Situated almost directly in the middle of mainland Europe, both Poland and the Czech Republic act as a gateway between western and eastern Europe. Although both countries are neighbouring Germany, whose capital attracts tens of millions of tourists per year, they are relatively unvisited by Australians when making the trip over to Europe.
This is great news for you. Both countries, along with the rest of eastern Europe, have remained reasonably cheap for tourists as there isn’t such a high population. So, there you go, another great excuse to book in some annual leave!
Filled with history from World War II and the Cold War, Poland’s capital of Warsaw is filled with diverse and beautiful architecture. The city’s Old Town Market Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains 13th century architecture, rebuilt after the destruction of WWII using original bricks. The square comes alive at night and is the perfect place to grab some beer and some pierogi. The dumplings, filled with various savoury fillings, will become your staple meal while in Poland, and should only set you back about 40 złoty (around $14 Australian dollars). Check out the most recent currency exchange rate, and make sure you secure your złoty in store or online now.
If you’re a history fan, make sure to visit the museums that Warsaw has to offer. The ‘Warsaw Rising’ museum offers multimedia installations about Warsaw’s 1944 uprising, as well as the post-war communism that the country suffered. Entry to the museum will cost you around 25 złoty (about $10 Australian dollars). Another fascinating museum to check out is the ‘POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews’, telling the story of the experience of Jewish people in Poland before, during, and after the second world war.
About a three-hour train south, you will find the city of Krakow. The entire historic district of Krakow is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is best explored by taking part in a free walking tour (but make sure to bring your złoty so you can tip the helpful guides for their local knowledge). Just outside the old town, you will also find Wawel Castle. A collection of buildings showcasing medieval, renaissance and baroque period architecture.If being 327m below the ground doesn’t scare you, make sure to take a day trip out to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The mines stretch out across 287km, and are filled with rock salt as well as intricate shrines and artwork. A guide will take you around the passages, where you’ll even get to sample some of the salt!
Three hours away from either Krakow or Warsaw, is the hidden gem of Wroclaw. Offering another old town square filled with multi-coloured buildings, Wroclaw is set apart as it consists of 12 islands separated by over 100 bridges. During your visit make sure to visit ‘Cathedral Island’, where you will find the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. Here you can climb to the top of the building for stunning views of the area. Make sure to also visit ‘University Island’, for the most stunning university building you will probably ever see.
Wroclaw is filled with history, the most obvious of which is evident in the little, bronze gnome statues that line the streets. Started as an anti-Soviet protest in the 1980s, Wroclaw is now home to over 400 different gnomes. See how many you can spot!
Perhaps one of the more well-known eastern European destinations is the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague. When you first step into Prague’s Old Town Square you’ll think that you’ve just stepped into a movie. Everything is so colourful and intricate, that your eyes won’t know where to look. A popular attraction within the square is the Astronomical Clock. Built in the 15 century, the clock operates a show featuring statues of the 12 Apostles every hour. However, be prepared to stand around in a crowd for a while, as the clock never quite strikes at the same time.
After checking out the old town, take Charles Bridge to get to the other side of Prague. The bridge is lined with statues of emperors, kings, and saints, and also gives you the perfect view of both sides of Prague’s centre. As you walk along the bridge, check out the local artists selling paintings, jewellery and souvenirs. Make sure to use our best price guarantee when buying your Czech Koruna.
On the other side of Charles Bridge, you will find Prague Castle. As with the rest of the city, you will be astounded by the amazing architecture in this district. In addition to housing the largest ancient castle in the world, the castle district is also home to several cathedrals, towers, and living quarters. Definitely take a day to explore the entire area, and choose a guided tour so you can find out the fascinating history that goes behind this beautiful area.
If you’re looking for more beautiful architecture, in perhaps a less visited place, I would highly recommend travelling two hours south of Prague to the town of Český Krumlov. Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is built around the Český Krumlov Castle. One of the biggest castle districts in central Europe, the area consists of forty buildings and palaces, as well as a seven-hectare park. Again, this is a place you should dedicate a day to, and an area best explored with a local guide.
Across the river from the castle, you will find the Egon Schiele Art Centrum. The gallery is home to works by artists such as Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, and of course, Egon Schiele. After you’ve had a look at some art, take a walk back to the river, where you will find an array of restaurants serving traditional Czech food, ranging from $10 to $40 Australian dollars per meal.
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