Old Town Warsaw
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Poland Do’s and Don’ts of Travel

Last year, R, C and I did a little traveling through Poland. Below are a few do’s and don’ts from our experience there. The first “do” is, of course, go to Poland! After that, you can worry about the specifics below.

Krakow, Poland vacation travel spring
Spring is Krakow is a little chilly, but a whole lot of beautiful.

Do’s and don’ts of travel in Poland

DO:

Come prepared to learn.

DON’T:

Assume you already know everything you need to about WWII.

Unlike R, my knowledge of WWII is rusty at best. I expected I would learn more about the topic when we visited Poland. But I did not realize just how much. Poland is basically ground zero for WWII and almost everything you will do or see has been impacted by that event. Your time there will be full of moments that will both fascinate and shock you. And if you do it right, the experience will change the way you look at the world.

DO:

Visit Auschwitz.

DON’T:

Do anything else that day.

I knew Auschwitz would be difficult—and it was. What happened there is nothing short of horrifying. But I still feel it is a place everyone should try to visit if they have the chance. It is a powerful reminder of a time in history that should never occur again.

Because you are going to be emotionally drained after you visit Auschwitz, I would recommend you don’t plan on doing much else the rest of that day. Something light and easy would be best. We decided to take a little walk around the Jewish Old Town in Krakow. Not only did we enjoy the weather and the views, but it was so good to see that despite Hitler’s best efforts, Jewish folks are alive and well in Poland.

Plaque at Auschwitz Poland vacation travel
Never forget.

DO:

Eat at Wierzynek.

DON’T:

Wear your grubbiest clothes.

A coworker of mine is from Poland and she highly recommend we eat at Wierzynek in Krakow. The restaurant dates back to 1364. That kind of history is pretty incredible and it was a fun experience. However, for whatever reason, we opted to eat there on our first day in town—before we had had a chance to shower or change our clothes. This place is nice and it wasn’t until after we were seated that we started to feel a little self-conscience about how we were dressed. We were treated wonderfully by the staff. But it would have been a much more enjoyable experience had we smelled a little better.

Wierzynek restaurant in Krakow Poland vacation travel
The views and the food are both lovely.

DO:

Walk around and explore.

DON’T:

Sprain your ankle if you can help it.

We do a lot of walking when we travel and Poland was no exception. The Old Town in both Krakow and Warsaw are particularly delightful and it is a lot of fun to wander and take in everything around you. But be careful. Cobblestones are not ankle friendly, as our friend C discovered. On day 1, she hit a dip in the road wrong and sprained her ankle. She was a trooper that day and the rest of the trip. But it was an issue for her the entire time we were in Europe. You’ll want to be very careful not to have an issue like that yourself.

This was also a good example of why you should carry a first-aid kit.

Old Town Warsaw Poland vacation travel
There is so much to see and explore.

DO:

Take public transportation.

DON’T:

Expect to understand what you are doing.

We took several buses while we were in Poland. We also took the train from Krakow to Warsaw. Each and every time, we had difficulty buying tickets, finding the bus or train stop, getting off at the right stop, etc. I actually wrote this in my travel journal: “Miraculously, we found the bus we were looking for.” Public transportation in a foreign country is one of the most challenging aspects of travel. But it can also be one of the most entertaining and educational.

Side note: it can also be the most affordable ways of getting from one place to another. It cost us around $1 to travel to the salt mines outside of Krakow. On that particular bus ride, the old lady sitting next to R was nice enough to “tell” us where to get off. She did not speak English but gestured to us to get off the bus. Obviously, she knew where we tourists were heading! On the way back, another old lady gestured to us where to catch the bus. She could see we were headed the wrong way and thankfully steered us in the right direction.

DO:

Visit a salt mine.

DON’T:

Expect a quick trip.

Touring a salt mine was something several people recommended we do. So we said alright and made a plan to visit one near Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mines. It wasn’t until we were 380 steps below ground that we realized we would be there for several hours. Don’t get me wrong, it was a neat experience. But it was much longer than I expected. Like everything else in Poland, this salt mine was old and had a lot of history—I actually have a hard time believing I could learn so much about salt. But learn we did. You will see what I mean if you ever have a chance to visit one.

Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow Poland vacation travel
A unique experience.

DO:

Eat a bagel.

DON’T:

Worry about where you buy one.

Did you know bagels originated in Poland? I surely did not before I visited there. It was a lovely little fact to learn. And it was lovely eating them as well. We ate at a great little place in Krakow called Bagel Mama. It was here that I enjoyed a bagel burger—one of the best burgers I have ever had. You can also pick up a tasty bagel from any number of street vendors for super cheap (kind of like hot dogs in Chicago). I am pretty sure you cannot go wrong eating a bagel from anywhere in the country that invented them.

Bagel burger in Krakow Poland vacation travel food
A bagel burger is mmm-mmm good.

DO:

Try the pierogis.

DON’T:

Expect too much.

I apologize to anyone who loves this traditional Polish fare. It was not my favorite. I got tired of pierogis pretty fast and in fact, I did not want any sort of ravioli/dumpling for months afterwards. But I am still glad I ate them while I was there. You should definitely give them a whirl.

pierogis in Warsaw Poland vacation travel food
Local cuisine: pierogis.

DO:

Go to the grocery store.

DON’T:

Stay in your comfort zone.

We’ve said it before and I am sure we will say it again: we love shopping at grocery stores in foreign countries. It is just so much fun to see what other people eat. And groceries in Poland are cheap. Like really cheap. Even if you are not planning on cooking any meals, I still say you go browse and maybe pick up a snack or two.

DO:

Explore the cities and all they have to offer.

DON’T:

Forget the countryside.

Krakow is awesome. There is really no other way to explain it. And although Warsaw is bigger and more spread out, it also has a lot to offer. You could spend a lot of time exploring just these two cities. But the countryside is definitely worth a visit. We managed to get out a bit and see a bit of said countryside—especially when we took the train from Krakow to Warsaw. Poland is a good-sized country by European standards and its scenery has quite a bit to offer.

DO:

Go to the museums.

DON’T:

Try to visit them all.

Given the history in Poland, it is not surprising that there are a lot of museums. But honestly, unless you are spending a lot of time there, you are going to have to pick and choose. In Warsaw, we visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum. I felt it was very well done and well worth a visit. R and C tried to visit the Science Museum, but it was full (that was the first time I had heard of that happening).We also toured the palace and visited the local zoo. R had read a story about the zookeeper and his wife during WWII, so we decided to go see their house. It was a nice zoo, if you like zoos. What I liked most was the lack of tourists. It was also pretty funny to note the differences in safety measures between U.S. zoos and this one. We were very close to the lions.

There was a lot more we could have done, but we had a limited amount of time. The places we visited were all very interesting as well as educational. Honestly, most of the museums in Poland could probably be described as interesting as well as educational. And like the rest of Poland, the hardest part is going to be deciding where to go.

palace Warsaw Poland gold vacation travel
The palace in Warsaw.

Conclusion

Poland is a country rich in history. Emotionally, it may not be the easiest place to visit. But it is a fascinating place and one I definitely recommend.

Poland travel vacation
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