From vividly painted towns to spooky subterranean chapels, Poland fully embraces the quirky side of life. So here’s my celebration of some slightly weird but absolutely wonderful things to check out when you’re next here.
Wooden huts in Podlasie
Time has stood still in this part of eastern Poland. Podlasie region’s wonderfully ramshackle wooden huts, in particular, help preserve its unique character. With elaborate wooden carvings and mallows growing in the super-cute gardens, they are totally charming. They also make the perfect photo opportunity – just don’t forget your camera!
See Slovakia from the peaks of the Tatra Mountains
The picture-postcard views from the peaks of the Tatra Mountains that stretch as far as Slovakia are some of the most stunning I ever saw. When I visited the resort of Zakopane in the foothills, I skied in winter and hiked in summer. Whichever season you’re in town, though, do reward yourself after all the exercise by sampling the local specialities at a tavern on lively Krupowki Street too; it’s a lovely way to end a busy day.
Sauerkraut … for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Sauerkraut with sausage is, of course, a classic of Polish cuisine; it’s the perfect comfort food. For a truly authentic taste of Polish life, though, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to tucking into it at dinner. I can highly recommend it with scrambled eggs for a tangy start to your day and in a hearty midday kapuśniak (potato and bacon soup). So what are you waiting for?
Getting completely drenched may sound a peculiar way to celebrate Easter. In Poland, you pretty much pick a target and shoot at them with a water pistol or balloon. What seems a fun water fight is, though, a centuries-old festive tradition. The water is reputed to encourage spring rain, so the damper you get the more successful harvest will be, making this wetness with a purpose.
Enchanting Gryfino Forest
400 pines with bases that bend 90 degrees horizontally before reaching up right up to the sky sounds like the setting for a surreal folk tale. You can, though, step into this landscape yourself. As you stroll round, try to solve the puzzle of whether the grove was deliberately grown like this to make boat hulls, yokes for ploughs or curvy furniture. Good luck!
Dwarf-hunting in Wroclaw
Forget Snow White’s seven dwarves – there are over 350 of them on the streets of Wroclaw. The first figurine commemorated a Polish anti-communist movement, and the trend spread all over town. I spent a great afternoon seeking them out and then wandering round The Dwarfs’ Museum. It’s also well worth taking in the Dwarf Festival in September with its fantastic puppet shows. See you there?
Spotting deer from a long-distance train
All aboard for one of Poland’s most endearing sights! Glimpsing two shining eyes in the dark or a vast herd on a windswept plain as you steam past is a special moment. For an up-close-and-personal encounter, jump off at Bialystok to spy the red and roe deer in Białowieża Forest for yourself; it’s a quintessential Polish experience.
Did you ever tour a 400-year-old chapel – 1,000 feet underground? A trip to Krakow offers just that rare opportunity. At the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine, workers created a series of stunning subterranean statues and chapels. I’ll never forget gazing up at the sparkling salt chandeliers, in awe at a Last Supper hewn into the rock and across the eerie salt lake, and you won’t either.
Polish weddings (aka the perfect party)
If you’re lucky enough get an invite to a Polish wedding, drop everything. Right. Now. From liberal lashings of vodka and chunks of cake at midnight to whole roasted cows carved up in the early hours, it always promises to be the ultimate all-nighter. And my experience is that these parties always deliver on this promise.
Mind-bending Krzywy Domek
Officially the strangest building in the world, this mall in Sopot boasts a warped roof plus cartoon-crazy walls. It looks like a distorted reflection (or that you spent too much time at one of its cool bars!) but was inspired by the storybook illustrations of Marcin Szancer and Per Dahlberg. Seeing really is believing – and there’s definitely no quirkier place to shop or grab a coffee.
Navigating the Elblag Canal
Boats mysteriously turn into trains on this 150-year-old canal. It was impossible to build conventional locks on a stretch of about 10km, so here vessels are taken out of the water, loaded onto a trolley and ‘sail’ away down grassy railway tracks. I had a ball cruising down this beautiful waterway – wildlife aficionados are sure to be inspired by the birds on Druzno Lake as they drift along this relaxing ride too.
A sip (or two) of Sliwowica
Let’s raise a glass to this delicious plum brandy. At 80% proof, it’s one of the world’s strongest drinks and certainly packs a punch; but it leaves you feeling surprisingly sprightly the next day. There’s nothing, then, to stop you toasting it at any bar in the country or revelling at the annual Fruit-harvesting Festival in Łącko. Cheers!
Painting the town of Zalipie red (and blue and green)
This town’s housewives turned grimy huts into a feast for the eyes by covering up smoke marks from their stoves with brightly colored pictures of flowers. Vibrant floral images now bloom there on everything from chicken coops to churches. Why not drop by leading designer Felicja Curtylowa’s farmhouse when you’re there? Kaleidoscopes have nothing on this.
Jules Bukovsky is an independent traveler passionate about budget traveling, art and hiking. A year ago she moved to Poland where she loves to explore lesser-known natural sites, eat shamelessly mountains of pierogi and get her tongue around Polish words.