Poland is home to many magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites from the infamous Auschwitz Birkenau concentration/death camp to ancient woodlands and grand medieval castles. While it would take months to explore them all, be sure to put these top 10 on your must-visit list.
Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Auschwitz Birkenau, German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp
The most infamous and largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz is located in Oświęcim. More than 1.1 million people of 28 different nationalities (around one million were Jews) were murdered here over four-and-a half-years between 1940 and 1945. Visitors can see ruins of crematoria, gas chambers and camp barracks as well as explore an on-site museum commemorating the prisoners through their personal belongings like suitcases and shoes, along with documents and images.
Historic Centre of Kraków
Krakow’s historic center is dominated by the spectacular brick gothic St. Mary’s Church which towers over Europe’s largest market square, atmospheric cobblestone streets and medieval homes. The most popular destination among travelers in Poland it was the first site in the country to be protected on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines
Located near Krakow, the Wieliczka and Bochnia complex, is a highly recommended day trip. One of the oldest salt mines in the world, they produced table salt from the 13th century through 2007. In 2010, they were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. Some of the highlights include underground lakes, caverns and rock salt statues, along with a unique and impressive chapel, used for music concerts and weddings.
One of the last ancient woodlands in Europe and Poland’s oldest national park, Białowieża is a nature lovers’ paradise near the border of Belarus. This immense range of primary forest includes broadleaved trees and conifers, covering nearly 142,000 hectares. It sits on the watershed of the Black Sea and Baltic Sea, providing exceptional biodiversity conservation. It’s home to many plant and animal species, including 500-year-old oak trees and European bison, the park’s iconic symbol with 900 of the animals, making up nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
Old Town in Warsaw
The oldest and most picturesque part of Warsaw, Old Town is the capital’s most representative quarter and a bustling tourist hub with cobbled alleys and medieval buildings reconstructed after the Second World War. It was nearly destroyed during the war, but restored to its former glory in the years that followed. Today, it’s virtually impossible to distinguish the reconstructed parts from the original buildings. At its heart is a lively square, Starego Miasta, lined with upscale restaurants and burgher homes. You’ll also see the Royal Castles’ restored apartments and manicured gardens, along with interesting museums. Nearby is the 14th-century St. John’s Archcathedral which hosts summer concerts.
Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork
Head to Malbork to explore the largest castle in the world built by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. The site will allow you to expand your knowledge of medieval history, gothic architecture as well as conservation and restoration techniques (as the castle suffered major damage during conflicts, most recently during the Second World War). Nearly half a million tourists visit Malbork each year. Cross to the opposite bank of the Nogat River, which surrounds the castle, for the best views and a great spot for taking pictures.
Medieval Town of Toruń
The birthplace of world-renowned 15th-century mathematician and astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, Toruń is a must-visit for enthusiasts of medieval architecture. UNESCO notes that its value lies in its being “a small historic trading city that preserves to a remarkable extent its original street pattern and outstanding early buildings, and which provides an exceptionally complete picture of the medieval way of life.” The highlights include the Teutonic Knights’ Castle, the New City and Old City. Be sure to see the Leaning Tower, Old City Town Hall or the impressive collection of gothic cathedrals. The city also has a very long baking tradition that goes back nearly a millennium. Learn more about it at the interactive Gingerbread Museum where you can make your own cookies too.
This southern Poland town is one of the country’s most visited pilgrimage centers, a place where visitors can admire the famous Roman Catholic monastery of the Berardine order and park complex. Places of worship can be found dotted throughout the area, modeled after the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.
Old City of Zamość
Zamość, located in Poland’s south-east, boasts a spectacular Old Town that dates back to the 16th-century, designed by Italian architect Bernardo Morando, who modeled it after Italian Renaissance city plans.
Centennial Hall, Wrocław
Built between 1911 and 1913, German architecture/urban planner Max Berg designed Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, a circular concrete building that features the largest concrete cupola in the world, managing to survive WWII.
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