While Poland is not the most obvious vacation destination, it still has a lot to offer in terms of tourism. Not only does it feature beautiful and varied landscapes, ranging from calm valleys to sandy beaches to sprawling mountains, but there are also tons of activities to do all around the country. If you like skiing, visit the mountains in southern Poland, which are filled with skiing resorts and snowy peaks. If you are not a fan of the cold weather and skiing, you can instead try visiting one of the many beaches along the coast of northern Poland, where the country meets the Baltic Sea. If you’re visiting Poland during the months when it is still too cold to go to the beach but not cold enough for the skiing season, you can always try one of the many landscape parks, which are protected nature reserves similar to national parks, but with fewer restrictions, making them perfect places to enjoy the local flora and fauna.
There is so much to do in Poland that limiting this selection for your trip may be quite a daunting task. To help you enjoy your time in Poland without having to worry and stress over planning, we have prepared this Top 10 Things about Poland Culture and Traditions list, which showcases some of the best activities and hidden gems you might want to experience during your vacation!
When it comes to Poland culture and traditions, the national Polish cuisine is always among the most internationally recognizable things about this country. Polish cuisine is often considered as one of the most delicious cuisines not only in Europe but also around the entire globe. While traditional Polish foods may not be very fit, they definitely taste wonderful and are some of the best comfort foods you may find. Eating is a huge part of Polish culture, so expect huge portions, a lot of butter and sour cream, meat mixed with vegetables and mushrooms, and even some bizarre combinations of ingredients. One of the traditional salads even combines whipped cream and herring! Also, prepare for a lot of cabbage, pork, and potatoes, as those are the absolute stapes of Polish cuisine. When it comes to side dishes, Polish people love pickled stuff, mostly cabbage and cucumbers. In fact, sauerkraut is used to make some of the most famous Polish dishes - pierogis and bigos!
If you’re a fan of history, you will have plenty of activities to choose from when visiting Poland. Poland culture and traditions have formed in turmoil, as Poland’s rough history has shown. The country has been removed from the maps for over 100 years in total, first taken apart by the neighboring countries in 1772. After much turmoil, Poland has found itself on the maps again, only to be crushed again during the Second World War. Nowadays, Poland is filled with a variety of landmarks and museums which show all the periods in the country’s history. You can see tons of medieval castles, some built by the crusaders, and fortresses which stand tall to this day. If you want to learn more about what happened to Poland during the two world wars, we recommend taking a walk to a nearby war museum, which can be found in most of the larger cities in Poland. For example, when visiting Warsaw, you can see for yourself the Warsaw Rising Museum, which will educate you about one of the most important uprisings in the history of Poland.
While you may think that mountains themselves may not be as connected to Poland culture and traditions, they are actually deeply set in Polish folklore. Not only are they filled with beautiful snowy slopes to ski in the winter and hundreds of hiking routes to enjoy, but they also have a rich culture of their own to explore. Traditionally, the people who live in the Polish mountains are called "Górale", and while most of the tourists only recognize them for their famous "oscypek", which is a type of smoked sheep cheese, there is actually so much more to this part of Polish heritage. You may notice some of the people in the mountains wearing hats made out of black felt and decorated with small animal bones or shells. This is a part of the traditional folk costumes of the region, also characterized by colorful trousers and coats made of wool, as well as leather vests and moccasins, often finished with a homespun shirt made out of flax cloth.
When visiting Poland, you are sure to see a lot of salt mines, especially in southern Poland around the city of Krakow. While most of the salt mines are now purely tourist destinations, due to the salt prices falling and some of the mines flooding, this only makes them more accessible to the general population. One of the most famous salt mines, the Wieliczka Salt Mine, was in use as far back as Neolithic times. It is also one of the oldest salt mines in the world, officially excavating salt from the 13th century. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an official Polish Historic Monument. You can even visit the St. Kinga’s Chapel, located deep within the mine, which is one of the four chapels situated within Wieliczka’s mine. Moreover, you will be able to see some of the famous statues carved out of the rock salt by the miners, some of them even adorned with carvings made by famous contemporary artists.
Even though Poland is not as recognized globally for its beaches as Spain or Portugal, for example, the Polish beaches are still worth visiting. You do not have to worry about not finding a spot, even during high season, as the whole northern border of Poland is filled with sandy beaches. If you see a lot of tourists flocking around the entrance to the beach, just take a walk along the coast and sooner or later you will find an empty spot for yourself. One of the most popular summer vacation spots among the locals is the Hel Peninsula, which often turns into an island of its own during high tides. The Peninsula also has a rich history, as it was at first part of Prussia and Germany, and thus is filled with small wooden houses. Nowadays, a large number of military fortifications are open to the public and we wholeheartedly recommend visiting them.
Old towns of Poland
If you loved the Old Town of Barcelona, you will definitely love the old town districts of Polish cities. Krakow, for example, has the largest town square in Europe, filled with historical buildings and gorgeous churches. If you happen to be visiting Warsaw, on the other hand, the old town of the capital is unique in its own, special way. The actual old town in Warsaw was decimated by the German troops during the Second World War and has been fully reconstructed to resemble its original appearance. However, the reconstruction was done so immaculately that you will not even recognize that it was actually built from scratch starting from the year 1939! Even during times of occupation, architects would meet in secret and plan to rebuild the heart of Warsaw, often taking the risk of being captured and put in front of a firing squad.
If you love picturesque churches and fancy castles, you will love Poland’s architecture. The Gothic style was introduced to Polish architecture around the beginning of the 13th century, as the members of the Dominican and Franciscan orders first arrived in the country. The first Gothic church is the Dominican Trinity church, built in Krakow in between 1226 and 1250. You can even notice some of the gorgeous Romanesque architecture, mostly in the northwestern part of the country. When it comes to castles and fortresses, Poland features a whole range of not only national keeps, but also castles built by the Teutonic Order, mostly limited to the northern parts of Poland. When it comes to modern architecture, Poland features a wide variety of beautiful buildings designed by international architects, such as Santi Gucci or Karl Friedrich Schinkel. If you’re after modern architectural wonders, we recommend visiting the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, which was designed by the famous Finnish architect, Rainer Mahlamäki, and features a unique glass exterior.
A great benefit of Poland being frequently skipped by most tourists who choose to visit Europe for their vacation are the cheap prices all throughout the country. You can find quality accommodation for as cheap as $30 per night, and if you’re looking for a hostel or Airbnb, the prices are even cheaper! A full meal at a classy restaurant will cost you around 100 Zloty per person, which translates to approximately $25 - and that is considered an expensive meal in Poland! If you want to save even more money, we recommend taking advantage of the vibrant Polish street food, which is a staple within Polish culture. A simple kebab will cost you around $4, but we recommend trying some of the regional specialties, such as “zapiekanki”, which are halves of a baguette with mushrooms and cheese, served with a variety of toppings.
Flora and fauna
While to most foreigners Poland seems like a pretty insignificant, small country, it is actually the ninth largest country in Europe, which makes it bigger than, for example, Italy. All of this land area gives Poland a lot of variety when it comes to its natural scenery. Snowy mountainscapes, large swaths of forests, gorgeous lakes, and even its own desert - Poland has them all. For the best places to admire the local flora and fauna, we recommend visiting some of the Polish landscape parks, such as the Bialowieza Forest, which is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the last remnants of the huge primeval forest that once covered Europe. The forest houses one of the largest populations of European bison, which are the heaviest land animals in all of Europe. Moreover, the forest is filled with rare birds, such as the pygmy owl, and you can even take a carriage tour of the park which ends with a cozy bonfire.
Things to do in Poland
If you’re looking for something truly unique to do on your vacation, Poland will definitely provide you with plenty of options. One such attraction is the famous Crooked Forest, located near the small city of Gryfino. Right outside of the city, over 400 trees grow in a very unusual way, as they are bent in a shape resembling an upside-down question mark. The forest remains a mystery to this day, as nobody really knows what caused the trees to grow in such an unusual way. One of the explanations is that local foresters helped the trees grow in this way in order to make unique furniture out of them. However, the trees were abandoned after the start of the Second World War in 1939. To this day, the trees of the Crooked Forest stand tall and strong, all bent in the exact same way.