Poland – an emerging European travel destination

As part of the European Union, Poland is at an impressive momentum of renewal.

 WARSAW – the facades were restored based on old photos so that the Old Town is beautiful and looks as it did before the war. (photo credit: TALY SHARON)
WARSAW – the facades were restored based on old photos so that the Old Town is beautiful and looks as it did before the war.
(photo credit: TALY SHARON)

Poland is an emerging travel destination with beautiful cities, new attractions, a lively nightlife and fine cuisine with attractive prices. Poland was usually associated with the historical sites of World War II but it has so much to offer beyond that – natural sites, attractions, museums, shops and a booming nightlife scene on the cheap!

To my surprise, Poland has turned out to be a culinary destination, with fine restaurants, including some Michelin-recommended ones. It currently offers fine dining in different styles with fusion dishes, creative chefs and attractive prices.

As part of the European Union, Poland is at an impressive momentum of renewal. It has high-speed trains connecting its major cities, enabling a multi-city urban trip with ease. On our trip, we visited Warsaw, Wroclaw and Krakow. We took the Pendolino fast train to Wroclaw in the evening, a ride that turned out to be particularly comfortable and made it possible to save valuable travel time. The train has a restaurant car, saving even more time by being able to have a meal on the train. The food there was quite good and inexpensive.

This article includes recommendations for attractions off the beaten path as well as recommendations for restaurants in these three cities.

Warsaw

 THE WAWEL Castle in Krakow (credit: TALY SHARON) THE WAWEL Castle in Krakow (credit: TALY SHARON)

Modern-day, built-up Warsaw is a regenerative city, as 80% of the city was destroyed in World War II. The facades were restored based on pictures so that the old part of the city is beautiful and looks as it once did more than 80 years ago. With clever planning, the destruction was actually leveraged to build the city with a new architectural design – including wide streets and many parks.

The main must-see sites include the Old Town and the Market Square, the Palace of Culture and Science, the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Copernicus Science Centre. Here are five unique recommendations for Warsaw:

1. Elektrownia Powisle – a shopping mall with a food court and a beauty hall. As its name suggests, it was a power plant erected in 1904 and was abandoned for many years. It was recently converted using a delicate design to preserve the unique architecture.

2. Polish Vodka Museum – situated in a historic, neo-Gothic building housing a vodka plant, the museum tour shows the history and manufacturing process of vodka in Poland – what is vodka made of, how it is made and is it Polish or Russian?! The tour is quite fascinating and at the end of it, there is a “hands -on” experience – a guided tasting session to learn to distinguish between different types of vodkas! It’s located in the Praga Koneser Center, which also has entertainment and dining establishments, so one can plan to spend an evening here!

3. The Varso – a new observation deck will be opened soon at the Varso Tower, a recently built building that is the highest skyscraper in the EU, at 310 meters high. We were able to get a pre-opening tour. It has a breathtaking view of the city!

4. Dyletanci restaurant – a highly rated chef restaurant and wine shop bar, named in 50 Best Discovery and recommended by Michelin. It carries more than 500 European wines. 

5. Hotel Indigo – a stunning modern boutique hotel in the city center.

Krakow

Krakow is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It has been almost completely preserved (except for bridges that were blown up during the war). It has numerous ancient sites such as the Old Town, Wawel Royal Castle, Market Square and churches, and the Jewish Quarter, the ghetto and surrounding sites. There are direct flights from Israel to Krakow, so it is definitely possible to take a shorter trip that does not include Warsaw. 

1. The Wieliczka Salt Mine – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mine is more than 700 years old. It has been active from the 13th century and spans more than 300 km. and reaches a depth of 327 meters. A fascinating guided tour along 2.5 km. of tunnels and chambers led us to see impressive structures, including salt sculptures and enchanting chapels with salt-crystal chandeliers. After that we had lunch nearby at the Karczma Pod Wielka Sola, an authentic Polish restaurant with tasty food. The portions are huge and the prices low. We ate a three-course meal including alcoholic beverages and paid just $19 per person.

2. Krakow Arcade Museum – an interactive game house featuring classics such as pinball, Star Wars: Racer and Tekken. It is fun for the entire family.

3. Sightseeing balloon – a ride on a tethered balloon with a viewing platform up to 150 meters for a unique view of Krakow.

4. Szara Ges w Kuchni restaurant – a highly recommended restaurant on the main square. Besides the excellent food, take the Grey Goose (Szara Ges) dessert – it is like an egg in a nest!

5. Paczki – don’t miss this sufganiya look-alike filled with jams or cream for only $1.5.

Wroclaw

The city of Wroclaw won the best tourist destination competition in Europe for 2018. There is plenty to do here and it is worth dedicating a few days to exploring it. Wroclaw was restored after the war and is in a resurgence. As in Polish cities, it has a main town square and a market, and it also has a unique entertainment area called Four Denominations District, which is named for the tolerance to all religions in this welcoming town. 

This is also where you can find the only synagogue that survived the war (it is now a museum and a concert hall). The synagogue’s roof was renovated by the Church, which is one of the signs of the city’s efforts to promote tolerance. Also, an impressive organ with the Tetragrammaton written on it at St. Elizabeth Church was reconstructed after a fire, and to honor it, writing in Hebrew was painted on one of the houses in the district. 

Throughout Wroclaw, cute dwarf statues are scattered (as part of a protest during the Communist era). On weekends, there are street artists and young people dancing in the streets. My five unique recommendations for Wroclaw are:

1. Neon Side Gallery – an old neon signs enterprise on Ruska 46c, which was converted into businesses including a hotel and art workshops now functioning as an entertainment area with bars and music in the evenings. A collection of 30 neon signs of various institutions are illuminated at night on the buildings of this small yard. It is recommended to visit during the day and then again at night to enjoy the spectacular change.

2. Kolejkowo world in miniature – situated at Sky Tower, this miniature world includes 335 meters of model areas, 510 meters of railway tracks and 15 trains. It is an attraction suitable for the entire family. It is best to get there after exploring the town to identify the buildings seen in the streets.

3. Hydropolis – a water museum revealing the wonders of the sea and the role of water, educating for the protection of the planet and against sea pollution. The museum includes some extraordinary visual exhibitions.

4. Boat ride on the Oder River and a meal at the Przystan & Marina restaurant – the restaurant is situated on the riverbanks, overlooking the university building. It serves high-quality local fish and seafood dishes. Our group loved this restaurant and thought that it was an excellent example of affordable dining with good ambience and fine food.

5. Centennial Hall complex – the area around what used to be the largest concrete dome in the world is a recreation area where one can spend a whole day there. At the Four Domes Pavilion Contemporary Art Museum, the building’s architecture is impressive and the temporary exhibitions that we saw there were extraordinary. One current exhibition includes exhibits with Braille transcripts. The other is of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s sculptures, which were influenced by the war. The exhibits, including headless figures, left a very strong impression on us. The complex includes a zoo, Japanese gardens and dining services. At the nearby Multimedia Fountain Park, there are performances in the summer.

The writer was a guest of the Polish Tourism Organization: https://www.polin.travel/; https://www.facebook.com/polintrave