Poland is a country with a rough past, to say the least. What’s amazing is how much the country has rebuilt while preserving the past. A week in Poland isn’t a lot of time but it’s certainly enough time to see the highlights, stuff yourself with the local cuisine, and figure out how to come back in the future. Here is a 7 day itinerary for traveling to Poland.
- Day 1 – Arrive in Warsaw
- Day 2 – Warsaw
- Day 3 – Malbork Castle
- Day 4 – Krakow
- Day 5 – Krakow, Auschwitz, or Salt Mine
- Day 6 – More Krakow, Auschwitz, or Salt Mine
- Day 7 – On to your next adventure!
Day 1 – Arrive in Warsaw
Depending on where you’re traveling from, Warsaw is probably going to be your port of entry. Warsaw is well served by many airlines so getting here is going to be pretty easy. It’s actually one of my favorite airports to transit through because it’s large enough to keep you occupied while you wait but small enough that getting through immigration only takes a few minutes.
Upon arrival, you can either take a taxi, train, or bus into town. Depending on traffic, a taxi can both be quick and slow. Traffic is a little unpredictable but it should take about 30 minutes. The train is also an option but unfortunately it only goes as far to Warsaw Central Station. Although the train station is centrally located, it may not be close to your hotel (depending on where you’re staying).
Oddly, if you’re staying in the old town area of Warsaw (near all the tourist sites), the bus is probably going to be your fastest option. The bus has its own lane so regardless of traffic, it’ll pretty much take 30 mins to get to old town. Also, you won’t have to worry about getting onto the correct bus from the central train station. Bus #175 will take you directly to the old town area and the bus stop is right outside the arrivals hall. Actually, you’ll probably see others waiting for the same bus since the 175 bus ends at the airport.
Once you arrive, you might want to walk around the old town area. It’s actually quite beautiful when the town is lit up at night. Within the walls of the castle (old town), most of the shops and restaurants close early but there are more than enough bars and clubs in the area to keep you occupied if that’s more your style.
Day 2 – Exploring Warsaw
If you’d like to see old town without all the tourists, you should definitely wake up early and take full advantage. It’s a beautiful part of town and you’d never know that it’s basically new because it’s been rebuilt after it was destroyed during WWII. It’s not hard to see why it’s a UNESCO site. There are a number of squares to see and it looks drastically different when no one is there vs. later in the day.
Although I’m not one to promote museums too much, I do recommend checking out the Royal Castle in Warsaw. It’s a great place to stroll around and see and you can even see 2 Rembrandts which are part of their art collection. If you want to just walk around the gardens, it’s free. You also have to remember that this was all rebuilt fairly recently but looks like it’s been there for centuries.
After walking around Old Town, head south down the royal route. The route itself takes a couple hours to walk and is very pedestrian friendly. The route has numerous points of interest to stop at as well as countless shops and restaurants. As you start your walk, walk one block west of the Hotel Bristol. You’ll come across this massive concrete square guarded by 2 soldiers. This is the tomb of the unknown soldier and there is a changing of the guard you can watch here which is pretty cool.
As you walk down, the biggest thing that hit me was how everything had a Disneyland feel to it. At first I didn’t know why but it’s because everything there has been rebuilt to look the way it was before it was destroyed. The city did an amazing job of recreating the city to look the way it did but modernized it with wider roads to fit vehicles.
As you walk down, there are 2 places you’ll want to stop to eat. First is a milk bar. This is an old school eatery that resembles a cafeteria. It’s usually really cheap, good food. I stopped in at Bar Familijny but there are numerous others to check out. The menu at this milk bar was fairly extensive and I certainly didn’t have the time or the energy to try to decipher it all so I just walked up and asked for the lady to recommend something. You just order and give your receipt to one of the ladies in the kitchen through the kitchen window. You just order a main with some sides and you grab your utensils on a tray just like a cafeteria.
Another place is a donut shop called Stara Paczkarnia. They’ll have fresh made donuts throughout the day, each filled with different ingredients like chocolate, Nutella, fruit jam, etc. You’ll see them making them fresh through the window and you’ll want to just order the ones that come fresh out of the oven. You may not know exactly what kind of donut you’re ordering but it doesn’t matter. It’s all fantastic.
As you walk back, you can stop by the Chopin museum. If you stop at one of the benches along the royal route, you’ll see a button to press that actually plays a short Chopin tune. I thought it was a nice touch for the Warsaw composer.
For dinner or even a snack, try a zapiekanki. The best I can describe it is a Polish pizza on a french roll instead of a flat pizza dough. They’re usually sold as a street food type of thing but they’re huge. They’re sold either a ½ meter or a full meter in length. These things are so good I found them addicting and it doesn’t hurt that they’re really cheap as well. You will not be disappointed.
Day 3 – Malbork Castle
Take a train up to Malbork Castle. You’ll have to take the train from Warsaw Central and you can read my post on the train system here. The train ride takes about 3 hours but make sure you take the EIP or express train. If you take the normal commuter train, the ride is going to take forever because it’ll make all the smaller stops along the way.
Malbork Castle is the largest brick castle in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can read my full review of Malbork Castle here but things to remember is that it’s a huge time commitment so if you wanted to stay in Warsaw, that’s certainly understandable.
If you’re up for it, you can also take the train a little further to Gdansk or you could skip Malbork Castle all together. Gdansk is a seaport town and is located on the Baltic Sea. Although I didn’t have a chance to go, I had it on my list of places to check out and it doesn’t look like a very large town. It’s also known for its amber jewellery so if you’re there, it might be a good idea to pick up a little something.
You could also check out the downtown area of Warsaw as it’s full of parks that are perfect for long strolls. Downtown is also a great place to walk around just to see the difference between the Old Town area of Warsaw and the Warsaw that had strong communist influence. As you walk around, the Palace of Culture and Science is probably the most unmissable building in downtown Warsaw. Although that’s probably the best example of communist architecture, you’ll also see the communist influence all throughout the city so if you’d like to stay local, it’s definitely a great option.
The one thing to know about Warsaw is that although they do have a good bus network that crisscrosses the city, they don’t really have a large metro footprint. You can either learn the bus system or take the metro/tram system but I found it easier to take the bus if the stop was close but I preferred to walk. I also didn’t want to waste time walking to and from the metro station every time I wanted to take it. But if your hotel is close to the metro stop, you’ll probably want to utilize that.
Day 4 – Krakow
You’ll be leaving the hustle and bustle of Warsaw and taking the 2.5 hour train down to Krakow. You can read my post on Krakow here but suffice it to say, I quickly fell in love with Krakow. It is just a great little town with so many places to visit and see…all without losing its charm. You’ll want to get to your hotel quickly so you can drop off your bags and go out and explore.
The one thing you may want to think about is where to stay. Although Krakow is a small town and easily walkable, you may get to the point where all you want to do is lie down and relax after a while. In that case, you’ll want a hotel that’s somewhat closeby. I’d recommend choosing a hotel north of the river. Anything south will mean you’ll have to either take the tram or the bus over. I guess it depends on your fitness level but I was glad to stay at the Sheraton and not have to deal with another 10 mins of walking.
Depending on what time you make it into Krakow, you’ll have time to check out the main parts of the town. I recommend that you try and get out of the main square for food and drinks though because they’re certainly catering to tourists. Also know that Krakow is a big bachelor party town for a lot of people because it’s cheap and easy to get to. The weekends are certainly going to be packed with partiers and it’ll go until sunrise.
Day 5 – Krakow, Salt Mine, or Auschwitz
If you like to take photos at all, you’ll really want to get an early start to the day. The town is so picturesque and takes on an entirely different persona when there is no one around and the streets are deserted. It’s so peaceful it’s hard to imagine that in a few hours, the town is going to be bustling with people.
What’s also great is that the town is still a very Catholic town. Don’t forget that Pope John Paul II was Polish and the cardinal of Krakow before being elected pope. That said, I thought it was really cool to see priests and nuns getting off the bus or walking from the metro stop to get to church. In the early morning, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of a seminary.
There are so many different areas of Krakow that you don’t want to limit yourself to just the main area. Walk across to the Jewish quarter and have some amazing pierogi. There is also an almost circular building that sells zapiekanki. It’s located in Kazimierz and it felt like all the vendors in this small building only sold zapiekanki. When you see a line or a crowd of locals waiting for food, count me in.
You can also go over to Oskar Schindler’s factory and take a tour or even take a day trip to the Zakopane.
Day 6 – Krakow, Salt Mine, or Auschwitz
The salt mines just outside Krakow are really cool and certainly worth the time and effort to see. Again get there early because it’s also very popular with school kids as a field trip so you definitely don’t want to be caught behind them (especially when it’s time to leave because the elevator can only hold 6 people at a time). You can read more about it on my post about Karkow.
I believe visiting Auschwitz is free but you need to have an online reservation in order to take the tour. When I was in Krakow, I didn’t know that was the case and thought I would be able to just go on the day of. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any spots available and I was leaving the next day so I was unable to go.
I will say though that having visited the Holocaust museum in Washington DC, it’s a very difficult subject to see. Although the exhibit in DC is very well presented, the subject matter is obviously difficult. If you’re in Krakow to have a good time, as important and historically significant as this site is, you may want to think twice before visiting. You are on vacation to have a good time and the subject matter is very heavy so it may not be what you’re looking for. Just something to think about.
Day 7 – On to your next adventure!
From Krakow, you can fly out or you can take the train back to Warsaw and leave from the airport there. Just know that Krakow’s airport is much smaller than Warsaw’s so if you’re flying out, there’s a good chance you’ll be connecting in Warsaw anyways. Getting to the airport is simple and you’ll just take the train from the main train station to the airport. The journey is just over 30 minutes and really simple since the route ends at the airport. If I remember correctly, the journey is like 10 PLN (around $2.50 USD) so it’s really cheap and easy to use.
Hopefully this guide will give you a good idea of how to see a lot of the main tourist spots in Poland. There are certainly other places to visit if you have the time but for a week time frame, it hits most of the big sites. What’s great is that this is an incredibly affordable country to visit and getting around is easy since it’s connected by a good rail network. I think any traveler will be pleasantly surprised to see the drastic differences between Warsaw and Krakow.