Custom Poland Tours
Medieval luxury and a storied history are captivating and enriching jewels of Poland. Ancient forest straddles the northern border, underground cities are carved out of rock salt, all while traditional villages glisten against fabled rolling hills. History, both old and modern, blends into a colorful world that has polished Poland, turning its wonders into treasured gems.
Mariacka street, Poland.
Poland bares its soul with pride, captivating you with narratives of history and hope. This country does not just welcome visitors it invites them. Poland encourages you to explore, begs you to discover, and lays itself out for you to enjoy. A journey here becomes so much more than famous sights and elegant old-world cities. You head deep into the country’s cultural fabric, and take away more than just photos and memories; there’s something ineffable about the Polish experience that can only be understood after you have visited.
Perhaps it’s the easy-going style, friendships forged on town square terraces and a sense of societal freedom that’s risen from adversity. Maybe it’s the destinations themselves, so elegant, and effervescent as they dance through the centuries. It could be the pride you sense at every turn or the rare feeling of a country that offers itself so purely. You do not need to seek out cultural experiences here; you will be living them from the moment you land.
History is not a treasure hunt, it is all around. The legacy goes way back to the first millennium, which left behind dynasties and castles, art and elegant architecture. Ancient cities are founded on grand squares, many of them painstakingly restored on countless occasions throughout the centuries. Urban streets show you an interpretation of the style, Poland having its own take on Europe’s famous architectural movements. From heritage trails to Jewish centers and the unmissable memoirs to WWII, history is never hidden. With excellent local guides, you can go far beyond stories in the books.
Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science, Poland.
It is not all old though. Poland has a chic modern air, creatively emerging from the turmoil of WWII and Soviet occupation. There has always been a desire to be unique, and that is reflected in the changing urban centers, where the patchwork of styles takes on another new stitch. There is also a feeling that the country has its finger on the fast-forward button, not merely rising from the ashes but now having space to thrive.
Look a little further, and Poland also has nature and solitude. Log cabins in remote forests, hiking trails between lakes and waterways, low-lying mountains to the south and Europe’s lesser-known beaches to the north. For many, these rural landscapes are to be admired when traveling around on the new railway lines. For others, especially in summer, these landscapes are avenues to hilltop fortresses and warming village life.
While glamor and history lie all around, this country has a tranquil atmosphere that encourages everyone to simply be themselves. In many senses, it’s the break you were looking for but did not think existed in a country like Poland.
Be sure to visit Kraków, Poland's first World Heritage Site.
An untouched artisanal city in the south of Poland, Kraków should not be missed. Baroque churches, Gothic streets, Renaissance palaces, and a series of colorful medieval squares set the scene. Kraków’s Old Town was Poland’s first World Heritage Site and it’s easy to spend days casually ambling around, moving between photogenic centerpieces. The vibrant energy of Kraków’s streets makes a welcoming complement to the eery and moving atmosphere of its two nearby attractions: the Wieliczka Salt Mine and the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science is the city's most visible landmark.
Warsaw has been reborn and redefined after the brutality of WWII. The capital city has become a celebration of resilience, refusing to dwell on the past as it celebrates a vibrant local culture. At first glance it’s a little messy, perhaps unsurprising given the history. Take your time and the city unfolds into a string of captivating neighborhoods, some of them odes to past stories, others a stylish insight into 21st-century Poland. As an example, take a walk from Stalin’s 1950s Palace of Culture and Science to Nozyk Synagogue and St. John’s Cathedral, then the medieval Old Town Square.
Aerial view of traditional architecture in Wroclaw.
Dwarfs line the ground all across Wroclaw, sculpted figurines that have become the city’s good luck charms. One rides a Harley Davidson, another eats pizza, there is a fireman, a woodcutter, an accordion player and a bread seller. These quirky art pieces symbolize the 2016 European Capital of Culture, reflecting a desire to both have fun and look different. Enticing boulevards, old mansions, alfresco terraces, and a Bohemian ambiance decorate Warsaw.
Tatra Mountains National Park located in Zakopane.
Hidden in the mountains, away from the world, Zakopane is far from the preconceptions of Poland. Think alpine wooden villas and hiking trails through remote forests, washed down with a hearty mix of local food. This is an entirely different side to the country, with ski slopes in winter and mountain solitude all year round.
Old market square in Poznan, Poland.
Every angle feels like a postcard here, from a 10th-century cathedral to lanes of 16th-century merchant houses and a cobbled square that’s painted many different hues. Despite these charms, Poznan sees few visitors, particularly in comparison to Wroclaw and Cracow, making it an ideal place to spend balmy summer evenings with the locals.
A fairytale assortment of historic cities forms the base of most visits to Poland. While all these destinations lay their soul bare, there’s always a novel way to go about exploring. After all, visiting Poland is as much about local culture as it is sightseeing, and by changing the angle there is all manner of new impressions.
Through the Eyes of Foodies
Traditional pierogi dumplings are a favorite in Poland.
All across the world, there has been a modern clamber for organic, homegrown food. That has been Poland since the first cabbage and beetroot fields were plowed. Generations-old recipes create simple yet delicate culinary delights, everything from apple strudel to the ubiquitous pierogi (dumplings). It is all whipped together in the style of a bygone era, somewhat reminiscent of food home-cooked by your grandmother. Food markets provide an intriguing sense of local life, and restaurants love to glamorize their old-world allure. Spend more than a week in Poland, and you will start distinguishing regional favorites as well. On any day in Poland food offers a focal point to tie all the history and charm together.
Tracing Jewish Heritage
While holocaust memorials and concentration camps are not the happiest places to visit, their heart-breaking stories are virtually unmissable on any visit to Poland. There is no question of forgetting what happened, with personal narratives add intimacy to the shocking scale. Like so much about Poland, Jewish heritage looks forward, experienced in neighborhoods that have been sensitively restored, along with stories that have been superbly recaptured. By exploring Jewish history you connect with the art and culture that came before the genocide. In this way, you are able to celebrate the proud legacy of those that passed.
Cycling Poland’s Cities
Cycling around Poland is a great way to see the attractions.
The cobbles may be bumpy, and the air may have a chill, but Poland seems tailor-made for getting around on a bicycle. Most of a city’s attractions are found in the old part of town, where the lanes are narrow and devoid of traffic. So you can peddle slowly on the breeze, passing colorful mansions and church bells, onwards to merchant markets and gilded town halls, then out the other side to a castle on the river. If you are short on time, it is a great way to coordinate local attractions, quicker than both walking and traveling by car. With a bicycle, you can comfortably reach out to the quirks that lay beyond an old part of town, like medieval breweries and stalls of strange bric-a-brac.
Beyond the Standard Itinerary in Poland
Wroclaw, Kraków, Poznan, Warsaw...you can easily spend two weeks wandering cobblestone streets to glamorous churches and bewitching monuments. Poland has much more, of course, it is just that these cities have the uncanny ability to lure you there then keep you there, even if it initially seems you have seen it all.
Those that look beyond these famous cities are treated to a raw vision of Poland, one that is equally enchanting just without so many postcards. Contradiction is a common theme across the country and by venturing further afield you will get a greater sense of what that is all about.
The Quiet Contradictions of Swinoujscie
Swinoujscie is known for grand mansions along the coast, clean beaches with backdrops of quiet cafes, and architecture that’s part communist relic and part old-world glamor. Swinoujscie is a Baltic coastal town that can be hard to get a handle on, personifying a nation’s tumultuous past. You should have plenty of time to consider the contradictions because Swinoujscie is Poland’s most relaxed beach hangout. This relaxed little town is also an excellent crossroads for longer European journeys. There are direct ferries across the Baltic to Denmark and Sweden, plus short train connections to Germany’s eastern cities like Berlin and Hamburg.
The Inimitability of Gdansk
Fountain of the Neptune, located in old town, Gdansk.
Like most European port cities, Gdansk delights in its originality. The port still dominates, as it has done for some 1,000 years. This was the base for empires led by Prussian Teutonic Knights, and later a monastic military, plus the Hanseatic League, Napoleon, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Red Army. The modern rebirth is a wonderful success story as the city has been restored in an inimitable manner. Evidence of all the empires and influences has been documented, so you can travel from Gothic-Renaissance to Dutch Mannerist art, through beautiful old Catholic churches to medieval middle Europe. While exploring you will also see the wealth that made Gdansk so fought over.
Spending a Day or More in Northern Poland
If you only have a couple of days and want to get a grasp on Polish history, then Northern Poland makes for good off the beaten path discovery. There is a historical jigsaw to unravel and you need a good local guide as a millennia of empire and war has come and gone. Industrial relics line the coast, beautifully silhouetted at sunset. Medieval villages like Malbork and Torun offer a non-touristic taste of a bucolic past, while church and folk traditions make it seem like you have traveled into another world, not just another part of Western Europe. Start and finish a trip to Northern Poland with some time on the golden beaches of Sopot or Gdynia, or perhaps by getting out on the lakes and rivers around Mazury.
Visit Poland in winter, and you will understand why the town squares are painted such vibrant colors. Landscapes are bleak and barren at this time, often under a layer of fresh ice and grey skies. It is not the best time to visit, and you will need to wrap up warmly for the icy Siberian winds.
Gryfino mysteriously curved pine trees.
In comparison, anytime from March to October / November is ideal, for varying reasons. Long sultry evenings give July and August an energetic atmosphere, especially around old town squares, where festivities take place, and the cafes stay open past midnight. Warm temperatures and clear skies add to the appeal, however, be aware that coastal destinations and touristic centers will be at their busiest. June is as warm but a little quieter.
Spring landscape on the Narew River.
Spring is lovely, leaves return to the trees and fields are blanketed by colorful flowers. There is still a chill in the air, along with sporadic showers, but the limited number of other visitors more than compensates. After the long cold winter the people and landscapes have a buoyant energy that makes travel enjoyable.
Fall has a different appeal as the cities start their short cultural seasons. Almost all the old cities celebrate their history and culture through local festivities and performances, everything from free concerts on town squares to traveling theaters and special museum events. If you are interested in history, September and October are the ideal months to travel. This is when the locals come and celebrate their culture after the summer tourists have left. While the temperature is dropping it is warm in the day beneath mostly clear skies, then cool rather than cold after dark.
Leba Beach Hotel, Poland.
Poland’s high-end hotels drip with grandeur. With their elegant lobbies and swanky bars, they hark back to great periods of history, redolent of what a city had been at one stage in the past. In recent years they have become an unanticipated highlight of travel in Poland, especially now contemporary facilities have been added to old-world charm: even in the cramped heart of Cracow, there are five-star hotels.
Location is an excellent signing post when comparing accommodation. The closer to the old town squares the more historical the building is likely to be, complete with period furnishings and ornamental facades. Hotels outside an old town are more modern, usually catering for business travelers. The location has a big impact on the experience. The historic cities are not just for sightseeing, they are places to relax and enjoy long after the guide has departed. Stay central, and the cobbled streets are on your doorstep.
Hotel quality is good across the board, from boutique options great for couples to larger old hotels more suitable for families. With the surge in tourism over the last two decades, many grand hotels are now equipped with interlinking rooms and other family-focused amenities. Staying in the old central part of a city keeps your dining options open, as most of the highly rated restaurants will be within walking distance.
There’s a hint of the unusual as well. Spend the night in a converted salt mine in Wieliczka, sleep in Warsaw’s neoclassical ex-Soviet embassy building, try a beer spa in Szymbark and enjoy a converted cinema in Łódź. More options are being added to this peculiar array but their style is not particularly novel. Polish accommodation has always been about repurposing beautiful architecture into a soothing place to stay.
View of the old city in Warsaw.
Poland is part of the Schengen Area and European Union. Nationals from the U.S., Canada, and most Western nations are allowed 90 days of visa-free travel.
When packing, it is always worth bringing one layer more than you think you will need; the Polish air can retain a certain chill throughout most of the year.
Getting around in Poland has become much easier during the last decade. In 2016, Poland hosted the European Football Championships and upgraded much of its railway network for the event, meaning quicker and more comfortable journeys between major cities. Budget airlines have been clambering to add Polish destinations to their maps, creating easy links with other countries across Eastern and Western Europe. While Poland may be large, these airports enable you to focus on one Polish region before visiting another country. Warsaw acts as a European rail crossroads; there are first-class carriages on many of the overnight departures, with destinations as far as Vienna, Budapest, and Moscow.
It is highly recommended to take tours from local guides in Poland. The consideration is not necessarily what you take to the country, but what you take away. Only the Polish understand Poland, and they are immensely proud of it. Their insight is integral to the experience.
Poland is known for being a fairly safe country to travel through.
Poland is a very safe country to travel through. It is important to always stay aware of your surroundings while traveling, especially when visiting larger cities such as Kraków and Warsaw, which do see some petty crime. Crime rates are much lower than in Western Europe’s big cities, but it is always important to apply basic common sense when you are traveling around. On overnight trains, it is recommended to use the sleeper cabins, as there are reports of robberies from seater-coach luggage racks. For the most part, Polish police have a visible presence, and there’s a noticeable calm in the city air.
While the alcohol consumption and heavy food may suggest otherwise, Poland is a fairly healthy nation. You should not encounter any problems. If you do, the health system is of a good standard, especially in the cities you are likely to be. Tap water is safe to drink, although most restaurants only serve bottled water.
It’s pretty hard to offend the Polish. They have had everything thrown at them over the centuries and they are as thick-skinned as anyone. Avoid bringing up WWII as it is could lead to a few tense moments. Guides will respond to your questions and the locals may open up, but it is not a period in history the Polish would like to dwell on.
Poland has always been a stoic Catholic nation and the church continues to have a large influence today. Pope John Paul II led the Vatican for almost three decades and is put on a saintly pedestal by the Polish people. Christian holidays are properly observed, with many attractions closing down over Good Friday and Easter Monday; being in Poland at this time is an interesting experience.
The main cultural faux pax is disrespecting the church is someway, usually inadvertently by not dressing appropriately when visiting any of the churches or shrines. Beyond the church visits, you should not feel restricted in how you dress, the locals do not care too much about following a particular style.
Most of the older generation in Poland will not speak English, however, the younger generation has learned English in school.
The older generation will have learned Russian at school, and it’s rare to meet seniors that can converse in English. However, in recent years there has been a big push to promote English, and you will find it much easier to talk with the younger generations. You should expect English to be spoken at all tourist establishments, especially high-end hotels and restaurants.
Money in Poland
Poland's currency is the zolty.
Poland is very much part of Europe now, and almost all the ATMs accept Visa or Mastercard. American Express can be used in hotels, and restaurants, but it can be difficult to withdraw cash with this card. While the zloty remains Poland’s currency, there has been a move towards Euros, as shown by hotels and supermarkets that accept both currencies.
Majestic sunrise at Cliff of Orlowo.
Poland excites, and it enchants. There are many directions to travel in, and much to discover beyond the standard tourist trail. The stories are endless, and their contradictions cannot be found in history books. Poland really comes alive when you have an excellent guide, especially a guide that’s local to the city you are exploring.
Expert guides are just one element of the overall experience when you travel on a handcrafted tour. Zicasso puts you in touch with Poland’s best tour operators. They compete for your business by customizing itineraries to your wishes. You can dream your Poland vacation, and Zicasso’s travel experts will make it happen.