7 Popular Cities in Poland you must visit and a trip to Auschwitz

by Michael Gimm Holdensen

After a stop in Berlin, our first meeting with Poland was two weeks in Stettin (Szczecin). Here we had booked an apartment through Booking.com for one week but ended up staying there for two. Mostly because my back had been bothering me since we left home. Something that ended up being quite critical after a visit to a physiotherapist just before we left Ry. I tried to fix that in Szczecin with a combination of physiotherapy, acupuncture and massage. Fortunately, it helped to some extent.

A huge thank you to Marcin and Maciej from the Reha team and my acupuncturist Kozue Mikami, who I found through a Facebook group.

If you fancy images, then check out the images below this post. If you are into history like me, check out my post about the History of Poland.

Table of Contents

Homeschooling while traveling

In Szczecin, we got started at home school. Here the girls do math at the kitchen table.

Homeschooling of the kids

I started the post by complaining a bit about my back. Now I can add that the positive in all my back troubles is that I’ve been forced into daily exercise and stretching, and the girls have gotten off to a great start with homeschooling.

So far, I’m responsible for maths and Rie for Danish. Danes.dk, fortunately, structure the Danish lessons, so we make sure that the girls get around the syllabus well, and for maths, we have a teacher’s guide. My approach is to go through the book from start to finish, and each week we have a target to reach a certain number of pages.

Math, especially for Liva, has been focused on calculation rules and repetition in the first period. I feel that at school, she probably had to skip it a bit fast at times and may have written down what the peer came up with because she didn’t quite understand it. There are certainly a lot of questions from her, which is good, I guess. I have my doubts that she could have gotten all those questions answered in a class of 25. So it’s nice to sit with her and see that she’s slowly improving and understanding more and more of what she’s doing.

Emma is only in 3rd grade, so the level is not as high. Still, I think it sometimes is a bit too easy for her. That’s why she also does tasks from Matematikfessor. She practices the 1 to 10 tables among other tasks by singing them. Carla often sits next to her, and she will probably know them before she is four years old. At least she can sing the four times table now.

There’s a bias right now regarding the time girls spend in school, so we haven’t quite figured that out yet. It can also be challenging to activate Carla while the girls have to concentrate and we have to assist them.

Stettin city tour

Around Szczecin city by bike – past the cathedral, the riverside beach bar, and the funfair.

Stettin (Szczecin)

3 to 17 September.

As mentioned, we arrived in Szczecin as the first city in Poland, and because of my back, we have cycled a lot and unfortunately not walked much. Cycling around Szczecin is a somewhat different experience than in Berlin. There is a cycle path on one side of the road in some places, where you cycle in both directions and other areas on the pavement. Sometimes you even have to use the street where the cars drive. It has to be stated that we have not seen many doing that. Many parts of the city are hectic, and even though the car drivers seem very orderly, it doesn’t feel safe to cycle on the streets with the children.

Szczecin is a lovely city. There are many parks and playgrounds for the kids and a beautiful harbour area, including an artificial beach (no swimming) with a beach bar and a view of the city landmark. There’s also a small Tivoli with some amusements.

We went out to eat a few times, and it can be done relatively cheaply. The two best places, in my opinion, were Wyszak and Colorado Steakhouse. Wyszak brews their own beer, and Colorado makes excellent pasta, salad and, according to Emma, burgers. Probably steaks too. At Colorado, for example, we had two children’s menus, a Caesar salad and a pasta dish with sparkling water and still water for about 200 DKK.

One thing that has struck me is the number of kebab places and the Poles’ version of 7-Eleven, which they call Żabka. They are everywhere! If any of the readers here are into chilli kebabs, I can highly recommend a “Chili Rollo” from the chain “Berlin Döner Kebap”. It doesn’t leave many stomach bacteria in its wake. Liva said I had tears in my eyes after the first bite.

Władysławowo and Gdańsk in Poland

We stayed by the sea in Władysławowo and went on a day trip to Gdańsk to look at pastel-coloured buildings. Also, room for a little history lesson. The history lesson was limited to the “European Solidarity Centre” and the “Westerplatte” monument.

Władysławowo and Gdańsk

17 to 24 September.

After two weeks in the city, we needed fresh air. So we chose an Airbnb along the Baltic Sea in an area called Władysławowo, about 1.5 hours from Gdańsk. A small lovely holiday home, with parking in front of the door and some grass, a sandbox and a swing set in the garden. It’s nice to get out a bit when we’re not on the road, and in general, it’s great to park right in front of our accommodation when we need to haul all our stuff in and out.

One day we spent in Gdańsk, where we walked around the old town and looked at beautiful pastel-coloured houses and some historical monuments. Gdańsk is undoubtedly a beautiful city, and everyone who writes about Gdańsk loves the many options for delicious food, nightlife and more. As we are travelling on a budget and have children with us, we had to settle for a bit of window shopping and sightseeing instead, but that was fine too.

We also spent an entire day in Poland’s largest indoor water park, with many fun water slides. One of them ran under a shark tank, which was pretty cool. Another spun around on itself while you were sliding. The kids had a super fun day, and for us parents, it was also a nice place. Better than Tropical Island in Berlin if you measure entertainment value alone as well as value for money. We spent 400 DKK for all five of us for a whole day.

Toruń city walk

Around the stunning historic medieval city of Toruń. Here you’ll see both ruins and the most beautifully maintained houses – many dating back to the beginning of the last millennium.

Toruń

24 to 27 September

Toruń was one of the cities we didn’t expect much of. It was a medieval city we just had to see while we were there. Still, it’s probably the best experience so far at the time of writing.

We cycled into “Stare Miasto” (the old town) two of the days, and it was a very different experience to cycle around than, for example, in Szczecin. Good bike paths and pleasant and quiet surroundings. In the old town, we walked around on foot. It is not so far between the things that are interesting to see.

Toruń is a medieval city founded by an order of knights called the Teutonic Knights around 1233. Therefore, the town was built like a castle with a wall around the original town, still visible. Likewise, the buildings in the old town, in particular, are extremely old but also wonderfully maintained or restored. It’s stunning, and there’s so much exciting history here.

We wanted to get around and see it all, so we thought of buying tickets for a game via Tripadvisor called Undercover City Games. This way, we got the children involved in coming along and solving puzzles in the old town. Carla sat in Rie’s backpack for much of the tour, as she’s going through a phase right now where she doesn’t want to walk on her own. At least not without a fight.

If you are going to Poland, visit Toruń and the old town. Try Manekin, where you get the most delicious food and dessert pancakes if you are hungry. If you like pizza, we can also highly recommend Kolorowy Piec Pizza.

Białowieża primeval forest

Białowieża primeval forest

27 to 30 September

After the city break in Toruń, we drove almost 6 hours to the Eastern border, more specifically the Białowieża primeval forest. An area bordering Belarus and located in the largest remaining primeval forest. The idea of doing so was to take some good bicycle rides in the woods and at the same time have the opportunity to see bison, wolves, wild boars and many other animals.

It didn’t go quite as planned, as we couldn’t find anything (within our budget) for accommodation in Białowieża town itself. Instead, we found a cottage on a farm next to the forest 20 km away. It was a nice little place, but there were a lot of mosquitoes! And since all of us, except Rie, are plagued by mosquitos, we almost didn’t dare to go out after dark.

It was probably just as well, as more things were going on in the area than we had been aware of when we decided to go to Białowieża. We found this out on the first day of our trip when we had expected to go all the way to the Belarusian border. Two policemen (one masked) stopped us a few kilometres before the town, where they told us to go back. Due to the current refugee crisis between the two countries, Poland and Belarus, no tourists were allowed to enter the area. 

Belarus’s controversial president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, had allowed refugees from the Middle East to pass through Belarus to put pressure on the border with the EU, including Poland, after a dispute with the EU. Poland is not a big fan of refugees of any kind in their country, and the situation in the region was therefore rather tense.

The trip to Białowieża was therefore not quite as expected. The animals we saw were on a small reserve, and instead of cycling around the forest area, we drove around the smaller surrounding villages.

Orthodox churches Poland

Two fascinating Orthodox churches in the area of the primaeval forest. In general, we have seen mainly Orthodox churches here.

In this area, we looked at beautiful colourful wooden houses and churches. Unfortunately, the churches were closed, and I don’t think we could get in unless we were part of the “club”. All the churches we saw in the area were Polish Orthodox. 
The Orthodox denomination represents less than 2% in Poland and is centred in the east (originating from the Russian Orthodox Church). Therefore it is not something we have encountered before on our trip. 

One month has past

Here in Białowieża, we celebrated our first whole month on the road. One of the ways we did this was by evaluating with the children. Of course, we had slightly different priorities, but we were pretty much in agreement overall. We used the model below, and we will try to continue with it every 30 days.

  • What has gone well?
    • Water park with sharks
    • Time together as a family
    • Trying different housing forms 
    • Being active together
    • Bicycle rides
    • Sleeping in our VW California
  • What should we continue to do?
    • Water parks and amusement parks
    • Cycling and exercise
    • Be aware of how we spend our money
    • Help each other with the daily tasks
  • What should we stop doing?
    • Fewer meaningless discussions (Emma and Liva)
    • Stay places where there are too many mosquitoes…
  • What should we start doing?
    • Try to have a more regular school day, with more breaks
    • More time together “alone” with 1 child
    • The children need to be more involved in the meal plans

Based on the above, we agreed that we had to choose one thing each to focus on. It resulted in the following:

  1. Everyone should research the next place we travel to and find at least one place or one thing we need to experience.
  2. We will try to bring more structure to schooling.
  3. More time alone with each child.
  4. Stand atop a skyscraper.

Warszaw

Warsaw

30 September to 4 October

Warsaw is the capital of Poland and, with a population of 1.8 million, it is a pretty big city. When you consider that the city was almost razed to the ground (about 85%) when the Germans bombed it to pieces during World War II, it’s quite an impressive sight. The skyline at this place is impressive, with one bigger going higher than the other.

There’s a vibrant city life and plenty of temptations. It’s hectic, and if you’re visiting the Old Town, it makes sense to choose a weekday and preferably at the beginning of the day. We visited the old town twice. Once on a Saturday and once on a Monday morning. This applies to everything you do here. Most Poles don’t work Sundays, and especially in the bigger cities, they go out. Sunday is for sure the busiest day in town.

Also, forget about driving in the city centre. In many places, traffic is like something you see in Hollywood movies – like traffic in Manhattan. It’s a complete nightmare.
On the other hand, it’s super accessible by tram (remember to stamp the tickets you buy) and by bike. There are cycle paths most of the way, and with an APP showing cycle paths (e.g. Bikemap), it is relatively easy to drive to the right places. The routes are even entirely flat and therefore easy to cycle with children.

Warszaw city break

Much to see and do in Warsaw. Tour the “old” town, Copernicus science centre and view the city from the top of Stalin’s Palace of Culture.

Of the good places to visit with children in Warsaw, we can recommend a combined playground and trampoline park for the youngest and the slightly older children, respectively. It’s called Airo fun park and is a pretty cool place. We bought tickets for two hours, and that was sufficient. It cost 180 Polish złoty (about 300 DKK) for our three girls.

Emma had a wish to go up in a “very high” skyscraper. So we tried a Google search and came up with Varso Tower, which, at 310 metres, is said to be the highest in Europe. The observation platform, which is open to the public, is at a height of 230 metres. 
Unfortunately, it wasn’t finished until the end of 2021. Instead, we visited the second tallest building – the incredibly beautiful Pałac Kultury i Nauki, which is 237 metres high and has an observation deck on the 30th floor at the height of 114 metres. It was a pretty cool experience. The building was donated to the Polish people by Stalin in 1955.

We visited the Copernicus Science Center (named after the pride of Toruń and Poland, Nicolaus Copernicus) and the somewhat smaller Museum World of Illusion. At Copernicus, you can easily spend several hours whereas the second does not take much more than an hour. Both were quite entertaining – both for the kids and us adults.

Wrocław city

Another beautiful town with pastel-coloured houses – especially in the old town. Wrocław is a city with a robust economy and it has a lot to offer. Especially for students.

Wrocław

4 October to 7 October

Wrocław wasn’t even on our radar until we’d been in Poland for a few weeks. It was not until I joined a Facebook group where many said it was a MUST. We can easily see why now, as the city is something special. I’ve even read that many consider it one of the best places to live in all of Europe. 
However, we only spent a few days there and didn’t have much time for sightseeing.

With its approximately 640,000 citizens, the city is a popular place for young people and students. Their stunningly beautiful university has produced no fewer than 9 Nobel Prize winners. 
Wrocław is characterized by the river that runs through the area. It is crossed by more than 100 bridges and therefore often described as a Polish version of Venice.

The square or marketplace in the old town is enormous and one of the largest in Europe. There is a beautiful fountain in the middle of the square, which is said to be an experience in the evening hours between May and September. The fountain puts on a show with its 800 LEDs and 300 jets.

Our time in Wrocław was mainly spent cycling and doing schoolwork, so we were ready for Kraków, where a group of friends from Denmark visited us. We were lucky enough to have 27 degrees while walking around the old town one day.

Kraków old town square

Kraków

7 October to 12 October

In Kraków, our good friends from home, Morten and Lykke Schultz, and their children Anton and Asta, visited. 
Of course, it was not entirely quiet, and both we adults and the children had a lot of fun together.

Kraków is a stunningly beautiful city and has actually been the capital of Poland in the past. It is one of the few major cities in Poland that was not bombed by the Germans during World War II and was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1978. 
That, as well as its good geographical location, is probably why it is one of Poland’s most visited tourist destinations.

If you’re going to Kraków ( which you should), start by booking one of the many small “golf carts” you’ll find in the Old Town. We booked a car for each family and had a really nice tour with a Danish audio guide, as well as the guide’s additions in English.

With the golf cart you get a good guided tour of historic buildings, the Jewish ghetto, Schindler’s factory (Schindler’s List), the former Jewish quarter and much more.

Kraków city tour

There are a lot of great places to eat, and at many of the restaurants, it’s a good idea to make a reservation. We used Tripadvisor to find some but also got one recommendation from our guide for an Israeli restaurant, Hamsa Hummus & Happiness Israeli Restobar, in the Jewish quarter. If you want to try out a good Polish restaurant, then go for Restaurazja Szalone Widelce, where you can sample Polish specialities in abundance. Including a dish with four small bowls of soups and a plate of mixed Polish specialities.

Wieliczka saltmine

Emma tastes the wall of the salt mine that tasted of… salt. It was a long way down from the top of the stairs, and you couldn’t see the bottom.

Wieliczka saltmine (Kopalnia Soli „Wieliczka”)

Not far from Kraków lies Poland’s oldest salt mine. It has been active from 1200 to 2007 and is, like many other things in the Kraków area, listed as a UNESCO cultural heritage site.

We went on a guided tour with the Schultz family, which started with a staircase that went down almost endlessly, until we were in the mine itself. When we were at the deepest, we had moved 800 steps down or about 135 meters! Luckily there was an elevator that took us back up.

The mine contains a lot of history, and during your tour you will see salt cliffs and salt lakes and some giant dungeons that mostly resemble something from the Lord of the Rings movies (Mines of Moria). The mine is definitely worth a visit.

Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland

Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp (Auschwitz I and II)

Since the beginning of the trip to Berlin, we have had World War II as a topic to learn more about. Therefore, the last part about the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau (two camps close to each other) was also essential to include. Although it is very harsh. It is a 60 minutes drive from Kraków.

When you go here, there are some things to be aware of. Firstly, it is recommended that you are older than 14. You have to book tickets to get in, where the guided tours cost, but a tour on your own (possible after 3 pm) is free. The guided tour lasts 3.5 hours.
You can visit Birkenau (Auschwitz 2) all day. We chose the self-guided tour, and I feel it was the right choice as we got an impression of the camp and could talk calmly with the children about it.

The things that have happened here are beyond comprehension. The Germans experimented on the Jews and worked continuously to make their liquidations more effective. Among other things, how to kill the most Jews quickly and cheaply by gassing them. By the end of the war, the concentration camp could gas and cremate about 4,000 people a day.

By the end of the war, more than 1.1 million people had died in the Auschwitz camps. Of these, about 1 million were in Birkenau.

Auschwitz-Birkenau camp

Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, where over 1 million people lost their lives during World War II. The prisoners entered the camp by train, and the left side shows where they slept.

A lot of things from the visit made a deep impression. In particular, a barrack where German doctors and nurses stayed. The sign outside the barracks read, “In this barrack, SS doctors and nurses murdered newborn babies and their mothers by phenol injections “….

I’m glad we got to see the camp and that the girls learned the history, so they’ll never forget what happened at this place or that time in European history. But it’s not a place I want to visit twice.

Zakopane in the south of Poland

Zakopane

12 October to 18 October

After some fantastic days in Kraków and a very harsh experience in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, we arrived at our last stop in Poland – our apartment on the outskirts of Zakopane. Wow! What scenery! 

We had been looking forward to hiking in the fresh air and seeing more nature – and we were able to fulfil that wish here.

On the first day, we started with a 12 km walk to the Hala Ornak from a Parking space at the entrance to the area. Here we found out that if you want to go by car you have to pay to park, and if you’re going to walk a route in the Tatra Mountains, you have to pay a little to get in. We spent 25 PLN to park all day and 12 PLN to get in. It was a great hike, and it was “easy” to walk as it was pretty much straight ahead, without big climbs. If you’re in shape and don’t have a 3-year-old on your back, there are various trails you can take along the way on the hike.
On the hike, you walk in the valley along rivers and sheep, looking up at the mountains.

The next day we had a stroll in Zakopane city. In October and November, it is low season, as the ski season starts in December. From April to September, it’s hiking in the mountains. So there is always something going on, and there are many tourists. Especially from Kraków, as it takes no more than 2 hours to get here by car.

There are many options for people who want to hike, and there are pretty big differences in how difficult the routes are. We tried two easy routes, one of which you go by train to Gubałówka at an altitude of 1,123 metres and enjoy lunch in one of the restaurants with a fantastic view. We didn’t buy tickets in advance and got on almost without waiting.

Kasprowy Wierch Zakopane

View from the top of Kasprowy Wierch at 1,987 metres.

The second relatively easy tour we went on was pretty cool and something you MUST do when in Zakopane. It’s a cable car that runs from the outskirts of Zakopane to Kasprowy Wierch at an altitude of 1,987 metres. On top of the mountain, you almost have one foot in Poland and the other in Slovakia. Once you reach the top, you can hike up a bit further and experience the most stunning views. 
Remember to book tickets through the link above well in advance, otherwise, you’ll be queuing for hours at the lift.

Morskie Oko Zakopane Poland

The mountain lake “Morskie Oko”.

On the last day in Zakopane, we went out to Morskie Oko, a stunningly beautiful mountain lake. Apparently, so did everyone else, but luckily we had booked a parking space before we left, so we had a place to park when we arrived. As the walk is quite long and steep and the stretch up to the lake itself is not the most fantastic experience, we took a horse-drawn carriage. We were pretty happy with that. The ride from the parking lot and the final stretch to the lake still meant we covered 6 km. If we had walked the whole way, we could have added another 16 km.
The trip up was 50 PLN each, and so was the trip down.

We certainly haven’t seen everything worth seeing, and if you don’t have a 3-year-old girl on your back, you could easily find other incredible hikes. We managed the above and it can “easily” be achieved with children.

For now, this was 45 days in Poland and the next country is Hungary, where we will stay in Budapest with our grandparents.

What have we learned about Poland?

After 45 days in Poland, I think we can say that we are now a bit more educated about this amazing and underrated country.

What we take with us from our trip to Poland in terms of impressions and new knowledge is:

  • There are great roads everywhere.
  • You can buy vodka in abundance, but it is almost impossible to find red or white wine for more than 40 DKK a bottle. Likewise, vodka has as much shelf space as wine does.
  • Polish food is exciting and you should try their soups. For example, the one served in white bread (Żurek) and their potato pancakes (Placki). The latter is often served with goulash and tastes heavenly! 
  • There are mainly white people here and there doesn’t seem to be much room for diversity – especially when it comes to religion.
  • On Sundays, all shopping venues are closed and the majority of shops. However, all restaurants are open. Sunday is the worst day to go to a museum, restaurant (lunch) or amusement park with the kids. All the Poles are doing it as well.
  • It’s pretty cheap to live here. Nice accommodations on Airbnb and Booking for about 500,- per night for a family like ours. Even for short visits of 3-4 days. Food and restaurant visits are about 30% cheaper than in Denmark.
  • The cycle paths are of mixed quality. In many places, priority is given to cars and it is a good idea to have an app such as Bikemap. But it’s great to bring a bike.
  • If you don’t feel like cooking or going to a restaurant, it’s easy to order takeaway with e.g. Pyszne.pl. A meal for us including delivery could be arranged for about 120 DKK.
  • Poland is a country in transition and we could easily have spent much more time here. Poland also has a unique history and many interesting cities that contribute to its story.
  • If we had to recommend 3 different places to visit, it would be Zakopane, Toruń and Kraków. Then you’ll get magnificent scenery, a medieval town atmosphere and a good insight into Poland’s history.

If you’re thinking of doing something different from the familiar Western destinations, head to Poland. We promise you won’t regret it 😉

Also, remember to read the post: History of Poland. It’s pretty wild what they’ve experienced.

Polen

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4 comments

Christina Nielsen 18 October 2021 - 08:36

Tak for din spændende fortælling om Pole n.
Meget inspirende. Synes det er så fedt at I gir jeres børn/familie alle de spændende oplevelser. Det gir 1000 gange mere end at sidde i et fyldt og uinspirerende klasseværelse.
Spændt på at følge med i næste etape
Christina

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 18 October 2021 - 08:50

Tak for din kommentar Christina og dejligt du vil følge med 🙂

Reply
Arne Holdensen 18 October 2021 - 08:36

Hej Michael.
Du har ret i at det er langt. Men nu skal I jo lige i gang. Til gengæld spændende læstning.
Kortet under fanen planlægning giver en fin oversigt. Er det muligt, at forfine det, så læseren kan følge med på kortet når steder/byer beskrives??

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 18 October 2021 - 08:49

Tak for feedback Arne. Det med kortet må du lige uddybe når vi ses i Budapest 😉

Reply

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