Table 1075: ​Wrocław – Katowice – Kraków – Przemyśl

PART 1

This month we are exploring Poland and the journey from Wrocław to Przemyśl, a total distance of 513 kilometres.

We begin in Wrocław, a city in south-west Poland, not far from the borders of Czech Republic and Germany, along the Oder River. Wrocław is one of the oldest cities in Poland with a beautiful old town, a variety of architecture, beautiful parks and amazing food.

Wrocław is best known for its magnificent Market Square or Rynek, at the heart of the city. Full of elegant town houses, restaurants, cafes and shops, as well as Wrocław’s Multimedia Fountain which, comes alive with music, hundreds of lights and water jets. The Town Hall is a prominent feature on the square. This gothic building is stunning and houses the Museum of Bourgeois Art, a basement restaurant and is also used for temporary exhibitions and cultural events.

As you walk around the city you can’t miss the famous brass dwarfs. Now a symbol of the city, they adorn the streets and every one is different. See how many you can spot…

On the north bank of the Oder River is the oldest part of the city, Ostrów Tumski or ‘Cathedral Island’. Cross the Tumski bridge full of love locks and explore the cobbled streets lined with old traditional gas lamps. Check out the stunning Gothic Cathedral of St John the Baptist; from the top of the tower you can see wonderful views over the city, the Botanical Gardens and the Archdiocese Museum.

Other highlights of Wrocław include Racławicka Panorama, a painting depicting the Battle of Racławice, The Cathedral of St Mary Magdalene with its open-air ‘Witches Bridge’, Wrocław University with its Mathematical Tower, Aula Leopoldinum and Oratorium Marianum halls.

PART 2

This week we continue our journey leaving Wrocław and heading south east to Katowice a distance of 190 kilometres.

Following the Odra Valley upstream we reach the medieval town of Brzeg. Attractions include the magnificent renaissance Brzeg Castle with the Museum of Silesian Piasts found inside, the baroque architecture of The Raising of the Holy Cross Church located next to the castle and St. Nicholas Church with fabulous stained glass windows.

Next we reach Opole, one of the oldest cities in Poland, this picturesque city has a lovely market square and Piast Tower is the main landmark in the city. Gliwice is the next stop before reaching Katowice.

Katowice is a city in the Silesian Region of southern Poland on the banks of the river Rawa. It is Poland’s main industrial centre, a mix of modern and historical architecture. One of the main attractions is the Silesian Museum, many of the exhibition spaces have been adapted from the former shafts and tunnels of the Katowice Coal Mine which the Museum now occupies, including a viewing tower in the previous mine shaft hoist tower. Also not to be missed is a visit to Silesia Park, an extensive green area of 6.2 square kilometres which is also home to the Silesian Planetarium, Silesian Zoological Garden and Upper Silesian Ethnographic Park.

Katowice is 27 kilometres from Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum and frequent tours run from the city. It is possible to take a train to Oświęcim which takes around 48 minutes and then there is a 1.2 kilometre walk. Admission to the grounds is free but must be booked in advance.

PART 3

Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland dating back to the 7th century.

In Kraków’s Main Square, you will find Town Hall Tower and the ‘Eros Bendato’ statue on the far side of the Cloth Hall. The Rynek underground museum explores 700 years of history with artefacts and reconstructions.

St. Mary’s Basilica is the jewel of Kraków’s Old Town. This brick Gothic church was built in the late 13th century and its two towers of differing heights form one of the city’s most iconic buildings.

Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, has a great selection of cafes and restaurants to sample some traditional polish food or, for a quick snack, perhaps try some street food. You can also explore the older part of town and visit the oldest synagogue in Kraków (also one of the oldest in Europe).

Wawel castle, overlooking the Vistula River, is one of the most noticeable landmarks in Kraków. The architecture is a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Early Baroque due to it being captured and occupied by various rulers during its long history.

PART 4

This week we explore Przemyśl, the final destination of this month’s journey through Poland. The town is situated at the foot of a hill, offering mountainous views and is located only a few kilometres from the Ukrainian border. It lies on the San River offering an important trade route to Central Europe.

Casimir Castle was built from 1340 by King Casimirus the Great, on the hill towering over the city in the place of an older settlement. It was thoroughly renovated in the 16th century in Renaissance style and in 1842 the beautiful Castle Park was added.

Przemyśl’s  modern museum presents well-curated permanent exhibitions on the city’s prehistoric and medieval times, its Jewish history and the story of Przemyśl Fortress during World War I (among other themes). Temporary exhibitions explore subjects such as the art of the Hutsul people of Ukraine and Poland, or the traumatic experience of the city during World War II.

The remnants of Austria-Hungary’s Przemyśl Fortress surround the town. These were mostly earth ramparts, although they are now overgrown and resemble natural rather than artificial bulwarks. They’re a fair distance out of town, but among the best examples are Fort I (Salis Soglio) in Sieliska, Fort VIII (Łętownia) in Kuńkowce and Fort XIII (San Rideau) in Bolestraszyce. The tourist office can provide information about the sites and transport details.

TABLES 1030, 1065 – Gdańsk – Warszawa – Kraków

PART 1

Polish cities are becoming increasingly popular as holiday destinations thanks in part to considerable urban renovation in recent years. Add to that reduced journey times and sleek modern commuter trains and there has never been a better time to travel around Poland by train. In this month’s journey, we travel from Gdańsk in the north to Kraków in the south, which now takes just over five hours (it used to take more than eight). We will also mention some of the detours and side-tracks along the way.

Most travellers arriving by train will use the city’s main railway station, Gdańsk Główny, a beautiful brick 19th-century structure located just a few minutes east of the city centre. Long-distance intercity trains are operated by the national rail company PKP. Shorter trips are managed by rail companies from each region so the type of train you travel on can vary from ultra-modern to older traditional carriages. If you are travelling with a Eurail or Interrail pass it may not be valid with certain operators so it is worth checking in advance.

Poland’s largest port, Gdańsk has a unique feel that sets it apart from other cities in the country due to its interesting history and switched allegiances between Germany and Poland. The Old Town has been smartened up in recent years and is full of characterful restaurants, cafes and amber shops (the surrounding area is the rich source of this semi-precious stone) set amidst the picturesque Burgher houses that line its streets. Although substantial parts of the city were reconstructed following mass devastation during the Second World War, the Main Town still looks much as it did 300 years ago and one of its primary attractions is St Mary’s Basilica, one of the three largest churches in the world. Head to the top for breathtaking views over the candy-coloured houses and cobbled lanes below​

The city has several interesting museums detailing the city’s varied history as well as pleasure-boat cruises and expansive beaches spread along the coast of the Gulf of Gdańsk, making it a popular summer destination for Poles and foreign visitors alike.

PART 2

Departing from Gdańsk Główny the first stop is Tczew on the Vistula River, known for its attractive old town and impressive 19th-century bridges. The city is a major river port and railway junction with links to Warszawa, Bydgoszcz, Poznań and onwards to Berlin. The next section is particularly scenic as you pass the turreted road bridge of Tczew and the equally breath-taking bridge across the River Nogat at Malbork. The quiet, rural town of Malbork boasts the largest Gothic castle in Europe, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is well worth a visit. Malbork’s railway station is also a sight in itself having been beautifully renovated and has wonderful wood panelling, embossed ceilings and pseudo-medieval decor.

From Malbork there is a side-track to the historic city of Olsztyn (Table 1035) with its imposing 14th-century cathedral and red-brick castle. The city is situated on the banks of the Lyna River and is surrounded by a network of forests and lakes making it a popular leisure location.

Continuing on our route south from Malbork it’s a short 2-3 hour journey through the towns of Iława and Działdowo to the capital, Warszawa the hub of Poland’s rail network. International trains run direct to Praha, Wien, Budapest, Hrodna, Berlin, Moskva and many other cities. The main station for tourist purposes is Warszawa Centralna Station which is located next to Centrum Metro Station and a number of tram and bus stops for easy transport around the city. Other large stations in the city are Warszawa Wschodnia in the east and Warszawa Zachodnia in the west.

PART 3

Last week we reached the capital Warszawa. Having been almost completely destroyed during World War II, the city has been rebuilt and is now an interesting mix of diverse architecture with modern skyscrapers, royal palaces and the charming narrow streets of the reconstructed Old Town which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

There are two options for trains from Warszawa to Kraków: the modern high-speed line with a journey time of just 2-3 hours (Table 1065) or you could take the slower route via Radom and Kieice which takes just over 4½ hours (Table 1067). The fastest trains are branded Express Intercity Premium (EIP) on which seat reservation is compulsory. The scenery is not that inspiring on either line so we recommend enjoying the comfort and speed of the sleek pendolino trains as you travel towards Poland’s second largest city

The historic city of Kraków offers plenty to see and do including some appealing day trip options beyond the city boundaries. Its main sights are concentrated on the north bank of the Vistula River where historic buildings and monuments abound. The main draws for tourists are the hilltop Wawel Castle and Cathedral as well as the Old Town which contains soaring churches, impressive museums and the vast Rynek Główny, Europe’s largest market square. Local tour companies offer an eclectic mix of day-long excursions where you can explore the high Tatra peaks, lakes with inland beaches and national parks in this beautiful corner of Europe. Two of the most popular day trips from Kraków are visiting the sombre remains of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp located in the town of Oświęcim and the remarkable underground Wieliczka Salt Mines (see Table 1099). Trains depart frequently but some visitors may find the organised bus tours more convenient as the price usually includes travel, entry and a guide.

PART 4

Following last week’s journey to the historic city of Kraków, we now head south on the scenic route through the Tatra mountain range to Zakopane.

Just three daytime services run from Kraków to Zakopane’s small railway station, together with one overnight train (Table 1066). Trains take a leisurely route through the hills and valleys with some spectacular mountain scenery, stopping at many small towns on the way. Frequent buses are also available and offer a faster option if you are short on time.

Zakopane is Poland’s best-known mountain resort, famed for its hiking and winter sports. Well-marked hiking trails criss-cross the land in all directions with some extending into Slovakia, although they can become crowded in the summer months. For the less energetic there is a funicular railway from the centre of the town up to the Gubałówka Hill summit from where there are spectacular views over the town and the surrounding Tatra mountains. Just outside the town, there is also a cable car to Mount Kasprowy. At the summit there is a restaurant and, in good weather, it is well worth the climb to the meteorological observatory, the building with the highest altitude in Poland.

Zakopane’s pedestrianised centre is one of its main features and the main street is lined with a variety of shops and restaurants. Street performers, portrait artists and horse-drawn carriages all compete for space and attention. River rafting is also popular with tourists and you can be gently ferried in boats guided by raftsmen decked out in the traditional embroidered folk costumes of the local population, known as the Gorals.