From legendary dragons to castle-dwelling ghosts, discover Poland's rich folklore tradition.
Any visitor to Poland will be struck by the country’s vibrant and sometimes bloody history of royal dynasties, wars, and occupations. But equally rich is its folklore tradition of witchcraft, hauntings, heroes, and monsters.
This tradition has recently gained prominence through the popular role-playing video game series, The Witcher, based on a series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Whether you’re a fan or not, for those with an interest in the magical and paranormal, Poland offers countless sites of interest. Here are a few of our favorites.
Krakow’s majestic Wawel Castle stands on a hill honeycombed with caves and crevices. Legend has it that in the early days of the city—during the reign of its namesake, King Krak—one of these caves was inhabited by a dragon that terrorized the city, devouring maidens and livestock.
According to the oldest version of the legend, the king’s sons tricked the beast to his death by feeding him cattle skins stuffed with sulfur, setting his insides ablaze. This version of the story has a grim ending, as the jealous younger prince then killed his older brother and blamed it on the dragon. Other versions have the king himself or a clever shoemaker vanquishing the beast.
Whatever your preferred version, be sure to tour the Dragon’s Lair during your visit to Wawel Castle and pass by the dragon sculpture outside, which periodically belches real fire.
Café patrons enjoy a view of St. Mary’s Church across Kraków’s picturesque Rynek Główny, one of the largest public plazas in Europe. Dating to the 13th century and home to examples of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, the Old Town’s market square is a popular shopping and dining destination for locals and tourists.
Hikers in the Tatra Mountains climb a trail above the twin pools of Black Tarn and Sea Eye Tarn. The highest point in the Carpathians, the mountains lie in Poland and Slovakia and are distinguished by their high-altitude lakes and well-marked trails.
A starry, vaulted ceiling soars over the elaborately painted interior of St. Mary’s Church in Kraków, Poland’s old royal capital. The Gothic church was rebuilt on a foundation of ruins in the 14th century, when the nation was formed from a group of small principalities.
Built by knights of the Teutonic Order in the 13th century, massive Malbork Castle’s red brick and Gothic style make it unique among medieval castles in Europe. The fortress, located near Gdańsk, is now a museum with guided tours and exhibitions. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.