Unspoilt countryside, primeval forests, medieval architecture and central Europe’s only desert make Poland beautifully diverse. And with 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites under its belt, it’s no surprise that it’s becoming an increasingly popular country to visit.
This authentic little town in southern Poland is a rural gem found at the foot of the Tatra Mountains.
A natural world
You’ll find Poland’s largest waterfall, the Siklawa, and its highest peak at 2,499 metres, the Rysy, on a trip to the Tatra National Park. Jump on the Kasprowy Wierch cable car from Kuźnice for jaw-dropping views and plenty of scenic walks. The emerald-green Lake Morskie Oko, also known as the ‘eye of the sea’, is nearby too – its name derives from an old legend which says that the lake was connected to the sea via an underground passage.
Sights and souvenirs
Take a stroll down Zakopane’s most popular street, Krupówki, for an array of shops, local restaurants, pavement cafés and street performers. The Targ Pod Gubalówka market is the best place to buy gifts – with stalls selling traditional Goral clothing, handicrafts, paintings and the famous smoked sheep’s cheese, oscypek. If you need to escape the sun, head to the Tatra Museum to learn about the region’s natural and geological history, or take a trip to the upside-down house, an amusing spectacle with underlying political messages.
The Goral – or highlander – culture is rich in unique foods, music, costume and, most notably, architecture. The Zakopane Style architecture dates back to the late 19th and 20th centuries and was designed by resident painter and writer, Stanisław Witkiewicz. His gingerbread-style villas are characterised by pointy turrets, wood cladding and bay windows, and incorporate elements of Art Nouveau. See them for yourself at the Museum of Zakopane Style or at the fascinating Chochołow village.
History and culture
Descend 327 metres underground for a tour of the famous Wieliczka Salt Mines, through chambers and chapels holding sculptures and carvings made completely out of rock salt. Kraków is also home to the largest market square in Europe, surrounded by historic buildings housing restaurants and bars, St Mary’s Basilica, and, at its centre, the Renaissance Cloth Hall. Also worth a visit is the 14th-century Wawel Castle, said to have once harboured a mighty dragon. Perched on a hill above the town, the buildings now exhibit art collections and state rooms.
World War Two
Kraków was at the centre of Nazi occupation during the Second World War, so has lots of memorials dedicated to the conflict and the Holocaust. Auschwitz Concentration Camp, for example, 60km from the city, is one of the most widely visited. You can also go to see the Oskar Schindler Enamel Factory, made famous by Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, to learn about the city’s wartime experiences. The Ghetto Heroes Square, a memorial made up of 70 bronze chairs, is another poignant feature.
Compared to other European cities, you won’t pay an arm and a leg for high-quality food in Kraków. You’ll find fabulous restaurants in Kasimierz (the Jewish District) and just off the main square. Zapiekanka is the city’s street-food staple. This open-faced baguette is covered with an assortment of toppings and toasted until the cheese melts. For a mid-morning coffee, head to a milk bar. Dating back to the 1960s, these cafés tended to offer cheap meals to workers without canteens.