Castles

If there’s a hilltop, you can bet there’s a castle. Poland has some humdingers: every­thing from aristocratic, 19th-century piles to more sombre – and often more elegant – ruins.

Royal Wawel Castle The granddaddy of them all, the mighty Kraków castle is the symbol of the Polish nation.

Malbork It took a zillion red bricks to build Europe’s biggest medieval fortress.

Książ Silesia’s largest castle is a splendid edifice that holds a curious wartime secret beneath its foundations.

Krzyżtopór What you get when you cross magic, money and a 17th-century Polish eccentric.

Krasiczyn A picture of Renaissance perfection and the turreted castle of your childhood fairy-tale fantasy.

Communist Architecture

From the stern socialist-realist buildings of the 1950s to the wacky retro-futurist ’60s and ’70s, there’s no denying 40 years of communist rule made a mark on the country’s built environment.

Kielce Bus Station Check out this flash, Jetsons-style bus station in a country where a handsome bus station is, admittedly, hard to find.

Palace of Culture & Science Stalin’s ‘gift’ to the Polish people continues to shock and awe.

Nowa Huta This sprawling 1950s suburb makes a startling contrast to Kraków’s Old Town.

Monument to the Victims of June 1956 Dramatic monument to the Poznań workers killed in a brutal crackdown.

Katowice Check out the industrial hub’s 1970s-style Rynek, then cast your glance northward to the monolithic Hotel Katowice.

Folk Culture

Interest in folkways is growing. Skansens (open-air ethnographic museums) dot the landscape and the summer calendar is filled with folk-music fests.

Sanok The Museum of Folk Architecture here is the biggest in the country.

Tarnów The Ethnographic Museum here specialises in the folk history of the minority Roma.

Katowice This industrial city isn’t the obvious place to find a skansen, but the Upper Silesian Ethnographic Park is spread over 20 hectares of city parkland.

Kashubia Traditional region of drowsy villages and ethnographic museums provides folksy contrast to the brashness of the coast.

Olsztynek The Museum of Folk Architecture teleports visitors back to a timber past.

Hiking

With everything from mountain treks to traversing a farmer’s field, Poland is criss-crossed by thousands of kilometres of marked hiking trails.

Zakopane Just outside the door of your hotel, you’ll find Poland’s highest and most dramatic walks in the Tatras.

Bieszczady Green, clean and remote. This little corner wedged by Ukraine is as close to the end of the world as it gets in Poland.

Karkonosze National Park Hike the ridge between Mt Szrenica and Mt Śnieżka in this Silesian national park for views of forests and mighty cliffs.

Góry Stołowe Explore the strange and fascinating rock formations of this national park within the Sudetes Mountains.

Wolin National Park Trails running through here provide hiking happiness for a day or two in the bracing Baltic Sea air.

Museums

Whether it’s art, history, folk architecture or science, Poles are collectors at heart. Warsaw and Kraków, in particular, have some world-class collections.

Schindler’s Factory Evocative museum within Oskar Schindler’s former enamel factory tells the story of Kraków under German occupation in WWII.

Rynek Underground This museum lies beneath Kraków’s vast market square and uses audiovisual wizardry to illuminate the city’s trading history.

National Maritime Museum If maritime flotsam and jetsam float your boat, you’ll love this museum complex in Gdańsk.

Chopin Museum A high-tech, interactive homage to Poland’s greatest composer.

Museum of the History of Polish Jews Impressive multimedia exhibits document 1000 years of Jewish history in Poland.

Nightlife

Poles love to party. In summer, town squares across the country are filled with tables and late-night revellers.

Praga Warsaw’s ‘right bank’ is where the city goes to let down its hair.

Wrocław Thousands of university students have to have something to do on a Friday night.

Kazimierz This Kraków district is home to a plethora of cool, small bars, tucked behind attractive old facades in narrow streets.

Poznań A magnet for business people and local students, the city’s Old Town is packed with lively pubs, clubs and eateries.

Sopot Get down by the Baltic as the fun spills out of Sopot’s many nightspots and onto the balmy beach.