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A Polished Summer :5-day itinerary of Poland

If you’ve spent enough time on Instagram, you’ve no doubt come across the caricature titled “every European city”, a whimsical hand-drawn map showing an ancient cathedral, ancient castle that’s now a museum, ancient river, not-so-ancient downtown with all the pubs, restaurants and shops, and suburbs where ancient people live.

Poland’s towns live up to that image, and then some. So many stories to hear, not only in the heart-breaking history captured in every brick, but also in the simplicity of its fields, small towns, quiet mountains and shimmering highways.

Renting a car in Poland

We did a 5-day road trip through Poland. Car rental is simple and efficient- there are plenty of vendors at the International Airport in Warsaw. It is advisable to reserve in advance, to make sure you get exactly what you want. International driving permits are required. If your itinerary permits it,  pick up and return your car in the same city, to avoid extra charges.


Main streets of Warsaw

First established as a small fishing village in the 1300s, Warsaw grew into a flourishing center for trade and culture, through the centuries leading up to the World Wars. The Old Town is a testament to the city's ability to rise from the ashes. Destroyed during World War II, it was meticulously reconstructed using paintings, old photographs, and other historical documents.

The best way to explore the Polish Capital is by foot. If you have just half a day to spend in Warsaw, head to the Royal Way, a historic 2km stretch through the heart of the town, cutting across some of the most important landmarks – castles, palaces, churches and culminating at the Old Town city square.

One of the best views of the city, is from the top of St Anne’s church. The view of the thin, ribbon like Vistula River sparkling on one side, and the colourful town square on the other against a setting sun, is well-worth the nausea inducing spiral stairway of 100(150?200?) steps.

View of the town center in Warsaw from St Annes tower

Warsaw was home to Chopin, for the first 20 years of his life. The city celebrates his legacy, not just through museums and monuments, but also by making his music accessible.  Look out for Chopin Benches in Town Square. On first look, they appear like ordinary benches with black marble slabs. On closer inspection you will discover that the slabs are inscribed with titbits about Chopin and feature a button that plays a piece from the maestro’s works.

If you have more time, explore the rooftop gardens of the University Library, or go on a quest to find some of Europe’s last remaining gas streetlamps. First erected in the 1800s, some of the lamps have been preserved to this day. The neighborhood of Saska Kepa is perfect for an evening in Warsaw – an area that escaped modernization and retains an old world, pre-war charm, and is bustling with restaurants, shops, and traditional workshops.


300 km to the east of Warsaw, is the patchworked-rainbow town of Poznan. The most striking feature of the town are the rows of merchant houses wearing vibrant and varied façades, bright and striking like glittering guests at a Bollywood Awards night  

Make sure to bake in a stop at the Croissant Museum. This lovely heritage building is dedicated to a very special variety, the St Martins croissant, the baking of which dates back to the 1800s. Decadent flaky buttery goodness, stuffed with white poppy seeds, almonds and raisins, and folded 81 times over - the recipe is protected by law, it MUST be made in a very specific way and only by those licensed to do so.

Another endearing legend is the one behind the city’s informal mascot – a pair of dueling goats. If you’re near the Town Hall, you will see a group of tourists waiting patiently for the clock to strike the hour, with their phones pointed upwards. Presently, a pair of 300-year-old metal goats make their way out of the clock tower and proceed to butt horns and duel. Legend has it, when the town center was being constructed and the townspeople were preparing for a big public feast, a pair of Billy Goats were spotted dueling atop a hill (by some versions, the very goats that were intended to be… err.. part of the feast). The mayor was so amused, that he insisted this memory be immortalized by installing this mechanical monument.



Wroclaw wasn’t part of our original itinerary. We set out on a 6-hour drive from Poznan to the resort town of Zakopane, and when we started looking for lunch pitstops, resourceful Google, suggested Piwnica Swidnicka – one of the oldest restaurants in Europe, in Wroclaw. Once run out of the cellar of the Town Hall in the 13th century, the restaurant today offers warm, wholesome, Polish fare. We tried a cauliflower steak,  grilled fish and my personal highlight of 2023 (Ok top 3) blueberry pierogi – sweet, sour blueberries packed into soft dumplings,  tossed in a light cream sauce.

Jostling with this restaurant as the reason for putting Wroclaw on the map, are the Gnomes. Believed to have started as a proxy for residents to protest against the local establishment in the 1980s, the phenomenon has taken on a life of its own since then. Today there are hundreds of gnomes in varying sizes throughout the town. You can go on a little treasure hunt and see how many you can find. Some are hilarious in their irony, like the one astride a pigeon, comfortably sitting amidst bird spikes, or scaling a lamp post some are topical, like one posing as the Statue of Liberty outside the American corner.

The Passage - Bronze figurines appearing to sink into the pavement and rising from the other side of the road, Wroclaw


Poland stretches from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Tatra mountains in the south (Anyone else find this strangely upside down?). The drive from Wroclaw towards the south of Poland, is stunning in the summer. In a few short hours the terrain changes from flat, green fields shoulder-deep in grain crops, to thick forests and mountain pine scrub.  

Zakopane , right at the foothills of the Tatra Range, is the picturesque gateway to the Tatra National Park. The park has almost 300 km of trails for visitors from easy hikes, challenging climbs, to pet-friendly walks. The trails are well marked, start early to beat the crowds.


Last stop Krakow. Its hard to spend time in Krakow without feeling the weight of its history. Despite the colour and vibrant effervesence of the city, tombstones of stories are everywhere -Tombstones of crucial lessons in human history, that 70 years later are quickly vanishing.

Spend a day in Kazimierz - Before the war, Kazimierz was a vibrant center of Jewish life, culture, and commerce. The district was home to the ethnic Polish and Jewish community, and its streets bustled with synagogues, schools, and thriving businesses. Today the area has been restored, paying homage to its original inhabitants. Stop by Szeroka Street, where old shop fronts have been tastefully preserved, and explore the town center, tightly packed with libraries, galleries, and cafes.

Kazimierz is where a good portion of Schindler’s List was filmed. If you have half day to spare, visit the Oskar Schindler enamel factory, that now functions as a museum. It’s a wonderfully curated narration of the decades adjacent to the second world war, in a solemn interplay of sights, sounds and textures.

Stop by the market square – Rynek Glowny, where centuries old architecture forms the foundation for local trade. A short walk from here is the Royal Castle of Krakow, built of Wavel Hill, home to a medley of royal dynasties that rules over the area, reflecting in the mix of architectural styles of the fort.

Kazimierz - Jewish quarter Krakow

If you have longer than 5 days to spend, consider visiting Auschwitz from Krakow, or head further out to visit historic jewels like Gdansk on the Baltic Sea, or Lodz. It is easy to get around in most parts of Poland, although if you are driving, you must be very careful about parking in the right zones at the right time. Vegan and vegetarian food is easily available and affordable, although if you don’t like potatoes, you may have a bit of a problem (and honestly a bit of personal problem with me as well!!). Folks are warm and welcoming, in their own reserved charm. It is not common as in other part of Europe, or the USA for people to grin at you for no reason or make small talk, but if you need help, recommendations, or a quick breezy chat, you will find an obliging ear. On a side note, look out for the road signs, I promise you they will keep you entertained no matter how long your drive may be!


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