Main towns and cities
A must visit
Poland is famous for its beautiful small and romantic towns as well as the most famous main cities. Teutonic knights, Polish kings and queens, majestic castles, Gothic side streets, sprawling market squares, snow-tipped mountain settings and a glaring absence of Warsaw make the list of Poland’s most beautiful towns: a must-see for anyone visiting Poland.
Warsaw – The Capital City
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland Warsaw’s palaces, churches and mansions display a richness of color and architectural details. Buildings are representatives of nearly every European architectural style and historical period. The city has wonderful examples of architecture from the gothic, renaissance, baroque and neoclassical periods, all of which are located within easy walking distance of the town centre.
In 2012 the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Warsaw as the 32nd most liveable city in the world. It was also ranked as one of the most liveable cities in Central Europe. Today Warsaw is considered an “Alpha–” global city, a major international tourist destination and a significant cultural, political and economic hub. Warsaw has also been called “Eastern Europe’s chic cultural capital with thriving art and club scenes and serious restaurants”
Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life and is one of Poland’s most important economic hubs. It was the capital of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland from 1038 to 1569; and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1795.
With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic centre. The city has a population of approximately 760,000, with approximately 8 million additional people living within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of its main square.
After the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II, Kraków became the capital of Germany’s General Government. The Jewish population of the city was forced into a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto, from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz never to return, and the Nazi concentration camps like Płaszów.
In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II — the first Slavic pope ever, and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. Also that year, UNESCO approved the first ever sites for its new World Heritage List, including the entire Old Town in inscribing Cracow’s historic centre. Cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, its extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture includes the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula river, the St. Mary’s Basilica and the largest medieval market square in Europe, the Rynek Główny. Kraków is home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world amd traditionally Poland’s most reputable institution of higher learning.
In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture. The city hosted the World Youth Day in July 2016.
Gdańsk city on the Baltic coast, the capital of the Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland’s principal seaport and the centre of the country’s fourth-largest metropolitan area.
The city lies on the southern edge of Gdańsk Bay (of the Baltic Sea), in a conurbation with the city of Gdynia, spa town of Sopot, and suburban communities, which together form a metropolitan area called the Tricity (Trójmiasto), with a population approaching 1.4 million. Gdańsk itself has a population of 460,427 (December 2012), making it the largest city in the Pomeraniaregion of Northern Poland.
Gdańsk is the capital of Gdańsk Pomerania and the largest city of Kashubia. The city’s history is complex, with periods of Polish rule, periods of Prusso-German rule, and periods of autonomy or self-rule as a “free city”. Between the world wars, the Free City of Danzig was in a customs union with Poland and was located between German East Prussia and the so-called Polish Corridor.
Gdańsk lies at the mouth of the Motława River, connected to the Leniwka, a branch in the delta of the nearby Vistula River, which drains 60 percent of Poland and connects Gdańsk with the Polish capital, Warsaw. Together with the nearby port of Gdynia, Gdańsk is also an important industrial center. In the late Middle Ages it was an important seaport and shipbuilding town, and in the 14th and 15th centuries a member of the Hanseatic League.
Five centuries later, Gdańsk was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement, formed in 1980, which played a major role in bringing an end to Communist rule in Poland and helped precipitate the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Wrocław is the largest city in western Poland. It is on the River Oder in the Silesian Lowlands of Central Europe, roughly 350 kilometres (220 mi) from the Baltic Sea to the north and 40 kilometres (25 mi) from the Sudeten Mountains to the south. Wrocław is the historical capital of Silesia and Lower Silesia. Today, it is the capital of the Lower Silesian Voivodeship. At various times in history, it has been part of the Kingdom of Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, the Austrian Empire, Prussia, and Germany. It became part of Poland in 1945, as a result of the border changes after the Second World War. The population of Wrocław in 2015 was 635 759, making it the fourth-largest city in Poland and the main city of Wrocław agglomeration.
Wrocław is classified as a global city, with the ranking of high sufficiency and living standard. It was among 230 cities in the world in the ranking of the consulting company Mercer — “Best City to Live” in 2015 and the only Polish city in this ranking has been recognised as a city growing at the business centre.
The city’s name was first recorded as “Wrotizlava” in the chronicle of German chronicler Thietmar of Merseburg, which mentions it as a seat of a newly installed bishopric in the context of the Congress of Gniezno. The first municipal seal stated Sigillum civitatis Wratislavie. A simplified name is given, in 1175, as Wrezlaw, Prezla or Breslaw. The Czech spelling was used in Latin documents as Wratislavia or Vratislavia. At that time, Prezla was used in Middle High German, which became Preßlau. In the middle of the 14th century, the Early New High German (and later New High German) form of the name, Breslau, began to replace its earlier versions.
In 2016, the city is a European Capital of Culture and the World Book Capital.
Zakopane is a town in the extreme south of Poland. It lies in the southern part of the Podhale region at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. From 1975 to 1998 it was in Nowy Sącz Province, but since 1999 it has been in Lesser Poland Province. It had a population of about 28,000 as of 2005. Zakopane is a center of Góral culture and is known informally as “the winter capital of Poland”. It is a popular destination for mountaineering, skiing, and qualified tourism.
Zakopane is located in southernmost Poland near the border with Slovakia. It lies in a valley between the Tatra Mountains and Gubałówka Hill. It can be reached by train or by bus from district capital Kraków, which is about two hours away. Zakopane has an elevation of 800-1,000 meters above sea level. The town is centered at the junction of Krupówki and Kościuszko Streets.
The earliest documents mentioning Zakopane date to the 17th century, describing a glade called Zakopisko. In 1676 it was a village of 43 inhabitants. Zakopane became a center for the region’s mining and metallurgy industries; in the 19th century, it was the largest centre for metallurgy in Galicia. It expanded during the 19th century as the climate attracted more inhabitants. By 1889 it had developed from a small village into a climatic health resort of 3,000 inhabitants. Rail service to Zakopane began October 1, 1899.
Poznań is a city on the Warta river in west-central Poland, in the Greater Poland region. It is best known for its renaissance old town, destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt, and Ostrów Tumski cathedral. Today, Poznań is an important cultural and business centre and one of Poland’s most populous regions with many regional customs such as Jarmark Świętojański, traditional Saint Martin’s croissants and a local dialect.
Poznań is among the oldest cities in Poland and was one of the most important centers in the early Polish state in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The first center city was Ostrów Tumski, the natural island on the Warta river-very similar to the Île de la Cité in Paris. The first rulers were buried in Poznań’s cathedral on the island. It also served as the capital for a short time in the 13th century, hence the official name: The capital city of Poznan. After the second partition of Poland Poznań was administered by Prussia, and then, with the unification of Germany after the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, the province of Posen became part of the German Empire. Furthermore, the city of Posen was officially named an imperial residence city, leading to the construction of the Imperial Castle, the Imperial District, the Opera House, new city walls, railway station and many other sites which make a big part of its landmarks to this day.
Kazimierz Dolny, is a small town in central eastern Poland, on the right (eastern) bank of the Vistula river in Puławy County, Lublin Voivodeship. Historically it belongs to Lesser Poland, and in the past it used to be one of the most important cities of the province.
It is a considerable tourist attraction as one of the most beautifully situated little towns in Poland. It enjoyed its greatest prosperity in the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, due to the trade in grain conducted along the Vistula. It became an economic backwater after that trade declined, and this freeze in economic development enabled the town to preserve its Renaissance urban plan and appearance. Since the 19th century it has become a popular holiday destination, attracting artists and summer residents.
Kazimierz Dolny is an art centre in Poland. Many painters retreat to this small town to paint and sell their work. Galleries can be found in almost every street, offering for sale sculptures, stained-glass, folk art, and fine art.
The town is one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments (Pomnik historii), as designated September 16, 1994 and tracked by the National Heritage Board of Poland.
The history of Kazimierz Dolny dates back to the 11th century, when on one of the local hills there was a Benedictine settlement called Wietrzna Gora. In 1181, Prince Casimir II the Just handed the settlement to Norbertine nuns from Kraków’s district of Zwierzyniec. The nuns changed its name to Kazimierz, in honor of the prince. For the first time, the name Kazimierz appears in chronicles in 1249. Later on, the adjective Dolny (Lower) was added, to distinguish the town from the Jewish town Kazimierz – now a district of Kraków. In the early 14th century, the village became a royal possession, and King Władysław I the Elbow-high founded there a parish church in 1325.
Białystok is the largest city in northeastern Poland and the capital of the Podlaskie Voivodeship.
Located in the Białystok Uplands (Polish: Wysoczyzna Białostocka) of the Podlaskie Plain (Polish: Nizina Północnopodlaska) on the banks of the Biała River, Białystok ranks second in terms of population density, eleventh in population, and thirteenth in area, of the cities of Poland. It has historically attracted migrants from elsewhere in Poland and beyond, particularly from Central and Eastern Europe. This is facilitated by the fact that the nearby border with Belarus is also the eastern border of the European Union, as well as the Schengen Area. The city and its adjacent municipalities constitute Metropolitan Białystok. The city has a Warm Summer Continental climate, characterised by warm summers and long frosty winters. Forests are an important part of Białystok’s character, and occupy around 1,756 ha (4,340 acres) (17.2% of the administrative area of the city) which places it as the fifth most forested city in Poland.
The first settlers arrived in the 14th century. A town grew up and received its municipal charter in 1692. Białystok has traditionally been one of the leading centers of academic, cultural, and artistic life in Podlaskie and the most important economic center in northeastern Poland. In the nineteenth century Białystok was an important center for light industry, which was the reason for the substantial growth of the city’s population. But after the fall of communism in 1989 many of these factories faced severe problems and subsequently closed down. Through the infusion of EU investment funds, the city continues to work to reshape itself into a modern metropolis. Białystok in 2010, was on the short-list, but ultimately lost the competition to become a finalist for European Capital of Culture in 2016. Over the centuries Białystok has produced a number of people who have provided unique contributions to the fields of science, language, politics, religion, sports, visual arts and performing arts. This environment was created in the mid-eighteenth century by the patronage of Jan Klemens Branicki for the arts and sciences. These include Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last émigré President of the Republic of Poland; L. L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto; and Albert Sabin, the co-developer of the polio vaccine.
Katowice is a city in southwestern Poland and the centre of the Silesian Metropolis, with a population of 299,910 as of 2015.
Katowice is a centre of science, culture, industry, business, trade, and transportation in Upper Silesia and southern Poland, and the main city in the Upper Silesian Industrial Region. Katowice lies within an urban zone, with a population of 2,746,460 according to Eurostat, and also part of the wider Silesian metropolitan area, with a population of 5,294,000 according to the European Spatial Planning Observation Network. Today, Katowice is emerging metropolis. The whole metropolitan area is the 16th most economically powerful city by GDP in the European Union with an output amounting to $114.5 billion
St. Mary’s Church
Spodek and Katowice centrum at night
Market square and adjacent streets: Warszawska, Teatralna, Dyrekcyjna, Staromiejska, Dworcowa, św. Jana, Pocztowa, Wawelska, 3 Maja, Stawowa, Mielęckiego, Starowiejska and Mickiewicza, the so-called “Great Market Square of Katowice” or “Old town of Katowice”—many historic (monument) buildings. This is a group of functional-architectural. On the market square and most of the above-mentioned streets are prohibitions or restrictions on cars. Streets: Staromiejska, Dyrekcyjna, Wawelska, Stawowa and Warszawska is lined decorative cobblestone creating a pedestrian zone. The authority plans to Katowice—Quarter streets: św. Jana, Dworcowa, Mariacka, Mielęckiego, Stanisława and Starowiejska is to become so “small market square”.
Nikiszowiec – historical settlement of Katowice, candidate to UNESCO
Cathedral of Christ the King
Church of the Resurrection, Evangelical-Augsburg, built in 1856-1858
Church of St Michael Archangel, the oldest church in the city, built in 1510
Drapacz Chmur, one of the first skyscrapers in Europe
Silesian Parliament, built in 1925-1929. For a very long time it was the biggest structure in Poland
Modernist old town
Spodek (a large sports centre/concert hall, whose name translates as the ‘saucer’, from its distinctive shape resembling a UFO flying saucer)
Sopot is a seaside resort town in Eastern Pomerania on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea in northern Poland, with a population of approximately 40,000.
Sopot lies between the larger cities of Gdańsk to the southeast and Gdynia to the northwest. The three cities together make up the metropolitan area of Tri-City.
Sopot is a major health-spa and tourist resort destination. It has the longest wooden pier in Europe, at 515.5 metres, stretching out into the Bay of Gdańsk. The city is also famous for its Sopot International Song Festival, the largest such event in Europe after the Eurovision Song Contest. Among its other attractions is a fountain of bromide spring water, known as the “inhalation mushroom”.
In 1995, the southern bath and sanatoria complex were extended significantly and the Saint Adalbert spring opened two years later, as a result in 1999 Sopot regained its official spa town status.
In 2001, Sopot celebrated the 100th anniversary of its city charter.
Sopot is currently undergoing a period of intense development, including the building of a number of five star hotels and spa resorts on the waterfront. The main pedestrianised street, Monte Cassino, has also been extended by diverting traffic underneath it, meaning the whole street is now pedestrianised. Sopot, aside from Warsaw boasts the highest property prices in Poland.