Lose the Tourists in Poland
In Prague, you’re lucky to see more than the back of another tourist. Meanwhile, close by in Poland, the possibilities are wide-open for travelers. There are endless places to explore which are free of tourists. Strange that this is still the case, but Communism has been out, and Poland has been fair game for foreign visitors since 1989. Besides visiting historic cities, Poland is a great place for hiking and skiing.
OK, so one city has got plenty of tourists. But, still, there are enough good reasons to visit Krakow. It is certainly the urban highlight of Poland. It was fortunately spared destruction during World War II. From the Jewish history to the largest medieval square in Europe to the up-and-coming Kazimierz, arguably the hippest neighborhood in the country. Grab a zapiekanka after hitting the bars and you’ve got yourself one great night in Krakow.
Walk across an International Border
Walking across international borders in the middle of town is one of the quirks of Europe that North Americans love. I wrote about this novelty in my post: Three Countries in One Day about the day I left Poland and walked into the Czech Republic. It took place in the sleepy city of Cieszyn.
My favorite city in Poland so far. Wroclaw’s market square is one the finest in Poland, and is a fantastic place to visit day or night. The architecture of the city is outstanding and oddly, tourism has yet to take off here. In the evening, grab a beer and a lard sandwich and sit outside in the Rynek at Spiz microbrewery. Wroclaw is one city you should get to now.
Milk bars are a legacy of Communist days, when you could get a home-cooked meal in a cafeteria-style eatery and not break the bank. There remain a few milk bars in Poland’s cities and you should make an effort to search them out. The whole experience is classic, right down to the old women in aprons who dish out your meal. The soups are usually excellent in milk bars and it’s a nice place to try pierogi as well as other traditional favorites.
Prices are relative, but Poland is much cheaper than Western Europe. It represents a good value for most travelers. Hostel beds go for about $12 US and private doubles start at about $37. Full hot meals can be had at the milk bars for as little as $4. Transportation is cheap, especially if you use the train, or budget bus companies like PolskiBus.
Ride the old-school trains
I’m going to be honest here. Trains in Poland are slow. But that’s half the experience. These beasts are throwbacks to the Communist days. The view from the train is interesting too. If it’s not picturesque rolling fields of barley, it’s a decaying industrial scene out your window.
I love Polish food. It is wholesome and comforting. In the milk bars, it’s easy to get a hot, home cooked meal for cheap. On the street or in cafes you can find pierogi, nice soups, and kielbasa. I also enjoyed the plentiful sauerkraut, other sausages and Polish beer and vodka.
Poles received me really well. I don’t speak Polish, but with my knowledge of Russian I was able to muster a few basic phrases. They were patient with me, smiled, and tried to understand. I’ll definitely be back to Poland.
Article and photos by Stephen Bugno
Stephen traveled around Poland during a three-month trip around Europe. He blogs at BohemianTraveler.com