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2 weeks in Poland (Warsaw, Gdansk, Malbork, Torun, Wroclaw, Krakow and more)

Hello all,

I recently returned from a two-week odyssey through Poland.

I visited (in this order) Warsaw, Gdansk, Malbork, Torun, Wroclaw and Krakow, with a couple of stops in some smaller towns along the way.

I hope you don't mind that I only provide bulletpoints in my report below. I saw a LOT of stuff over these epic two weeks and it'd be hard to provide everything justice in a trip report without writing a novel.

Just know that if you have any questions about cities, particular sights, etc., I'm happy to answer them in a response.

Let's do this.

WARSAW (3 nights, October 19-22)
-- Stayed in an Airbnb on Aleja Jerozolimski near the Palace of Culture and Science in Srodmiescie, which is like Warsaw's downtown. Lots of energy, tons of restaurants and bars, fantastic views and very noisy. The whole area felt more authentic than your ordinary tourist spot. There are trams that arrive every few minutes than can whip you anywhere. I would recommend staying around here, but bring earplugs if you're a light sleeper.
-- Met a Canadian friend staying in a neighboring Airbnb. She had just arrived from Budapest and we shared some wine, cheese and sausages at nearby (and recommended) Bibenda.

First full day

-- My Canadian friend joined me on the Royal Way Walk.
-- Delicious paczki from A. Blikle (the rose-flavored jam ones are phenomenal)
-- We did an impromptu tour of the elegant Hostel Bristol. The interior are stunning, particularly the incredible bar hidden way in the back. A gentleman scared the living daylights out of me by yelling at me when I entered, but he was just an extremely enthusiastic hotel employee who wanted to describe the many celebrities and dignitaries who have stayed in the hotel over the years. Ask one of the hotel's employees for a quick history lesson if you stop by!
-- Saxon Garden, very lovely when the weather is nice. This was in the middle of October, so it was quite warm and sunny, the leaves had just changed to bright orange and there were kids chasing bubbles blown by a nearby street entertainer. Well worth the side trip to explore this lovely park.
-- Witnessed some type of military ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; I have no idea what that was about.
-- Royal Castle (decent, but not spectacular)
-- Old Town Market Square/New Town (nice but touristy)
-- Zurek (sour soup) and dumplings at one of the restaurants in the New Town (I can't remember which restaurant though...)
-- My Canadian friend and I walked to the nearby Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This museum, simply put, is a must-see. One could easily spend hours in here (and we did). It's the best sight in Warsaw and one of the top museums in Poland.

Second day

-- Warsaw Uprising Museum (nice but confusing and extremely detailed)
-- Neon Museum (very small, not worth going to unless you're already over in Praga)
-- Lazienki Park was lovely, with more warm, sunny weather and gorgeous autumn trees. The Chopin statue and Palace on the Water are well worth checking out.
-- Restauraja pod Samsonem in the Old Town. The food was good but the atmosphere is wonderful. I sat near this table of a dozen or so older Polish men who were slinging back shots of vodka between courses.
-- Hot chocolate at E. Wedel Pijalnia Czekolady. This is the melted hot chocolate you can (seemingly) only find over in Europe. It's delicious.

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GDANSK (3 nights, October 22-25)

-- Left for Gdansk on a very early train. The woman sitting next to me was one of the architects who designed the new Museum of the Second World War. She was a nice lady, offering me tips on best restaurants, discussing her neighbor Lech Walesa and even gave me her phone number in case things went awry in Gdansk.
-- I was actually supposed to disembark at Malbork to see the castle, but I stupidly missed my stop. After weighing my options, I decided to continue on to Gdansk and return to Malbork on one of my two full days in Gdansk.
-- Did the Part 1 of the Gdansk Walk, which was charming.
-- Had delicious salmon, beer and dessert at Gdanski Bowke. The service was phenomenal and the riverfront location is super charming. Highly recommended.

First day

-- Part 2 of the Gdansk Walk, including St. Mary’s Church (currently being heavily renovated, but still lovely), St. Nicholas Church (sadly closed during my visit), the Market Hall, St. Catherine’s Church, St. Bridget’s Church (really gorgeous and a lot of history).
-- European Solidarity Center, which was absolutely fantastic. This is the only Polish museum I would consider placing above the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
-- Went to Malbork in the early afternoon, but the castle closed earlier than I had expected. Still, it was nice to explore the castle’s exterior grounds. The good thing about missing my train stop was that it was cloudy on the day that I was originally supposed to visit, whereas it was perfectly sunny on the day I actually visited Malbork. I got some great sunset photos, when the red brick of the castle really glows.

Second day

-- Went back and explored some Gdansk Walk Part 1 sights that were closed during my first walk, such as the Main Town Hall and the Artus Court.
-- Museum of the Second World War, which I found a little disappointing. It’s very broad and lacks a personality. Unless you’re just learning about WWII for the first time, I would say it’s worthwhile but skippable.
-- Did some amber shopping along ulica Mariacka, which was really pleasurable. It’s fun to check out all of the amber jewelry one can purchase.
-- Vodka cocktails at Café Joseph K, at atmospheric and hipster bar on Piwna.

TORUN (1 night, October 25-26)

-- Morning train from Gdansk to Torun.
-- Torun Walk, which was lovely.
-- Yummy gingerbread at Tradycyjne Prawdziwe Pierniki
-- Cajun burger at Luizjana, which was surprisingly good (I’m part Cajun).
-- An enjoyable walk along the riverfront, right between the marshy water and the gorgeous red brick town.
-- Good pasta at Chleb i Wino on the Old Town Market Square.

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WROCLAW (3 nights, October 26-29)

-- Long train ride from Torun to Wroclaw.
-- I stayed in an Airbnb right on Wroclaw’s main square. Another nice place with great views, an amazing location and lots of noise.
-- Tried my first zapiekanka. Maybe it’s because I don’t like ketchup, but these things are disgusting. Once was more than enough for me.
-- Cathedral Island, including the spectacular Holy Cross and Cathedral of St. John.
-- Cocktails at Kawiarnia Literatka, which had excellent service and was directly beneath my Airbnb.

First day

-- The stunning Raclowice Panorama. It’s a 360 painting of a critical Polish battle against the Russians. There’s audio commentary and the scenery around the painting is extraordinary, almost as if you’re being pulled directly into the canvas.
-- Took a train to Walbryzch, which was surprisingly charming. I didn’t see much, but there’s look to be some impressive architecture and a really lovely town square. Worth considering for a day trip if you want to go somewhere off the beaten path.
-- Ksiaz Castle, which is glorious on the outside and unremarkable on the inside. Still, the weather was warm and clear and the castle’s setting is spectacular with some great hiking opportunities.
-- Delicious chicken rolls at Karczma Lwowska, a Ukrainian restaurant on the main square. The server “accidentally” sold me a bottle of wine instead of the glass that I ordered (who drink an entire bottle of wine as a solo diner?), but I couldn’t even be mad as the setting was incredible and the food was terrific. This was arguably my best meal in Poland. Vegetarians beware, however; Ukrainian cuisine makes Polish food look positively green by comparison.

Second day

-- Took a train to Swidnica, which is a lovely small town well worth a brief stop.
-- The spectacular Church of Peace at Swidnica. These massive, elegant churches are built entirely of wood. You’ll be stunned by the intricacy and beauty here.
-- Had delicious sour soup, dumplings and a complementary free shot at Piwnica Ratuszowa in Swidnica’s main square.
-- Returned to Wroclaw to explore Szczytnicki Park, which was lovely, particularly the Japanese garden. It was still quite warm and sunny, but one could feel the chill starting to creep in…

KRAKOW (4 nights, October 29 – November 2)

-- Another long train ride, this time to Krakow.
-- Royal Way Walk.
-- Main Market Square, which really has to be seen to be believed.
-- St. Mary’s Church, which is absolutely glorious but is facing some current renovation, particularly in its main altar.
-- St. Francis Basilica, which is quite a powerful church.
-- Wawel Cathedral and Castle Grounds, which was more enjoyable that I would have thought.

First day

-- Nowa Huta tour with Crazy Guides. This place is incredibly interesting but would almost certainly be pointless to visit without a guide. My guide was absolutely amazing. She was a pretty, young Polish woman who spoke perfect English, provided all sorts of background context and history and had a great sense of humor. I highly recommend Crazy Guides and Nowa Huta.
-- My guide dropped me off in Kazimierz, where I toured the Old Jewish Cemetery.
-- Phenomenal shish kebab at Hamsa.
-- Toured the old synagogue and did the Kazimierz Walk, where I ran into my guide eating ice cream (she recommended Good Lood, which is also endorsed by Rick Steves).
-- Went over to Podgorze to check out the Ghetto Heroes’ Square.
-- Schindler’s Factory Museum, which isn’t as much about Oskar Schindler as it is about the Nazi occupation of Krakow. It’s still very worthwhile and the café has some interesting artifacts for “Schindler’s List” fans.
-- Potato pancakes and Hungarian goulash at Pod Baranem, where I met a pair of young women from North Carolina who had just arrived from Amsterdam. The two of them agreed to tour Auschwitz on the following day with me, as we had similar reservations and were all nervous.

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Second day

-- Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was astonishing. It’s almost impossible to put into words. I can understand the anxiety about visiting a place such as this, but I’m so glad I did and I highly recommend you do so too. I think the collection of artifacts at Auschwitz I and the horrifying scale of Birkenau are the most memorable and powerful parts, but it’s all incredible.
-- Went to Karakter in Kazimierz for surf and turf and wine for dinner. It’s a lot more modern than most restaurants in this area, but it’s very good and I do recommend it.
-- Finished my night by listening to some klezmer music in Kazimierz with a beer in hand.

Third day

-- This was All Saints’ Day, so many museums were closed. I had originally intended to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine and the National Museum, but that was obviously impossible due to the holiday.
-- However, I did visit the Cmentarz Rakowicki for the evening’s All Saints’ Day events. This was a powerful experience, with many families remembering their loved ones by lighting candles and placing them on their graves. By this time, it was quite cold and misty, so the setting perfectly fit the somber scene. A church service was being broadcast through loudspeakers throughout the cemetery. There was a memorial to victims of the Communist regime that had dozens of candles on it. This was truly an incredibly moving way to conclude my trip to Poland.

I want to thank all of you for being so helpful providing information to help plan this trip. It couldn't have been done without you. This trip was a life-changing experience for me and I'll never forget it.

If you have any questions about a specific part of my trip or just Poland in general, I'll do my best to answer it.

As a certain travel guru says, keep on travelin’!

Posted by
1870 posts

Nathan, I loved reading your concise trip report! Since Poland is on our radar for future travel your day to day bullet itinerary was very helpful. I especially appreciated reading "it was a life-changing experience." Your enthusiasm is contagious! Did you feel that your 2 week odyssey was enough time in each city plus side trips? We were thinking 3+ weeks to add some additional side trips?

I am bookmarking your report!

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157 posts

Hi Janis,

I could have easily used another day or two to fully explore most of these cities, particularly Warsaw and Krakow.

The only city that I thought I had too much time in was Gdansk. Remember that I missed my train stop to Malbork, so I actually burned more time than I had originally planned. Even then, I felt like I was quickly running out of things to do.

If you stay three nights or more in Gdansk, it's likely worth visiting more of the Tricity. My architect friend from the train said Gdynia was well worth a visit, but I didn't make it out there. Rick Steves has also said nice things about Sopot, but I have heard mixed things on this forum.

I also could have skipped Torun, or at least not stayed overnight. It was a nice place, but very small and a bit schmaltzy for my taste.

Wroclaw is complicated because a lot of the best sights are outside of the city itself. There is a second Church of Peace in Jawor that I didn't get to. There are also other castles, towns and sights nearby that could be worth a visit.

While I liked Wroclaw, its sights are few and not particularly spectacular. It's simply a charming city with lots of things to do nearby. Be aware that while it's not in Rick Steves' guidebook, it's still very touristy. There were tons of German and Polish visitors when I was there (it was a weekend with perfect fall weather, so that likely helped).

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16608 posts

I spent 5 weeks in Poland last year and would have liked to stay longer. I do have a special interest in 20th century history, so I spent quite a lot of time at Cold War sites. And the WWII Museum in Gdansk was so interesting to me that I made 3 trips to it for a total of about 20 hours.

The country is very easy to visit, with English-language material posted in just about every museum I went to, plus usually an audio guide available.

The one place I went that I found less than totally fascinating was the Emigration Museum in Gdynia. I would recommend it to anyone (whether or not of Polish extraction) with a strong feeling of European family heritage. I'm a mutt and don't really have that, so the museum--though modern and well-done--didn't grab me in the same way I think it would many others.

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6073 posts

This trip was a life-changing experience for me

How so? (I spent my childhood in Poland so I'm curious)
Nice report, thanks! I think you got incredibly lucky with the weather because it could go either way that late in October. I love the changing leaves and the smell of the woods in the Fall though - it's a lovely feeling.

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Agnes,

I studied modern American and European history in college. I've always been highly interested in particular aspects of Polish history, particularly World War II, the Holocaust and Soviet occupation.

Getting to see a city like Warsaw, completely destroyed after the war and rebuilt essentially from scratch, was almost surreal. It's astonishing to think that massive, intense, thriving city was just a pile of rubble a few generations ago. After reading everything that happened in Warsaw, including watching "The Pianist," it was almost like experiencing a myth brought to life.

Gdansk was also powerful for its history regarding labor rights and bringing the Soviet Union to its knees. The Solidarity shipyard was really powerful and the museum itself was enthralling.

Krakow is full of history, from its past with the Holocaust at nearby Auschwitz and the Soviet occupation in Nowa Huta. Auschwitz was truly astonishing. I would have never imagined the scale of those camps if I hadn't saw them in person.

Somehow, I feel like I understand the gravity of the Holocaust somewhat better now that I've seen how massive Auschwitz was. To think that's only one of several death camps makes me feel extremely small.

Besides the vast history, Poland was the first time where I felt completely alone as an American. I didn't mean a single American until I arrived in Krakow, the last leg of my trip (I did see Captain America in Krakow's main square beforehand; not sure that counts though).

Many of the Poles spoke to were surprised that I would come all the way from the U.S.A. to visit them. They were at first apprehensive, then curious, then genuinely interested and helpful. There were a few other encounters that I did not mention in the trip report, but they were all grateful that I would choose to visit them.

I guess that's a bit abstract and perhaps even a tad cloying, but for the very first time in my life, I felt completely alone in a place where a lot of things I have read extensively about have happened. There were moments where I stopped to think for a moment about where I was and how I had gotten there, and I got literal goosebumps.

Hopefully that's not too sentimental...but even if it is, is sentimentality really a bad thing when it comes to travel?

Posted by
68 posts

Nice, we are starting to plan a 2 week Poland adventure starting end on May 2020, we are planning to rent car and drive.

Posted by
1841 posts

What a great trip report! I enjoyed reading it.

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1 posts

Wow! It's veeery detailed report! I am sure that you got happy because of this travel! I also want to travel some gays i Poland)

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468 posts

Thanks for the terrific report Nathan, detailed but concise! I’m in the early planning stages and found your honest assessments extremely helpful. I particularly appreciate your impressions on seeing Auschwitz-Birkenau. As a solo traveler, I think it can be very challenging to compartmentalize difficult, affecting sites like this.

I am curious, you felt 3 nights in Gdansk was a bit much? I’m also very interested in visiting Malbork, so I’m wondering how would suggest fitting that all in a two night stay. Would you have done anything differently there? Was Malbork a short/easy visit from Gdansk?

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Malbork is a very easy side trip from Gdansk. There are regular trains that take anywhere from 30-45 minutes one way. The castle is spectacular and takes a few hours to explore, but the town is nothing special, as far as I could tell.

I think three nights in Gdansk provides plenty of time to see everything in Gdansk, Malbork and possibly one of either Gdynia or Sopot. You'd really be hustling with two nights; you'd almost certainly be cutting one of the museums or Malbork Castle short.

If I could do things differently, I would have organized my sightseeing better and taken a train to Gdynia for a few hours. Also, missing my first train in Malbork threw me off a bit, so I had to do a few elements of the Gdansk Walk twice because sights like the Town Hall and Artus Court had closed.

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15 posts

How difficult was the train travel? Was it easy enough to get tickets and know which platform to use?

We are planning to do all train travel during our 2 weeks next summer. It will be our first experience with train travel and the thought is a little intimidating due to language barrier.

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157 posts

Train travel was easy. I did buy my train tickets beforehand (they're slightly cheaper and you have the advantage of knowing the schedule, but these trains hardly ever sell out).

I recommend writing down the destination, time, date, passengers and train number on a slip of paper and handing it to the attendant. If you want first class (which I recommend, because it's not much more money), indicate that too. Many attendants at the train stations don't speak much English and the automatic kiosks are not particularly easy to use.

Also note that Warsaw's train station is extremely confusing. There are all sorts of underground passages and crosswalks that will have you popping out at random street corners across the city. Even the Poles I spoke to haven't quite figured it out. It's just something you have to deal with.

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12084 posts

Thanks for an interesting report and the personal observations.

When I took the train from Gdansk to Malbork in 2003, I found the countryside fascinating and captivating. Absolutely worth it to go back to visit the small towns located in that countryside...part of the bucket list.

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157 posts

Fred,

There is a city between Malbork and Gdansk called Tczew (pronounced "Chev") that looks mildly interesting.

Tczew has a long riverfront promenade and a handful of sights, including a lovely main square, a few churches and a museum dedicated to the Vistula River. There were many people out exploring when my train rode past. Might be worth stopping and checking out for a few hours.

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12084 posts

@ Nathan...Even though our trips are 16 years apart in that area, my experiences and observations are pretty much similar to yours. I found Warsaw Centralna also confusing in 2001. Coming from Berlin the Mrs and I almost got off at the first station we saw in Warsaw, luckily the Polish girls told the correct info and said Centralna was coming up.

In 2003 in Gdansk and Malbork we didn't any see Americans either or hear American accented English, took the train from Berlin, transferred twice, once in Germany, the other in Poland, the trip took 9.5 hrs....just amazing going through that northern route in the former Pomerania (Hinterpommern).

Upon arriving I couldn't believe I was actually there, all very subjective. We stayed 4 or 5 nights in a Pension in the old town, where the two women running the place spoke only Polish, Russian, and German. Showing our US passports to them didn't bring forth any effort attempt on their part to say something perfunctory in English. So, I spoke to them in German the whole time checking in/checking out.

At check-out there was a snag, they told us we owed them for another night. (What?) I don't know if this was a honest mistake or an attempt to get more money from us. We had the receipts etc, explained everything patiently, clearly and slowly, all to their satisfaction in the end.

Going to Malbork I stopped in Tczew too, the old Dirschau, worth visiting too if one can spare the time. Not every town suffered the horrors of war in 1944 in that lower Vistual region. Gniew is one town that was bypassed, left intact.

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231 posts

Nathan, I find your report quite inspiring. Jotting down a lot of info that you provided for what may be my second trip to Poland this coming summer. Excellent info!

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1384 posts

I really enjoyed your trip report, Nathan B! I like your format, with a great mix of helpful details, and just the right touch of experiences - e.g., Restauraja pod Samsonem in Warsaw with the "older Polish men who were slinging back shots of vodka between courses" - that made me smile and want to go back. I loved reading about the places I've been and have bookmarked it for the places I still plan to go!

I agree, traveling in Poland has given a new layer of sentiment to my view of history.

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15 posts

Nathan,
I'm not planning a trip to Poland at this point, but I just want to tell you how much I enjoyed your well-written trip report. To me, it was the perfect combination of information and impressions. You seem to have the "right" travel attitude too. Thanks so much for taking the time to post. I think RS should hire you as a writer when he updates his Poland book!

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157 posts

Thank you all for the kind words.

I am actually a professional journalist working for the major newspaper in Pittsburgh. I'm currently writing a few articles that should publish in the coming weeks; one about Polish food, one about Poland's changes in the 30 years since communism left and a general article about the particular regions of Poland that I visited.

If you'd like, I can post the articles here once they publish. Two are already completed and I'm working on the third now, so they should be published soon.

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15 posts

Nathan, I'd be very interested in readying your articles. Would it be easier to add links in your reply rather than articles, assuming their are no subscription constraints to reading them?

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157 posts

Certainly. Here's my first article about Polish food. There should be another two coming in the next few weeks.

I don't think there should be any issues with subscription, but there may be with geography. I'm not sure if those living in the European Union can access our website.

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2070 posts

I enjoyed your report, Nathan. My husband and I tool a similar trip to Poland about five years ago and loved it. I also enjoyed your article in the PG on Polish food. I will look for the others as I have a subscription.

Still trying to figure out how you can be from Pittsburgh and not like ketchup??? Of course only Heinz makes real ketchup!

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157 posts

I also enjoyed your article in the PG on Polish food. I will look for the others as I have a subscription.

That is so kind of you! Thank you for subscribing. I believe my communism article is scheduled to publish on December 29, but I'm not sure if that's decided yet. I also have a general travel article upcoming, but I'm still working on that.

Still trying to figure out how you can be from Pittsburgh and not like ketchup??? Of course only Heinz makes real ketchup!

Trust me, I've had to fend off my share of torches and pitchforks here. However, I think it's better to not like ketchup at all than to prefer Hunt's over Heinz. That's an unforgivable sin around here, as Kennywood found out this summer!

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1870 posts

Nathan,
Thanks so much for sharing your food article. Excellent! Especially appreciated the Ukranian influence. (Family roots). All the more reason to visit sooner rather than later! Looking forward to your next article.

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2070 posts

Haha, I totally agree! It’s not THAT bad to not like ketchup. But to prefer another brand to Heinz is pretty much unforgivable!

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15 posts

Loved your article, and looking forward to reading more of them when you post the links. Thanks again!

Posted by
918 posts

Thanks for the extremely informative trip report. We will be on the test drive RS Poland tour in September so I've bookmarked your post. I really enjoyed your news article on Polish foods and hope you are able to post links to more articles that you write about Poland.

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1841 posts

Hey, Nathan.

I found myself wondering today about your other stories that were to run in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I found at least two:

An overview of your trip to Poland: https://www.post-gazette.com/life/travel/2020/03/23/Poland-travel-Krakow-Warsaw-Gdansk-Wroclaw-Auschwitz-Pittsburgh/stories/201912160102

A report on your trip to Nowa Huta: https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2019/12/29/Poland-suburb-Nowa-Huta-history-Nathan-Boley-Next-Page/stories/201912290023

I find it a little odd that the second one apparently ran on the op-ed page?

At any rate, I really enjoyed the articles. So much so, that I'm going to start a new post featuring them.

It sounds like you enjoyed the Crazy Guides Nowa Huta tour as much as I did! Riding in the Trabant was great.

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157 posts

Thanks for posting the articles Dave. I've been swamped with work during the pandemic.

The Nowa Huta article ran on the op-ed page to allow me to provide a little more individualist perspective than what can usually be written in an objective news article. I think the fact that the article was about a specific location and time, rather than the Polish food and overview articles, also made it more suitable for an op-ed feature.

Anyways, thanks for posting the articles. I'm glad you enjoyed them!