Sandwiched between Russia and Germany, Poland's history has often been turbulent, going from kingdom to commonwealth (with Lithuania) to independent country (after the First World War). Following the Second World War, it fell under Soviet rule for 40 years or so until it overthrew it in 1989. With its accession to the EU in 2004, Poland has become more accessible to travellers, and many young Poles have sought work in other parts of the EU.
Thanks to numerous cheap flights to Poland, its cities have become must-sees. Krakow, the former capital in the south, is a splendid city more than 1,000 years old. Warsaw, the capital, has beautiful parks, wide boulevards, and an old quarter that was rebuilt after the war by volunteers using maps, old paintings, books, and the rubble of buildings flattened during the war.
Natural wonders include Bialowieza Forest where the last of the European bison roam; the Polish Tatras mountains, shared with Slovakia in the south, and Masuria, the land of 10,000 lakes.
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Summers in Poland average a mild 19 degrees, but the interior can be much hotter. Winters can be extremely cold, especially inland from the Baltic Coast, where temperatures average -5 in Warsaw. It rains throughout the year, particularly in the southern mountains.
When to fly to Poland
The climate in Poland is a tourist’s dream - warm summers, blue-skied autumns and snowy winters.
May to September. July and August are the busiest holiday months. Flights to Poland should be booked as far in advance as possible.
The winter months, unless you are a skier. Szklarska Poreba, in the western part of the Karkonosze Mountains, Szczyrk and Zakopane, in the foothills of the Tatras, south of Krakow, are the best-known resorts. Elsewhere, the winter months can be very dreary and very cold.
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Getting around Poland
LOT, the national carrier, offers domestic Poland flights – Gdansk, Bydgoszcz, Szczecin, Poznan, Zielona Gora, Wroclaw, Lodz, Katowice, Krakow and Rzeszow.
All the major car-rental companies are represented here – Avis, Budget, Hertz, Europcar – but road quality varies somewhat.
PKP, the Polish State Railways, offers service on three types of trains: intercity, eurocity and expresses. The country is well connected with good services from Warsaw.
PKS, the Polish Car Transport Company, offers intercity bus services. There are also lots of private bus companies that offer services throughout the country.
Warsaw has a good underground train system. Trams operate in several cities including Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Poznan, Wroclaw, Szczecin, Katowice.
Poland insider information
- Zamosc, in southeastern Poland, is a beautiful Renaissance town dating from the late 1600s. It was built by a wealthy landowner, Jan Zamoyski, who set up, essentially a country within a country to escape paying royal taxes. Zamoyski employed an Italian architect (Bernando Morando) to design this ideal town often called Padua of the North. The Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
- Several of Poland’s Old Towns are on the Unesco list including Krakow (see the Royal Castle and Cathedral on Wawel Hill as well as the medieval Old Town); Warsaw, painstakingly and beautifully reconstructed after the Second World War; Wroclaw, another Old Town that was reconstructed after 1945. Gdansk has a postcard-perfect Old Town and is also home of the Solidarity movement. The town of Torun, about 200km from Warsaw, is the birthplace of Nicholaus Copernicus, Poland’s most famous scientist. After Krakow, it is the city with the largest number of Gothic monuments and architecture in Northern Europe. Toruń is also famous for its gingerbread, and for its leaning tower, which has a vertical deviation of 1.40 metres.
- Sun and ski. Bathe and bask on the Baltic coast. Poland has several popular beach resorts including Sopot, which has Europe’s longest pier (500m/1640ft). Off-season, between November and May, it is still possible to pick up amber on the beaches in the Gulf of Gdansk.
- Zakopane, in the alpine-like Tatras mountains, is Poland’s winter capital. The most popular areas are Kasprowy Wierch and Gubalowka. Snow lasts until May and after that, it is a popular spot for hiking.
- Natural Poland can be enjoyed in the Bialowieska Forest and Miedzyzdroje, where the bison and deer roam free. The Slowinski National Park, a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve, has moving sand dunes. The wind pushes dunes from 2 to 9.5 metres each year. The Masurian Lakes Plateau has more than 4,000 lakes and is one of Central Europe’s largest forested areas.
- If you are planning to visit Poland and still need to find a hotel in Krakow, a hotel in Warsaw or a hotel in Gdansk, visit trivago to compare deals and reviews.