views of the long market street, the Neptune Market and the canals that border the eastern edge of the Old Town. This is a good place to walk around and get lost, eat some food (I recommend Pierogarnia Mandu), or find a bar to get a drink at. Also check out the Town Hall, which also supplies a view of the city, and supplies a history of the city of Gdańsk. There is also an occasional concert using the massive carillon placed in the bell tower.
Gdańsk is also a city of history, as a former free city on the Baltic, and all a starting point of WWII and the Polish Solidarity Movement during communist Poland. Visiting the Solidarity Museum and the WWII Museum is a good place to start. Also, visit Westerplatte, the site of the very first battle of WWII. Oliwski Park also supplies history, as a beautiful park that previously housed an important abbey when Gdańsk was not part of earlier iterations of Poland.
Another important part of this area is the Baltic Sea, without which Gdańsk would not be an important city in history. There are many beautiful sandy beaches to enjoy. In Gdańsk proper, Jelitkowo might be the most popular. However, the most popular beach in the Tri-City is Sopot, the second of the three cities. Here you will find shopping, dining, places to drink on the sandy shores, and the Sopot Pier.
Continuing further north brings you to Gdynia. Gdynia is often overlooked, but is has a few nice sights as well to add to your Tri-City trip. First, visit Orlowski Cliff, a perfect place to take a quick hike and nice pictures of the sea below and swim. In Gdynia center, take the funicular to the top of the city hill for city and sea views! Additionally, you can wind your way through the city streets looking for the many murals that exist on the sides of buildings. Finally, visit the Gdynia Pier to enjoy entertainment, and an aquarium.
If you are looking for a day trip from the Gdańsk area, consider a visit to Wydma Lacka, the mysterious rapidly-shifting sand dunes of northern Poland found in Słowiński National Park. These dunes move on average 10 meters (32 feet) per year, due to the strong winds from the Baltic Sea and are slowly devouring everything in its path, including the pine trees that flank its east side. This is a must see if you can make, as there just are few other places quite like it.
Wrocław is the largest city of the historical region of Silesia, is also one of Poland’s oldest major cities, and its placement at the juncture of the historic kingdoms of Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, Prussia, and the Habsburgs makes it lush with history. It is also a charming city found on the banks of the Oder River, with the quaint islands and charming bridges crisscrossing its winding route.
Wrocław is more of a traditional European city than other Polish cities, with a variety of architecture and art waiting to be explored! The Centennial Hall is such an example, an early example of concrete architecture, built by the Germans in the early 1900s. Other styles that have resulted in Wrocław icons was the brutalist style, such as the Toilet Seat Buildings. Additionally, a visit to the leaf-covered National Museum harkens to the ivy-covered buildings mostly found in England. While there is plenty of other modern architecture in Wrocław, you can also see the classic old style of buildings in the town square, and other parts of the city.
As with most major Polish cities, the Town Square is an important sight of the city, with food and commerce branching off from this central point. It is likely you will walk through here multiple times on your trip. Nearby is the heart of the city, the Oder River. One can spend all day exploring the islands and bridges of the river. The most famous bridges include Trzebnicki Bridge, Grunwald Bridge, and Tumski Bridge, which was traditionally a bridge for lovers, covered in locks. Crossing from the Town Square takes you to the other old-style buildings of the city, in Ostrow Tumski, with the 13th century Church of St John, the Baptist the most prominent example.
However, perhaps the most fun part of Wrocław is the art installments around the city. Specifically, the famous dwarfs of Wrocław are beckoning for tourists to find them! First installed in 2005, there are hundreds of dwarfs in the city that can be found taking part in various activities. If you spend a decent amount of time searching for them, you just might find that you have seen more of the city then you could have imagined. Another art feature of Wrocław is Galeria Neon Side, a trendy place to grab a drink with Soviet era neon sides hung on the brick walls. Wrocław is full of art, and you cannot go wrong with what you choose to search for!
The easiest day trip from Wrocław is visiting Książ Castle. This castle is the third largest castle in Poland, and attracts over 300 thousand tourists annually! And for good reason. The over 400 rooms of the castle have gaudy adornments, artwork, and other antiques, although much has been restored due to invasions by the Germans and Soviets respectively. Finally, the view of the river below is stunning, and makes any hassle to get there more than worthwhile!
Trendy Destinations in Poland
While the earlier four cities may be the most visited cities in Poland by foreigners and Poles alike, these cities are more popular amongst Polish people. That is not to say that there are not international tourists visiting these destinations. Just less so than a city like Kraków especially. These cities are also slightly smaller, and thus are doable in a day or two as an addition to the larger cities of Poland.
Zakopane is Poland’s Swizz Ski Resort, without the exorbitant prices of Switzerland. Located in the far south of Poland in the Tatra Mountain range, the tallest subrange of the famous Carpathian Mountains, this small town has everything you want for you winter delights. But it is also a delightful place to visit during the summer. And while the great outdoors is certainly the main draw of Zakopane, there is also a unique culture of the highlander people of Poland that is also of interest. Just beware that people in Zakopane are a bit more unwilling to speak English as in other Polish cities.
The main attraction is of course the mountains. There are many winter slopes to ski and snowboard on nearby to the city. Generally, there is the opportunity to take part in every winter sport available. However, during the summer, these ski slopes open up to outstanding hiking! The most popular is a moderately easy hike to Morskie Orko, which will get your daily cardio in as you arrive at the stunning like surrounded by mountains. For the more adventurous and experienced, Orla Perć, or the Eagle’s Perch, takes you above the lake for even more stunning views.
If you want the mountains without the workout, another possibility is taking the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch. Located at a very high flat spot in the Tatras, right on the border with Slovakia, the views are some of the best you can get in this part of Europe. Just be warned that the line for the cable car can get quite long in the summer, so advance tickets are highly recommended. If this sounds too scary, there is funicular within Zakopane that is much tamer, and still gives good views of the river valley where Zakopane is found.
The other entertaining part of Zakopane is the culture! Firstly, for you foodies, Zakopane produces a wonderfully tasty cheese called oscypek. Oscypek is a smoked cheese made of sheep’s milk that can only be found here, and often has intricate designs cut into its side. Have it with a side of cranberry jam, and you have just had a Polish essential! The other unique cultural aspect of Zakopane is the architecture. Zakopane has its owned named architecture, a unique mixing of wooden building styles. To learn more about the artist who coined this style, and also painted under the influence of hard drugs such as peyote, visit the Muzeum Stylu Zakopiańskiego im. S. Witkiewciza for perspective.
Poznań, in my opinion, is the most underrated city in Poland. However, it is still widely visited due to its placement at the center of Poland, within shorter train rides from Warsaw, Gdańsk, Wrocław, and Berlin. Poznań is a bustling university town with lots of action, and spending a few days here is a perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful sights Poznań has to offer.
I sound like a broken record at this point, but the key sight in Poznań is the Old Town and the Town Square. Currently under construction, the cobblestone streets and breathtaking buildings are still worth a visit! This is also the part of town where much good food and drink is. But, make sure to wonder down some side streets too! These will take you to the Royal Castle, whose placement on a hill supplies view of the city below, and also to the Basilica of Mary Magdalene and St. Stanislaus, which I thought looked like it came from a painting. Also, take a walk to Kolorowa for delicious ice cream!
Of course, living like the students is a fun way to visit Poznań. Start by enjoying a picnic on the banks of the Warta River. Although narrow and shallow, its wide banks supply the perfect opportunity for spring and summertime activities, and when I visited it was packed. Additionally, grab a bite to eat and party at Nocny Targ Towaryzki, a cool outdoor market with food trucks and bars with a younger crowd. Additionally, get your beer on and visit the Lech Brewery, one of Poland’s largest, and tour the facilities and try the famous Polish beer!
Finally, Poznań has beautiful nature to enjoy, with this nature centered on Lake Malta. This lake is the summer hub of activities, with a wide walking and cycling path surrounding it, small thrill rides, crew competitions, and bars. Additionally, on a colder day, visit the Poznań Palm House to warm up and admire the exotic plants and animals inside, and then take a walk in Woodrow Wilson Park just outside. Finally, take a trip to Citadel Park, to see old military forts, and relax on the large lawns available within its area.
Toruń is a UNESCO world heritage site city not far from Poland on the Vistula River. The biggest draw is its classic gothic architectural style that makes for an entertaining walk through. It is also the home of famous astronomer and scientist Nicolaus Copernicus (bet you did not know he was Polish!). These two reasons make Toruń an interesting visit.
Toruń is also one of Poland’s oldest towns, and thus has an Old Town and a New Town, with the New Town built in 1264! Walking through this part of town will take up most of your day. Must visits include the 13th century Town Hall, found in the Old Town, as well as the beautiful brick gothic-style St John’s Cathedral. Additionally, visit the Teutonic Castle Ruins for a glimpse into the city’s past, as well as the Castle Walls, and the oddity of the Leaning Tower of Toruń (which is much smaller than its counterpart in Pisa). If you want the best view of the city though, head across the river for a beautiful landscape view of the city, which is especially stunning around sunset.
If you came to Toruń for Copernicus, Toruń has a few offerings for you. First, you can visit his non-to-scale monument in the Old Town, although his discoveries were certainly more massive than this monument. Additionally, you can visit the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum, and learn more about his life and studies. Finally, you can visit the Planetarium, and get to experience what Copernicus was doing when he made his foundational discoveries.
Olsztyn is a smaller town found in the wild north of Poland, about 2.5 hours away from Gdańsk and Warsaw by train. It is worth a visit mostly because it is the gateway to Masuria, the lake region of Poland. Masuria is home to thousands of lakes, including Poland’s biggest. Thus, you can be sure to enjoy every type of lake recreation known to man, including sailing, kayaking, riding a Jet ski, and paddleboarding. Additionally, you can camp and hike in the forests surrounding the lakes, or you can stay in some of the lavish resorts available if that is more your style. Key Masurian lakes include Śniardwy, Mamry, Jeziorek, and Niegocin.
But, the city itself also has offerings for visitors. The town is part of the Brick Gothic route, and thus has many gothic buildings, such as the Warmia Castle and St James Cathedral. Additionally, within the city limits, there are much nature to be enjoyed, such as the four main lakes within the city limits, Trackie, Skanda, Kortowskie, and Ukiel. These lakes supply the same entertainment as those in Masuria without having to leave the city limits.
Lublin is a mid-sized city found nearby Warsaw, that is also one of Poland’s cheapest cities. There is much to do within Lublin, but also Lublin can serve as a great base for day trips, especially to other smaller cities named in this list. Day trips that can be taken from Lublin include Zamość, Zalipie, Kazimierz Dolny, and the outdoor paradise of Polesie National Park. For the later, expect long walks through bogs with the Polish sun beaming overhead, and sights of otters, elk, beavers, and bats at night.
But, Lublin proper has much to offer for tourists. Going to Lublin will likely take you to the Old Town, where you can find Lublin Castle, Dominican Abbey, the Cracow Gate, and the Crown Tribunal, all older sights that tell a tale of Lublin’s important to eastern Poland, which used to entail parts of Ukraine and Belarus. Additionally, Lublin is a city of museums! The most somber is Majdanek State Museum, which tells a sad tale of genocide during WWII. Additionally, a visit to the Outdoor Open-Air Village takes you back in time, and allows you to experience how Polish people used to live hundreds of years ago.
Underrated Cities in Poland
This section has a few brief words about some cities that are often ignored when visiting Poland. The downside with most is that the tourism infrastructure is not as built up in these cities. But if you can get beyond that, these cities are all charming and worth a visit!
Łódź is a perfect daytrip from Warsaw (but be warned that the current town center is torn up for restoration, making navigation somewhat difficult). Łódź has a history of industry, and this is celebrated rather than shunned. Księży Młyn is located in the heart of this area, with faux-brick buildings, and even an old train stop. Also feel the industrial style at Manufaktura, the hub of Łódź, with shopping, museums, a Ferris wheel, and more.
Łódź’s main sight is Piotrkowska, Poland’s longest pedestrian street. This street is lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. Also, take a quick glance into the Pasaż Róży, to see a beautiful glass art installment. Łódź has other art offerings, such as at the Łódź Art Museum, which has three campuses, including one at the beautiful Herbst Palace. Once finishing admiring the art at the palace, take a walk around Molo to detox.
Szczecin is fairly unknown to tourists, unless you are German. Mostly this is because its location in the extreme northwest of Poland makes it hard to access. But Szczecin has a lot to offer tourists! Perhaps the most unique attraction on this list is Kot Gacek, a feral street cat with a 5-star Google rating who recently went viral. While he is undergoing rehabilitation after an attempted cat-napping, he should be back during the summer! If Gacek isn’t there, walk around the town and visit the Pomeranian Duke’s Castle, and the Chroby Embankment on the Oder River.
Other unique experiences in Szczecin include riding the touristy Tram 0 on Sundays during the tourist season. This allows you to see the whole city at a low cost while riding an old-fashioned tram. Venture slightly out of the city to visit the nearby Crooked Forest, which is a forest full of trees with an odd, unexplained crook in every one of them.
Katowice is often overlooked due to its industrial nature. However, its closeness to other Polish sights, such as Auschwitz, make it a decent place to stay, and it is cheaper than Kraków to use as a base of operation. Additionally, the city does have some sights to offer that make it worth a visit! First, learn the history of the industrial nature of this city by visiting the Silesian Museum, and take a trip up the crane to get a view of the city. Then, walk down Ulica Mariacka to St Mary’s Church to see the main part of the town.
Katowice has some surprisingly good outdoor entertainment as well. Visit Legendia Silesian Amusement Park if your hunger for thrills was not met by Energylandia. Also, visit the many green spaces, such as the Valley of Three Ponds, Silesia Park, and Kościuszko Park. Also, overcome stereotypes, and visit neighboring Sosnowiec. Sosnowiec is often considered the most joked about town in Poland, but the lovely Park Sielecki begs to differ.
Bydgoszcz is my least-favorite Polish city to spell, and is often overlooked due to the beauties of nearby Toruń. However, Bydgoszcz is worth a visit if you already plan to visit Toruń. The Brda River supplies most of the entertainment. On its banks, you can find Mill Island, Ulica Tamka, Opera Nova, Minor Basilica of St Vincent de Paul, and the Old Town Square. All these sights point to a history of industry and agriculture, and the environment is laid-back, and mostly tourist-free. If this is not enough for you, head into Poland’s largest urban park, Myślęcinek.
The main draw of Zamość, a mid-sized town near Lublin, is its beautiful UNESCO heritage Old Town, with a stunning town hall and brightly colorful buildings. While the rest of the town does not have as much to do, it is still worth a visit, since this Old Town really is beautiful! But there are also green spaces within the park, and you can visit the bastion that protected the city in times past.
The Smaller Towns
These towns have one important thing worth seeing, but they are still worth a visit if you can work them into your schedule, as each of these things are unique, and important to Polish history and culture.
Kołobrzeg is an essential visit to get a true Baltic experience. While Gdańsk is on the Baltic, it is somewhat sheltered from the open sea by the Gulf of Gdańsk. Thus, coming to Kołobrzeg feels a bit more authentic, as looking north leads you to Sweden. Here, enjoys the restores and health spas that are available, and the pier and beautiful rebuilt lighthouse. There is also an 800-year-old oak tree found note far from the city. This city is reachable easiest from Szczecin.
If you are coming to Malbork, about a 30-minute train ride from Gdańsk, you are coming to visit the Malbork Castle. Not only is it the largest castle in Poland, it is the largest brick gothic style castle in the entire world. Although partially destroyed during WWII, this Teutonic castle can only be described as massive. Take three hours to tour it, inside and out.
This takes the cake as the smallest town on this list, with less than 1000 residents. However, what makes this town unique is the beautiful custom-painted cottages. Here houses, will have flourishing motifs of flowers painted in bright colors on walls, inside and out, and you will feel like you are living in a fairy tale land. Zalipie is reachable from Kraków or Lublin by car.
Poland has a city for everyone. There are cities with culture, outdoor activities, architecture, nightlife, and more. While there is certainly more to do in those cities than the information I provided, I hope you find the points of interest supplied a good starting point for further research. So, I hope you find the Polish city for you, as Poland, one of Europe’s underrated countries, is waiting for you!