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Poland is a traveler's dream, offering the best of Europe with a fraction of the crowds. Modernity meets history in dynamic Warsaw, while Krakow is a beautifully preserved second-city with stunning pre-WWII architecture. You'll also find beautiful resort towns like Zakopane in the Tatras Mountains and Gdańsk, the port side charmer on the Baltic Sea. Then there’s the food scene, which has transcended potato pancakes and pierogis to include beautiful bistros and legitimate haute cuisine, paired with endless artisanal vodkas.
And perhaps most importantly, there are many worthy opportunities throughout the country to look back on the traumas of the 20th century, from the terror of the Holocaust to the long Soviet occupation. Poland has come into its own, and examining its past is a crucial part of appreciating its current identity.
When is the best time to visit?
Poland is warm and buzzing during the summer months (June-September). Weather is great, save for some afternoon thunderstorms, and this is the peak tourist season. Visit in late spring instead, when crowds are fewer, the weather is pleasant, and the days are long. Winter weather can be brisk, to put it mildly—temperatures from December through February often hover near freezing.
Where should you go?
Travelers can base their itineraries around the two major cities of Poland: the capital city of Warsaw, and Krakow, a cultural powerhouse located further south. Warsaw’s museums are excellent, especially the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and travelers will love the many opportunities for fine European dining at unbeatably low prices. In Krakow, a must-visit is Rynek Główny, the largest medieval city square in Europe dating back to the 13th century. This is also where you want to be for modern art museums and galleries, hip coffee shops, and pretty parks.
Outside the cities you can plan kayaking and boating excursions on the Great Masurian Lakes or ski the Carpathian Mountains in the south. The Baltic coast is lovely in summer, and there are plenty of small seaside towns to explore. If you're interested in learning more about the atrocities of the Holocaust in Poland, the six concentration camp sites set up by Nazi Germany throughout the country are all open to the public—some were destroyed, with memorials and museums in their place; others, like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Belzec, were preserved.
How many days do you need?
You could enjoy a fulfilling tour of Poland in about a week. In that time, you can visit the capital, plus Krakow and Auschwitz-Birkenau, with possible time left over to take a day-trip to the countryside. With two weeks, it’s safe to say you could enjoy most highlights in the entire country. And with less than a week, you should stick to Krakow and surrounds to maximize your time.
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