What are the best Historic Sites in Poland?
1. Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle in Krakow is one of the most important historic sites in Poland. The castle served as the seat of the Polish monarchy from the eleventh century and is now a vast museum.
Wawel Castle is split into six permanent spaces; the State Rooms, the Royal Palace Apartments, the Crown Treasury and Armoury, the Oriental Art Collection, the Lost Wawel and the Dragon’s Den. The main exhibition at Wawel Castle is in its magnificent State Rooms, where one can appreciate the Renaissance architecture as well as tapestries and other works of art.
The Royal Palace Apartments offer visitors a chance to see the rooms of former monarchs as well as further collections of art, the remains of the Danish Tower and some of the older, Gothic architecture. For archaeological finds and a history of Wawel Castle, go to the Lost Wawel exhibition. This shows the development of the castle and displays a number of artefacts from its excavation.
Just to the southeast of Kraków in Poland, the Wieliczka Salt Mine was described in the 18th century by a travelling Frenchman as ‘no less magnificent than the Egyptian pyramids’. This eerily beautiful labyrinthine subterranean world of passages, vast caverns, underground lakes, chapels and crystalline sculptures was in continuous use for over 900 years until mining was halted in 1996 due to falling prices and slow but eventually inevitable flooding.
The highlight (amongst many) of the Wieliczka Salt Mine is the Chapel of St. Kinga. At 54m x 18m, it’s big by any standards but remember this is deep underground! The altar, spectacular chandeliers, sculptures, bas-reliefs, intricately detailed carvings and everything else you can see is made of salt, astonishing in itself but even more staggering is that it took just two brothers over 30 years and the removal of 20,000 tonnes of rock salt to complete it.
Wilanow Palace is a pretty, late seventeenth century Baroque palace in Warsaw built by King Jan III Sobieski. Combining Polish architectural style with several others from around Europe, Wilanow Palace became Jan III’s royal home and eventually the place where this military leader died.
Today, the museum at Wilanow Palace displays a range of artwork. Visitors can also tour the royal apartments at Wilanow Palace as well as viewing pieces related to the history of the Polish royal family, including their effigies. The gardens of Wilanow Palace are stunning and are also nice to wander through.
The Warsaw Rising Museum is a Second World War Museum in Poland’s capital city, dedicated to the insurgency of the Polish population against its Nazi German occupiers. It is particularly focused on the Warsaw Uprising, an operation carried out by Polish freedom fighters in August 1944.
The museum explores the events of the uprising and its aftermath as well as placing it in the larger context of the Second World War. Exhibiting everything from detailed timelines to the armbands worn by the insurgents and the W Hour clock, still set to 17:00, the Warsaw Rising Museum’s exhibit is poignant and detailed.
The museum immerses the visitor in the events of the 1944 battle with films of original newsreels and even a recreation of the sewer systems which the Poles used as a means of travelling through the city. There is also a children’s exhibition called “the Little Insurgents Room”. The Warsaw Rising Museum offers guided tours in a number of languages including French, English, Russian, German, Italian and Czech.
Malbork Castle is a medieval fortified castle complex enclosed within thick walls. Including a vast palace, a monastery, three castles and hundreds of other buildings - mostly homes - Malbork Castle was built in the thirteenth century by the invading Teutonic Knights.
Today, the restored Malbork Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a museum in northern Poland, displaying medieval works, weaponry and historic displays including exploring the history of the Teutonic Knights. Touring this beautiful redbrick building with its magnificent rooms is a great day trip from Gdansk.
6. The Barbakan
The Barbakan or Barbican in Krakow in Poland is a fifteenth century gothic fortress which today serves as a museum.
Built in approximately 1498, the Barbakan is a formidable circular structure with three-metre thick brick walls and a series of defensive turrets, representing an exceptional example of medieval engineering. The Barbakan is one of the largest remaining medieval defensive structures in Europe and is extremely well-preserved.
Krakow Archaeological Museum explores Poland’s history, particularly that of its Lesser or Małopolska Region.
With artifacts ranging from finds from the Paleolithic period to Medieval objects, Krakow Archaeological Museum offers a good insight into the country’s past. Audio guides are available.
Cloth Hall or Sukiennice is a medieval market building in Krakow, Poland. Originally opened in the fourteenth century, Cloth Hall was given a Renaissance refurbishment in the sixteenth century.The arcades which can be seen at Cloth Hall today were added in the nineteenth century.
The ground floor of Cloth Hall still operates as a market today while the Małopolska Contemporary Art Gallery and Nineteenth Century Polish Art Gallery reside on it upper floors.
Wawel Cathedral is an iconic fourteenth century gothic building in Krakow in Poland steeped in the country’s history. It is also where many prominent Poles have been laid to rest. The crypts, tombstones and sarcophagi of these national icons are visible throughout the cathedral, including those of kings Władysław I, Casimir III the Great and Sigismund I and Saint Queen Hedwig, to name a few.
Wawel Cathedral’s chapels are fascinating in their own right, the most famous of which is Sigismund Chapel. In fact, every aspect of Wawel Cathedral seems to be immersed in history, from the prehistoric animal bones hanging on the door in the entrance to the shrine to Poland’s former bishop and current patron saint, St Stanislaus, the Konfesja Św Stanisława. Even the bell of Wawel Cathedral tells a story.
Today, Wawel Cathedral is the seat of the archdiocese of Krakow. Visitors can also visit the John Paul II Cathedral Museum, which houses the ecclesiastical and artistic pieces once housed the Cathedral Treasury.
Auschwitz Birkenau was a concentration camp founded by the Nazis near the town of Oświęcim or “Auschwitz” in Poland and which became the largest and most infamous camp of them all.
Those interned at Auschwitz were subject to the most horrific treatment, including forced labour, starvation, random executions and various forms of torture such as “medical experiments”.
Auschwitz was also the central location for Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jews in gas chambers. By the time Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet forces on 27 January 1945, the camp had claimed 1.3 million lives, the vast majority of whom were Jewish.
Auschwitz Museum is based at the original concentration camp site and offers visitors the chance to pass through the camp's infamous arches bearing the chilling slogan of "Arbeit macht frei" or "Work will set you free". Inside, visitors can tour Auschwitz Birkenau individually or in group tours. The length of the tour can vary, but lasts approximately three and a half hours.