Planning a week-long itinerary can be a challenge, but organizing a great one can turn a mere seven days into the trip of a lifetime. And now, thanks to Europe’s train system, getting from city to city has never been easier, which means you can experience even more of it in just a few days.
With its storied cities and breathtaking landscape, vibrant food scene and rich history, Poland is an ideal destination for travelers looking for a trip full of culture and beauty ― even if only for seven days. So, if you’re eager to plan an itinerary that will maximize your time, read on to learn how to spend a week in Poland!
Warsaw (one day)
No trip to Europe’s heartland is complete without a visit to Poland’s capital, Warsaw. Give yourself at least a day in Warsaw to explore the stunning streets and tap into the ever-evolving food and art scene. While in the city, be sure to take in the beauty of the Old Town ― or Stare Miasto. Like many cities in Europe, Warsaw was mostly destroyed during World War II, so the “old” in Old Town is somewhat of a misnomer; regardless, the Stare Miasto has been restored to its pre-war glory, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll through Old Town Market Square, or wander the alleyways that dart outwards from it ― no matter how you spend your time, the Old Town will greet you with charming restaurants and local boutiques lining the cobbled streets.
If you’re looking for great views of the city, make your way to the top of the Palace of Culture and Science, a symbol of Communist architecture whose twentieth-story observation deck boasts some of the best panoramic views in Warsaw. Despite the almost universal ire the building receives from locals , you really can’t beat the views from the top!
Lastly, be sure to incorporate a visit to Praga into your day in Warsaw. Over the course of the past few years, this district made a transformation from a gritty no-go neighborhood to a shabby-chic hub for arts, music, and food. Along the main street, ulica Ząbkowska, you’ll find lots of hip cafes, bars, and art galleries that will give you a glimpse of Warsaw outside the tourist bubble. Praga is located just east of the city’s Old Town, making it a perfectly doable jaunt while you spend a day in the capital.
Gdansk (two days)
Once you’ve had a chance to sightsee in Warsaw, take the train to Gdansk, a hidden gem of a city located on Poland’s Baltic Coast. As with other cities in Poland, one of the best ways to get to know the city is by visiting its Main Town and Old Town. Meander your way down the stunning main drag, Ulica Długa, until you find yourself at the market square, DługiTarg. The square is the heart of the Old Town, and it’s there that you’ll be able to find beautifully-restored merchant buildings that are home to shops and restaurants serving traditional Polish cuisine.
Wander a little farther into the Main Town and you’ll find St. Mary’s Basilica. While most of the church was destroyed during the war, it has been flawlessly restored to its 15th-century grandeur and remains an important religious symbol in the city (and the largest brick church in Europe!). And, while you’re there, why not scale the church tower’s 400 steps to take in the view of the city?
Not only is the city itself worth a visit, but it is ideally situated for day trips along the coast, which is why we recommend spending two days in the area. After your first day in Gdansk proper, try making a day trip to Malbork Castle, a 13th-century Teutonic fortress and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its many turrets and towers, the castle looks like it was drawn from a fairytale, so be sure to set aside an afternoon to explore what’s inside its enchanting walls ― and don’t forget your camera!
Wroclaw (one day)
Crowned the 2016 European Capital of Culture, Wroclaw is a jewel in western Poland. The city is still relatively undiscovered ― particularly by the hordes of tourists that typically flock to Warsaw or Krakow ― so there’s never been a better time to explore this fantastic city without the crowds. In the heart of the city’s Old Town, Market Square is a breathtaking example of Poland as an architectural melting pot: alternately ruled by Poles, Austrians, Germans, Hungarians, and Czechs throughout its long history, Wroclaw’s Old Town is a palimpsest of overlapping stories, its buildings standing as relics of the city’s past. In Wroclaw, and Poland in general, history is all around you ― so try to soak it all in!
If you want to dig deep into the city’s rich history, consider heading to Cathedral Island, or Ostrów Tumski. The oldest part of Wroclaw, Cathedral Island is nestled into the northern banks of the Oder River and is home to quiet cobbled streets and iconic Polish buildings. Visit the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (whose tower also boasts panoramic views), or simply opt for a stroll through this idyllic area of Wroclaw. No matter what you decide to do, Wroclaw is sure to please!
Krakow (three days)
With so much to do and see, it’s no wonder that Krakow is Poland’s top tourist destination. A testament to its many facets and a vast array of activities, we’ve dedicated three days to explore Krakow.
Unsurprisingly, Krakow’s Old Town is a great place to start your journey in the city. Make your way to Rynek Główny, the large market square that has been the heart of Krakow for centuries. Flanking the square are two stunning buildings: the Cloth Hall and St. Mary’s Basilica. While the whole area is remarkable for its grandeur and beauty, these buildings stand out for their enormous size and masterful design. Take the time to wander through them both ― you won’t be disappointed!
Equally as impressive are the massive and beautiful buildings found on Wawel Hill. Home to Wawel Cathedral and Wawel Castle, the hill is a hotspot of ornate extravagance and a microcosm of Polish culture and history. Learn about Polish royal history, and discover the many artifacts and priceless treasures in both the Cathedral and Castle. Or simply go to watch the sunset over the city!
As a day trip from the city, consider visiting the former German Nazi concetration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. While it’s difficult to absorb the full horrors of the Holocaust, it’s an important lesson in the history of Nazi-occupied Poland, and of the world as a whole. Though it’s not a cheerful way to spend an afternoon, the museum’s many exhibits make manifest to visitors the haunting and horrible conditions of the camps ― which is why it is an essential experience for people hoping to better understand Poland in the 20th century, and now.
Finally, be sure to carve out a half day or so to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines, located on the fringes of Krakow. One of the first designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these salt mines are a collection of underground caverns that have been carved entirely out of the rock salt. As surreal as they are beautiful, these other-worldly rooms contain salt statues, monuments, and even a chapel. One of Europe’s most unique destinations, Wieliczka Salt Mines should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Header and other photos by Lily Allen, Kyle Peters, and Joseph Ozment.