From underground chapels to alpine lakes: 8 incredible places to visit in Poland

From 13th-century fortresses to hiking the highest mountain range, here are eight of the best places to visit in Poland for every kind of traveller

From learning the quintessential art of gingerbread making in Toruń’s medieval Old Town to kayaking past nature reserves in the lush Masurian Lake District, there’s no denying that unparalleled experiences abound in Poland, an underrated central European destination. And, thanks to the country’s compact size and ease of accessibility from North America, it’s possible to go from Sunday morning mass held 1,000 feet underground to summiting the highest peak of the Tatras within 24 hours on your next Polish vacation.

With so many unique places to visit in Poland to choose from—there are 16 official UNESCO sites and over 2,000 palaces and castles—it’s no surprise that narrowing things down can be quite a challenge. In partnership with the Polish Tourism Organization, we put together eight of the best tourist attractions Poland has to offer—all you have to do is to start packing!

Explore Malbork Castle, Poland's largest 13th-century brick fortress


A 45-minute drive southeast from the lively Gdańsk beaches, through the bucolic Polish countryside, takes you to Malbork Castle, a sprawling 13th-century Teutonic castle and one of many historic places to visit in Poland.

Surrounded by deep moats and a series of defensive walls, the impenetrable complex offers visitors hours of deep exploration. Most striking are the architectural details of the restored interiors of the Church of the Virgin Mary—it sustained significant damage during the war—and St. Anne’s Chapel, the burial site for the order’s Grand Masters that sits directly under the church.

Built by a military order of monks known as the Teutonic Knights, Malbork serves as the perfect example of a fine red Gothic-style brickwork castle. To get a true sense of the impressiveness of this UNESCO World Heritage Site—one of the largest brick tourist attractions in Poland—head to the east bank of the Nogat River for a larger-than-life viewpoint.

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Descend 1000 feet underground to the world's oldest salt mine in Wieliczka


Just 20 minutes from Krakow and more than 1,000 feet below ground, you’ll find one of the world’s oldest salt mines: Wieliczka Salt Mine. Discovered in medieval times, the mine’s salt production continued until the mid-20th century, producing approximately 223,769 tons annually at its peak.

Officially recognized as a UNESCO site and the winner of Google Maps’s Golden Pin award, Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the popular tourist attractions in Poland. Today, a series of winding passages, intricately carved underground chapels, sculptures and galleries made entirely of salt welcome visitors on their Polish vacation to this unique subterranean enclave.

The mine is also one of the best places to visit in Poland for halotherapy—a health practice first discovered by Polish salt miners in the early 19th century.

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Spot wildlife in Europe's last primeval forest at Białowieża National Park


When it comes to hiking the great outdoors and spotting wildlife in its natural habitat, Poland’s diverse landscape is a treasure trove of hidden earthly gems.

For a glimpse of nature that’s been relatively untouched by man for centuries, head east to Białowieża National Park. Straddling the eastern border with Belarus, this 25,988-acre UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is home to Europe’s last remaining primeval forest, which once used to cover most of northern Europe.

Your Polish vacation is nothing short of incomplete without spotting some European bison—a species once extinct in the wild, approximately 25% of the world’s total now call this isolated forest home.

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Explore Krakow's historic centre, the world's first UNESCO site


From the imposing spires of Saint Mary’s Basilica to the iconic red-tiled roofs of the Royal Wawel Castle, Krakow’s historic centre is an architecture lover’s dream—Gothic, Renaissance and intricate Baroque styles are all on display at this enduring Polish tourism spot.

Admire the colourful facades from the main market square, Europe’s largest market dating back to the Middle Ages. Dominating its centre is the Cloth Hall, the former site of Krakow’s successful cloth trading industry. Shop for souvenirs on the ground floor before heading upstairs to view impressionist and symbolist paintings at the Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art.

In the winter, this UNESCO site transforms into a vibrant outdoor Christmas market—an unmissable place to visit in Poland. Scores of wooden stalls house local artisans selling everything from warm woollen apparel and handcrafted Christmas ornaments to steaming glasses of mulled wine and traditional Polish sweets like krówka and gingerbread.

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Boat your way through the Masurian Lake District


When it comes to underrated places to visit in Poland, the Masurian Lake District takes the cake. With barely another international visitor in sight, the area serves as an ideal base for experiencing many of Poland’s diverse outdoor offerings. Known for its verdant hillside, complete with fertile agrarian land and quaint towns, the Masurian Lake District certainly lives up to its moniker: “land of a thousand lakes”. In fact, there are over 2,000 of them.

An extensive system of canals and inlets connects the lakes with each other, making lake-hopping a favoured summertime activity. Beat the summer heat by setting sail on Śniardwy. The more adventurous can set off down the Krutynia River Trail, a lush 67-mile winding trail that passes through several nature reserves, two canals and 20 different lakes.

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Learn the traditional art of making gingerbread in Toruń


Earning a coveted Google Maps Golden Pin, the Living Museum of Gingerbread is one of the most sought-after epicurean tourist attractions in Poland. Sitting primely in Toruń’s historic centre, the museum connects visitors to the town’s storied culinary past as a flourishing hub for commercial gingerbread production.

A guided tour includes a culinary lesson in the town’s medieval method of making gingerbread, which makes use of specially crafted wooden moulds to shape and bake the classic treats.

Traditionally made at Christmas, gingerbread—or piernik in Polish—is a spiced cookie flavoured with ginger, cinnamon and other warming spices. In Toruń, however, the tradition dates back much further, to the Middle Ages—the town’s oldest known gingerbread recipe is said to have first appeared in medical manuscripts as a remedy to soothe uneasy stomachs.

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Hike to a crystal-clear glacial lake in Tatra National Park


Situated in southern Poland on the border with Slovakia, Tatra National Park is a vast expanse of land made up of craggy peaks, glacial lakes, hiking trails, ski slopes, roaring falls, endemic wildlife and rare alpine flora—in short, it’s the perfect addition to your outdoorsy Polish vacation itinerary.

Recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve and home to the country’s highest mountain range—the Tatras—the park is the perfect symbol of Poland’s topographical diversity. A 5-mile hike past the thundering roar of the Wodogrzmoty Mickiewicza waterfall takes you to Morskie Oko Lake, a stunning glacial lake located 4,500 feet above sea level. This natural wonder—which translates to the Sea Eye—is a popular tourist attraction in Poland known for its crystal clear waters, population of trout, and impeccable views of the imposing rugged mountain peaks.

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Feast on Polish cuisine at Warsaw's food markets


If you’re looking to experience Polish cuisine on your Polish vacation, head straight to the country’s capital, Warsaw. Home to a thriving dining scene, this culinary city is a guaranteed paradise for food lovers, whether you’re in the mood for centuries-old classics like pierogis, żurek or borscht, or contemporary Polish fare, Concept 13—a rooftop restaurant atop the Vitkac department store—is an excellent example of this.

Several food markets, such as the landmark Hala Mirowska, exist throughout the city selling everything from fresh produce and cured delicacies to popular street foods and classic Polish specialties. For a taste of the latest trends in Poland’s culinary scene, head to Hala Koszyki. Housed in a historic Art Nouveau building, this early 20th-century food hall is filled with gourmet restaurants, bustling bars and cultural exhibitions.

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