UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Poland
From impressive medieval castles to spectacular primeval forests – undoubtedly, Poland is a country with a rich historical tradition and full of natural beauty. It attracts tourists with picturesque old towns, extraordinary palaces, charming wooden churches, and incredible underground salt mines – traveling across our country provides memorable cultural experiences. Therefore there is no surprise in the fact that some of these places have been well rated by the World Heritage Committee and placed on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List. Go through our short guideline and discover sites of the Polish national pride!
Krakow Old Town
Located on the Vistula River, Krakow is the cradle of Polish culture with a unique complex of historical sites. The oldest ones are dated back to the 11th century. The total number of historical buildings exceeds 3000!
The most distinctive point of the city is The Main Market Square from the middle of the 13th century. The square is a starting point for most of the city tours. Surrounded by the rows of townhouses, it was the largest town square in medieval Europe. Two impressive buildings dominate the square: The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), with stalls from the 13th century, continues the centuries-long tradition of trade. The second most famous building is St. Mary’s Basilica. It boasts the largest Gothic altarpiece in Europe: the 15th-century wooden polyptych made by incredibly gifted sculptor Veit Stoss. Hourly bugle call also comes from this church. If you are an attentive listener, you will probably notice that the sound is suddenly interrupted. It is to commemorate a legendary trumpeter who was shot dead by the Tatars trying to conquer the city in the 13th century.
Let’s leave The Main Market Square and move along Kanonicza Street, to reach the Wawel Hill with its numerous attractions. It is a place that has witnessed the development of the Polish state and culture. The main attractions there include the Royal Castle, the Cathedral with royal tombs, and the pearl of Renaissance architecture: Sigismund’s Chapel with arcade courtyard.
A few steps away from the Old Town, the Kazimierz district begins. It was once a separate town, inhabited mostly by Jews between the 14th and the 19th centuries. Today it is known for its artsy and bohemian nightlife, spent in the local cafes, restaurants, and galleries. The heart of the area is Szeroka street with the highest historic value synagogues: the Old Synagogue or Remuh Synagogue. Worth visiting is also the part of Podgorze, the territory of the former ghetto, close to the Oskar Schindler’s factory.
Wieliczka & Bochnia Salt Mines
Welcome to the extraordinary underground world, a real kingdom of salt, formed by the underground labyrinth of chambers and corridors hollowed out in salt.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is the only mining facility in the world functioning continually from the 13th century! The zone open for the public includes two kilometers of real marvels made of salt: chapels decorated with salt sculptures, salty lakes, old excavations with original wooden elements, and old mining tools. The most famous stop on the route is the St. Kinga’s Chapel – close your eyes and listen to the excellent acoustics it has! The air you breathe here is among the cleanest in the world – free of any pollution or allergenic particles. If you wish, you may feel it deeper by spending an extraordinary night in one of the special saline chambers. A night of restful sleep without nightmares, far away from city noise, is guaranteed!
The second underground jewel – Bochnia Salt Mine – is lesser-known than Wieliczka, but it is also worth seeing. Older by several decades, it will take you to a fantastic journey through the most beautiful and exciting excavations. It boasts numerous chambers of a characteristic shape, austere underground chapels with beautiful sculptures and paintings, as well as mining tools and equipment from the previous centuries. The most effective is an underground boat cruising in the flooded part of the mine, and fluorescent halite crystals presenting on the natural route. Be sure not to miss these attractions!
Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German Concentration and Extermination Camp
The Museum, a world symbol of the Holocaust, is a shocking memorial and evidence of the cruelty of the Second World War. The Germans established the Auschwitz Concentration Camp on Poland’s occupied territory in the city of Oswiecim. Initially, it was intended to serve as a camp for Polish political prisoners, but soon became the site of the annihilation of Jews from all over Europe. It consists of two camps: the smaller Auschwitz, known for the gate with the motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work makes you free”), and larger Auschwitz II-Birkenau, known for the wooden barracks, the tower gate, and the ramp by the railway track, where the selection of victims took place… it’s impossible to stay indifferent in the face of it all. The Museum is also a research and educational center: it collects, analyses, preserves, and gives access to the historical documents and objects from the camp.
You can visit Auschwitz on a private tour – visit this page for more details.
Bialowieski National Park
The only Polish natural heritage site on the UNESCO List is the last primeval forest in Europe, with a unique richness of fauna and flora. It’s a home of wolves, lynxes, otters, and the biggest European mammals – żubr (European bison). It’s estimated that nowadays there are more than 500 of these animals living wild in the forest. The best way to observe them is a long educational trail, full of other natural wonders like the mighty old trees named after Polish kings.
Bialowieza Forest is a perfect place to rest in direct contact with extraordinary nature. Take a tour to Bialowieza Forest and feel you are breathing differently.
Warsaw Old Town
The Polish capital had been enormously damaged during World War II. More than 85% of the historic city center was destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising by the German army in 1944. Colorful tenement houses, churches, centuries-old palaces, and the Royal Castle ceased to exist in seconds. Thanks to the local authorities and renowned architects, The Old Town arose like a phoenix from the ashes in just a few years. The scale and precision of the work were impressive. The architects managed to show the city in the heyday of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Now, the historical part of Warsaw is teeming with life. Restaurants, café gardens, old shops, galleries… everything is at your fingertips. To appreciate the size of the reconstruction work, climb the bell tower of Saint Anne’s Church. The view is stunning!
Zamosc Old Town
Built far away from major towns, Zamosc is the perfect example of the Renaissance concept of the “ideal town.” Founded in 1580 by Chancellor Jan Zamoyski, the city combines beauty with functionality. The city layout was designed to shape the human body. According to the plan of architect Bernardo Morando, it combines Italian and central European architectural traditions. The central point is the impressive Great Market Square with a lofty tower of the Town Hall, and the collegiate church. The Market is surrounded by colorful tenements and arcades shrouded in shadow.
Follow Grodzka Street to reach some other significant historical monuments: the edifices of Zamoyski Academy, late-Renaissance synagogue, former Chancellor’s Palace, and the Arsenal. The city was surrounded by mighty fortifications, including seven bastions, whose relics are open to the public – be sure not to miss it during your stay.
Visit Zamosc to admire the realized vision of an ambitious founder – a city that has it all to be called “the pearl of the Renaissance”!
Medieval Town of Torun
Torun is one of the oldest towns in Poland. Perhaps you may have heard of it as it is known as the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus. Just to remind you, he is that famous astronomer who stopped the Sun and moved the Earth 😉 Of course, Torun has not been placed on the UNESCO list just because of that. The city has a lot to offer for all kinds of city explorers. By “a lot” we do not only mean the world’s famous gingerbread 😉
Visiting Torun is like traveling hundreds of years back. Founded in 1233 by knights of the Teutonic Order, it attracts attention with its authentic spatial and architectural layout, that has existed for centuries. You can find here the most authentic monuments of Gothic architecture and art in Poland.
Enter the old town by one of the medieval gates, and the city will open a wealth of monuments and charming places to you. The most valuable sites are Town Hall with a 40-meter observation tower, mysterious medieval churches, ruins of the Teutonic castle, and numerous granaries. Look at the well-preserved medieval city walls to imagine how powerful Torun was.
During a pleasant Torun city walk, we recommend making a stop in the reconstructed bakery from the 16th century – the Gingerbread Museum. You can bake there a sweet souvenir according to a traditional recipe. Yeap, a visit to Torun would be incomplete without tasting the gingerbread!
Welcome to the world’s largest stronghold made of brick in the world. The castle, made of 4,5 million bricks, is the first example of a regular four-wing defense fortress. It consists of three major structures: the High, Middle, and the Lower Castles, separated by towers and dry moats.
The High Castle was build in the 13th century and is the oldest part of the complex. It is worth to see here The Blessed Virgin Mary Church and St. Anne’s Chapel, which was a tomb chapel for the grand masters of the Order.
In the Middle Castle you should pay a visit to the Great Refectory to see the most representative secular interiors of medieval Europe. You cannot leave the spot without visiting a significant exhibition of amber, which houses Poland’s most extensive collection of this natural solids and objects.
Last but not least is the Lower Castle with an arsenal, a bell foundry, stables, a brewery, and Saint Lawrence’s Church. Vast moats and awe-inspiring defensive walls surround the full complex.
Malbork Castle seems to be a perfect destination for a city break. All you need is to book a flight ticket to Gdansk, hire a car at the airport, and head up south to Malbork. The fastest route is A1 highway and DK22 road, and the drive should take about 1 hour. Another idea is to take a guided tour from Gdansk to Malbork. A trip organized by professionals lasts 5 hours.
The Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
In the picturesque scenery of the Beskid landscape, there is a religious place, known as one of the leading destinations of pilgrimages in Poland. According to the legend, a local magnate Mikolaj Zebrzydowski saw a burning cross and decided to build a monastery at the site of his miraculous sighting.
The complex comprises a Baroque basilica with the Holy Icon of the Mother of God of Kalwaria, Baroque, and Mannerist churches and chapels. During a Holy Week, an impressive Golgotha staging is held here.
If you look for a pilgrimage tour, it is definitely an obligatory place to visit.
Churches of Peace in Jawor and Swidnica
Made of wood and clay, they should turn into dust in a short time. Fortunately, they have survived the restless centuries and are still delighting curious explorers of Lower Silesia.
These beautiful Protestant churches were built in the second half of the 17th century, as a manifestation of religious tolerance in the Habsburg monarchy. They are an example of a harmonious combination of baroque art forms and Lutheran ideology. First-time visitors are usually amazed by the interiors, where an extraordinary richness contrasts with the modest architectural style. It is worth stopping for a moment and listen to the famous organ concerts held in the temples. Their impressive acoustics will enchant you, even if you are not an organ music lover.
Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska: Binarowa, Blizne, Debno, Haczow, Lipnica Murowana and Sekowa
They were inscribed in 2003 as outstanding examples of the different aspects of medieval church-building traditions in Roman Catholic culture. As a part of priceless historical objects included in the Wooden Architecture Route, they captivate with the artistry and furnishing of high artistic value. They were usually built from larch or fir timber, with the walls of entire logs without any nails, but by connecting individual elements by crossing wooden logs. The interiors, a sheer gallery of decorative arts, always make an impression on visitors, especially the crucifixion group from the church of St. Michael the Arcangel in Debno and the scenes from the New Testament from Binarowa. If you are a music enthusiast, you should make a stop in St. Leonard’s Church in Lipnica Murowana, where the positive organ (a chest organ instrument) of high value is boasted.
Muskau Park (Park Muzakowski)
It is the largest English-style park located in the area of two countries: Poland and Germany. Two bridges (the Double Bridge and the English Bridge) connect both parts of the park. The park was established by Prince Hermann von Puckler-Muskau, who was inspired by English gardens in Europe after years of traveling. He decided to create a perfect landscape around his family manor in Bad Muskau. It’s a fascinating combination of nature and art – designed as a picture painted with plants, used local vegetation to emphasize the value of the idyllic landscape.
The most recommended places worth attention include the Viaduct, Prince’s Bridge, Bridge over the Gorge, and Royal Bridge with an openwork balustrade. During the relaxing walk, take a look at the small natural ponds, gorges, streams, garden houses, and viewing terraces.
Centennial Hall in Wroclaw
Not far away from the center of Wroclaw, rated as the most buzzling Polish city, there is an engineering marvel of the 20th century. The Centennial Hall was built in 1913, for the one-hundredth anniversary of the allied defeat of Napoleon, as a place for exhibitions presenting the history and economic output of Silesia. The city architect, Max Berg, prepared a project using reinforced concrete technology, which has not been used on such a huge scale those days. He planned to build the hall on the site of the closed race track, in the Szczytnicki Park. Initially, the project did not appeal to city councilors, who compared Hala’s body to a hatbox or a gas meter. Fortunately, their opinion did not negatively affect the final result, and today we consider it a truly ground-breaking project in the history of world architecture.
The dome of Wroclaw’s gem has a span of 65 meters, and the body of 42 meters high, which overshadows Rome’s Pantheon! Today, the Hall serves as a multi-purpose venue for various large-scale events. It hosts cultural and sporting events, exhibitions, music concerts, conferences, and congresses, both local and world standing. Even the surrounding area has a lot to offer – a Japanese garden with its main attraction, Pergola, will melt your heart with the same intensity as a UNESCO Heritage object.
Wooden tserkvas of the Carpathian region: Brunary, Chotyniec, Kwiaton, Owczary, Powroźnik, Smolnik, Turzańsk, Radruz, Smolnik and Turzansk
The other amazing wooden treasures are located in the mountainous Carpathia region, in the green part of Lesser Poland (Malopolska) and Podkarpackie Voivodeship, in carefully selected places, usually on small hills surrounded by trees. It was built exclusively of wood, mostly coniferous, with one entrance from the west and window openings on the southern walls. Typical construction is based on tripartite: the presbytery, broader nave, and women’s gallery, usually hidden under the tower. The nave and the chancel are covered with the high mansard tented roofs with the characteristic onion-shaped domes with false roof lantern. There is usually a wooden bell tower outside. Inside tserkvas you will find beautiful iconostases and polychrome decorations. The most valuable iconostas from the 18th century is in Owczary, and even older can be found in Turzansk.
Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine in Tarnowskie Gory
Formerly aroused the admiration of European aristocracy, currently delights tourists from all over the world. It is like an underground city – at a depth of 40 meters, there is a maze of corridors of the former silver, lead, and zinc ore mine Fryderyk. Taught conditions – low temperature and high humidity – let you feel the atmosphere of former mining work. Warm clothes and suitable shoes will be useful there! During the journey, tourists watch transport sidewalks of varying heights and vast chambers built at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries and will become acquainted with the methods of extracting silver, lead, and zinc ores.
A unique installation illustrating the operation of the first steam engine in this part of Europe is a real eye-catcher! One of the biggest attractions is the flow of boats on a 270-meter route. And for dessert, let us return to the bosom of nature, admiring the only lesser karst in Europe located in a former mine, and crystal clear water attracting several species of fish.
Neolithic Banded Flint Mine in Krzemionki Opatowskie
The newest attraction on UNESCO Heritage List, it’s one of the most important relics of prehistoric mining sites in the world. Here, over 5000 years ago, humans started the excavation of flint, which was called the gold and steel of the Neolithic Age. Despite the passage of time, it has remained virtually unchanged to this day. Traveling along the 500-meter tourist route, the tourists will learn the history of everyday life in the Neolithic Age and the early Bronze Age. In an ancient village, you can find a reconstruction of a Megalithic tomb and mining camps, which also function as a site for workshops and archaeology demonstrations. The unique category of the place and its closeness to nature make a visit to Krzemionki an unforgettable experience. Feeling curious?
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