Poland is a country located in Central Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea coastline in the north, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south, Germany to the west, and Lithuania, Russia (the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave), Ukraine, and Belarus to the east.
One of the first recognized permanent settlements within contemporary Polish borders is the Iron Age fort of Biskupin, dating to 700 BC. Centuries later, Roman writers recalled the existence of the towns Kalisz and Elbląg along the Amber Road, a trade route linking the Baltic and Mediterranean seas originating back to prehistoric times. At the time, the Polish lands were inhabited by an assortment of Celtic, Samartian, Germanic, Baltic, and scattered Slavic tribes.
Nowadays, Poland is a democratic parliamentary republic with a stable, robust economy, a member of NATO since 1999, and the European Union since 2004. The country’s stability has been recently underscored by the fact that the tragic deaths of President Lech Kaczyński and many members of parliament in a plane crash in 2010 did not have an appreciable negative effect on the Polish currency or economic prospects. Poland has also successfully joined the Schengen Agreement for an open border to Germany, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, and is on track to adopt the Euro currency on a future (yet currently unspecified) date. Poland’s dream of rejoining Europe as an independent nation at peace and in mutual respect of its neighbors has finally been achieved.
The countryside throughout Poland is lovely and relatively unspoiled. Poland has a variety of regions with beautiful landscapes, complete with primeval forests, mountain ranges, hidden valleys, grasslands, lakes and small-scale organic and traditional farms. Travellers can choose a number of activities such as bird watching, cycling or horseback riding.
Culturally, you can visit and/or experience many churches, museums, ceramic and traditional basket-making workshops, castle ruins, palaces, rural centers and many more. A journey through the Polish countryside gives you a perfect opportunity to enjoy and absorb local knowledge about its landscape and people.
Poland offers variety of landscapes, as well as cultural and historic territories. Natural regions of Poland one can divide in five major belts: coastal, northern lake districts, central plains, south-eastern highlands and southern mountains.
Poland’s sixteen administrative regions are called województwa, often abbreviated as woj.. The word is roughly equivalent to the word “province” in English. Some English dictionaries use the word voivodeship to describe the provinces, although the use of the word is rare, and is not likely to be universally understood at first by Poles. Like other larger countries, many regions have distinct identities and traditions.
Provinces have often names of historic regions, but their territories do not match. For example, Silesian voievodship includes only small eastern part of Silesia, but around 40% of its land was never part of Silesia. Thus, this map and regionalisation is only an approximation.
Greater Poland (Greater Poland Voivodship, Lubusz)
Greater Poland is a birthplace of Poland. Visit the first Polish capital Gniezno, rich in history but young and dynamic city of Poznań, go along Piasts’ Route to discover places where myth joins history and learn about the birth of Poland. Discover one of the hundreds of small wooden churches, or enjoy manoirs, smaller towns and cities, many lakes or forests.
Lesser Poland (Holy Cross Mountains, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Lublin Voivodeship, Subcarpathia)
Home to spectacular and sometimes wild mountain ranges, the world’s oldest operating salt mines, fantastic landscapes, caves, historical monuments and cities. The magnificent medieval cities of Kraków and Lublin are major metropolitan centres. Tourist heartland of Poland.
Central Poland and Masovia (Łódź Voivodship, Masovian Voivodship)
Flat, idyllic rural areas with two major metropolitan areas of Poland with Warsaw, current capital and country’s economic centre, and Łódź, the manufacturing city known as the “Manchester of Poland”. In just one hour you can move from dynamic urban areas with many museums and cultural attractions to find tranquility in places where nature coexists with humans.
Wild heart of Poland. Last primeval forests on the European plains and picturesque backwaters (e.g. Biebrza river) with protected bird species and biggest animals in Europe (elks, bears, European bison) make the region increasingly interesting for tourists. This is also the most ethnically diverse province of Poland, with Lithuanians, Orthodox Belorussians and Muslim Tatars living together – a valuable heritage of the old Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Pomerania and Cuiavia (Pomeranian Voivodship, Kuyavia-Pomerania, West Pomerania)
Summer capital of Poland is on the beach – around 500 km of golden sand, dunes and cliffs. Discover many forests and lakes, old Hanseatic cities of Gdańsk or Toruń, modernism in Gdynia, art nouveau in Bydgoszcz or Wały Chrobrego panoramic street in Szczecin. Fertile Cuiavia offers you among others one of the biggest spas in the country in Ciechocinek, or legends of Kruszwica, capital of the legendary king Popiel.
Silesia (Lower Silesia, Opole Voivodeship, Silesian Voivodeship)
Colorful mixture of different landscapes. One of the warmest regions in Poland with the very popular, dynamic city of Wrocław (the region’s historic capital) and the country’s biggest metropolitan area, Upper Silesia. Place of Polish, German and Czech heritage with many palaces, monasteries and towns. Discover some of the oldest mountains in Europe with their fantastic rock formations.
Green lungs of Poland. This region offers unspoiled nature full of forests, hills and lakes. Discover the places where Copernicus worked, or camp in the beautiful countryside.
Cities in Poland
Warsaw (Warszawa) — capital and the biggest city of Poland, one of the EU’s thriving new business centres; the old town, nearly completely destroyed during World War II, has been rebuilt in a style inspired by the classicist paintings of Canaletto. Warsaw’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit some of great museums and discover rich culture and heritage of Warsaw and Poland, spend some time in cinemas, theatres or opera halls.
Cracow — (Kraków), the cultural capital of the nation and its historic political capital in the Middle Ages; its centre is filled with old churches, monuments, the largest European market square and, more recently, trendy pubs and art galleries. It is one of the major iconic cities not only in the country but in Central Europe as well. Its city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Łódź — once renowned for its textile industries, the “Polish Manchester” has the longest walking street in Europe, Ulica Piotrkowska, full of picturesque 19th-century architecture.
Wrocław — an old Silesian city, known in German as Breslau, with great history and a lively historic centre; placed on 12 islands, it has more bridges than any other European town except Venice, Amsterdam and Hamburg.
Poznań — the merchant city, considered to be the birthplace of the Polish nation and church (along with Gniezno), the second biggest necropolis of Polish kings and rulers in the country, presenting a mixture of architecture from all epoques.
Gdańsk — known in German as Danzig, one of Central Europe’s most beautiful and historic port cities, painstakingly rebuilt after World War II. During its golden age it was the biggest city in Poland, and its major commercial hub. The city is the world’s biggest amber jewelry producer.
Szczecin — most important city of Western Pomerania with an enormous harbour, marina, monuments, including Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle and many buildings of Gothic and Art Nouveau style, centers of culture, philharmonic orchestra, museums – of the city and the region and thematic e.g. of the sea – and old wide parks not omitting one of the biggest cementeries in the world that is also used as a park and historical place for the history of the city.
Bydgoszcz – old trade city with beautiful 19th century architecture and picturesque Mills’ Island on the Brda river, known as the “Little Berlin”.
Lublin — the largest city east of the Vistula, with a well-preserved old town with typical Polish architecture, along with unusual elements of the so-called Lublin Renaissance.
Katowice — the major centre of the post-industrial metropolis of Upper Silesia and its cultural hub.
Białowieża National Park contains Europe’s last temperate primeval forest.
Auschwitz — the most infamous German Nazi concentration camp that became the centre of the Holocaust for European Jews during World War II. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Białowieża National Park — a huge area of ancient woodland straddling the border with Belarus, famous for its old growth trees, bogs, European bison, and wolf packs. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bory Tucholskie — a big forestet region in northern Poland full of clean lakes, rivers and nature reserves. A paradise for kayakers and nature enthousiasts.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska — a monastery in the Beskids from 1600 with Mannerist architecture and a Stations of the Cross complex. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Karkonoski National Park — a national park in the Sudety around Śnieżka Mountain with beautiful waterfalls.
Malbork — home to Malbork Castle, a beautiful red brick Gothic castle and the largest of its kind in Europe. UNESCO World Heritage Site .
Piasts’ Route– a historic trail from Poznań to Inowrocław presenting the birthplace region of Poland.
Słowiński National Park — a national park next to the Baltic Sea with the biggest dunes in Europe.
Wieliczka Salt Mine — the oldest still-existing enterprise worldwide, this salt mine was exploited continuously since the 13th century. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Wielkopolski National Park — a national park in Greater Poland protecting the wildlife of the Wielkopolskie Lakes.
Tatrzański National Park — a national park in the Tatra Mountains (Lesser Poland) near Rysy Mountain, with bears, wolves and other animals.
Toruń – beautiful and well preserved gothic city along Vistula river. Birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus and home to the best gingerbreads in Europe!
Zamość – a beautifully preserved town dating from the heyday of the Renaissance in the late 16th century. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Błędowska Desert — One of the biggest sand areas in Europe, located between Dąbrowa Górnicza, Klucze and Chechło.
Pogoria Lakes — Four artificial lakes in Dąbrowa Górnicza, summer destination with growning popularity
Będzin — Medieval city with a castle, palaces and Jewish heritage
Dąbrowa Górnicza — City famous by Pogoria lakes, Błędowska Desert and other landmarks
Krynica Zdroj — The most famous and the biggest Polish Spa
West Pomerania and Pomerania — Regions of coastal cities as Kołobrzeg, Świnoujście, Łeba, Ustka or Dziwnów
Most of Europe’s major airlines fly to and from Poland. Poland’s national carrier is LOT Polish Airlines. There are also a number of low cost airlines that fly to Poland.
The official language of Poland is Polish, a Slavic language spoken by 55 million around the world. Foreign visitors should be aware that virtually all official information will usually be in Polish only. Street signs, directions, information signs, etc. are routinely only in Polish, as are schedules and announcements at train and bus stations (airports and a few major train stations seem to be an exception to this). When it comes to information signs in museums, churches, etc., signs in multiple languages are typically found only in popular tourist destinations.
Most of the young people and teenagers know English well enough. Since English is taught from a very young age (some start as early as 4 years old), only Poles who grow up in isolated towns or communities will not be given English lessons. Older Poles, particularly in rural regions, will speak little or no English at all. However, it is highly possible that they will speak either French, German or Russian, taught in schools as the main foreign languages until the 1990s.
What to do in Poland
Hit the trail with professional guide and reach some peaks of the Beskid, Tatra, Sudety or Bieszczady Mountains. A knowledgeable guide will choose hiking destinations based on your fitness level and interests. Whether you’re a casual walker or an advanced hiker, a guide can customize your hike to include panoramic views or lush wooded trails. Polish coastal resorts as Kołobrzeg, Ustka, Łeba, Świnoujście or Mielno offer wide choice of attraction and live concerts in summertime. There’re also many spas in Poland. The most popular ones are: Krynica-Zdrój, Ciechocinek, Busko-Zdrój, Iwonicz-Zdrój or Nałęczów. Water sports’re gaining more and more popularity. The most known centers for them are Mazury lakes, artificial lakes in Silesian Voivodeship and rivers as Brda, Pilica, Biebrza, Bzura, Czarna Chańcza, Tanew, Krutynia, Czarna/Biała Przemsza and Warta. Poland’s full of caves. Some of them as Mroźna, Głęboka, Nietoperzowa, Wierzchowska Górna, Raj and Niedźwiedzia have an artificial light. Much of caves are located in Tatra, Sudety, Pieniny, Holy Cross, Jura and Beskid Mountains or Ponidzie. Some of them’re closed and opening them’s available after earlier contacting the local authorities or protected area where they’re located. You can find caves’ descriptions (in Polish) and maps here.
It is illegal to drink alcoholic beverages or use drugs in public, though it’s quite often done by the locals, especially in parks, on some buses, and some of the more congested city streets. Doing it puts you at risk of a small fine (from 20 to 100PLN) and being scoffed at by the City Guards. And losing your booze.
It is illegal to be drunk in public, if you behave in bad way – you may be taken to special place (izba wytrzeźwień) to sober up… but it is not a very interesting place to find yourself in – you will be treated as an alcoholic and won’t be released until sober. And you’ll have to pay around 240PLN for that experience.
The possession of recreational drugs is illegal and subject to a criminal offence. However, the possession of medical cannabis is legal with permission from the Ministry of Health.
Most public toilets have turned to pay-per-use schemes; expect to pay 1-2PLN to use a public restroom, eg. at a bus station or at a fast-food place (unless you’re a customer there).
Toilets for women are marked with a circle on the door, and toilets for men are marked with a triangle.
All restaurants and bars are forced by law to have toilets inside (but not all comply). It’s not a common practice to use their toilet without ordering (at least coffee), but if you ask a waiter, he wouldn’t mind in most cases. Sometimes you have to get a key to the toilet at the counter. If there seems to be a lack of public toilets you may want to try to visit McDonald’s (or another fast food place) just to use the toilet.
In case of larger events or remote venues, organizers provide so called toi-toi toilets (from one of companies that service them). From outside, they have an appearance almost identical to the American “Porta-Potty.” They are narrow plastic booths, usually blue, not very comfortable, often not very clean, and hardly ever with water or paper. Expect them to smell bad.
Unesco World Heritage List
- Historic Centre of Kraków
- Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines
- Auschwitz Birkenau
German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)
- Białowieża Forest *
- Historic Centre of Warsaw
- Old City of Zamość
- Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork
- Medieval Town of Toruń
- Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park
- Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica
- Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska
- Muskauer Park / Park Mużakowski *
- Centennial Hall in Wrocław
- Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine *
- Tarnowskie Góry Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine and its Underground Water Management System
- Krzemionki Prehistoric Striped Flint Mining Region
Official tourism websites of Poland
For more information please visit the official government website: