Which region of Poland you choose to focus on will depend on whether you prefer an active holiday, centred on hiking, boating and biking, or one involving more sedentary, urban-based pursuits, such as museums, cafes and clubs.
For the latter, Poland’s trilogy of great cities, Kraków, Warsaw and Gdańsk, offers excellent museums, restaurants and other urban amenities. Kraków, in particular, escaped damage in WWII and is an unmissable mix of modern and medieval.
If sports are on the card, consider the regions of Warmia and Masuria, and Mazovia and Podlasie. Both of these are considered lake country, with abundant kayaking, hiking and biking opportunities. The mountains in the south are covered in hiking paths and the place to go to get away from it all.
Walkers are spoiled with choice in the Carpathians. Want drama? Go for the Tatras. Solitude? Head for the Bieszczady. The chance to mix a bit of boating with a hike? The Pieniny.
The Carpathians are sprinkled with the traditional wooden architecture of the country’s indigenous highlander population. In Zakopane, this architecture was raised to an art form. Beyond this, old wooden churches dot the countryside.
The Carpathian region is blessed with abundant hot springs, and that means spas. Krynica is one of the largest and most popular. Szczawnica, on the Dunajec River, is smaller and quieter.
Gdańsk & Pomerania
Medieval Poland’s masons must have been busy building the north’s hundreds of churches, castles, walls and town halls. Even the Red Army couldn’t put a dent in this red-brick wealth, and post-war reconstruction restored many buildings to their former glory.
Poland’s Baltic seacoast may be chilly, but when the sun shines and the winds abate, there’s no better place for a spot of beach fun than the stretches of white sand along the northern coast.
Inland from the coast you’ll find the local Kashubian culture thriving at festivals, celebrations and the open-air museum in Wdzydze Kiszewskie.
Interpreting the Past
Poland’s former royal capital has plenty of excellent museums, including several on majestic Wawel Hill. Newer, high-tech institutions include the Rynek Underground and Oskar Schindler’s old enamel factory.
From quiet bars to pumping nightclubs, Kraków has it all. The most distinctive options are its Old Town cellar pubs and the character-packed bars and cafes of Kazimierz.
Kraków has arguably Poland's best street-food scene, complete with late-night sausage stands, food trucks, an open-faced cheese baguette known as zapiekanka (or, tongue-in-cheek, 'Polish pizza') and the humble pretzel-bagel hybrid, obwarzanek.
Place of Pilgrimage
Częstochowa’s Jasna Góra monastery is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Catholics, and the monastery retains a feeling of hushed holiness, even to nonbelievers.
Pre-WWII, Lublin was a leading centre for Jewish scholars, and there is now a fascinating self-guided Jewish heritage trail. Chełm was similarly important. The region was sadly home to three of Nazi Germany’s most notorious extermination camps.
Sandomierz is one of Poland’s Gothic treasures, with a beautifully preserved town square; the city of Zamość calls itself the ‘Pearl of the Renaissance’ – with good reason.
Mazovia & Podlasie
Podlasie is home to three of the country's best national parks, including Białowieża, which claims a small patch of Europe’s last remaining primeval forest. Birders will appreciate the abundant waterfowl at Biebrza National Park.
The Suwałki region in the extreme northeast is a quieter version of the Masurian Lakes and is home to canals, rivers and lakes that invite hours of canoeing and kayaking.
The city of Łódź may not be much to look at, but there’s a lot to see, including two great art museums, a stunning history museum and a quirky museum to the greats of Polish cinema.
Bordered by the Sudetes Mountains, Silesia is a hiker’s dream. The Karkonosze National Park offers hikes among craggy cliffs, while the Góry Stołowe mountains are dotted with strange rock formations perfect for climbing.
Silesia’s cultural capital, Wrocław, is a major university town, and thousands of students translate into hundreds of bars, pubs and clubs.
Gothic to Modern
Silesia’s tumultuous history has left its mark on the diverse built environment, including the bizarre Chapel of Skulls at Kudowa-Zdrój, the grand facades of Wrocław and the modernist lines of Katowice.
Warmia & Masuria
Poland has more lakes than any other country in Europe except Finland – and most are in Masuria. The Great Masurian Lake area boasts Poland’s biggest body of water, Lake Śniardwy.
Swimming & Rowing
Where there’s water, there’s sport, and the Great Masurian Lakes are no exception. This is the best place in Poland to don flippers, grab a paddle or hire a yacht for a bit of waterborne R&R.
Castles & Churches
Away from watery attractions, the region has some remarkable architecture, starting with the baroque church at Święta Lipka and followed by the red-brick majesty of Lidzbark Warmiński’s castle.
In Warsaw, the conflicts of WWII are not just the stuff of dusty history tomes, but events that resonate to the present and are brought to life in thought-provoking, interactive museums.
Coffee, Cocktails and Clubbing
With tens of thousands of students, Warsaw has it all when it comes to whiling away the hours between sundown and sunup, with classic dives, funky coffee shops, trendy cocktail bars and happening clubs.
Warsaw is the food capital of Poland. Not only are the best Polish restaurants here, but there’s a thriving international food scene too, along with a surprising number of new and trendy vegan places.
Wielkopolska’s deep history is seen every where: from the cathedrals of Poznań and Gniezno, to the plentiful museums across the region that document events from the Middle Ages to the communist era.
One of the flattest parts of Poland, the region is a great place to hire a bike and hit the road, whether it be in Poznań or in the rural countryside.
Poznań has as sophisticated and varied a restaurant scene as any big city in Poland, from cheapo milk bar survivors to cutting-edge casual dining.