A while ago I shared what to eat in Poland, now let’s talk about all the things to do in Poland between meals!
Before I visited Poland on a media trip, I knew little about the country. Now that I’ve explored Warsaw and Krakow and learned a little about its history, I have decided it’s a wonderful, underrated place.
Here’s what you should see if you go.
Top 10 Things to do in Poland
Visit the Warsaw Mermaid
I’m a sucker for a fairytale, and Poland did not disappoint. In Warsaw’s Old Town, a sculpture of a mermaid sits in the square. Watch out, though! She spurts water out from time to time onto unsuspecting tourists!
The story is this: two mermaid sisters swam around, looking for new homes.
One landed in Copenhagen, and the other continued down a river until she ended up in Warsaw.
Some fishermen spied her and decided to capture her. But a little boy rescued her and set her free. In exchange for his kindness, the mermaid vowed to always protect the city.
That’s why she’s shown with a sword and shield on the city’s coat of arms.
Bone up on the Holocaust
There are so many museums dedicated to the Holocaust and World War II in Poland! Schindler’s Factory, where he saved over 1,000 Jews, is now a museum dedicated to Krakow and the Jewish population.
The Warsaw Rising Museum will teach you about the tens of thousands of Polish who rose up against the Nazis toward the end of the war.
And of course, Auschwitz-Birkenau provides a stark view of what life (and death) was like for as many as 1.5 million Jews during the war.
Get to Know Lolek
Whether you’re Catholic or not, the family home of Pope John Paul II is a fascinating visit. Heck, he was born in the shadow of the church next door!
Of course he became the Pope! The museum presents Lolek’s (his nickname) life, both before he even became a priest to after he became one of the most well-known religious figures on the planet.
See Old Warsaw and New Warsaw Combine
It was a shock to discover that 85% of the city center of Warsaw was demolished in World War II. Looking around, the city looks ancient.
That’s by design. Nowhere is it more fascinating to see how the buildings were restored to their original design in the decades after the war ended than Warsaw’s Old Town.
One building had walls from the 13th century, with the rest rebuilt in the 1970s!
Visit a Quaint Mountain Village
Just a couple of hours outside of Krakow is the cute little mountain town of Zakopane. While it’s a ski destination for Poles in the winter, it’s a lovely village to visit year ‘round. We were there in April, and to our surprise, it was snowing!
That only help to cast the magical glow on the town, which prides itself on its ancient Highland culture.
There are some great shops with affordable gifts and goodies: I scored some excellent wool mittens for just $5!
Admire a Castle
One of the most recognizable symbols of Poland is Wawel Castle. Situated on the banks of the Vistula River in Krakow, this castle was the site of many a coronation for Poland’s kings.
This gentle looking castle is now a museum with art, tapestries, and furniture from various centuries.
See Your Name in Lights
Something else I didn’t know: in an effort to counter the starkness of Communist-era design, the government started issuing neon signs advertising generic businesses (like “shoe store.”)
These signs have fallen by the wayside over the decades since then, but now can be seen at the Neon Muzeum in Warsaw. It’s like neon art. Very cool.
Another surprise was how much I enjoyed the Wieliczka Salt Mine. First opened in the 13th century, the mine operated until 1996. The tour includes 9 levels and 1,000 feet below the surface.
There are 170 miles of tunnels (though you don’t have to walk all of them on the tour!).
On the tour, we saw gorgeous chapels with salt sculptures carved by miners, underwater salt lakes, and The Treasurer, the purported guardian of the mine.
There’s a pretty cool performance he and Chopin put on together, so look for that!
Meet the Zookeeper’s Wife
If you haven’t seen or read The Zookeeper’s Wife, you’ll want to before you go to Poland.
Antonina and Jan Zabinski were the zookeepers at the Warsaw Zoo during World War II, and ended up saving several hundred Jews by hiding them in animal cages and their basement. I
t’s a great story, and one you can experience with a private tour of their home at the zoo.
Get Your Breakfast On
You knew food was going to make it on my list sooner or later, didn’t you? Here’s a trend I wish would come our way: the breakfast market, or Targ Sniadaniowy.
They’re popping up all over Poland, and we got to visit one in Warsaw.
A breakfast market is pretty much a farmer’s market, with more emphasis on foods you can eat right there (and not all breakfast foods). It’s a great way to sample many local cuisines, as well as international!
There you have it! Ten places to keep you busy on your trip to Poland.
When Susan Guillory isn’t running her marketing company, she’s traveling and writing about it on The Unexplorer.
She’s written several books (business, as well as travel) and has been published on Forbes, Mashable and other sites. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.