If you have time for only one medieval castle, then this is it. Following the Knights' defeat in the early 15th century, the castle fell to the Polish kings, who used it as an occasional residence. After the Polish partition at the end of the 18th century, the Prussians took over Malbork and the castle, turning it into a military barracks. German control lasted until the end of World War II, when heavy fighting between Germans and Russians destroyed the town and left the castle in ruins. What you see today is the result of a long and steady restoration process that was completed only about a decade ago.

Allow 2 hours or more to give the brick and masonry complex at least a cursory once-over. History aside, the architectural details -- from trefoils to cinquefoils, friezes, gables, and arches -- are all very arresting. It's breathtaking, also in the literal sense, to lose yourself in the corridors and spiral staircases. You enter the castle via a wooden drawbridge that takes you into the courtyard of the Middle Castle (Zamek Sredni). The building to your left houses an impressive amber collection and medieval weaponry. Another drawbridge takes you to the High Castle (Zamek Wysoki). Here, you'll find the Knights' dormitory, kitchen, and refectory. The castle's main square tower gives you a grand view of the complex. Do budget time for rambling along the river to view the castle from the exterior. The tickets come with a Polish guide, but you can wander off on your own. You can pick up an English audio guide by the main entrance (37 z). The museum sometimes closes for special events; call or check the website before heading out.