- Sip Your Coffee on Kraków's Main Square: Superlatives don't do justice to Kraków's main square, the Rynek Gówny. It's said to be Central Europe's largest town square and is reputed to have the most bars and cafes per square meter than any other place in the world. Even if that's not the case, it's still one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful public spaces you'll find in Poland and the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of beer, and watch the world go by. Don't forget to listen for the bugler on top of St. Mary's Church at the top of the hour.
- Reflect on History at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp (Oswiecim): The word "best" is clearly a misnomer here, yet a visit to the Nazi wartime extermination camp that came to define the Holocaust is one of the most deeply affecting and moving experiences you will have anywhere. Give yourself several hours to take in both camps (just a couple of miles apart). Auschwitz is undeniably horrible, but it is at Birkenau where you really grasp the scale of the tragedy.
- Shop for Souvenirs along Gdansk's Duga Street: As you stroll Gdansk's main pedestrian thoroughfare, it's hard to believe this stunning port city was reduced to rubble in World War II, so historically sensitive was the reconstruction. Amber-philes will think they died and went to heaven. It's not surprising when you consider that the Baltic Sea (where amber comes from) is just a block away. Still, the quality and choice is overwhelming. There's even an amber museum if the shops don't have what you're looking for.
- Look for Bison in Biaowieza (Biaowieza National Park): Better put this under your "Most Unexpected Travel Experiences." Who would have imagined that part of Poland's eastern border with Belarus is primeval forest that's home to Europe's largest surviving bison herd? Both children and adults alike will enjoy touring the pristine national park.
- Visit a Wooden "Peace" Church (Jawor and Swidnica): Few visitors to Poland have heard of these two massive 17th-century wooden Protestant churches in southwest Poland. Congregations had to build the churches from wood because of strictures on Protestant worship at the time by the Catholic Habsburg rulers. The churches' size, grace, and stunning beauty all testify to the builders' faith and their remarkable engineering skills.
- See the Miraculous Icon of the "Black Madonna" (Czestochowa): The first Pauline monks started coming to the Jasna Góra Monastery in the 14th century. Over the years, it evolved into Catholic Poland's most important pilgrimage destination and place of worship, drawing millions of Poles and other people from around the world every year. Authorship of the miraculous Black Madonna icon is traditionally attributed to Luke, and the painting is said to have made its way here through the centuries from the Holy Lands, to Constantinople (now Istanbul), to the Ukrainian city of Belz, and finally to Czestochowa in 1382. The monastery allows the painting to be viewed for only a few hours each day, and getting a glimpse of it among the throngs is not unlike trying to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Still, it's worth the effort.
- Take in Some Socialist Realist Architecture (Warsaw, Kraków, and Katowice): Poles loathe it, but the architecture built during the Communist period is worth seeking out, if only for its downright wackiness. Some of the "finest" buildings include Warsaw's Palace of Culture and the housing development of Pl. Konstytucja, the Nowa Huta housing project near Kraków, and the "Spodek" in Katowice.
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