Poland Driving Tour: Warsaw, Kraków and Białystok

Poland has many beautiful cities. I visited three of them on a short driving tour, starting with Warsaw, then travelling south to Kraków and finally north-east to Białystok.

Wall round Warsaw Old Town
Warsaw City Walls and St Martin’s Church

Warsaw the capital of Poland was an obvious choice to visit, and a good arrival point from the UK with inexpensive direct flights from Stansted and Edinburgh.

Poland’s second largest city, Kraków, had to be included in my visit as it is considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Its entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Białystok appealed to me as I had read interesting things about Poland’s tenth largest city, and also because I like to visit places that are Off the Beaten Track.

Car hire via Auto Europe is fairly inexpensive in Warsaw, £15 to £20 per day depending on time of year, provided car hire excess insurance has been taken out before travel in order to keep costs down.


The roads between Warsaw and Kraków (about 180 miles) and between Warsaw and Białystok  (about 120 miles) are generally good quality dual carriageways and there are no tolls to pay. However the countryside as you drive along is not particularly scenic.

Warsaw

Castle Square
Castle Square in Warsaw

I must admit my knowledge of Warsaw was fairly limited, but a little research indicated that the Old Town was the area to see on a short break, plus Łazienki Park.

I’d stayed overnight at a hotel near the airport, but found it an easy drive into the city and parked in front of the Polish National Opera building. This proved to be an excellent place to start my tour of the Old Town. As it was a weekend when I visited, no charge was made for parking, although during the week it would only have been about £2 for 3 hours.

From there it was just a short walk to Castle Square (plac Zamkowy, which is actually triangular) and the magnificent Royal Castle. A tour of the castle costs about £4 for seniors. Towering over the square is Sigismund’s Column commemorating the king who moved the Polish capital from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596.

Warsaw: Wilanów Palace
Wilanów Palace in Łazienki Park, Warsaw

Castle Square is the entrance point to the Old Town to the north and the start of the so-called Royal Route to Wilanów Palace to the south.

However, initially I headed east to the Vistula River and followed the gardens along its banks north towards to The Citadel, before meandering one and half miles back through the Old Town back to Castle Square.

My route skirted the Warsaw Ghetto (1940-3), passing markers on its boundary, and provided a salutary reminder of the suffering of those days and the desperate heroism of the Warsaw Uprising.

Notable features along the way were the mid-18th Century Rococo style Sapieha Palace, the Barbican (completely rebuilt in the 1950s), the City Walls and the Old Market Place. I enjoyed an excellent and very inexpensive meal eating outside near the Barbican.

My visit to Warsaw concluded with a short drive to Łazienki Park and great views over the lake to Wilanów Palace as the evening drew in.

Kraków

The Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall in Kraków Main Square

I arrived in Kraków after dark. After checking in to my hotel, the centrally place Holiday Inn, I walked the short distance to the Main Square to be met by breathtaking views of the brightly illuminated Cloth Hall, St Mary’s Basilica and the Adam Mickiewicz Monument.

The following day, I spent time wandering around the Main Square, the largest medieval town square in Europe, viewing the wares on the many market stalls, and visiting the magnificent St Mary’s Basilica with its unusual asymmetric towers.

I then headed south towards the Wawel Castle complex, perched on a limestone outcrop above the Vistula River. Several of the buildings within the complex can be visited, including the 14th Century Wawel Cathedral. There are panoramic views over the river from the castle walls.

Vistula River from Wawel Castle Walls
Vistula River from Wawel Castle Walls, Kraków

A short walk south along the river took me to the Kazimierz part of the Old Town, once a city in its own right. This area contains many interesting buildings including seven ancient synagogues and several museums.

Białystok

Again I stayed at a central hotel, the Hotel Ibis Styles, which I can happily recommend for its smart rooms, helpful staff, good breakfast and free parking.

My walking tour of the Old Town started from Kosciuszko Market Square, just across the road from the hotel. Towering over the square are the red brick towers of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also known as Białystok Cathedral), and further along the square is the Town Hall, which contains a museum of local history and art.

Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Białystok Cathedral

Lipowa, the main shopping street of Białystok starts from the market square and is alive with bars, cafes, restaurants as well as a wide range of shops. I returned there in the evening for an excellent meal washed down with tasty local beer.

The highlight of my walking tour was the Branicki Palace, just a short way east of the market square. The original late 17th Century place was destroyed in World War II, but was rebuilt and now sits resplendent amid gardens and pavilions.

Overall Impressions

As a senior traveller I enjoy my creature comforts when touring around, but also like to get good value for money. This driving tour of Polish cities fulfilled both these aspects. The hotels I stayed at were excellent as was the Polish food I sampled along the way, all at very reasonable prices, much less than Western Europe.

Branicki Palace
Branicki Palace, Białystok

There has long been good relations between Poland and the UK and certainly I found everyone I met to be very friendly, and helpful with regard to our plans.

I saw enough in this short break tour to persuade me to return in the future and spend more time exploring the many interesting places I viewed in Warsaw and Kraków. However one trip to Białystok is probably enough, so next time maybe I will include Gdansk (about 200 miles north-west of Warsaw) as there seems to be much of interest to see there.

Again I would travel by car – I appreciate the independence it gives and the driving on this trip presented no problems.


Additional Photographs

Warsaw: The Royal Palace
Warsaw: The Royal Castle
Warsaw: Eating outside in the Old Town
Warsaw: Eating outside in the Old Town
Warsaw: The Barbican
Warsaw: The Barbican
Kraków: St Mary's Basilica
Kraków: St Mary’s Basilica
Kraków: The Cloth Hall in the Main Square
Kraków: The Cloth Hall in the Main Square
Kraków: Wawel Royal Castle
Kraków: Wawel Royal Castle
Ibis Styles Hotel Bialystok
Białystok: Ibis Styles Hotel
Białystok
Białystok: Lipowa Street

POSTED 12th MARCH 2020 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.