Poland might be one of the most underrated countries in Europe. Not too many travelers make it further east than Prague or Vienna, and if they do, it’s usually straight down to Budapest or Greece. Leaving Poland off your Euro-trip itinerary is a big mistake. This Eastern European country is full of gems to be explored. Best of all, it’s very budget-friendly for my fellow backpackers. I first went to Poland as summer in Western Europe was taking its toll on my wallet. I saw that hostels in Krakow were a tenth of the price as hostels in Paris, so I completely readjusted my plans and went to Gdansk instead.
It took a couple of days to find my footing, but once I did, Poland won me over. This country has a rich history, diverse cultures, and a wide variety of adventures. Whether you like city-hopping or prefer to find yourself lost in the Tatra Mountains, Poland’s a great choice. Train and bus travel in Poland is reliable and efficient, so it’s quite easy to get from place to place. Two weeks should be enough to give you a good taste of the country, although you’ll definitely want to come back.
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Things To Know Before Going to Poland
Poland is an interesting European destination. At times, it feels akin to Western Europe. Other times, the cultural differences present themselves in bold ways. Poland is a great place to visit if you want to dip your toes into Eastern Europe. Here’s a few things to know before going.
Currency and Money
The currency of Poland is the zloty. Despite being part of the European Union, they have yet to adopt the Euro as the official currency. There are money exchanges throughout the cities if you’d like to switch your dollars or Euros into Polish zloty. Otherwise, ATMs are abundant and you should have no issue withdrawing money. Make sure to have cash on hand if you plan on visiting smaller, more remote towns and villages.
The official language of Poland is Polish, although English is widely spoken, especially in the big cities. The big cities are modern and typically have a younger population. Most young people in Poland will speak English. Tourist establishments and attractions will almost always cater to English-speaking tourists. In lesser-traveled parts of Poland, you might have issues with a language barrier. In touristy parts and big cities, you will have no problem at all.
Safety in Poland
Is Poland safe? Absolutely. I found Poland to be a very safe country. I visited many destinations in Poland and felt safe in all of them. Of course, exercise your normal caution and common sense should get you by just fine.
Refugee Situation in Poland
I visited many parts of Poland the summer after Putin’s war started. Since Poland is bordering Ukraine, many refugees fled to Poland. I was reluctant at first to visit, but the general sentiment I received from Polish people was that tourists and travelers are very much welcome. The money brought in by tourism can go a long way to helping Poland and Ukrainian refugees, so if you are planning to visit Poland, please do.
Oh, and before you head out, make sure to have good travel insurance handy while you’re off adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $45 a month.
And if you’re a backpacker on a budget, use Skiplagged to find the cheapest flights possible. It’s free to use and I’ve saved thousands of dollars on flights since I started using it religiously.
3 Days in Warsaw
The capital and largest city of Poland, Warsaw is the best place to begin your adventures. Fly in and plan on spending three days here. Warsaw’s a great place to find your footing in Poland. Explore the wide variety of museums, cycle along the Vistula River, and experience its many nightlife options. Take a few hours to explore the historic Praga neighborhood across the Vistula River, stopping by the Neon Museum and then do a vodka tasting at the Polish Vodka Museum.
The Warsaw Uprising Museum is one that can’t be missed. Warsaw was practically razed to the ground towards the end of World War II. This city that was home to 1.3 million people prior to World War II had only around 1,000 residents by the end of the Warsaw Uprising. Be sure to walk through the remnants of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Of course, Warsaw’s “Old Town” is another big attraction that can’t be missed. It’s actually the youngest Old Town in the world, having been entirely rebuilt after the war. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and easily the most picturesque neighborhood of Warsaw. Lazienki Park is another highlight. It’s home to some of the only remaining pre-war structures. Most of them are palaces and extravagant structures, so it’s another picturesque place for a stroll in Warsaw.
Once the evening rolls around, there are no shortage of places for a cheap Polish beer. The Interactive Pinball Museum is a unique place to have drinks and play some games while you get drunk. There are a few bars along the Vistula River which is popular once evening sets in. Inside the repurposed electric power plant (Elektrownia Powisle), you’ll find a food hall home to some cool bars. You’ll even find some bars on boats right on the river, like Barka.
Nowy Swiat Pavilions close to the city center is where you’ll find a number of small bars. It’s got a younger crowd and is popular among university students. Zagrywki is a fun bar that will keep you busy with some games like mini golf, air hockey, and others. During the summer, the Palace of Culture and Science is a popular area for people to just hang out on the big square. There are two bars there, Studio and Cafe Kulturalna, where you can go for drinks.
Three days should be enough to see the highlights of Warsaw, although you could realistically do them all in two days if you were strapped on time. Warsaw’s got a great vibe, though. It’s budget-friendly and immediately stood out as a great hub for digital nomads.
The Backpacker’s Complete Travel Guide to Warsaw
From Warsaw, take a train or a bus north to the Baltic Coast and the stunning city of Gdansk.
2 Days in Gdansk
Gdansk is part of a trio of cities, the other two being Gdynia and Sopot. Gdansk is where you’ll want to make your home base, though. Sopot is worth a trip from Gdansk if you want to check out what’s known as the Polish Riviera.
Of all the places I visited in Poland, Gdansk was the most beautiful. The architecture of Gdansk’s Old Town is picturesque, especially when viewed from one of the many towers that you can climb up. Take a stroll along the river for some gorgeous views and immaculate vibes. Head up to Sopot for a laid-back coastal atmosphere.
While I didn’t experience much of the nightlife, Gdansk is also a party capital of Poland. It’s a popular vacation spot among Polish people and other Eastern Europeans. Beer is cheap and delicious, and there are countless places to choose from if you want to grab a drink.
Gdansk is also home to quite a few museums, my favorite being the World War II Museum. It’s within walking distance from Gdansk’s historic Old Town, so take a walk along the river and check it out.
Once you’ve wrapped up in Gdansk, it’s time to head south.
Optional: 1 Day in Torun and/or 1 Day in Poznan
Personally, I prefer limiting my trips to visiting just a few cities and spending longer in each. However, Poland’s got a great public transportation system and it’s easy to visit cities for just a day or two. A few highlights that you can check out after Gdansk are Torun or Poznan. Torun is more historic and cultural. Poznan is more trendy and lively. The Medieval Town of Torun is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while Poznan is arguably the most progressive and modern city in Poland. I’d recommend squeezing in a day in Torun, and checking out Poznan if you have more time.
However, I found Poznan to be quite similar to Wroclaw. I preferred Wroclaw, and visiting both might be a bit redundant. Let’s head on down to Wroclaw.
1 or 2 days in Wroclaw
Wroclaw is a university town with a lively nightlife scene. It’s oozing with history and one of my favorite cities in Eastern Europe. It’s relatively quiet by day, and you won’t find too many tourists in this part of the country. One could walk around Wroclaw aimlessly for hours. The hundreds of dwarf statues scattered throughout the city keeps things interesting. It’s like a scavenger hunt trying to find them all.
It’s easy to spend a day or two here just chilling out, eating good food, and experiencing the lively nightlife scene. Have a drink at the Neon Side Gallery, a small square with a couple of bars surrounded by neon lights. It feels like a scene out of Blade Runner. It’s my favorite place in Poland to grab a drink.
Head down one street and you’ll find an alleyway lined with bars. It’s the party hub of Wroclaw, along with the few bars that can be found in the main market square.
Or hey, Wroclaw can be a good place to zen out before the storm that is Krakow. By default, I’d say Wroclaw is quite a serene destination. It’s full of beautiful architecture, peaceful parks, and a surprisingly good cafe culture. If you’re looking to party hard, I’d recommend saving it for Krakow.
4 Days in Krakow
Krakow was my personal favorite city in Poland. It’s as budget-friendly of a good time that you could ask for in all of Europe. The hostels here are the best in Poland, and even by Poland’s standards, very inexpensive. I stayed at Greg and Tom Hostel for about 15 euros a night, which included a massive free dinner and breakfast for the price. That place was always full, though. I eventually had to switch hostels and ended up at Little Havana Party Hostel. Breakfast and a free beer were included in the nightly rate of 7 euros a night. That’s a value that rivals anything you’d see in places like Vietnam or Bolivia.
If you’re looking to party, the hostels are where it’s at. The main party hostels host their own bar crawls for about 15 euros a night. Most of these include an hour of open bar where you could easily get your money’s worth in that first hour alone.
Krakow is lively, fun, and beautiful. I’d reckon it’s a top ten backpacker destination in Europe. It’s not just for backpackers, either. Krakow is filled with historical sites and culture. Krakow is home to the largest medieval town square in Europe. This is the main hub of the city, where you’ll find lots of restaurants, bars, and tourist attractions.
From Krakow, Auschwitz is an hour away. It is not an easy place to visit, but one that I think that everyone should visit once in their life. It’s hard to truly grasp the reality of what happened there until it’s staring you right in the face, in the form of piles of human hair, personal belongings, and portraits of the victims. And even then, one can only imagine a fraction of a fraction of the 1.3 million lives that were lost there. It’s truly a heartbreaking and life-changing experience.
Auschwitz is free to visit, although I’d recommend paying for a guided tour.
Also close to Krakow are the Wieliczka Salt Mines. It takes 40 minutes by public transport to reach the small town of Wieliczka. The highlight of this town is the still-functioning salt mine that dates back many centuries ago. The guided tours last about an hour, followed by some free time to explore the salt mines on your own. The tour ends 130 meters underground and you will run into highlights such as a salt cathedral, turquoise pools, and a multitude of elaborate salt sculptures.
The Backpacker’s Guide to Krakow, Poland
2 Days in Zakopane/Tatra Mountains
A little further south from Krakow, you’ll find the most beautiful part of Poland. Use the town of Zakopane as your home base. Whether you’re visiting in the summer for hiking or in the winter for skiing, Zakopane is an excellent home base for adventurers and nature-lovers. Be sure to stay at Goodbye Lenin Hostel for cozy cabin vibes and a warm welcome to the mountains of Poland. In this part of Poland, you’ll find the Tatra Mountains, shared with Slovakia. It’s a hiker’s paradise, and can’t be missed if you love the great outdoors.
From Zakopane, continue your Eastern European adventures by popping down to Slovakia, a criminally underrated travel destination. The capital city of Bratislava is a nice place to visit, but the true gems can be found in central and eastern Slovakia. Small villages nestled in the mountains, lots of hiking opportunities, and the city of Kosice are some of the highlights of Slovakia outside of Bratislava.
If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by buying me a beer! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.