A journey through history
For an interesting holiday filled with plenty activity, head to Poland. The country is also sadly famous for its Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. But that’s not all Poland has to offer. Castles, museums as well as ancient burial grounds of royalty and heroes. You will be blown away by the sites, history and traditions of the Polish.
For a different experience of Poland, take a boat tour of the Elblag Canal where boats are actually carried on rail cars to make their way through the canal. History fanatics should visit Wolf’s Lair, the site where Adolf Hitler was almost assassinated by a bomb in a suitcase. The room used for Operation Valkyrie is still intact.
Poland will keep you on your toes throughout your holiday. Get your map book out and head into the various cities where you will create the best memories.
Things to do in Poland
- Wieliczka Salt Mine: Enter the spooky world of a salt mine with about 300 kilometres of chambers on various levels underground that will leave you in awe. Mining here started in the Middle Ages and still continues to this day. A World Heritage Site, the mine is filled with chapels, monuments, caverns and salt rock carvings. There are also stunning lighting displays. Everything here is made of salt! It’s quite fascinating to walk the various chambers. About 22 chambers within the mine are open to the public. Check out the impressive museum where you will see ancient mining equipment. There is even a sanatorium located 135 metres below the ground for people who suffer from asthma and allergies. When your tour is done, take the mine lift back to the surface. Wear comfortable shoes when you tour the mine. The tour itself is about 2 kilometres. This a must-see attraction on your visit to Poland and a fantastic way to spend a day.
- St Mary’s Basilica: The original church build was destroyed in the 13th century and then rebuilt in 1320 in true Gothic style. Most noticeable are the church’s 15th century towers. The impressive wood-carved altarpiece is the highlight of the church’s interior. It took 12 years to complete and is characterized by scenes from the life of Christ. Around the altar are paintings from Polish artists. If you’re here, you will hear a bugle sound from the tallest tower at the turn of each hour. Beautiful stained glass windows, one of which is said to be designed by Picasso will enrich your experience of this ornate church. Look up when you’re touring the interior and admire the huge high ceilings. The church also boasts some 300 ancient vestments. Don’t miss this attraction in Krakow.
- Wawel Cathedral: This stunning castle is located in Krakow and is the coronation ground and burial place of Polish royalty and national heroes. The present building was completed in 1364. The art found in the cathedral is from Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque periods. In the centre of the cathedral is the mausoleum of St Stanislav, the patron saint of Poland. Pope John Paul II also served at this cathedral as the Archbishop of Krakow. There are also a number of royal tombs within the cathedral. Eighteen side-chapels surround the magnificent cathedral. Climb the tower and get a glimpse of the large Sigismund bell. You don’t want to miss a visit to the Sigismund Chapel as it’s considered the finest Renaissance chapel north of the Alps. Don’t forget to go down into the St Leonard’s Crypt. Guided tours of the cathedral are available.
- Royal Castle – Wawel: This marvellous castle serves as a museum today. But during the 16th century is was the centre of Polish politics. The Gothic architecture will appease any history buff. It’s interesting to note that the castle was even used as a military hospital and served as Nazi headquarters in World War 2. The castle’s arcade is well preserved to this day. When you take a tour of the castle you will find rare items, exquisite halls and priceless art. The castle also houses a fantastic collection of Flemish tapestries.
- Old Town Warsaw: The town dates back to the 13th It was completely destroyed in World War 2 and later rebuilt. You will find restaurants and souvenir shops when you make your way through this World Heritage Site. See if you can spot the Warsaw Mermaid that’s been in the Old Town since 1855. Walk over to the King Zygmunt III Waza, which is the oldest non-church monument in Warsaw. Don’t miss a visit to Old Town Warsaw.
- Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum: This is the site of the well-known concentration camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau. The museum is dedicated to the people who were murdered here during World War 2. This was also the largest German Nazi concentration camp. Touring the museum can be quite a sad experience as you relive the horrors the Jews went through. There are 13 prison blocks at Auschwitz which house exhibitions. Birkenau had over 300 prison houses. Climb the tower at the entrance to Birkenau and get a full view of this eerie place. A visit to the site is not for the faint hearted, but it’s something to see if you are into history.
- Majdanek National Museum: Located in Lublin, another concentration camp also emanates the atrocities of World War 2. Some 60,000 Jews were killed at the camp. There are various outdoor and indoor exhibitions here. The outside barracks are well preserved and you will even get to go into a crematorium – quite an experience. Also read stories from prisoners and information about the extermination of the Jews.
- European Solidarity Centre: The museum is dedicated to the Solidarity movement from Poland’s post-war fight for freedom in the 1970s, 19080s and later years. A visit here offers an interactive experience with artefacts, media boards and even an old shipyard. Allocate at least 2 hours to visit the museum. There are also a number of Polish exhibitions at the museum. Make your way through an interrogation room and an old living room.