- Lódz: On the outside, Poland's second-largest city (pronounced "Woodge") appears cold and gray, a former industrial powerhouse that has gone through some tough times and looks it. But the more you find out about the place, the more fascinating it gets: the center of Poland's film industry, an enormous prewar Jewish population, the biggest shopping mall in Europe, an active culture calendar, and a great art museum. The list goes on.
- Kazimierz (Kraków): Next to Kraków's glamorous Old Town, Kazimierz, the city's former Jewish ghetto, looks positively derelict. And that appears to be its secret charm. What else could explain Kazimierz's increasing popularity among Kraków's ultra-cool and arty set? After admiring the handsome buildings of the Old Town, come out here to party and let your hair down -- and see what really makes Kraków tick.
- Tarnów: The small city of Tarnów, east of Kraków, came late to the tourism party but is making up for lost time with the friendliest tourist information office in the country, as well as some decent museums and the occasional blockbuster exhibition. If Kraków's crowded streets get a little too much to bear, head to Tarnów for a respite before it too becomes too popular for its own good. One nice surprise is a Western-style horse-riding ranch in the vicinity that's happy to set up greenhorns for the day.
- Katowice: Cool in the way that Cleveland is cool or, in the U.K., maybe the way Glasgow or Manchester is cool. This big industrial city's charms are hard to pin down, but there is definitely something there. Maybe it's the retro-futuristic flying-saucer building -- the Spodek -- or all of the other Communist-era architecture around. Or the fact that it feels authentic, and there are absolutely no other tourists around. The wags at the local office of Katowice, In Your Pocket have tried to carve out a kind of anti-cool image for the city, calling it a needed antidote to overly prettified and touristed Kraków.
- Nowa Huta (Kraków): It's hard to make a Socialist-era housing project next to a steel mill sound like something you might want to see on your vacation. But this planned 1950s community is undeniably chic. Architecture and urban planning buffs will be drawn to the plans and designs of housing designed especially for the workers' state. Irony of ironies, they even named the main square after union-busting, anti-Communist U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
- Praga District (Warsaw): Not too many years ago, Warsaw's rough-and-tumble Praga district, on the other side of the Vistula River from the heart of the city, used to be a no-go zone. The low rents, though, attracted the artistic crowd, and now it's emerging into the capital's coolest neighborhood. Don't expect anything quite like Kazimierz in Kraków yet, but several good restaurants and clubs are up and running, and the future promises to bring more.
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.