I’ve been talking to Małgorza from Poland Culinary Vacations for over a decade. Now that I’m semi-retired, I finally have time to take one of her many culinary tours of Poland. I’ve never been to Zakopane, so her September trip with 4 days in Zakopane and 2 days in Kraków sounded like the one to try for my 2023 trip to Poland.
My assistant Debbie and I both wanted to make the trip, and we talked about the idea of inviting blog readers to join us. Debbie mentioned that it’s a very long trip from North America to Poland to only see two areas.
She suggested that we put together a pre-tour offering. My sincere thanks to Debbie of Meerman Support for putting together two days in Warsaw and two days in Poznań for our group. We filled the tour over the weekend with a group that all wanted to do the pre-tour days as well.
I’ve traveled back and forth to Poland many times and been to most of the popular sites in the country, but there was a sense of apprehension about this trip because I felt responsible for the experience 16 other people from the USA and Canada would have. I needn’t have worried. They were an amazing group, ready for adventure and trying new things. Debbie, Małgorza, and I heard comments like these:
“I’m so glad we made the trip; thanks so much for organizing this.”
“When will you do this again? I want to be part of the next trip.”
“Our adult children have enjoyed the photos so much; they want to make the trip now too.”
We had a fabulous time and the eleven days we were together flew by. It will probably be a few years before I take such a big trip again, but it’s never too early to collect ideas. I’d love to hear your favorite things to do and see in Poland.
Debbie and I met in 2014. We were both living in Poznań and part of an expat women’s group. We wanted to show the group Poznań, the city we loved, and Warsaw seemed like a good second location to add because of the major airport. Here’s what we did in Wawsaw, Poznań, Zakopane, and Kraków,
We began our tour in Warsaw on a Wednesday morning, but many of our group had been arriving over 2 to 3 days before to acclimate to the time change. So we gave them suggestions of things to see and do on their own.
- Market places – Hala Mirowska, Hala Koszyki
- Restaurants – in the market halls above, Polka restaurant, picnic at the Warsaw University Library (they have a rooftop garden), Wedel Chocolate
- Museums – Copernicus Science Museum, Life Under Communism Museum, POLIN (the Hebrew word for Poland) Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw Uprising Museum
- Zoo – The Warsaw Zoo (you may want to watch the Zookeeper’s Wife first)
- Tour bus – Warsaw now has a Hop-on Hop-off tour bus; a great way to get a feel for the city and decide what you want to see next
We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel and had breakfast included in the price of our room. The hotel is used to accommodate foreign tourists and business travelers. They are located just a block from the Centralna train station. Some used a taxi or public transportation to get from the airport to our hotel. Many in our group chose to have the hotel send a limo driver to the airport. After the long flight, it was a welcome and easy, final step.
The Intercontinental breakfast buffet offers everything imaginable. Polish foods including soups, a full English breakfast, Asian foods, waffles, yogurt, fruit, sausages and ham, bread and pastries, salads, vegetables, juices, coffees, tea, still and sparkling water. It’s a meal that is of the highest quality and can carry you through the day.
Walking Tour – we hired a guide from Tours by Locals for our walking tour, we met at King Sigismund’s Column, visited Old Town, saw the monument of the Warsaw Uprising, the Ghetto area, walked the Royal Route, and finished up in the Praga neighborhood. We stopped for coffee along the way and had lunch at Pod Samsonem (a meal worthy of Babcia’s holiday table).
Next stop, the Polish Vodka Museum where we learned the history of vodka production in Poland and sampled 4 different varieties. It turns out that I prefer potato vodka. It was just smoother.
We spent 4 hours, which went by so quickly, at Polish Your Cooking. We prepared our own dumplings, two varieties, which we had for supper along with an amazing charcuterie spread that our hosts provided.
We went up to the viewing platform of the Palace of Culture and Science, a “gift” from Stalin to the Polish people. We visited their cafe, enjoying a beverage and the view.
We wanted our group to see how Europeans typically travel, so we boarded the Inter City Express train between Warsaw and Berlin, Poznań, our next destination was one of the stops and the halfway point.
When we arrived in Poznań, we again traveled like Europeans and took the tram to our hotel, PURO Hotel. The hotel has a lovely garden which we enjoyed in our downtime. The hotel is very modern, everything in the room is controlled by a tablet. The staff was so helpful. They went out of their way to help one of our group who needed to mail a package home.
After settling into our Poznań hotel, we went on a self-led (Lois and Debbie led) walking tour of the city, seeing the Royal Castle and the Imperial Castle (more accurately called palaces), The Franciscan church, the Fara church, Plac Wolności, Kolorowa (Debbie’s favorite ice cream shop), a quick peak at Stary Bowar (a huge shopping mall that’s won architectural awards), and dinner was a traditional meal at Browaria in the Stary Rynek with a beer tasting.
Our next stop was Weranda Zielona for lunch. After days of traditional Polish food, we were happy to be ordering green salads for lunch. The weather was nice, so we ate in the garden, but the restaurant’s interior was also breathtaking.
Then we visited the Rogalik Museum where we learned about the local pastry, the St. Martin’s Croissant. Many of our group volunteered to help with the demonstration. When the show was over, we were given samples and found that this is also the perfect place (3rd floor by American standards, 2nd by European) to watch the Poznań goats butt heads on the clock tower of the Old Town Hall at noon and 3:00 PM.
We had a little time to rest or explore Poznań on our own before we had dinner at MUGA, Poznań’s Michelin-starred restaurant for a tasting menu and wine tasting.
From here on out, we are traveling with Poland Culinary Vacations on their annual September trip to Kraków and Zakopane. Their guide, Alicija, gave us a quick tour of Kraków’s Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz. En route to Zakopane, we stopped in Dolina Chocholwska for a homemade meal which included oscypek, the Highlander cheese. In Zakopane, we stayed at Nosalowy Spa and Hotel. Our welcome meal at our hotel restaurant Marilor was a modern Polish twist on the classics.
We attended a cooking class in the village of Podhale. Cooking several regional favorites with real Polish housewives from the village. They even taught us how to prepare feathers for making pillows and quilts.
After sharing a wonderful meal, we headed to Sromawce-Wyzne village to begin our trip on a wooden raft through the Dunajec River Gorge between Poland and Slovakia. This was so relaxing as we spent an hour or more floating down the river. Dinner was on our own.
We spent the morning indoors because of rain, a rest we all enjoyed. In the afternoon, we walked through the streets of Zakopane and explored the outdoor market where you can buy local crafts and food products.
In the afternoon, we visited a wooden church and a wood carver studio. Many of our group had spa appointments scheduled this evening. I did enjoy a 50-minute foot massage with reflexology, just the thing for some walking so many steps in a day. Dinner again was on our own.
We traveled to Bukowina Talrazanska where we took a class on painting on glass and had lunch at Schronisko Bukowina where we also shopped for local specialties in the restaurant’s store. Personally, I stocked up on rose jam and pistachio butter.
Before dinner, we rode the funicular up the mountain to see the bird’s eye view of Zakopane.
To celebrate our final day in the Polish Highlands, we dined at Gazdowka u Zajaca restaurant in Dlina Chocholowska. We were served massive amounts of traditional Polish dishes and enjoyed traditional folk music.
On our way to Kraków, we stopped at Bacowka, a small mountain shepherd hut where smoked sheep’s milk cheese, is made in the traditional way. When we arrived in Kraków, our guide took us on a walking tour of Wawel Castle and St. Mary’s Basilica. After we checked into our hotel, Hotel Senacki, dinner was on our own. Many of our group went to Bialy Roza, a popular restaurant.
After breakfast, we visited Stary Kleparz, a centuries-old open-air food market. It was enormous. It made me wish I lived there because there were so many fresh things I would have liked to try. I settled for buying a string of dried mushrooms and some tea.
Then we went on to a cooking class at Kulinarne Kreacje. It is the most popular culinary studio in Kraków and it’s easy to see why. The space is both elegant and rustic at the same time. The chef and staff bring great attention to detail in the cooking they do with their guests and to their hospitality.
After enjoying the meal we cooked: zurek, duck breast with red currant sauce, potato dumplings, and plum dessert, Most of our group boarded our motor coach for a trip to the Wielczka Salt Mine. There were a few of us with physical limitations who passed on the salt mine just because of the 10 flights of stairs going down as you enter the mine and the amount of time standing on your feet.
I have been a couple of times before, so I can say that it is an awe-inspiring place to see. The salt carvings, the chapel made of salt, and to think that most of this work was done by the miners themselves rather than sculptors, it’s so impressive.
We wrapped up the final day of our tour with Poland Culinary Vacations with a farewell dinner at Wesele restaurant in the market square. We pressed one of our group who is an experienced square dancer into giving us a lesson between courses. Many of us had done square dancing in school, but it was new to Debbie who is Dutch. She was keen on the idea and can now share it in the Netherlands.
Final thoughts on our 2023 Poland Trip
Many in our group added their own side trips before heading home. Two individuals investigated their ancestral roots in Poland. Some added a day trip from Kraków to Czestochowa to see the Black Madonna. One adventurous pair, added four days in Munich to experience Oktoberfest.
I must say the proximity of the war in Ukraine was in the back of our minds. I told myself that if Russia were to attack a NATO country, it wouldn’t matter where I was. The streets of Poland were not full of refugees, but every Uber driver I had was from Ukraine.
It bears repeating that this trip was so enjoyable because of the people with whom we were traveling, an outstanding group, always ready to leave on time in the mornings, and always ready to try the day’s events with a smile. The group bonded and watched out for each other. It was truly a heartwarming experience to see us coalesce.
Since my first visit to Poland in 2009, I’ve always said that Poland is Europe’s best-kept secret. Beautiful architecture, fresh high-quality food, a compelling history, affordable, and one of the top 10 English-speaking countries in Europe. If you haven’t been, I hope that hearing about my 2023 trip to Poland will inspire you to add it to your list.
I wish you happy and safe travels!
An accountant by trade and a food blogger since 2009, Lois Britton fell in love with Polish cuisine during the years she lived in Poznań, Poland. As the creator of PolishHousewife.com, she loves connecting readers with traditional Polish recipes. Lois has a graduate certificate in Food Writing and Photography from the University of South Florida. She is the author of The Polish Housewife Cookbook, available on Amazon and on her website.