It’s long been on my list to really explore Poland. Of course it’s a huge European country and culture. But also, it has such a multinational history.
There was a Polish medieval state (quite powerful and big) but it was carved up over the 1700s-1800s. So there are parts which were heavily influenced by Germany, Austria and Russia.
Besides those parts, the northwest and southwest of today’s Poland were straight up German till 1945. Around 10 million Germans fled or were expelled. Poles were installed. These territories include places like Wroclaw/Breslau, Gdansk/Danzig, Szczecin/Stettin, and in the case of Kaliningrad/Konigsberg the land went to Russia. It is fascinating to see how these cities are now when the architectural shell is German but the occupants are Polish.
In sum, we visited:
Krakow – the medieval capital of Poland – much like Prague or Lviv. Daytrip to the Wieliczka salt mine – interesting, huge, underground “cathedral”…
High Tatra Mountains in Slovakia – south of Krakow by buses. Cable car ride up to 2500m “Lomnicky Stit” – outstanding. And I can check the Slovakia box.
Katowice – was an industrial city just inside Germany till WWI. Some art nouveau gems but primarily went to see the Silesian Museum, huge, built into a mineshaft. Huge exposition about its history which is totally bicultural.
Wroclaw (VROTS-wuff) – was Breslau, Germany’s #8 city – has a very Hanseatic historic center. The liveliest of all the cities and my favorite. Def. a hidden gem. Lots of students.
Lodz – industrial city which was in the Russian part but settled by Germans and Jews. It was with 300K people one of the largest cities around 1900. One huge mill complex has been turned into Manufaktura – worth the trip in itself, if converted industrial buildings interest you. It’s a mall, 3 museums, cinema, restaurants, etc. There is one downtown street with restored art nouveau gems, and then miles and miles of deteriorated tenements from the turn of the 20th c.
Warsaw – I have been many times before. Really not my favorite place but it’s always possible to have fun and eat well. The Old Town was completely reconstructed from ruins, so it’s bascially fake. The real reason to go is the new Museum of Polish Jews. We spent four hours there. The 1000 year history of them, unfortunately usually we only study the Holocaust.
I can highly recommend the hotels by Vienna House in Krakow, Katowice and Lodz – 4* luxury, including some of the most amazing breakfast spreads I’ve ever seen.
I was really pleased with all the places we visited.
The food is good and natural – Polish and a lot of quality Italian too. So quite some scenery. We used rail and buses and all were easy to book online – occasionally with the help of Google Translate.