Naturally, traveling is about local experiences, trying local cuisine, meeting local people, discovering local history… but let’s not forget that it’s also about sights and sites. Have you ever wondered if Poland has any UNESCO World Heritage Sites? You bet it does! We have as many as 16 UNESCO-listed sites in Poland. Let’s take a look at the most important ones, hoping that it will make planning your trip to Poland easier.
Hopefully, the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Poland will give you an idea of what can be seen and done in Poland. However, as far as places worth visiting are concerned, this list is by no means exhaustive, treat it as a foretaste. There’s so much more to discover! For more ideas and inspiration, explore our blog and stay tuned - or simply contact RealPoland. We'll be glad to help you design your own tour of Poland.
Kraków is probably the most popular tourist destination in Poland - and for a very good reason! It served as the center of Polish political life from 1038 until the day when king Sigismund III Vasa relocated the capital to Warsaw (just to keep things clear, this happened in 1596). Not only is Kraków beautiful (and we really mean b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l), but also this city has a one-of-a-kind atmosphere that you’ll want to experience over and over again. You don’t believe us? Check out our blog post about the reasons why We Love Kraków.
Even though Warsaw is the capital city of Poland, it sits in the shadow of more popular tourist destinations. After all, the city was destroyed during World War II, so the Old Town is not even old. Why would anybody want to see it, right? Well, wrong! This allegedly Not-Even-Old Town in Warsaw is actually... a UNESCO Heritage Site. Left in ruins in result of the Warsaw Uprising, a few decades ago it probably didn’t even dream of being pretty and colorful ever again. And just look at it now! It took a lot of time and effort, but it was meticulously restored. It’s risen like a phoenix from the ashes. If you neglect it, you’ll be missing out on a real gem.
But if you are after something genuine and old, don’t forget to include Toruń in your Poland tour plan. With its almost intact spatial layout and outstanding Gothic buildings, it gives a very clear and authentic testimony to the medieval way of life. While you wander around and explore its medieval street pattern, keep in mind that this was the birthplace of one of the greatest astronomers - Nicolaus Copernicus. (And if you feel like having something sweet, you’re in the right place at the right time: there’s plenty of the famous Toruń gingerbread everywhere!)
While we’re at old towns, there’s one more that is UNESCO-listed: the breathtaking and colorful 16th-century Old Town of Zamość. Built in accordance with Italian Renaissance theories of the “ideal town”, it pleases even the most demanding eye, having a high architectural and landscape value. It is an exquisite example of an innovative approach to town planning.
Built in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights, Malbork Castle is actually the largest castle in the world, measured by land area! It is a fantastic example of a medieval brick castle - and what is more, many conservation techniques that are nowadays considered to be standard, were evolved during the restoration of this castle in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Second World War resulted in severe damage of the castle, but detailed documentation made it possible to restore it once again.
World War II really took its toll on Poland and it is important that we never forget history. A visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp and a symbol of humanity’s cruelty to other human beings, is definitely a very difficult history lesson. Between 1940 and 1945, 1,5 million people, mostly Jews, lost their lives there. Auschwitz-Birkenau was inscribed on the World Heritage List as undeniable evidence of one of the worst crimes against humanity.
If you visit Kraków, a trip to one of the nearby salt mines is a must. They’re the oldest industrial undertaking of this type in Europe and they give a picture of the historic stages of mining techniques development. Table salt was continuously produced there from the 13th century up until 2007. Visiting the underground labyrinth of corridors, spectacular chambers and amazing chapels all carved in salt is definitely an unforgettable experience. P.S. Did you know that you could spend a night in the Salt Mines?
If you are particularly interested in mining, there are two more UNESCO World Heritage sites worth visiting: the Tarnowskie Góry Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine with its underground water management system and the recently inscribed Krzemionki Opatowskie Prehistoric Striped Flint Mining Region.
If you are a fan of nature, the Białowieża Forest World Heritage Site located on the border between Poland and Belarus might be something for you. It is an ancient woodland (one of the biggest remaining parts of the primeval forest), which thanks to several ages of protection has survived in its natural state. It is also rich in wildlife and it is home to the biggest population of a very rare species - the European bison, also known as the visent.
Being the second most important pilgrimage site in Poland, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is an amazing cultural monument where natural landscape is used as a setting to symbolically represent the Passion of Jesus Christ and the life of Virgin Mary. Natural and man-made elements intertwine here, resulting in a beautiful cultural and spiritual landscape
Poland abounds in beautiful churches, there’s no doubt about that. But the beautiful Baroque Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica are exceptional, since they’re the largest timber-framed religious buildings in Europe. What is more, they testify to an exceptional act of tolerance of the Habsburg Emperor towards Protestant communities of the Silesia region.
Those who are really interested in sacral architecture will also enjoy exploring other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, namely the six best preserved Gothic wooden churches in Southern Little Poland that represent different aspects of medieval Roman Catholic church-building tradition.
Dotted around in the Carpathian mountain range in the border region of Poland and Ukraine, the sixteen wooden tserkvas are a very picturesque example of the Orthodox timber-building tradition.
Wrocław is a very picturesque city, worth visiting in itself. But many people don’t know that it has its own UNESCO Heritage Site: the Centennial Hall, considered to be a milestone in the history of reinforced concrete architecture and a great example of early Modernism.
Last, but not least, there’s the Muskauer Park/Park Mużakowski, located on the Polish/German border. It is an example of a new approach to landscape design in towns and has had an impact on the development of landscape architecture in Europe and America, based on “painting with plants”.