Poland is a garden of nature and a treasure trove of cultural riches. A democracy located in the middle of Europe, Poland is inhabited by friendly, hospitable people building a modern economy, yet dearly cherishing their heritage. The eventful history of over 1,000 years, rich traditions and abundant cultural heritage has made Poland a fascinating country. The legacy of bygone centuries that includes monuments of architecture, historical mementos and masterpieces of art is perfectly combined with the wealth of Poland’s natural scenery.
The Republic of Poland is located in Central Europe. It’s bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine to the east; and Russia and the Baltic Sea to the north. Poland’s capital and largest city is Warsaw, which has a population of over 1.7 million and is located on Poland’s longest river, the Vistula. The major Polish cities include Cracow, Gdansk, Katowice, Lódz, Poznan, Szczecin, and Wroclaw.
Those with a taste for history will head for the country’s restored old town centers, the Royal Castles of Warsaw and Cracow, Poland's former capital, and the old palaces erected by Polish magnates. Poland has no less than 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites: Krakow’s Historic Center; Wieliczka, salt mine, near Krakow; Auschwitz Birkenau, the former German Nazi Concentration Camp; Historic Center of Warsaw; Churches of Peace in Jawor and Swidnica; Bialowieza Forest; Old City of Zamosc; Castle of Teutonic Order in Malbork; medieval town of Torun; Kalwaria Zebrzydowska; wooden churches of Southern Little Poland; Park Muzakowski; Centennial Hall in Wroclaw.
Connoisseurs of the arts are sure to be interested in the calendar of events in the homeland of Chopin and Penderecki. These include the Chopin Piano Competition and the Wieniawski Violin Competition, both well-known throughout the world, the Warsaw Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music, the Jazz Jamboree International Festival of Jazz Music, the Piknik Country Festival of Country Music, and many cultural events for youth and folklore festivals.
Nature lovers will enjoy the golden sand of the Baltic coast beaches in the north and the rocky crags of the Tatras in the south. There’s a wonderful network of the Great Mazurian Lakes for water sports fans and the green wilds of the Bieszczady Mountains for those who enjoy hiking trips. You can view free-roaming European bison--Europe's largest animal--in the Bialowieska Forest, enjoy a photo-safari in the unique Biebrzanskie Marshes, take a raft run down Dunajec River gorge or watch the shifting sand dunes of the Slowinski National Park.
Warsaw remains the major air gateway to Poland, with extensive connections throughout Europe, and some nonstop flights to North America. Kraków's Jan Pavel II Airport is also easy to reach from nearly any large airport in Europe. The advent of low-cost budget carriers in Europe in recent years has opened up several other cities to regular and convenient air travel, including Lódz, Poznan, Wroclaw, and Gdansk.
The national rail network, PKP, is well integrated into the Europe-wide rail system. Warsaw lies on the main east-west line running from Berlin to Moscow. Kraków is accessible from Prague, Vienna, and points south, though some connections may require a change of trains at Katowice.
Poland is easily accessible by car and Polish highways are integrated into the larger E.U. highway grid. All major car rental companies, such as Avis, Hertz and Budget, have offices in all major cities and airports. An International Driver Permit is required to drive in Poland.
The height of tourist season runs from May to September, so expect lots of crowds and crowded beaches. The summertime can be really hot, though usually temperatures are around 68-77°. September to October is a little quieter and the weather is still warm. During the autumn and spring the weather is often changeable—you’re likely to enjoy moderately warm temperatures from April to June and from September to October, but it’s also possible to see snow in April or people wearing short-sleeves in October. Winters can be cold, with the chance of snow from November till March.