Poland has long been a nation steeped in tradition and history, although the past twenty years have witnessed such dizzying economic development that the country is starting to feel more and more like the West. Still, beneath the gleaming surface lies a culture firmly rooted in Eastern hospitality and community values, and fascinating reminders of the turbulent past are everywhere. Poland is also a land of considerable natural beauty, whose idyllic lakes, beaches and mountains provide a nice contrast to the cultural rigours of the cities.
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Much of Warsaw, the capital, conforms to stereotypes of Eastern European greyness, but it does boast an historic centre, beautiful parks and vibrant nightlife. Kraków, the ancient royal capital in the south, is the real crowd-puller, rivalling the elegance of Prague and Vienna, while Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea offers an insight into Poland’s dynamic politics as well as the golden beaches at the nearby resort of Sopot. In the west, stately Wrocław charms visitors with its architecture and vibrant student life, while quintessentially Polish Poznań is still revered as the heart of the nation. Outdoorsy types can enjoy fantastic kayaking in the lake district of Mazury, while the Tatra Mountains on the Slovak border offer exhilarating hiking and affordable skiing.