Inspiration to Visit Poland in 18 Photos

INSPIRATION TO VISIT POLAND

Gdańsk, Wroclaw, Krakow- places I hadn’t heard of until I moved to Europe. Despite having strong Polish heritage, the only memory associations I had with Poland were Warsaw and Aushwitz.

And now, after visits to all three, Poland is, without question, one of my favourite places in Europe. In fact, as I type this, I’m scheming a return visit to see the Christmas market in Warsaw if I happen to be in Europe during the lead up to the holiday season.

Heard of Poland, but not particularly inspired to move it to the top of your travel list?

An affordable destination with seriously stunning cities, great pierogi and cheap beer- need I go on?

Wroclaw, a city full of surprises and delights- affordable drinks, delicious and cheap eats, a beautiful town square and quirky gnomes stuck around the city. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced VRAHTS-wahv.

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Krakow, an unexpected gem of a destination. Beautiful architecture, friendly locals, good food, great culture and amazing affordability, Krakow is all these things and more. During the weekend, I couldn’t get over how beautiful all the pastel buildings were, how much greenery there was in and around city centre, and how interesting it was to see so many pieces of WWII history.

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Gdańsk, a place I hadn’t heard of until moving to Europe, but one I can’t believe wasn’t on my travel radar sooner.

A beautiful city on the Baltic Sea, Gdańsk is often overlooked by travellers going to Poland, heading to Krakow or Warsaw instead.

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Is Poland on your list of countries to visit someday? 

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Wandering Wroclaw, A Weekend in Poland

A GUIDE TO WHAT TO DO IN WROCLAW

It’s no secret I love Polish cities- Krakow and Gdansk were two of my favourite weekend city breaks while living in London.

Not to be outdone by cities more frequented in the country, Wroclaw was just as lovely as my other Polish trips.  In fact, I believe it’s one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever visited.

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It’s a city full of surprises and delights- affordable drinks, delicious and cheap eats, a beautiful town square and quirky gnomes stuck around the city. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced VRAHTS-wahv.

I flew in early on a Saturday and planned to leave Sunday evening. With less than 48 hours to explore, I set my sights on tackling Old Town the first day.

At the heart of Wroclaw’s Old Town is the Market Square, a seriously charming square that dates back to the 13th century. Nearly demolished in WWII, the area was restored to the restaurants, bars and shops you’ll find today.

On a free walking tour I took Sunday (Google ‘Wroclaw free walking tour’), I learned about the history of the square, and how the city built an adjacent square a few dozen feet away to rival the size of Krakow’s city square.

If you have a nice day, take a seat in one of the square’s benches and just admire the colourful facades and people exploring around you. It’s a beautiful place.

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While you’re in the square, don’t miss Town Hall. A 13th century gothic tower, it’s one of Wroclaw’s main landmarks. Not just famous for its stunning architecture, the astronomical clock is something to see too. If the inside is closed to visitors during your visit, you can grab a beer in the beer hall that’s situated below- it’s one of the oldest ones in Europe.

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Exploring more, I zig zagged through the cobblestone streets surrounding the square. On my walk, I saw St. Mary Magdalena church, which boasts a great view of the city below. I chose not to climb it, but I’ve heard the view of the square below is incredible.

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While I walked, I stopped to notice and smile at the little gnomes dotting city sidewalks and sides of buildings.

Back in the 1980s, the Orange Alternative, an anti-Soviet, resistance movement used them as a way to oppress the communist regime. They’d deface communist street art with mischievous little gnomes. Now these statues are all over the city in remembrance. My favourite was the travel one, obviously. 😉 There’s even a walking tour to discover the gnomes if you’re interested in seeing as many as possible and learning even more- there’s rumoured to be over 350 of them in the city. 

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After a bunch of wandering, I was starving and craving my favourite thing to eat in Poland: Pierogi. Never had pierogi? They’re delicious!

Dumplings filled with everything from meat to potatoes and cheese- my favourite ones are the classic vegetarian variety, potato and cheese, known as Ruskie. My first Polish meal was at Pierogarnia Stary Mlyn, located in Market Square. Normally, I avoid places that are too central, as they tend to be overly touristy.

However, I’d heard Pierogarnia had an extensive menu of savoury, sweet, boiled, baked and fried pierogi. Food is made fresh to order, and apparently, they have a Grandma’s certificate- issued by grandmother’s who actually help prepare the dishes.

Happy to confirm the pierogi were incredible. I even returned the next day to have a few more before my flight back to London.

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At this point in the day, I was pretty tired and decided to head to my Airbnb in Old Town to nap for a bit. I ended up waking up a few hours later, just in time for a late dinner. I’d heard Wroclaw had great pizza and noticed one of the best places, Vaffanapoli, was a short walk from my Airbnb. 100% recommend having pizza and beers here- so good!

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Sunday morning, I woke up to snow in Wroclaw. Unfortunately, I’d only packed trainers and after only a few minutes of walking around outside, my fears were confirmed: The snow was wet, slushy and soaked my shoes.

Not one to be easily deterred, I had coffee and breakfast, then headed to Old Town for a two hour walking tour.

Free walking tours in European cities are one of my favourite ways to learn about the place I’ve visiting and quickly become acclimated with the city’s layout.

Post tour, I’d planned on wandering some of Wroclaw’s islands a bit more, but given how much it was snowing, I decided to curl up with a good book at a cafe I’d discovered prior.

For lunch, I headed to Iggy’s for a dose of hipster design, great pizza and a refreshing spritz. Then, I passed the rest of the afternoon (read: hid from the snow) in some of Wroclaw’s beer halls, and grabbed a pierogi snack before heading back to the airport.

On the way to the city, I’d taken the bus (cheap, quick), but given how cold my feet were and how hard it was snowing, I decided to spend two pounds more (£4 total) to take an Uber instead.

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While I may not have explored as much as the city as I’d originally planned on, I still had an awesome weekend and felt like I got a true feel for Wroclaw. The only thing I was bummed about missing was a milk bar- I didn’t realise they were only open Saturday and had planned on visiting one Sunday.

What’s a milk bar, you ask?

Milk bars may seem like a communist throwback and in some ways, they are, government canteens serving hearty, traditional cuisine. And, for cheap. So, so cheap. Think a few zloty for an entire meal. 

Jacek i Agatka came highly recommended if you’re visiting Wroclaw and interested in trying one. Go early, they tend to get busy/sell out of food.

Other recommendations for things to eat and drink in the city:

Coffee: Etno Coffee, Vinyl Cafe, FC Caffe, Central Cafe

Food: Vaffanapoli and Iggy’s (pizza), Nanan (cake in a pretty pink interior), Jacek i Agatka, Pod Fredra (traditional Polish cuisine) 

Beer: Browar Zloty Pies (beer and beer inflused cocktails), Spiz, Setka, 4 Hops, Kontynuacja 

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Have you ever been to Poland? What would you add to this ‘what to do in Wroclaw’ guide? 

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Gallivanting Beautiful Gdańsk

Gdańsk, a place I hadn’t heard of until moving to Europe, but one I can’t believe wasn’t on my travel radar sooner.

A beautiful city on the Baltic Sea, Gdańsk is often overlooked by travellers going to Poland, heading to Krakow or Warsaw instead.

Having visited Krakow earlier in the year and being astounded by its beauty, when I saw photos of Gdańsk, I knew I had to make my way there as well. Fortunately, with frequent and affordable flights from London, it’s easy to visit this charming Polish city on a weekend trip.

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With only a day and a half in Gdańsk on a trip in mid-September, I decided to wander as much of Old Town as I could fit in.

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In the first few hours I wandered, I was struck by how much Gdańsk reminded me of Copenhagen or Amsterdam- especially along the waterfront.

Historically, Gdańsk alternated between German and Polish rule for hundreds of years. When World War II came to the city, Gdańsk fell to Nazi rule along with the rest of Poland until it was liberated by the Soviets. Under communist rule though, things were almost as bad as they were under Nazi rule.

It wasn’t until the 1980s when rebellion against communist rule began that Gdańsk returned to a free city. Nowadays, the city’s architecture, especially in Old Town, cues more Dutch and French vibes.

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The charming doesn’t start stop at Gdańsk’s gingerbread houses. If you’re wandering Old Town, don’t miss:

  • The Long Market, known as Dlugi Targ. 500 meters long, is a stretch of some of the city’s most beautiful buildings culminating in a stunning town square with the Neptune Fountain. At the other end of the Long Market, separating Old Town from the rest of Gdańsk is the Golden Gate
  • Speaking of, the Neptune Fountain is always surrounded by tourists and for good reason, it’s stunning
  • For an incredible view of the city, climb the 408 steps to the top of the bell tower in St. Mary’s Church. The first 120 or so steps are steep in a winding staircase, but the rest are flat, wooden and have platforms for rest every 20 steps so getting to the top doesn’t feel too strenuous
  •  Mariacka Street is one of the most beautiful streets in Old Town, retaining some of the city’s historic design- think: oversized porches, gargoyle heads, cobblestone streets, and stalls selling amber in beautiful jewellery arrangements. Baltic Amber has always been prized for its beauty- much of the amber in the Amber Room in Kalliningrad, Russia was actually sourced from Gdańsk’s bay
  • Favourite places to eat: Mandu (best pierogis in the city!) and Pueblo (great Mexican, seriously)
  • Favourite places to have coffee: Drukarnia (excellent cold brew, other great coffee drinks, and lovely sweets); Cafè Kamienica (very cosy cafe, recommend the winter tea); W Starym Kadrze (great authentic Polish cafe)
  • When I visited Gdańsk, I wasn’t drinking alcohol, but I’ve heard Mała Sztuka does great cocktails. And noticed many of the bars on the Long Market had outdoor seating where people were relaxing with beers or spritzes

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Visiting Gdańsk was a beautiful way to spend a weekend, and ignited interest in seeing other Polish cities- especially Wroclaw and Warsaw.

Have you ever been to Poland? Which city was your favourite? 

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Two Days in Krakow, Poland

Krakow, an unexpected gem of a destination.

Beautiful architecture, friendly locals, good food, great culture and amazing affordability, Krakow is all these things and more. During the weekend, I couldn’t get over how beautiful all the pastel buildings were, how much greenery there was in and around city centre, and how interesting it was to see so many pieces of WWII history.

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From watching the sun set atop a hill that local legend says a dragon used to live in, to sampling strawberry Polish vodka, to wandering the city’s aged cobblestone streets, to descending 800 steps into salt mines- I loved every moment spent exploring Krakow.

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If you’re visiting Poland, the neighbouring Baltic countries or the Czech Republic, and have time you should definitey stop in Krakow.

Short on time like I was during my weekend visit? All of the activities I’ve included below can be accomplished easily in 2.5 days.

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4 Reasons to Book a Trip to Krakow

Krakow’s Affordability

The decision to visit Krakow was a spur of the moment trip booking- I found a cheap flight (£40 return), and a beautiful Airbnb near Old Town for £32 a night. And so, I booked a city break without much further thought.

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Flight and lodging aside, over the course of 2.5 days, I spent less than £80 (excluding £30 for a tour of the salt mines). That £80 includes: transit to/from the airport; 2 cocktails; vodka samplings; 3 ciders; 3 dinners; 2 breakfasts; cafe snacks; 1-2 coffee drinks a day; attraction admission to the church; apartment snacks (chocolate, pretzels, bottled water); locker storage for my bag on the last day; and likely one or two other things I’m forgetting about. Point being: I had great food and drinks while in Krakow, but still spent under £30 a day. Score! Easy to see why Krakow made the top of The Telegraph’s list of cheap city breaks in Europe.

A Charming Old Town

Old Town in Krakow is small enough to walk everywhere. It may be a small city, but there’s a lot to do. The city’s historic centre was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, largely because it was lucky to come through WWII almost untouched.

Krakow’s main market square is packed with bars, restaurants and cafes- it’s a great place to peruse throughout your trip. Dating back to the 13th century, the main square is one of Europe’s largest medieval squares. It’s framed by beautiful pastel buildings, cobblestone streets and a towering church. Major heart eyes.

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Activities you shouldn’t miss in Old Town: 

  • Free walking tour: I’d booked a walking tour with Cracow Free Tours, but my guide failed to show. Still managed to see everything on my own, but I’ve heard these tours are an awesome way to get more context on the city’s history

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  • St. Mary’s Basilica: I’ve seen my share of gothic cathedrals in Europe, and was still blown away by this one. A small admission price + photo taking fee (under £3) gets you entry into the cathedral. The interior is spectacular- built in 1397, the basilica is known for its Veit Stoss altarpiece and an incredible ceiling painted in dark blue and gold to look like the night sky. Another fact about the basilica: the two towers, of different heights, were added in the 1400s. Legend has it the towers were built by two brothers, each trying to out-do the other, until one grew jealous of the other’s work and killed himACS_0223
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  • Wawel Castle: A mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, Wawel is a series of buildings and structures arranged around a central courtyard on Wawel Hill. Overlooking the Vistula River, a folklore tale says a dragon used to live in the foot of the hill. Legend has it a Polish Prince named Krakus defeated the dragon, and built his palace over the slain dragon’s lairIMG_1487IMG_1493IMG_1495
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    Loved these dragon details

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  • Old Town Tower: Climb to the top for a stunning view of Old Town SquareACS_0228ACS_0229
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  • Planty Park: Daily strolls in this park were a main fixture during my time in Krakow. Surrounding Old Town, the park is lush greenery, a perfect place to find reprise from the afternoon sun or for a morning stroll
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Great Food & Cute Cafes

Polish cuisine doesn’t make too many headlines, but it’s some of my favorite comfort food. Growing up in a family with strong Polish heritage, pierogies and haluski were staples in our home. So, I was excited to visit Poland and try some of my favorite Polish eats in the country they originated.

Albeit a cute area, I didn’t eat at any of the restaurants or cafes right on the square- generally, I find these kind of places to be too touristy. Instead, these were a few of my favourite places to grab a bite or have a drink:

  • Zarowka Cafe: An insanely cute cafe, slightly removed from the street so you can truly relax without the bustling sounds of tourists
  • Coffeebook: Said to be the best flat white in town
  • Big Hat of Coffee: Strong, excellent latte
  • Singer Cafe: Cosy cafe with a Singer sewing machine on each table, came here one morning for coffee. Heard it’s a lively bar at night too
  • Pierogarnia KRAKOWIACY: Went here three times for pierogi- that good. Pierogi are kind of like ravioli- the dough is a bit thicker, and traditionally, pierogies are filled with mashed potatoes and cheese, and topped with sautéed onions. The pierogies here were amazing. Especially loved the traditional potato and cheese ones, and the apple cinnamon dessert variety
  • Hummus Amamamusi: Ace hummus in Krakow? I was as surprised as you may be! Simple, yet delicious- tried the classic hummus, which came with fresh vegetables for dipping and pita
  • Moment: Awesome place for brunch! Had a huge omelet stuffed with cheese, spinach and tomatoes for under £5, and a fresh orange-grapefruit juice for less than £1. 10/10 recommend
  • Charlotte: Another great brunch find, like Paris in Poland. Great cafe creme and tried a goat cheese, honey and thyme sandwich on the cafe’s fresh toasted bread
  • Cafe Camelot: Stopped in this pink beauty to read for a while, and snacked on baguette topped with goat cheese, beets and sprouts. Very yum
  • Truckarnia: Didn’t eat here, but walked past it to check out the food trucks. If you’re into street food, looks like there are a few good options here if you’re hungry while wandering the Jewish Quarter
  • Mercy Brown: You know a speakeasy is good when it’s completely unmarked, and to get to it, you have to speak to a man at a building reception desk, then head through hallways reserved for kitchen staff.  Seriously impressed with the cocktails being served here- for less than £6 a drink, I tried a variation on the Manhattan and a gin inspired tea drink
  • Scandale Royal: Preferred Mercy Brown, but this was a fun stop for a final drink (bit busier, closer to market square)
  • Mleczarnia: Krakow is full of beautiful, casual beer gardens, but this was one of my favorites
  • Wodka: Great vodka tasting, you can choose individual flavors to try or choose several as part of their sampling tray

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A Sobering Connection to WWII

After the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II, Hitler made Krakow the capital of Germany’s General Government. At that time, the Jewish population was foced into a walled zone, known as the Krakow Ghetto only to be sent to Auschwitz or other nearby camps.

On one of my mornings, I wandered the Jewish Quarter. The square, known as Ghetto Heroes Square, is where Jews were forced to live in poor conditions. Just across the road is Schindler’s Factory, the inspiration for Schindler’s List.

If you really want to cram in as much as possible on your trip, I’d also book a tour to Aucshwitz. I hadn’t planned any activities before visiting, and missed out on booking a tour when they all filled up. If this is on your must-visit list, book your visit in advance- there are plenty of tour companies that leave from central Krakow, usually early morning and early afternoon. Visiting on your own is a bit tougher, because unless you’re there before 10 am, you have to register your visit on-site and join a tour.

Today, the Jewish Quarter is an up and coming part of Krakow. With interesting beer gardens, restaurants and cafes down every alleyway, it’s a good place to spend a few hours, taking in history and being entertained.

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The Wieliczka Salt Mines

Just outside of Krakow, the salt mines have been around for over 700 years, and are some of the oldest in Europe. If you book a tour to visit from the city, expect to spend a half day there- it’s about ~25-30 minutes each way, and the tour itself takes ~2.5-3 hours.

It’s time well spent though, the mines are fascinating.

Inside, you’ll descend 800 steps over the course of the tour (don’t worry, there’s an elevator at the end) to see carvings of important figures in Polish history, churches (yes churches inside the mines!), model equipment, enormous chambers and narrow passageways.

You’ll have no doubt of the salt around you- at a few points in the tour, you can try the salt from the walls or the salt water running through the mines.

Visiting was such a unique experience, I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Krakow.

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Have you ever been to Krakow? What was your favorite part of your visit? 

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PS. Never stayed in an Airbnb? If you use this link, you’ll get a £25 discount (off a trip of £55 or more), and I’ll earn credit towards finding great places to stay on one of my future trips.

Photo Diary: Krakow

Krakow was my first time in Poland and an unexpected gem of a destination. And, to be truthful- a trip I forgot about until the week beforehand when RyanAir emailed me a check-in reminder.

It was a spur of the moment trip booking I’d made in early 2018- I found a cheap flight (£40 return), and a beautiful Airbnb near Old Town for £32 a night. And so, I booked a city break without much further thought. When the time came for the trip though, I almost didn’t go.

April was a busy month- first a few days in Norway, and then The Netherlands for a long weekend mid-month. With a day trip to Cambridge in early April and a planned day trip to Stratford-on-Avon for the last weekend of the month, I just wanted a weekend at home to rest. But, everyone I knew who’d been to Krakow told me I needed to go- that I’d love it and would regret not taking the trip.

Of course, they were right.

Beautiful architecture, friendly locals, good food, great culture and amazing affordability, Krakow is all these things and more. During the weekend, I couldn’t get over how beautiful all the pastel buildings were, how much greenery there was in and around city centre, and how interesting it was to see so many pieces of WWII history.

From watching the sun set atop a hill that local legend says a dragon used to live in, to sampling strawberry Polish vodka, to wandering the city’s aged cobblestone streets, to descending 800 steps into salt mines- I loved every moment spent exploring Krakow. Detailed post with recommendations on what to do and where to eat & drink coming soon!

Oh, and I’m not kidding about the affordability. I’m in the process of tallying receipts from my stay, but it looks like I spent under £80 over the course of 3 days for airport transfers, drinks, meals out, daily coffees, etc. Wow!

My Favourite Moments From The Trip

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PS. Never stayed in an Airbnb? If you use this link, you’ll get a £25 discount (off a trip of £55 or more), and I’ll earn credit towards finding great places to stay on one of my future trips.

Travel Crush: Poland

Growing up with Polish influence (my mother’s side of the family is Polish), meant several things: one of the most important being there were always homemade pierogis. It wasn’t until middle school that I realized not every kid knew the joy of homemade pierogis. Delicious dumplings aside, visiting Poland has long been a dream of mine, largely because of my family’s connection to the country.

Poland may be one of Europe’s lesser known gems, but there’s plenty of old world charm to go around. At the top of my to-visit list? Warsaw, Poland’s capital city, and Krakow, the cultural center of the country.

As a country, Poland may have a devastating history. But, today, in Warsaw, modern architecture mixes with medieval charm. And in Krakow, hip bars and cafes draw visitors to explore Poland.

I don’t have a trip on the books just yet- but thinking early-mid fall for a quick jaunt over to Krakow. Been to Poland? Always open to recos 🙂

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All Warsaw photos from here & here, and Krakow photos from here