Cities and Towns in Europe
A progressive city with a pretty Old Town. There are plenty of cool spots on the banks of Brda river, which snakes through the city. Mill Island (Wyspa Młyńska) in the middle of the river, is particularly charming with footbridges, old mills and museums. Locals like also to emphasize Bydgoszcz’s vibrant music scene.
A traditional town with grand churches and a fine Town Hall. It's a quiet place with old folks and dilapidated houses, which are probably more charming to look at than to live in. The town has its fair share of old red-brick buildings, which could be Poland’s trademark.
In terms of authenticity and prettiness, the Old Town of Gdansk is in the absolute top of Poland's "Stare Miasto". The cobbled streets are lined with embellished, slender houses, which all seem well preserved. And though the photogenic historical part is popular with tourists, it never feels invaded. The drinking scene is particularly authentic with many characterful bars. But Gdansk isn't just a one trick horse. The "modern" part has several quirky sights, like the longest residential block (860 m) and Zaspa, a neighbourhood filled with murals. There are also great day trips from Gdansk. Sopot and Torpedownia to the north, and Malbork Castle (a UNESCO site) to the south are the obvious ones.
Charming Krakow is not just Poland's second largest city, but also its biggest tourist magnet. The main market square (Rynek Główny), that makes up the heart of the Old Town (a UNESCO site), is the biggest medieval town square in Europe and one the most impressive you will ever see (the town wasn't destroyed during WWII). The square is flanked by historical townhouses while the many halls, towers, and ancient churches catch your attention. Add to that a pretty riverside castle and a bohemian Jewish quarter with bars at every corner, and you will quickly understand why Krakow is considered to be the new Prague. If that shouldn't be enough reason to put Krakow high on your to-do-list, there is also a handful of major sights just a daytrip away (Auschwitz, salt mines, to name a few). Oh, did we mention the nightlife is pumping?
Like so many other Polish cities, the medieval Old Town of Olsztyn is charming with several churches and other historical buildings. It's also here you find the statue of Olsztyn resident Nicolaus Copernicus, the scientist (among other things) who placed the sun in the center, rather than the earth. Surprisingly, the Catholic church didn't pay any attention to his theory until many decades later. Since Olsztyn is the largest city in the region, it makes a nice base for exploring the northeast, where you find among other sites; Wolf's Lair (Hitler's secret bunker), the burial pyramid in Rapa, and the Masurian Lake District.
The Old Town of Poznan is not unlike Krakow, just smaller but with way less tourists. The central market square is lined with cute pastel coloured houses and the beautiful Town Hall is lite up at night. When the Town Hall clock strikes noon, two mechanical goats come out and butt heads. But Poznan also has a vibrant young vibe due to the huge student population. The bar scene is thriving and can rival that of Krakow's - just without the tourists.
Płock is perched on a ridge with great views over Vistula River. It's one of the oldest towns in Poland and was once the capital, but all that is not particularly evident today. There is a pretty cathedral and some handsome historical buildings, but nothing to keep you for more than a couple of hours.
The posh seaside town north of Gdansk is a strange mix of tacky holiday kitsch along with fine dining and sophisticated clubs. You only need to walk a few streets away from the nice beach promenade before the houses are a bit less elegant and less immaculate. Out of season, Sopot can feel a bit deserted with closed restaurants and empty beaches, but it's never dead.
For a long time Szczecin was an important town on the shore of Oder River. Today, it's still one of the largest cities in Poland, but its rich past is not so evident any longer, as many of its historical buildings were destroyed during WWII. However, the small Old Town square still has a handful of colourful traditional Polish townhouses. Other sights are the Castle of Pomeranian Dukes, underground tunnels from WWII, and the Cathedral Basilica of St James. The thriving student population gives the city life and a pulse, which is further enhanced by the trickle of day trippers from Berlin.
Poland has many elegant medieval Old Towns, but some are more magnificent than others. UNESCO-listed Old Town of Toruń is extraordinary rich in historical buildings, since the fine walled city was mostly spared during WWII. Remarkably, it's also spared today from the tourist hordes, since nobody outside Poland seems to know about charming and authentic Toruń. The best way to explore the Old Town is to just wander the cobbled streets and turn back, when you hit the modern part. It will be evident to any visitor to Toruń, that the famous scientist Nicolaus Copernicus was born here.