PHOTO: The Old Town portion of gorgeous Warsaw. (photo via Flickr/Gabriela Fab)
In a few months, Americans will be heading off to Europe in droves, and why not? With so much to see and do – and all within close proximity – spending a summer break touring the major European capitals is on most people’s bucket lists.
But you’re not most people.
You want something extraordinary.
Something that will earn you bragging rights straight through to next summer.
Welcome to Poland.
It’s never been easier to visit some of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
And you’re in luck because the Poland National Tourist Office has joined Signature Travel Network as a Preferred Destination. What’s more, LOT Polish Airlines is now operating nonstop flights between Los Angeles and Warsaw, meaning the splendors of Poland are within easy reach for West Coast travelers (direct flights from Chicago to Krakow start July 2) looking for a vacation they will never forget.
Much of Poland’s beauty can be attributed to the juxtaposition of Old World charm and modernity, but that would be ignoring its many natural wonders. Blessed with the Baltic Sea to the north, the River Oder on the west, the River Vistula running through the center of the country, and the Tara Mountains to the south, Poland offers nature lovers endless forests and mountains to explore.
READ MORE: See Poland By Rail
But it’s in its cities that visitors can really learn to understand the Poles and their rich history.
Warsaw, as the capital city, is a natural jumping off point for any exploration. While the city was basically destroyed in World War II, it has been faithfully and painstakingly restored so that visitors today can experience the city much as it was with smatterings of modern architecture mixed in.
Visitors to the city will want to take a day to stroll through the Old and New Towns, where they can explore quaint streets and shops before treating themselves to a pastry from a café along one of the city squares – and sitting back to enjoy one of the many musical and theatrical performances that take place each summer. For lovers of all things regal, the Royal residences are definitely worthy of a visit. Be sure to include the carefully restored Royal Castle on your itinerary, as well as the Muzeum Lazienki Krolewskie and the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów. Other must-see attractions include the Palace of Culture and Science, which stands as a stunning example of Socialist Realist architecture (the view from the 30th floor is rather impressive as well).
To get a sense of the Poles' resilience during World War II, head over to the Warsaw Rising Museum, which offers nearly 1,000 exhibits and 1,500 photographs and films that tell the difficult story of Poland’s occupation and subsequent communist rule. Music lovers will want to follow in the footsteps of Frederick Chopin, who spent his first 20 years in the city. And when night falls, head over to The Vistula with its pedestrian streets filled with numerous clubs and bars.
Beyond Warsaw lies a feast for the senses as visitors will discover. For nature lovers, choices abound: Head north to the Great Masurian Lakes, where boaters can try their hand at sailing and kayaking in between visits to Gizycko and Mikolajki, or visit the Bialowieza National Park, which is home not only to Europe’s largest original-growth forest but herds of European bison.
Hikers and skiers will want to visit the Carpathian Mountains which mark the border between Germany and the Ukraine, and are nothing short of majestic.
For those looking for a city vibe, Gdansk is a striking seaport in its own right and was the birthplace of Poland’s anti-communist movement in the 1980s. Kraków, meanwhile, does an excellent job of preserving its medieval glory in contrast to its burgeoning hipster scene.