Nowhere in Europe does history feel as alive and contemporary as it does in Poland, a country that's a virtual living history museum. Whether, like me, you're a budding World War II buff with a healthy dose of curiosity about the Communist period or your interests stretch further back in time to the duchies and kingdoms of the Middle Ages, there's riveting history here for every interest. It's an inspiring destination, as well. Cities such as Warsaw, Gdansk, and Wrocaw were flattened in World War II; now, they've been restored to their former beauty and are brimming with culture and energy. The country's medieval capital, Kraków, is easily Prague's equal for architectural splendor, and maybe a notch above when it comes to concerts, museums, and Jewish heritage (just don't tell the Czechs).

There's also an undeniable "off the beaten track" appeal to Poland. Poles have long known about their country's treasures, but for the rest of us, the country is still largely terra incognita. That's changing slowly, but for the time being, that means the lines into the attractions are a bit less crushing and the welcomes here that much more genuine than you might find in better-known destinations.