Located in the heart of Europe, Poland is a study in contrasts. While its big cities have rushed into the 21st century, much of its countryside remains the same, refusing to yield its bucolic charm. Although not as heavily visited as many of its European Union brethren, Poland is still home to a number of interesting tourist attractions.
The port city of Gdansk's Main Town offers decorative, narrow streets perfect for strolling and shopping where you can enjoy both medieval and Renaissance architecture. Visitors also enjoy boat rides or relaxing in a beer garden. For Gothic architecture, visit the city of Torun, the birthplace of Copernicus. The city's Old Town was not damaged in World War II and was added to Unesco's World Heritage List in 1997. Here you can admire old churches while munching on pierniki (gingerbread), which is a famous Polish treat.
Take a break from the cities and enjoy some of Poland's green spaces in its national parks. Slowinski National Park stretches along the coast between the towns of Leba and Rowy. Part of Unesco's list of World Biosphere Reserves, the national park offers lakes, peat bogs and forests. The largest section of primeval forest in Europe is in Bialowieza National Park. The oldest national park in Poland, Bialowieza is home to European bison and is on Unesco's World Heritage List.
Remnants of the Past
Malbork's historic castle is one of Poland's most visited spots. The Unesco-listed medieval fortress is the largest Gothic castle in all of Europe. The castle is an easy day trip from Gdansk and can be quite busy in the summer. A reminder of a grim, more recent past is on display at Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi extermination camps. More than 1 million people were murdered here and the site has been preserved so that the public can remember the atrocities committed there less than 100 years ago.
The holy city of Czestochowa draws 4 to 5 million visitors from 80 countries annually, according to Lonely Planet. They come to worship at the feet of the Black Madonna at the Monastery of Jasna Góra. The biggest group arrives, some walking for more than 20 days, on the day of Assumption in August. For something more modern, the resort town of Zakopane attracts skiers, bikers and hikers looking for an alpine getaway. A base for excursions into the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane became a famous retreat for artists in the late 19th century.
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