Poland for City Slickers

Poland is a fascinating mix of old and new, and many of its cities will require a lot of time to explore. The capital, Warsaw, has emerged from its total destruction in WWII to embrace capitalism. It contains many designer shops and trendsetting bars, and the old district has been totally restored.

However, there are many unsightly reminders of Stalinism, including a giant grey skyscraper which was built as a gift from Stalin and which towers menacingly over the city. Warsaw’s main north/south boulevard is the Royal Way, running from the Royal Castle to Lazienki Palace, the royal summer residence. This stretch contains many churches, palaces, galleries and museums.

The delightful city of Kraków came through the war intact, thus retaining a wealth of old architecture from different periods. The tallest structures on Kraków’s skyline Krakow_rynek_01are the spires of old churches. The modern world has made little impact on the city’s narrow streets; however, Kraków has a young and vibrant population and a varied nightlife.

Gdansk, 350 kilometers north of Warsaw, is worth a visit. It is located at the mouth of the Vistula, and was once the Prussian city of Danzig. The birthplace of Solidarity, Gdansk is the center of the Polish Riviera and the gateway to ‘castle country’, which boasts structures such as the fortress of the Teutonic Knights of Malbork.

The shipyards where Solidarity took root are also still in working order, although they are probably only worth visiting if you are really interested in Polish modern history. In the immediate vicinity of Gdansk, there are 1,000 lakes which are popular for fishing, boating and hiking.

Two hundred kilometers south of Gdansk is Torun, the birthplace of Copernicus, the man who stated that the earth revolved around the sun. Torun is a beautiful town dating back to the 13th century when the Teutonic Knights set about transforming it into one of their early outposts.