Europe is the world’s favorite tourist playground. Famous for its medieval citadels, cobblestone streets, and History spanning several millennia, it is called the ‘Old World’ for a reason.
When visiting Europe, tourists are often in search of some of that ancient charm, and though the 44 country-strong continent has no shortage of natural and manmade wonders, for decades on end, it was mostly countries like Spain, Italy, and France that dominated booking trends.
While the traditional ‘West’ continues to lead booking trends, a lesser-visited nation belonging to the Eastern half is rising to prominence as the next tourist hotspot, much to the surprise of the Mediterranean subgroup:
Is Poland Europe’s Next Tourist Hotspot?
Poland is surely no obscure, poorly-promoted country that remained sealed off for years, but there’s no denying it lags behind its Western counterparts when it comes to international tourism.
Don’t get us wrong: Poland’s numbers are on the up, with up to 15.9 million tourists registered in 2022, when the country was yet to fully recover from the COVID slump, but they do pale in comparison to Spain’s or Italy’s, the latter of which hosted 71 million.
With that being said, Poland’s recovery rate is nothing short of impressive, with an estimated 48.5% year-on-year growth over 2021. In order to surpass its pre-pandemic figures, the country must attract only over 5 million visitors more in 2023, and it looks like it’s on track to do just so.
In the first yearly quarter, it had hosted already as many as 7 million guests, and the summer figures are not even in yet. So what is it about Poland that seems to be a source of fascination to so many travelers when they could be visiting the Colosseum in Rome, or the Sagrada Familia Basilica instead?
Poland Is Not As Unbearably Hot
First of all, Poland is not a Mediterranean country, and while that may sound like a weakness, particularly amid the ongoing sunny holiday frenzy, the Med is getting unbearably hotter each passing year.
This year, fires ravaged a number of Greek islands, as well as France’s Cote d’Azur, and numerous coastal areas in Southern Spain, with temperatures soaring past 90 degrees, and wildfires starting with little to no warning.
In Rhodes, an island in the Dodecanese in Greece, tourists had to be evacuated as the whole landscape was set ablaze amid the overwheming heat, with as many as 8,000 guests having their vacations ruined due to the scorching sun.
Poland does get warm over summer, enjoying long, balmy hours of sunlight and high temperatures, but it is certainly not as hot as Southern Europe, even though it also has beaches, and a natural wealth just as diverse.
Instead of the Mediterranean, Poland has a shoreline on the Baltic Sea, which it shares with countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Nordic subgroup.
It is definitely not the ideal vacation spot if you’re looking for Greece’s turquoise-blue ocean and warm waters, but Baltic beaches do get relatively warm in the summer and fall months, and if not for swimming, they make for great sunbathing spots.
Plus, the risk of fires is very low, if not inexistent, seeing that Poland is naturally colder.
Tourists are not only looking for beaches when they holiday in Poland, though it does have 770 kilometers of coastline, mostly sandy, just awaiting discovery.
You may spend a day or two basking in the sun in Sopot, the country’s main resort town on the Baltic Sea, but the main attractions lie elsewhere.
An Undiscovered Medieval Heritage
Poland is best known for its majestic, mountainous nature, unique folklore, and fascinating History, with natural parks that extend for miles on end, and cities that date back centuries.
According to The Telegraph, Hel, a sandy peninsula north of Gdansk, Poland’s busiest Baltic port, is ‘an unlikely slice of beach holiday heaven in sunny Poland‘, with readers picking this secret location as one of their favorites in the country.
Warsaw, the metropolitan Polish capital, was also voted a ‘Best European Destination‘ in 2023, owing it to its riotous nightlife, charming, post-War reconstructed downtown district, almost hidden amidst a skyscraper-dotted skyline, Brutalist heritage, and World War II vestiges.
Krakow, traditionally seen as Poland’s cultural capital, has been time and again elected Europe’s best city break by Which?, a consumer association based in the U.K.
Krakow is one of Poland’s best-preserved medieval cities, housing a beautiful pedestrianized central square, bounded by a medieval cathedral and other historical buildings, world-class museums chronicling Jewish History during the war years, and the fairytale Wawel Castle.
Within driving distance of Krakow, tourists can explore some of Europe’s largest salt mines, as well as delve deeper into the continent’s dark past by participating in organized visits to former concentration camps, now memorials, of Auschwitz and Birkenau.
Other beautiful cities include the aforementioned Gdansk, with its colorful houses and red-tile roofs, the beautiful Wroclaw, and Torun, a city on the shores of the landmark Vistula River and a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognized for its value as a medieval settlement.
Where Is Poland Headed Next?
Poland may still have a lot of ground to cover to catch up with its Western European counterparts, having registered an all-time peak of 18.7 million tourist overnights in 2019, the reference pre-pandemic year, but it is slowly, and surely getting there, especially now that prices in the West have skyrocketed and it is being engulfed by mass tourism.
Despite being a member of the European Union, Poland is not yet part of the Eurozone, and the local currency, the Polish zloty, is historically weaker against the euro, the dollar, and the British pound, making Poland far more attractive than the Mediterranean South.
Travelers are frequently opting for cheaper vacations that are not so crowded, and Poland easily fulfills that criteria.
In Europe, it is the 13th most-visited country based on tourist overnights (and climbing). So far, the number one spot belongs to Spain (299 million), followed by Italy (221 million), France (136 million), and Greece (120 million).
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com