Written by Olly Lomas
The next time you’re scanning a map of Europe to decide where to spend a long weekend away, let your eyes settle on Poland. With flights of just 2 hours from the UK you can spend less time travelling and more time discovering, and what a lot there is to discover! Shoulder-to-shoulder with the very best European city breaks, Poland offers rich history, stunning architecture, vibrant nightlife and a delightful foodie scene. It is amazingly affordable too with flights and a stay of two nights from as little as £100 per person. The big question though: which city is for you?
Fly into the coastal city of Gdansk and discover over 1,000 years of maritime history at this Baltic Sea port. The picturesque harbour front and sea views are just the start of your journey here as there is an incredible amount to discover in Gdansk. The picturesque Old Town is awash with exquisite Gothic architecture, ideal for a romantic after-dinner walk or as an introduction to the grandeur of this part of Europe.
Stroll along the Motlawa riverside and the bustling Royal Way, from the historic Golden Gate to the imposing Dutch-style building of the Green Gate – which is not actually green at all. Snap a couple’s selfie at the remarkable Neptune Fountain before taking some time to absorb all the detail in the city’s most imposing building: the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s steep terracotta roofs and soaring blue spires dominate the city skyline.
Gdansk is home to the European Solidarity Centre, a must-see interactive museum showing the Polish people’s long and hard fight for freedom from communism, and offering a glimpse of what life was like for all those across Europe that lived behind the Iron Curtain. There are plenty of incredibly interesting museums in Gdansk making it a superb place to learn more about Polish and European history.
It isn’t all about city life in Gdansk though, as nearby Sopot is a gorgeous beachfront town with a stunning expanse of wide, sandy beach. This is the perfect addition to your Gdansk city break especially in the summer months as funky bars, restaurants and BBQs line the beach and there are water sports aplenty for those looking to get wet, as well as Europe’s longest and oldest wooden pier.
Nearby Sopot is a gorgeous beachfront town with a stunning expanse of wide, sandy beach.
For those of you who travel to eat, look no further than a long weekend in Krakow. In 2019 the city was awarded European Capital of Gastronomic Culture, acknowledging Krakow’s venerated history as a hub for Polish cuisine as well as it’s ever evolving attitude to modern inventive cooking and world cuisine. Food here is a way of life and you will find Krakow awash with eateries from lively to sedate, refined to casual and everything in between.
Between meals you’ll want to burn off some calories – mainly to prepare for your next meal – so take some time to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Town, including Market Square. This beautiful expanse in the heart of the city is surrounded by stunning architecture, and small shops and cafes provide the chance to stop and watch the performers and buskers who entertain the tourists. Here you will also find the world’s oldest shopping mall – Cloth Hall – which dates from the 16th Century.
Rising above the city is the imposing Wawel Hill, with Wawel Castle standing proudly at the top. This remarkable building is home to numerous exhibitions including the Crown Treasury and Armoury. You can also visit the state rooms of the castle and learn about the artefacts that have been found from ancient times. There is so much to see here
Krakow is a Mecca for art lovers and there is a superb array of museums and exhibits to keep you enthralled. From the historic artwork in Wawel Castle, journey through the evolution of art and visit the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow. Krakow is also home to the Van Gogh Alive exhibition – a truly incredible melding of Van Gough’s work with modern effects to bring the man and his works to life.
Poland’s capital city of Warsaw brings all the shopping, nightlife and exuberance we want from a modern city break, but look a little further and you will find an awesome and unique destination to tick off your bucket list. For instance: did you know Warsaw now touts itself as one of the most vegan friendly cities in Europe? The foodie scene here is superb with a plethora of vegetarian and vegan specialist eateries.
When it comes to dining, Warsaw does it properly. You have to visit one of the ‘milk bars’, which were once Communist run diners that served Polish cuisine at discounted prices and now offer visitors superb local food and a window onto the past. At the other end of the scale and for that special dinner that every city break requires, make a reservation at one of the city’s Michelin starred restaurants.
Breakfast markets are a big thing here. Start your day by stocking up on mouthwatering delicacies from local producers, mingling with residents and visitors alike as you peruse the array of baked goods and cured meats on offer. And a final top tip: be sure to try wuzetka – an utterly delicious traditional Warsaw chocolate cake.
For a taste of Polish culture check out the events and concerts that take place here year-round. There is bound to be something amazing taking place when you’re visiting, such as the unticketed open air Chopin concert – it is magical. You should also visit Warsaw’s Royal Castle, which was the traditional home of Poland’s monarchy, for a unique perspective on this amazing country. Follow the Royal Route and you will find yourself in the idyllic expanse of Lazienki Park, where lakes, trees and lawns cover 76 hectares in the heart of the city.
On the banks of the River Oder, historical Wroclaw brings you 1,000 years of Polish history in one walkable and friendly city. Close to the borders with modern day Germany and the Czech Republic, Wroclaw has long been an important trading post and to this day you will see influences from all over Europe. The river is your starting point for exploring Wroclaw, and as it cuts a swathe through the promenades and thoroughfares you can see why this place is known as the City of Bridges. Over 100 bridges cross the Oder.
There are so many ways for you to get out on the river to get your bearings and discover the city from this peaceful perspective at your own pace. Hire a pedal boat or kayak, or join one of the narrated boat trips that will highlight the sites as you pass by. For something completely different, jump aboard the Polinka cableway, which elevates you high above the river to take you from bank to bank.
Mixing the old with the new is Wroclaw’s thing, and nowhere is this more spectacularly evident than at Centennial Hall. The dramatic dome topped building has achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status and visitors flock here to witness the spectacular fountain show that takes place outside, combining 300 water spouting nozzles and an array of multicoloured lighting.
Wroclaw has one last trick up its sleeve , and you can be sure you won’t find this anywhere else. A dwarves walking trail! There are over 300 of these cheeky little characters dotted around the city, finding their way from Polish folklore to modern day Wroclaw. They can be found swigging beer, peering into the river, pushing rocks and even riding pigeons so grab your guide and see how many you can find!
Poland. A Year-Round City Break Destination
What a place! There is so much to see on a European city break to Poland and the best thing is this is a year round destination. Summers are hot and very popular, but think about spring and autumn too. Cooler weather, avoid the crowds and you can enjoy a unique range of events and festivals. Winters are cold in Poland, but what does that matter? Cosy up inside a bar or taverna and take advantage of the amazingly good value at that time of year. Next time you’re looking at a city break to Europe, look at Poland – you’ll love it.