Poland is a country that has suffered under centuries of military conflict, foreign oppression, and occupation. These events have however created a proud and historically rich nation. The last ten years have seen the country grow into one of the most exciting places to visit in central Europe. The events of the Second World War and the subsequent Soviet occupation mean that much of this historical interest is of a harrowing nature. The theme of rebellion is prevalent in many museums and is evident in architecture of many recently rebuilt cities.

The areas between the major cities of this vast country are made up of flat expanses of wood and agricultural land punctuated by congregations of shed-like buildings. Travel by land can therefore be a rather tedious affair. The Southern border region provides superb skiing and mountaineering and the Baltic coast on the opposite side of the country boasts beach resorts.


The official language is Polish, although most people will speak or at least understand Russian. Given the historical connotations of the latter, attempts to make conversation in Russian may not go down very well. At train and some bus stations there are “International Counters”, where foreigners can buy tickets. It is worth knowing that even if you speak fluent Russian, or even Polish in some cases, you will be refused service at all other counters.

Useful phrases – Djen dobry – good day. Prozje – Please. Dziekuje – Thank you.


Currency – Polish Zlotych. £1 to 5.75 Zl. $1 to 3 Zl. €1 to 3.9 Zl. see: www.xe.com for up to date information.


The climate is generally clement but also unpredictable. June to August are sunny on the whole, although rainfall is also at its highest in these months and thunderstorms are not uncommon. The winters are cloudy, severe and uninviting.


Having survived World War II almost unscathed, Krakow’s Baroque architecture, castles and cathedrals draw in thousands of tourists year-round. Within the city walls everything is pretty much geared entirely towards such visitors with street performers and dubiously expensive restaurants a-plenty. The town is magnificent, but the centre seems to lack the vibrancy of other cities, and could be judged as almost complacent in comparison. A stroll around the surrounding suburbs gives a more interesting impression of the city with its well stocked markets, red light areas and weightlifting emporiums. Those prepared to visit such a horrific site alongside other tourists who may not observe the level of respect deserved can make the day trip to Auschwitz.

Warsaw, the geographic, political and cosmopolitan centre of the country is rapidly embracing the colours, styles and pastimes disallowed in previous years. Strings of cafés line the newly built streets leading into the Old Town, a stroll around which is a rewarding blend of architectural styles. There are plenty of musky bars and restaurants to duck into where locally printed free guides outline what is available and cover a range of tastes. The Historical Museum charts the turbulent history of the city and its various inhabitants. In depth accounts of the darker and more emotive periods can be found at the Warsaw Uprising Museum and Powiak Prison. Monuments and exhibitions come and go at pace, the sheer flux giving Warsaw the edge in terms of art over other Central European destinations.

Gdansk – As well as providing a useful base from which to venture along the coast, this busy port is homeland of the Solidarity Trade Movement which led to the eventual fall of communism. Much of the city was destroyed in 1945 but has since been rebuilt. Apart from the shipyards themselves, some of the best discoveries can be made in the many museums.

A few hours by road from Krakow, Zakopane is the city for outdoor pursuits in Poland. Hiking, skiing, horse riding and rafting are all possible. A day trip into the Tatra Mountains can be made by chair lift or foot, although those wishing to explore the summits should go equipped with common sense and the right equipment.


The major cities have outlets for all high street labels and similar goods. Souvenirs such as dolls, amber, glassware flood the major tourist areas. Most supermarkets stock a huge range of vodkas and specialist shops provide quality brands at very reasonable prices.


The cities mentioned above all have a busy nightlife. Most of the larger restaurants play live music later on and it is not unusual for a bottle of spirits to be demolished once the food is done with. Clubs in central Krakow tend to have a very “European” style, playing chart music to travellers drinking warm, expensive drinks. Large bouncers parade such clubs making them seem relatively safe.

Backpacker hostels often organise pub crawls including an hour’s “free” drinking before a trawl round the most obvious clubs. A little perseverance to locate the more personal haunts is well worth the effort, especially in Warsaw. More specialist clubs are many and not hard to spot, though most of the punters go to watch, rather than partake, in the dancing.


Poland is serviced by a decent network of highways that make it comfortable for international visits and exploration within the country. Driving is on the right and the limits are 130kph and 60kph for Expressways and built up areas (with a limit of 90kph for anywhere in between). Blood alcohol limit is set reassuringly low at 0.02%. Seat belts are compulsory.

Food and Drink

Poland is not renowned for its food. Most dishes were designed to provide sustenance for a day in the field; high in carbohydrates and not much else. There are some tasty dumpling based treats however (pierogi for example), and decent less traditional food is readily available. Vodka is the national drink, but plenty of palatable beer and drinkable wine offer a more sociable alternative.

Tourist Information