Since May 2017, I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time in Poland. I’m not sure how much time exactly, because I’ve popped home to Manchester a couple of times and I’ve taken the odd week here and there to visit neighbouring countries (falling in love with Ukraine on the way), but let’s just say that I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Poland. Maybe 9 months? Maybe 10? Who even knows at this point.
ANYWAY. The point that I’m trying to make it that I obviously like Poland a lot. Poland has gone from being somewhere I planned to spend two weeks to somewhere that I consider my second home. I have fallen head over heels for Polish people, Polish culture, Polish food…the list goes on.
It is because of my love for Poland that I want to convince you guys of how amazing it is as well! Read on to find out my 29 reasons to love Poland!
1. Disco Polo!
Possibly one of my favourite things in the whole wide world, disco polo is a genre of Polish dance/pop music that everybody in Poland says they don’t like, but will get up and dance to after a few drinks. Created in the late 1980s, disco polo is very popular at weddings and is simple, fun and infuriatingly catchy. Listen at your peril.
Almost everyone has heard of Kraków, but did you know that this city has so much more to it than cheap booze and strip clubs? Home to the largest market square in Europe, Rynek Główny, as well as one of the oldest universities in the world and tonnes of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. In addition to all of that, Kraków has also been named the ‘European Capital of Culture,’ and is home to Wawal Castle and St. Mary’s Basilica, as well as tonnes of lush greenery, with over 40 parks and dozens of gardens and forests.
A trip to Kraków can include everything from discovering quirky coffee shops in the Jewish Quarter, to cliffjumping into stunning lakes, dining at Michelin star restaurants and visiting some of the 28 museums that Kraków has to offer! Seriously, there is a reason why this city has become so popular, and if Kraków doesn’t make you love Poland then there’s something wrong with you. For a more in-depth guide, check out my friend Helene’s blog post about Kraków here!
When most people think of Polish food, they think of pierogies, but for me, Polish soup is special in its own right. One of my favourites is żurek, a hearty broth perfect for cold winter nights by the fire. Żurek is made from rye bread and water with vegetables, kielbasa (a type of Polish sausage) and potato and is sometimes served in a bread bowl which you can eat along with the soup! Another of my favourite Polish soups is flaki, which is made with tripe. This one usually raises a few eyebrows among foreigners, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
Traditionally, soup is eaten as a first course at lunchtime, and believe me, if you haven’t sampled your fair share of Polish soup, you haven’t been to Poland.
4. The People
It’s no secret that I love Polish
boys people, but many visitors to Poland say that they didn’t feel as though Polish people were the friendliest people in the world. It took me a while to wrap my head around this because I’d had nothing but good experiences (and when you’re working with an average of 15 different Polish people a week for over half a year, that’s pretty significant).
However, I finally realised that the tourists were talking about the Polish poker face. Now while I’ll concede that Polish people may look unfriendly, you’ll find that when you get to know Polish people on a personal level, you will see that they are the warmest, most open and hospitable people ever, as well as being hilariously direct (not something I’m used to as a Brit!).
5. Beautiful Market Squares
Wonderful architecture is not usually what comes to mind when people think of Poland, but trust me, Poland’s old towns are not to be missed. Every town has a main market square with stunning buildings, cobblestones, a large town hall and church, as well as restaurants and bars aplenty. People tend to rave about Kraków’s market square, but for me, the pastel colours of Wrocław just blow me away.
6. Polish Food
Ah, Polish food. Polish food is traditionally very heavy and perfect for filling your belly in the wintertime. From traditional Polish dumplings (pierogi) filled with just about anything you can imagine, to bigos (a meat stew with sauerkraut and cabbage) and pork cutlets with generous helpings of potato, you’ll never be hungry in Poland.
Tricity is a metropolitan area in the north of Poland comprised of three cities – Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot. The Tricity is a real cultural hub with an abundance of universities (Gdańsk alone has 13 universities), cinemas, theatres and opera houses. Every year, the Tricity plays host to an array of festivals, from the huge Open’er music festival, to street performance festivals, film festivals, kite festivals, sailing festivals, beach parties, and even a Shakespeare festival!
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that no matter where you are in the Tricity, you’re never more than a stone’s throw away from the beach. God, can somebody just book me a plane ticket already!?
Understandably, most travellers to Poland visit the major cities, with a handful making their way to the beaches of the north or the mountains in the south for a spot of sunbathing or skiing. However, something that people really miss out on when travelling through Poland is the quaint villages dotted all over the country.
Because I’m lucky enough to have lots of Polish friends (woohoo, all of that volunteer work is paying off!), I’ve been able to see a side of Poland that not many foreigners get to see. From ethnographic museums to cutesy village shops and bike rides through deserted forests, Poland’s villages are really something special.
Oscypek is a delicious spindle-shaped smoked cheese made of salted sheep’s milk. It is made exclusively in the Tatra Mountain region of Poland, and walking down the main street in Zakopane, you will see countless vendors selling the famous delicacy but I recommend finding a cosy mountain pub and trying it with some lingonberry jam (also known as mountain cranberries) and washing it down with a mug of mulled wine. Yum.
10. Białowieża Forest
Białowieża Forest is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and quite rightly so. Located on the border of Poland and Belarus, Białowieża Forest covers a total area of 141,885 hectares and is home to 900 European bison (25% of the world’s total population), as well as wolves, lynxes, wild boar and elk. Białowieża Forest is truly the stuff of fairytales, and if I ever end up buying a winter cabin in the woods, you can rest assured that this is where it will be.
11. The Land of a Thousand Lakes
In the UK, we’re very proud of our Lake District, but not only does Poland have a lake district too, but it is known as ‘the land of a thousand lakes,’ which sounds far more magical. Actually comprised of more than 2000 lakes, Masuria (or Mazury in Polish) is the perfect holiday destination for those who aren’t afraid to get a bit wet!
Sailing is a relatively common pastime in Poland, and the days that I spent sunning myself on a yacht in Masuria before mooring up and feasting on Polish vodka and BBQ’d sausages remain some of my favourite travel memories.
12. Polish Vodka
If the Poles are famous for one thing, it’s their ability to drink vodka like champions, and after spending so much time in Poland, I have to concede that the stereotype is true! My favourite Polish vodka is Żubrówka, known in English as ‘Bison Grass Vodka.’ This is a herb-flavoured vodka with vanilla and cinnamon notes, and the bottle contains a blade of bison grass (hierochloe odorata) which gives it a yellowish colour. Żubrówka is delicious on its own or mixed with apple juice.
My second favourite Polish vodka is Soplica. Soplica comes in many different flavours, but my favourites are blackcurrant and hazelnut (try the hazelnut Soplica in hot chocolate or with a glass of milk if you want to feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven).
13. Tatra Mountains
When most people think of booking a skiing holiday, they tend to think of France, Switzerland, and Italy. However, the Tatra Mountains, which create a natural border between Poland and Slovakia, provide a cheaper (and just as beautiful) alternative. I’m not much of a snow sports person myself (or any sport for that matter), but the views from the Tatra Mountains are simply breathtaking, and it doesn’t hurt that you can buy a hot beer with cinnamon to help you enjoy them.
14. Beautiful Beaches
Many people (especially from the UK, shame on us), are surprised to hear that Poland not only has beaches, but beautiful ones at that! Poland’s coastline is along the Baltic Sea, and while the water may be cold, that doesn’t take away from the splendor of the vast golden sand beaches that Poland has to offer. I spent a couple of nights in the slick city of Sopot, or the ‘Polish Monaco,’ and as I sipped a cold beer and soaked up the sun, I kept having to remind myself that I wasn’t in the south of Spain!
I’ve written before about how the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau are not ‘tourist destinations,’ but that they are nevertheless very important places to visit. Poland has a rich and tragic history, and I think that visiting sights of mass slaughter can teach you more than a history book ever could.
If you love fairytale castles, you won’t be disappointed in Poland. Poland has tonnes of beautiful castles, from dramatic ruins to castles in pristine condition. Almost every visitor to Poland has seen Wawel Castle in Kraków, but Niedzica Castle is far more majestic and definitely something to include in your itinerary.
One of the lesser-known cities to tourists, Wrocław is my favourite city in Poland. Located in western Poland, just a 3 hour drive from Berlin, Wrocław is truly a hidden gem, with a buzzing student population, hundreds of atmospheric candlelit bars and my favourite market square in all of Poland. In the wintertime the city comes alive with spectacular Christmas markets (definitely a cheaper and less touristy alternative to the German markets), and foodies of all persuasions (yes vegans, I’m talking to you) will find an abundance of culinary temptations in Wrocław.
(Psst – if you’re a backpacker in Wrocław, be sure to stay at Grampa’s Hostel. It’s the best one there, and trust me I’ve stayed in most!)
18. Polish Legends
I’m a sucker for legends. From the Chicken Village in Dalat (Vietnam), to the Navajas Bridal Falls in Spain, I love a good legend, and will stubbornly believe that every legend I hear is 100% true. In Poland, I was lucky enough to hear a number of legends, and the really nice thing is that these legends are celebrated in the cities in which they originate. Ever wondered why the symbol of Warsaw is a mermaid? That’ll be a legend. Want to know why two mechanical goats butt heads every day at noon in front of the clock tower in Poznań? There’s a story behind that as well.
Whether they’re true or not (I’ll concede that maybe the mermaid story isn’t entirely factual), these legends add a touch of magic to this fascinating country.
19. Poland is Cheap
I can’t write about the reasons I love Poland and ignore the obvious. As a visitor from western Europe, Poland is very cheap. It may not be quite as cheap as Ukraine, but with hostels averaging at £6-10 per night, beers costing around £1.50-2 and restaurant meals usually £6-8, Poland is certainly an affordable country for Brits like me.
The old stereotype is that Polish people love vodka, and while that may be true, they drink their fair share of beer as well. There are tonnes of inexpensive lagers in Poland (my favourites are Tyskie, Żubr and Żywiec), as well as a growing trend in craft beers. It’s also common (especially for ladies) to drink beer through a straw with a dash of fruit flavoured syrup.
21. Doughnut Day!
In England we have a day dedicated to eating pancakes. We call it Fat Tuesday. In Poland, it’s Fat Thursday and the pancakes are replaced with doughnuts. I’m not gonna lie, as a total
fatty foodie, I can really get behind any country that has an entire day dedicated to jam doughnuts.
22. The Gnomes of Wrocław
I’ve already written about my favourite city Wrocław, but did you know that there are more than 400 gnomes scattered around Wrocław?! Dotted around the cobbled streets of the old town, there are gnome doctors, gnome gardeners, gnome dentists, lovers, and even gnome drunks!
Nobody knows exactly how many of the little blighters there are, not even the manager of the OFFICIAL DWARF INFORMATION CENTRE (this is not a drill guys – this really exists). However, the cheeky figures actually have a very interesting history: Wrocław’s gnomes are a nod to the ‘Orange Alternative,’ an anti-Soviet movement born in Wrocław that helped overcome the oppressive communist regime of the 1980s. The Orange Alternative used – you’ve guessed it – GNOMES as their symbol.
In addition to the Official Dwarf Information Centre, there is a website featuring photographs of each gnome along with its name and detailed backstory, gnome walking tours, maps detailing where you can find which gnome, a gnome festival, and even a winter tradition of dressing the gnomes in knitted hats and scarves to stop them from getting cold. If that isn’t the most precious thing ever, I don’t know what is.
23. Poland is Very Vegan Friendly
Polish food is traditionally very meaty, so it may come as a surprise to my vegan readers that Poland is incredibly vegan friendly. All of the cities that I have visited have had a tonne of vegan options, with a whole ‘vegan street’ in Warsaw (Poznańska), featuring a vegan Italian, vegan Lebanese food and vegan Israeli food!
24. Fryderyk Chopin
One of history’s most famous composers, Fryderyk Chopin, was actually from Warsaw, and Poland’s capital city pays homage to the pianist with free daily recitals of his music in various bars. Every Sunday in the summertime, there are two free performances at the Royal Łazienki Park, and the opportunity to see classical music played at one of Warsaw’s prettiest spots is an unforgettable experience.
25. Woodstock Festival
The Polish Woodstock may have changed its name to ‘Pol’and’Rock,’ (which doesn’t sound half as good), but it’s still a completely free festival! Every year, over half a million rock fans congregate for this huge event, which promoters have dubbed the ‘largest open air festival in Europe’. With live acts of years gone by including The Prodigy, Pol’and’Festival is not something you’ll want to miss.
26. Polish Weddings
Granted, most tourists won’t ever get the opportunity to attend a Polish wedding, but if you do, do not dare turn it down! I actually went to a wedding in Poland with a guy that I’d met on Tinder! It may have not worked out with the guy, but the copious amounts of food, vodka and disco polo will stay with me forever (and did I mention that the wedding reception lasts for days?!). Trust me, after seeing the way that Polish people party at weddings, I’ve made it my mission to get married in Poland.
27. The Hel Peninsula
If being able to say ‘I’ll have a ticket to Hel please’ doesn’t make you want to pay this place a visit, then the crystal clear waters and white sands will. With gorgeous sandy beaches and stunning pine forests stretching for 35km, the Hel Peninsula is the perfect place for those who want a beach getaway without the Amalfi Coast price tag. Ferries from Sopot only take around 1.5 hours, making Hel is the perfect place for a day trip, although the numerous camp sites, guest houses and hotels make staying longer an easy decision. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to Hel during my time in Poland but it’s definitely on my bucket list.
28. Wieliczka Salt Mine
Another one on the UNESCO list, Wieliczka Salt Mine, located 327 metres underground, is one of the world’s oldest salt mines, and actually continued to produce table salt until 2007! In addition to the mine itself, there are 4 chapels underground, made entirely of salt and carved out by the miners so that they would have somewhere to worship while they were at work, as well as numerous statues, chandeliers, and even a whole wellness and rehabilitation centre!
Warsaw is not a place that people typically fall in love with on their first visit. Poland’s capital city took a long time to grow on me, but grow on me it did and now it’s one of my favourite cities in Poland. My favourite spot in Warsaw (Warszawa in Polish) is the Vistula River Beach, a huge city beach where it is actually legal to drink your own alcohol (drinking alcohol in public places is usually illegal in Poland). Every summer evening, university students and young professionals head to the beach to drink cold beers, relax and BBQ sausages as the sun sets.
Warsaw also has tonnes of museums, parks (Łazienki Park is my favourite) and quirky bars (head to Pawilony for a great night out). It may be uglier than cities such as Wrocław and Poznań, and it may not feel quite as ‘Polish’ (Warsaw is a very international city compared to other parts of Poland), but it definitely has a certain charm to it.
So there we have my 29 reasons to love Poland! Do you agree with me? Do you think I’ve missed something out? Do you love Poland just as much as me or is it not your cup of tea? Please let me know in the comments section!
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