Poland suddenly finds itself on everyone's hot list for European travel. That's right, Poland -- the land of cabbage, potatoes, and vodka -- which not all that long ago was still trapped behind the Iron Curtain with its own bleak images of strikes and tanks. All of that seems a world away these days. Poland has gone on a more than 20-year renovation project since the Communist government fell in 1989. The hotels and restaurants have had long-overdue makeovers, the buildings and squares have been spruced up, and Poland these days is very much open for business.
And while the cabbage and vodka are still great, there are lots of other good reasons to visit. For some, a trip to Poland is an opportunity to reconnect with their Polish roots, a chance to sample some of their grandmother's kielbasa and pierogi in their natural setting. Others are attracted to the unique beauty of cities such as Kraków, which has rightfully joined Prague and Budapest as part of the trinity of must-sees in central Europe.
Still others are drawn by Poland's dramatic and often tragic history. The horrors of World War II, followed by decades of Communist rule, have etched painful and moving memories throughout this land. No country, with the possible exception of Russia, suffered as much as Poland during World War II. Millions of Poles, and nearly the entire prewar Jewish population of more than 3 million, were killed in fighting or in the concentration camps. The deeply affecting and sobering experience of seeing the extermination camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, near Kraków, will last a lifetime. Nearly equally moving are the stories of the Lódz and Warsaw Jewish ghettos, or the tragic story of the Warsaw uprising of 1944, when the city's residents rose up courageously, but futilely, against their Nazi oppressors.
There are plenty of triumphant moments from history, as well. In Warsaw, which was 85% destroyed during World War II, the entire Old Town has been rebuilt brick by brick in an emotional show of a city reclaiming its identity from the rubble. In Gdansk, you can visit the shipyards where Lech Waesa and his Solidarity trade union first rose to power to oppose Poland's Communist government in 1980. It was the rise of Solidarity that helped to bring down Communism in Poland and arguably sparked the anti-Communist revolutions that swept through all of Eastern Europe in 1989.
And there is plenty of natural beauty here, as well. In the south of the country, below Kraków, rise the majestic High Tatras, one of Europe's most starkly beautiful alpine ranges. To the north, the Baltic Sea coast, with its pristine beaches, stretches for miles. The little-traveled northeast is covered with lakes that run to the borderlands with Lithuania and Belarus. In the east of the country, you'll find patches of some of Europe's last-remaining primeval forest and a small herd of the indigenous bison that once covered large parts of the European continent.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.