Where do I begin? Being of Polish descent, I had always wanted to visit Poland. I’ll be the first to admit that I knew nothing about this country before my visit, but man, it is amazing! The people are wonderful. The history and culture are beautifully preserved. The food is delicious and the vodka, who knew there were so many kinds of vodka? Poland has taken the top spot for my favorite European country. Enjoy the highlights of Poland with my tips for Warsaw and Krakow as well as a day trip to the mountains of the southern coast.
Highlights of Poland – Must Do’s in Warsaw
Explore the Old and New Towns
While the modern city of Warsaw is separated from the touristic old town, the two are within walking distance. There are abundant walking tours offered to give you a bit of history. We enjoyed the Orange Umbrella – Best of Warsaw tour as it gave us a taste of everything from WWII to the current city center. The tours are friendly and fast-paced so come ready to get your steps in. We actually lost our tour when we ducked into Dunkin Donuts to get some hot chocolate to warm up on a brisk March afternoon, so it’s probably best to get your hot beverages before the tour starts! It was really interesting to learn how the city was rebuilt, after being completely bombed in WWII, based on the paintings of Bernardo Bellotto during the golden age. You can visit the paintings in the Royal Castle, or see replicas along the historic streets as you walk through the area.
I’m a huge fan of pre-fixe menus with wine pairings at any quality restaurant, but in Poland, things are a bit different. We enjoyed a 4-course meal at Elixir in Warsaw, but instead of pairing the dishes with wine, this atelier offers vodka pairings. And I’m not talking one vodka paired with each course, but two shots of vodka – one to open and another to close each dish! With over 500 vodkas, meads, and liquors on tap, this is truly a unique adventure. I won’t lie, I’m not a huge vodka fan. You can flavor it any way you like, and it’s still going to burn on the way down without a nice mixer. My favorite was the espresso vodka with dessert. Is it because I was already several shots in at that point?
Highlights of Poland – Where to stay in Warsaw
The Historic Hotel Bristol sits just off of the Old Town Square in Warsaw. Not only is this a beautifully maintained hotel, but a remarkable historic landmark. During WWII 90% of Warsaw was destroyed. Only a few buildings survived the bombing, and this luxurious piece of history is one of them. Our tour guide suggested that building may have survived the war because it was a German Headquarters and Hitler may have been in residence.
Highlights of Poland – Must Do’s in Krakow
Eat and absorb some history
Eat Polska offers an amazing culinary tour of Krakow which guides you through the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) into local markets, and into the bustling old town center. We enjoyed so much amazing food while learning about Krakow’s history and Polish traditions and customs. Did you know that Polish families feast with a 12 dish dinner and open all of their Christmas presents on Christmas eve? Starting with Polish pizza (Zapiekanka), to warming up with sour rye (Zurek) and beet soups (Barszcz), and finishing with Pope John Paul II’s favorite dessert kremowka we practically had to roll home! Those were just the highlights. This tour left us with a solid appreciation for polish cuisine.
Drive through the countryside
One of my favorite days in Poland was the day we decided to rent a car and drive the countryside. The August temperatures of 90+ degrees were a bit too much to handle in the city, so we escaped to the mountains. The countryside was beautiful. We drove the scenic route from Krakow to Zakopane and back passed the Dunajec Castle in Niedzica.
Wander the streets of old town
The great thing about Krakow is that the old town square is still the main square of the city. The area is full of locals and tourists alike. With many cafes, restaurants, and shops, it is a beautiful place to stop for a beer or a bit of chocolate. There are horse-drawn carriages offering tours of the city as well as walking tours and historic buildings. Visit St. Mary’s Basilica, shop for souvenirs, or even get a massage.
Enjoy a nice dinner at la Campana
Of my six nights in Krakow, I had dinner at la Campana three times. The restaurant is friendly with excellent food. On a nice day they have a beautiful garden with outdoor seating. On a cool day, you can eat in the cozy cellar-like dining room. Have a glass of white wine and enjoy the shrimp pasta or go for a glass of red with the steak.
Highlights of Poland – Where to stay in Krakow
Sheraton Grand Krakow
The Sheraton sits just on the edge of the old city wall with beautiful views of Wawel Castle and the Vistula River. The location is quiet, with excellent access to all the city has to offer. The hotel rooms are well appointed and clean and the service is excellent.
Highlights of Poland – Tips
- Vodka is a shot, not a mixer.
- Summer temperatures can be hot and air conditioning limited. If you’re visiting in the summer, make sure your accommodations have AC.
- For a little romance, take a majestic carriage ride through the picturesque old town at night.
- If you’re visiting both Warsaw and Krakow, travel between the two by train. The trip is fast and you get to see some of the Polish countryside.
Sitting on the patio at E. Wedel chocolate, indulging in an over the top chocolate sampler, I had my favorite Polish moment. I struggle on the daily with a soft voice that does not carry in loud restaurants. I feel like no one can ever hear me, and I’m always asking my husband to get the servers attention for me. Several people packed the patio waiting for service. I waved politely and asked for some water and the waitress came immediately. Again, I smiled quietly and asked for the check and the waitress came right away. These are my people. Friendly, quiet, respectful, and polite. I love Poland!