In 2013, I made a trip starting in Gdańsk, Northern Poland. I traveled south to Malbork castle, Toruń and then arrived in Poznań. I continued to Wrocław and Kraków, then traveled into Lviv, Ukraine. As I write this post in 2017, a lot has probably changed in Poland. I had good impressions of the country. Everything looked modern and clean and I felt completely safe and welcome.
Starting out in Gdańsk, I enjoyed the architecture which is similar to back home in The Netherlands. A city surrounded by water and good beaches nearby. There's trains to Gdynia and Sopot, which at their turn are both worth a visit. Sopot more so than Gdynia. I stayed in Gdańsk for a week and even though it was a bit long, I really made the most of it by exploring remote neighbourhoods and the surrounding towns.
There are frequent trains south, stopping at Malbork. With plenty of guesthouses and hotels and a path along the Nogat river, I enjoyed it a lot. Friendly people and the feeling of truly being in Poland. Interestingly, Malbork castle, which the town is famous for, is the world's largest castle measured by land area. Through Grudziądz and Toruń I arrived in Poznań. I strongly recommend stopping in these places as you cross Poland. I remember getting off the train in Grudziądz, walking around and seeing cute little trams driving around. It's Poland's smallest city having a tram network, which is 18,6 kilometres in length. Toruń is famous for being the birthplace of Copernicus. Do visit the Old Town City Hall, with several exhibitions and a portrait of Copernicus. The medieval City Hall is one of a kind and gives you the impression of the influence that the city once had. Nowadays, hardly anyone outside of Poland knows it. A shame, because I found it a city I could have stayed for much longer.
Regarding Poznań, I must say the city completely surprised me. It's modern and classic at the same time. It feels close to Germany yet completely Polish as well. It feels like Central Europe, where a lot is happening and the future looks very bright. Poznań is a business city, with many railway lines crossing, as well as international roads. It's on the axis Amsterdam - Berlin - Warsaw - Minsk - Moscow. Because of its location in Central Europe and the international airport the city has, it's become an important venue for international events and fairs.
Even though the city proper has 550.000 inhabitants, the wider metropolitan area has 1,4 million. Poznań is a student city. There are 130.000 students in town, which is a huge number compared to the total. It's a really notable city, as the historical capital of Greater Poland. Ostrów Tumski, which literally means Cathedral Island, is the oldest part of the city.
I found Wrocław and Kraków fantastic. Wrocław more so, it had far less crowds and I just found it had a better atmosphere. Poland is just so diverse, you could travel around for ages discovering such stunning places. Wrocław is the capital of the region Silesia. It has one of Europe's largest market squares (213 by 178 m.) and when the weather's good, you can have a fantastic time on one of the many terraces. Similarly to Poznań, Wrocław has an Ostrów Tumski, Cathedral Island. Just south of Wrocław you're in the hills near the Czech Republic. Visit the Książ castle as well, which is the biggest castle in Silesia. Kraków again has a large square (200 by 200 m). When I was in Kraków I was the standard tourist, visiting Schindler's Factory, the Wawel castle complex and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. I did not have the opportunity to go to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, mostly because I was so horrified by what I'd seen in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I had obviously expected it would shock me but it broke me in a thousand pieces and it took me days to get myself going again.
Eventually, I had to continue to Lviv, in Ukraine. The visit left me deeply impressed - until today I cannot put it in words. Even though the last place I visited in Poland was a dark one, it just goes to show how intense a visit to Poland can be. You have some of Europe's most beautiful cities, in my opinion, as well as some fine countryside. Then there's historical and dark places that are forever engraved in peoples' minds. And the castles, palaces, Tatra mountains, the Masurian lakes and the Bialowieza forests. Friendly and beautiful people. Poland swept me off my feet.