Southern Poland – not only Cracow

Kraków (Cracow) is Poland’s most popular tourist destination. It’s quite understandable given convenient flight connections, beautiful architecture and historic heritage of that city. But while planning your trip to Cracow, you should consider visiting the nearby region of Silesia. We recommend you 3 cities: Wrocław, Katowice and Opole.

Wrocław – the capital of Lower Silesia – is often referred to as the Polish Venice. It’s a vibrant city with lots of good restaurants and bars, an important university (which makes it a very young city) and a stunning architecture. 65% of Wrocław’s buildings were destroyed at the end of WWII and today we can admire the old town’s faithful reconstruction, including the Town Hall and numerous churches. Some of them (including the cathedral) offer a viewing terrace on top of their towers, don’t miss this opportunity (if you are fit enough!). From above you will marvel at the beauty of this city situated on Odra river. It’s best to spend at least 2 days in Wrocław, so you don’t miss the most important sites and attractions:

  • The Old Town market square
  • The Cathedral Isle (Ostrów Tumski)
  • The Synagogue (the district of 4 religions)
  • Panorama Racławicka (a monumental cycloramic painting from the 19th century)
  • Hala Targowa (contemporary market hall)
  • Wrocław Zoo (and especially Afrykarium)

Opole is a smaller town (1 hour from Wrocław by train), mostly known for the festival of Polish song that has been organized here for many years. However, Opole has much more to offer and makes a perfect 1-day trip destination from Wrocław. It’s also situated on Odra river, which makes it very picturesque. We recommend you visit Baszta Piastowska (Piasts’ Tower) for a marvelous view from the top of it and have a walk along Młynówka canal. If you have time and energy- don’t hesitate to rent a bike and visit the Isle of Bolko with its natural reserve.

In the lower Silesia you will find beautiful old castles, the most famous and the largest are in Książ, in Moszna and in Niemodlin.

Another idea is a trip to Katowice (2 hours by train from Kraków). The capital of the Upper Silesia is a perfect example of successful revitalization of the former coal mining area and its transformation into a cultural and conference zone. A region which is traditionally associated with coal mining and heavy industry is gradually becoming a leader in innovation and new technologies.

10 km from the center you will find Nikiszowiec settlement, established 102 years ago for coal miners and their families. The settlement, now entered on the list of Monuments of History, is the background of many films on Upper Silesia. If you want to see how miners and their families lived in at the beginning of the 20th century and if you like industrial style, don’t miss this place! Stay there for lunch and try local specialties!

If you have time, I strongly recommend you visit Muzeum Śląskie – the Museum of Silesia. Established on the site of the former Katowice coal mine, it marks the so-called Culture Zone together with the seat of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and the International Congress Centre. For the price of 12 PLN (3 EUR) you can visit several interesting exhibitions: The Gallery of Polish Art 1800-1945, The Gallery of Polish Art after 1945, The Gallery of Non-Professional Art, The Gallery of Silesian Religious Art, The Light of History – Upper Silesia over the ages and a presentation of the most significant achievements of European theatre from antiquity until the contemporary times.

The Light of History – Upper Silesia over the ages tells you a captivating story – the one of Upper Silesia and its people. The industrialization and its price – devastation of natural environment, hardships of daily life. On the other side – fortunes of mine owners. In 1918 Poland regains its independence and Upper Silesia is claimed by both Poland and Germany. The Polish inhabitants organize a series of armed uprising against German rule. Finally, the people of Silesia have to decide, by means of a plebiscite, to which country they want to belong and the region is divided. You will also find out a lot about life under communism and strikes organized in the coal mines.

Christmas in Poland – what to expect? 10 most important things about Polish Christmas and useful tips

Let’s say you decides to spend Christmas in Poland. Wouldn’t it be good to know something about Polish Christmas traditions? The first thing you need to know is that for the vast majority of Poles Christmas is a family holiday, which means that in the countryside and in smaller towns everything will be closed and streets will be rather empty on the 24th of December after 2 pm. Some life will come back to the streets shortly before midnight when families go to church (yes, the midnight mass is very popular). On the 25th of December you can expect a few restaurants and cafés to be open, but only in the largest cities and only in the touristy places. December 26th is also a bank holiday, but after 2 days spent with your closest family you would rather go out, meet with friends, go for a walk or for a drink, so more and more places reopen.

What should be your conclusion after reading the information above? First of all, if you are not staying in a hotel, make sure to buy some basic stuff before Christmas (most shops will stay open until 2 pm on the 24th of December). Remember that it gets dark after 15:30, so it’s better to start sightseeing early. After it gets dark you can enjoy beautiful illuminations. The most attractive cities to come for Christmas are Warsaw, Cracow, Wrocław and Gdańsk. In all of them you will find wonderful Christmas markets (the biggest one is organized in Wrocław). These markets are a good opportunity to try Polish specialties from all over the country. On December 6th lots of activities for children are organized.

If you have Polish friends, you may get invited to spend Wigilia (solemn dinner on December 24th) with them and their family. In that case, you should definitely read the tips below.

10 things you should know about Polish Christmas traditions:

  1. On Christmas Eve that day Poles don’t eat meat (only fish is allowed).
  2. Dinner starts quite early (when the first star appears on the sky, so around 4 pm) and lasts for a long time. There are 12 different dishes are served, so it’s best if you don’t eat anything during the first part of the day!
  3. Everyone must eat or at least try some of each dish. For Catholics the 12 dishes symbolize Jesus’s 12 disciples.
  4. Don’t be surprised if you see someone having a serious conversation with their pet, especially at midnight, when animals are believed to be able to speak.
  5. One of the most important dishes is “barszcz” (beetroot soup) and it’s obligatory to have it. If you really hate it, you can eat mushroom soup instead! The barszcz may be eaten with “uszka” (little dumplings with mushrooms) or “krokiety” (pancakes with mushrooms or/and cabbage, in breadcrumbs, fried on oil or butter).
  6. If you come early enough, you may find a fish swimming in the bath. This horrible tradition (I try not to be judgmental, but can’t accept this cruel practice) of having carp as the main dish is not very old and requires you to buy the fish alive and kill it by yourself at your place shortly before serving the dish. Fortunately now it’s starting to change and more and more people just buy a fillet of carp instead.
  7. At the beginning of the meal, a large wafer biscuit called an ‘Opłatek’, which has a picture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus on it, is passed around the table and everyone breaks a piece off and eats it. Sometimes a small piece may be given to any farm animals or pets.
  8. A place is often left empty at the meal table, for an unexpected guest. Polish people say that no one should be alone or hungry, therefore if someone unexpectedly knocks on the door they are welcomed (try it!).
  9. Sometimes straw is put on the floor of the room, or under the tablecloth, to remind people that Jesus was born in a stable or cow shed.
  10. Presents are brought by “Święty Mikołaj” (St Nicholas/Santa Claus), although in the east you may hear about “Dziadek Mróz” and in western and northern Poland – about “Gwiazdor”, the Starman. The starman is not always all-good – if you didn’t behave yourself, you may get a “rózga”, a birch-rod that should be used on bad person!

How to travel around Poland?

Train – is it the best way to travel around Poland?

For many years the abbreviation PKP – Polish State Railways was considered by Polish travelers as a synonym for delays, old and dirty trains that often broke in winter, unpredictability. Not to mention the crowded railway stations and the lines to the ticket offices…

Those times are now gone and I strongly recommend you to travel around Poland by train for at least 3 reasons:

  1. Polish trains are reliable and fast

Today Polish train companies offer very convenient connections between the main tourist destinations. The trains run by Intercity, such as Pendolino, are fast, punctual and comfortable. It will take you no more than 2 hours and 30 minutes to get from Warsaw Central Station to Cracow Central Station and around 3 hours to get to Gdańsk from Warsaw.

Intercity tickets can be booked online at https://www.intercity.pl/pl/

Remember: the earlier you book, the less you pay!

It’s also good to know that you will pay less and travel more comfortably on a Saturday than on a Friday or a Sunday.

As for other train companies, such as TLK or Polregio, they also offer a good service. In many cases TLK trains are almost as fast as Intercity trains, but the tickets are much cheaper! The only inconvenience is the fact that they have traditional compartments and you have less leg space.

Polregio trains are a good option if you have more time and plan to explore rather than hop from one big city to another. Here you will find their connections maps. The trains are modern and the prices are very affordable.

  1. You get to see much more than in a car or a bus

It’s true that the highways let you travel fast from one town to another, but you miss a lot. The view offered by the train window is much more interesting than concrete and sound screens. You get to see a little bit of the countryside, railway stations in small villages (where your fast train doesn’t stop of course) and the modern architecture of the most important stations such as Cracow, Poznań, Łódź.

  1. Polish trains are more and more environmentally-friendly

PKP Intercity have in their fleet Pendolino, PesaDART and FLIRT3 trains, which have been designed as environmentally-friendly trains and are built from eco-friendly materials that can be recycled.

The Polish railway timetable can be found at www.rozklad-pkp.pl/en

When is it worth traveling around Poland by bus?

When you are on a budget, check the offer of the Polish bus companies such as Flixbus, Polbus (not available in English) and Neobus. Flixbus is the most popular and offers a great deal of national and international connections. In Warsaw though it’s often much less convenient than the train because you need to get to Młociny or Warszawa Zachodnia bus stations to take the bus, so don’t forget to check the place of departure and arrival before buying the ticket!

Łódź Fabryczna station:

Spend an evening with Frederic Chopin

  • Take a walk in Chopin’s footsteps!
  • Visit the places where Chopin lived with his family!
  • Listen to Chopin’s music during the walk!
  • Taste the drink Chopin drunk to improve his health!
  • Enjoy 1-hour concert in a beautiful music salon!

During this tour you will find out where Chopin’s heart is, where he lived with his family, where he played the organ every Sunday and where he spent free time with his friends. We’ll talk about the ladies he loved and about his life in Paris. You will also have a chance to taste a very special drink he drunk to improve his health. The tour will end in a music salon (in a place where Chopin gave a few concerts) where you will spend the rest of the evening enjoying 1-hour recital performed by an exceptional artist.

Book the tour and enjoy this memorable experience!

Start of the tour at 17:30 next to Copernicus Monument in Krakowskie Przedmieście Street

Price:    39 EUR/person

Discounts for children and groups of more than 5 people

Tickets for the concert are included!

Contact us to book your tour: office@polishwonders.pl