Poland is famous for its cultural and religious diversity. On the Baltic coast, Poland has long been an important port and center of trade between Russia, Belarus and other surrounding countries. As a result, various faith traditions have flourished and co-existed peacefully in the country for hundreds of years. Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Judaism and the Protestant faiths have all contributed to the variations in architecture, cultural traditions and the many holidays and festivals celebrated throughout the year.
Krakow, the historic capital of Poland and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, has long been known as a center of artistic life and learning. This is evident in the array of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture that adorns the city’s streets. The entirety of Krakow’s Old Town and Wawel Hill is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old Town impresses travelers with the beautiful Cloth Hall and clock tower, and St. Mary’s Basilica. Wawel Castle on Wawel Hill, historic residence of the Kings of Poland, will pique the interest of history lovers.
Your group will enjoy experiencing Poland’s extensive history, rich European cuisine and intermingling of cultures. As Anna Cichonska, director of the Polish National Tourist Office, said, Poland is “a land that must be experienced.”
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the world’s oldest salt mines, was built in the 13th century and produced table salt until 2007.
Top Attractions for Church Groups
• Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, Krakow — This monastery was the home of St. Faustina Kowalska, and it was here where she instructed the painting of the image of the Divine Mercy. The new basilica was consecrated in 2002 and is visited by thousands each year.
• Jasna Gora Monastery, Czestochowa — This large Baroque monastery is the most visited pilgrimage site in Poland for the statue of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, Poland’s black Madonna. The monastery was also the site of the 17th-century Siege of Jasna Gora, an important event in Polish history. Each year, the anniversary is celebrated with a walking pilgrimage for young and old alike; the two-week journey ends with a celebration on August 15.
• Sanctuary of Our Lady, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska — This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its architecture and beautiful sculpture park that shows scenes from Christ’s Passion. The church dates to the 17th century and has remained virtually unchanged. It is also home to the most famous Passion play in Poland, which takes place annually.
• Holy Father John Paul II Family Home, Wadowice — This site in Wadowice is the birthplace and childhood home of Pope John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyła. At the home, now a museum, visitors can hear personal stories and see the belongings of the Wojtyła family.
• Main Market Square, Krakow — Krakow’s city center boasts the largest market square in Europe. The square is filled with shops and restaurants and is the site of a fantastic Christmas market from the last week of November through Boxing Day. Some celebrations extend into the beginning of February, with Poland’s traditional Yuletide season ending February 2.
Must Have Experiences Around Krakow
Must-Do: One of Poland’s most popular experiences is a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine and the Krakow Saltworks Museum outside Krakow. Highlights of the tour include the underground St. Kinga Chapel and the statues carved in the salt walls.
Must-Taste: Pierogi are a popular Polish food well known to foreigners. Typical fillings include cheese or cabbage, but they can also be served sweet with candied zest or fruit fillings.
Bring it Home: Deposits of amber are widespread throughout the Baltic region, so visitors to Poland frequently bring home amber jewelry. Gdansk has been known for its amber craft throughout history.
Photo Op: Many groups visiting Krakow take photos in front of St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow.
For more information go to www.poland.travel.