When most of us think of Poland, we think Kraków with nearby Auschwitz and the Salt Mines. Or perhaps your mind goes straight to world-famous Polish Pottery, or an even more famous Pope. But, explore further, because Poland has everything! Stunning mountains, long sandy beaches, fascinating cities, impressive castles, adorable little towns and a region of over 2,000 gorgeous lakes. Not to mention, the pierogies, the rich history and today’s distinct culture that formed from it. While famous Poland might be mostly in the south, some of the best places are hidden away in the north. If you’re looking to get off the beaten path in Poland, start planning your trip here!
There are so many fascinating and beautiful spots to see in Northern Poland, it’s hard to choose! I’ve narrowed it down to this list of places that you may, or may not have heard of, but definitely cannot miss. If you want to get off the beaten path in Poland, this trip will not disappoint! You can choose your own adventure, or follow the itinerary I’ve outlined, to make sure you experience it all.
Timeline + Route
You can do this as a marathon, a sprint, or pick and choose your own adventure from this list of ideas. Sprint pace could be done in a week, but ideally stretch it to max-2 weeks. You’ll be on the move, seeing a ton, but this timeframe will allow you to be able to soak in all the Poland that you can handle.
Spend the first weekend in Szczecin. A town that some say is worth a day trip from Berlin, but I say is a destination all its own. Then, choose your Baltic Sea adventure: Swinoujscie, for lighthouses, or Międzyzdroje for European bison and WWII bunkers on the beach, just for a day. After that, follow the road to the ruins of the church on the bluff in Trzęsacz to stretch your legs. From there, stop in the seaside town, Kolobrzeg. Spend two days there. One exploring Kolobrzeg (don’t miss the lighthouse!), and the second nearby checking out ghostly remnants of the Soviet Era in Podborsko and Borne Sulinowo. Head over to gorgeous, historically rich Gdansk for three days. Hit up the world’s largest castle by land mass- Malbork Castle- on your way out. Break up the longest drive of the trip (4ish hours) to investigate the ruins of Hitler’s HQ in Poland, the “Wolf’s Lair”. Then spend your last two days relaxing in the lakes region, visiting Poland’s wooden mosques and wandering the grounds of “Polish Versailles” in Białystock.
Arriving, Departing + Getting Around
This itinerary is a straight line, not a loop. If you follow it completely, you will end on the opposite side of the country from where you began. Instead of arriving and departing from the same airport/city, plan to purchase two one-way tickets from different cities. This is an extra step for you, but remember your reward is getting off the beaten path in Poland and really getting to explore.
The start and finish (Szczecin and Białystok) have airports, but if you’re flying from the States it might require a longer layover than it’s worth to fly in to, or out of. Try looking at flying to Berlin and then driving, or taking the train to Szczecin. It’s under two hours by either mode of transportation. *and bonus, you could add a couple days and see Berlin*. Białystock is about two and a quarter hours drive from Warsaw. From there you can head on to your next adventure.
This is a driving itinerary, so you will need a car. Be sure to add parking in to your search filters for accomodations, or inquire about parking nearby (it’s not always a given in Europe). All distances between are relatively short, no more than 2 hours with the exception of Gdansk to Augustow, which is a little over 4 hours.
Things to Know about northern Poland
World War II began here in Gdansk. Much of this region belonged to Germany, before being taken by the Soviet Union and included in the new Poland when borders changed after the war. You’ll see all of these influences in the architecture, food and personalities.
It can take longer than you might think to get from point A to B, due to a scarcity of main highways. So plan more time than you think you need and enjoy the tree tunnels on roads between villages which are, in my opinion, the best in the tree tunnels in the world.
Szczecin + the Crooked Forest
Szczecin is Poland’s 7th largest city. Connected to the Baltic Sea via the Szczecin lagoon and the Odra River. It has that same gritty vibe as most port cities I’ve visited. Spend a day strolling from Jasne Błonia Park, down to the river. The distance isn’t far, but there is plenty to see along the way. Grab lunch at Paprykarz Fish Market as you pass, and try one of the city’s unique dishes with the same name. Pass through the Pomeranian Duke’s Castle, and Old Town. Take the elevator to the top of the Cathedral steeple for a 360 degree birds-eye view of the city, river, and sea port.
On your second day, I suggest breakfast at Bajgle Krola Jana (best bagel sandwiches!) in Old Town before you take a half-day trip to the Crooked Forest in nearby Gryfino. Return around noontime and visit one of the museums in town. Choose between the National Museum- Centre from Dialogue “Breakthroughs” where you’ll learn about the Solidarity movement in Poland under communism. Or, the Museum of Technology and Transportation (great for kids) and see modes of transportation used in Szczecin over the decades. If you’re feeling artsy, see what TRAFO gallery has going on. Exhibits rotate, and the museum has many interesting programs that will allow you to more intimately get to know the region through art. Enjoy dinner and drinks at one of the breweries: Nowy Browar (my beer fan husband’s favorite), Wyszak Family Brewery in the Old Town Hall (cool location in historic building), or Browar Pod Zamkien (my favorite vibes and Zurek soup).
Now, head to the Sea! You can hop up the coast and hit all these highlights, or for a slower pace, pick your stopping point and relax in one of these seaside towns for a couple days.
Swinoujscie and/or Międzyzdroje
After your urban adventures it’s time for fresh Baltic Sea breezes! There are two neighboring towns straight north of Szczecin about an hour and a half, Swinoujscie and Międzyzdroje. So you can choose one, or check out both! You’ll find miles of sandy beach and dunes lining the shores of each. Swinoujscie is where the Odra River empties in to the Baltic. You can watch ships depart the river from underneath a windmill lighthouse at the end of the pier, then stroll up the beach promenade.
Or, go to Międzyzdroje and Wolin National Park (Wolinski Park Narodowy) to see the elusive and once extinct European bison in the small walk-in preserve there. Both towns offer relaxed, beachy vibes with nature trails and tons of restaurants lining the long, sandy beaches. Try a zapiekanka – a Polish open face pizza on a baguette- from one of the food stalls along the beach. Swinjouscie and Międzyzdroje are neighboring towns, so it is very possible to visit one, or both!
Ruins of the Church in Trzęsacz
On your drive from Swinoujscie to Kołobrzeg, stop to stretch your legs at the ancient ruins of a church, perched precariously on a bluff, high above the Baltic Sea. This church was built in the 13th century and at the time it was 2 kilometers away from the shore. Mother Nature has slowly reclaimed the land and as the sea crept closer, parts of the church fell down the bluff. The last slide happened in 1994. A tall walkway has been built out over the beach, stroll out on it for eye level views of the ruins from the perspective of the shore. The little village immediately behind the church make a great spot for a bite or drink.
Kołobrzeg + Podborsko/Borne Sulinowo
Kołobrzeg is a fun beach town. It has an interesting brick lighthouse at the beginning of a long beachfront promenade. You’ll find a pier that juts out over the sea, and tons of restaurants and beachy souvenir stands. Donuts aren’t exactly beach food, but you must get a paczki (that’s a Polish donut) at Pączkarnia Babci Jańci near the lighthouse. In town, the medieval Co-Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary towers over all. There are shady green parks, fountains, and spots of interest to check out along the way. Like the Old Post Office and Town Hall. Stay here for a night or two and spend one day chilling at the beach.
On your way of Kołobrzeg, head to Podborsko and Borne Sulinowo for a heavy dose of Poland’s dark 20th century history. Podborsko 3001 is the once top-secret bunker that had the capacity to hold 160 Soviet nuclear missiles. It is now a museum, open for tours on Sundays from May-October at 11, 12, and 1300. Be there at these times to go inside the super secret Soviet nuclear missile bunker from the Cold War era.
Then drive to Borne Sulinowo and see layers of history as you walk through crumbling remains of Nazi German officers quarters. Borne Sulinowo was wiped from maps and maintained in secrecy as, first Nazi German military training grounds, and POW camp. Then, Soviet military took it over and used it as its largest training area and barracks until the fall of communism in Poland. A drive through town shows the starkly different architectural styles in German vs. Soviet buildings, which are still used by the town of Borne Sulinowo. No longer secret, but a real, actual town on the maps in Poland.
Gdansk, a place you can unlikely pronounce and above all, cannot miss. Now, this is a matter of opinion, but in my opinion, if you want to see one of the best cities in Poland/ all of Europe, go to Gdansk. You’ll certainly want to see its gorgeous architecture, cobbled alleys, churches, and stroll the walkway along the river. Gdansk was the site of the attack that led to World War 2. The Museum of the Second World War there is excellent. Wander through Long Market, say hi to Neptune atop his fountain, continue through the pastel streets and the riverfront promenade at a slow pace. Stop and people watch at one of the sidewalk cafes. Let your kids ride the carousel, or the Ferris wheel. You’ll find them located along the river. Gdansk is just a really special place. If you’re wondering why you can’t miss it and why you should go, just consider me your mother who knows best telling you because I said so.
Plan on going to Malbork Castle on your way out of Gdansk. Malbork Castle was built by Teutonic knights, and completed in 1406. It is the largest all-brick castle and the largest castle by land mass in the world. It is impressively large and has a history to match its size. Definitely a must-see spot in Poland! You can get there in about an hour from Gdansk, and spend half a day exploring the castle grounds. We enjoyed our self-guided audio tour that allowed us to go at our own pace with small children in tow. There are also guided tour groups in multiple languages available.
From Malbork, stop in the Masurian lakes region for a day of outdoor recreation and relaxation. There are over 2,000 lakes here, so this won’t be hard. Adolf Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair is situated in the region as well and you can go see its ruins while you’re in the neighborhood. Slightly east of the Masurian lakes is the town of Augustow, where we enjoyed a lovely stay last summer. Situated on a string of lakes, connected by a 101 km canal broken up with locks that stretches from Poland in to Belarus. Augustow was a perfect breath of fresh air.
Polish Mosques + the Versailles of Poland
So, I haven’t actually been to either of these places. There’s only one life to live and it really limits one’s time and resources. But teamwork makes the dream work. I have a trustworthy friend and fellow explorer who recently visited two places in eastern Poland that I absolutely must include on this list for you, because they sound absolutely fascinating and gorgeous. If you find yourself in this region (I hope you do because that’s why I’m making it easy by planning this trip for you) it would be a sad loss to miss the opportunity to visit. I feel sad, because who knows when, or if I’ll ever be on the Polish-Belarussian border ever again. There’s just too much. Too much. What a world. It’s hard to choose.
First, visit the wooden mosques of Bohonicki and Kruszyniany. These two mosques are used today as places of worship by the Muslim ancestors of the Lipka Tatars, living remnants of the Mongolian Empire. Lipka Tatars settled in the area of these two towns in the 1600s. There are two wooden mosques that remain and are physical reminders of Poland’s history of religious tolerance over the ages. Make sure you’re hungry and eat at the restaurant across the street from the Bohonicki mosque, where you will be served traditional Tatar cuisine. It will be one of your best meals on this trip.
Located right in the city of Białystock. It is sometimes called the “Versailles of Poland”. Built around the same time, it has the same lavish appeal. Also like Versailles, the palace grounds are open and it doesn’t cost anything to walk around the gardens. People use the area for exercise, picnics, reading, drawing and taking in the royal beauty. Make Branicki Palace the cherry on your Northern Poland ice cream sundae and top off your trip here.