Poland is a rather off-the-beaten-path destination in Europe, definitely worth adding to your bucket list if you love history, outdoor adventures, some good food and fun people.
For those who would love to discover a new, small and not-so-known place during their trip to Poland, we have something special. Our guest writer, Agness, a travel blogger of Etramping originating from Poland, will take you on a memorable journey across her hometown where she was born and raised and where she still returns after long journeys around the world.
The historic town of Zagan is well worth a visit if you ever happen to be in the region – not least for some fine Polish hospitality. Here’s what you need to know when planning your visit.
The historic town of Zagan, located on the Bóbr river in the Silesia region of southwest Poland.
Zagan is a charming town with a rich culture and history dating back to 1202. While the town’s main attraction is the infamous Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp and museum (as depicted in the 1967 Steve MacQueen movie The Great Escape), Zagan also boasts an abundance of traditional Polish hospitality, most notably with an eclectic and delicious culinary menu of local dishes.
It’s not as touristy as Warsaw, Krakow, or Gdansk (which is part of Tricity), so you can experience all the delights of a rural Polish hamlet pretty much to yourself. There’s an abundance of things to do in Zagan and a lot of them are listed here.
WHEN TO GO
Poland usually experiences cold winters and warm summers, and if you’re willing to put up with a high chance of snow a visit between December and February can be serene and pleasant. You’ll certainly enjoy quieter tourist attractions and avoid the crowds. That being said, the best time to visit Zagan is between May to September, when rainfall will be at a minimum. Temperatures get up to 29 Degrees Celsius (84 Degrees Fahrenheit) in August and the humidity is always comfortable. Festival-wise, May Day is a big deal in Zagan and the town really comes out to play with food stalls, music and dancing.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
The closest international airport is located in the city of Wroclaw, some 160 kilometers southeast. Dresden, in Germany, is also an option and isn’t that much further. Try Ryanair for regular routes from a variety of European cities.
Buses depart from Wroclaw but they don’t stop in the town center – you have to get a taxi for the rest of the way. Although cheap, they can also be irregular and slow.
Rail is a better option, with four departures a day from Wroclaw station and you’ll be arriving within three hours. Check the timetable for more details.
Hiring your own car is by far the best way to visit Zagan and get around. Some of the town’s more notable attractions are quite spread out, so having your own vehicle is an advantage. Failing that, ridesharing is hugely popular in Poland, so check websites like BlaBlaCar for regular departures. Additionally, the country is extremely pro-hitchhiking, and if you’re keen to try that mode of transport you’ll likely be waiting for no more than half an hour in a good spot. See the hitchers bible Hitchwiki for extensive information.
Because of its small size, Zagan is a very bike-friendly town and this is the preferred option by many locals when it comes to getting from A to B.
You can hire them from the tourist information center next to the Dulcan Palace (tel. + 48 68 477 10 01 ).
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTION
The town’s main point of interest is the Stalag Luft III POW Camp and Museum. Site of the greatest ever escape attempt by allied airmen during the Second World War, you can visit a faithful reconstruction of the camp, including the famous “Harry” tunnel, through which 76 men managed to make a break for freedom. The museum is crammed full of fascinating exhibits and it’s a must-visit for anyone interested in WW2 history.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
The Abbey of St Augustine dates back to the 13th Century and has remained intact since its construction. It has a noteworthy library and museum, but the unusual attraction is the “whispered vault.” You can barely speak audibly and someone else will hear you on the other side of the room. Visits need to be booked in advance, so contact their Facebook page to arrange a time.
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
Klub Muzyczny Elektrownia (+48 533 736 767) is a super-cool concert venue on the outskirts of town. It’s small but friendly, with a good selection of beers and spirits. Gigs are hosted regularly and although they don’t commit themselves to one genre and you’ll likely find something that caters to your taste – it’s nearly always going to be loud.
Hotel Villa Park (phone: +48 68 478 18 33)
Located in the town center, Hotel Villa Park offers comfortable three-star lodgings with friendly and helpful staff, within an attractive older building and charming grounds. A free breakfast is a nice highlight, as is access to their spa and wellness facilities. Each room is equipped with a kitchenette if you really want to save some money, while the 24-hour bar might make you spend it. At the time of writing, a double or twin room will set you back $64.
Before revealing the top pick for eating in these parts, it’s perhaps prudent to offer a few suggestions and explanations for what you’re likely to find on the menu.
Probably one of the most popular dishes in the region – and indeed all over Poland – is this hearty meat broth.
Commonly served with pasta noodles, the most popular variety is Rosol z kury – which is tasty clear chicken soup. Easily one of the ten best Polish foods available.
You’ll find the Polish national dish gracing almost every menu in Zagan, as it’s a delicious culinary experience made with shredded sauerkraut and cabbage, mushrooms and diced sausage.
A visit to Poland isn’t complete without sampling it.
While you’ll find this dish all throughout eastern Europe and the Balkans, it’s also a Polish specialty. A cabbage leaf roll wrapped around minced pork or beef, chopped onions, and rice or barley. It’s also a traditional Polish wedding food, and if you manage to ever get invited to a ceremony – do not miss it.
Another dish that is readily available in other eastern European countries, pierogi is still very much synonymous with Polish cooking. They are made by wrapping dough around a sweet or savory filling and then boiling or pan frying. Add a dollop of sour cream for the full effect.
WHERE TO EAT
While the best eat-in restaurant in Zagan might well be Kepler ( +48 68 377 27 62), when visiting Poland you really can’t miss dining at one of the famous “milk bars.” A Polish institution that came about during communist times to ensure the population was eating, they’re go-to cafeteria style diners, regularly frequented by locals to eat traditional food for bargain prices.
In Zagan, the best one is Bar U-Waga Smak (ana III Sobieskiego, 68-100) open every day from 10 AM until 6 PM except Saturdays and Sundays.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
Poland is part of the Schengen Zone – an area made up of 28 countries that are without controls on internal borders. Check the list of visa free countries for stays of up to 90 days with a valid passport.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Zagan is a very safe and friendly town with a strong military presence. The Polish 11th Armoured Cavalry Division is stationed here – and American tank regiments are always within the region on rotation. You’ll regularly see US servicemen and women in the neighborhood. Walking in the town at night is perfectly harmless – but as with any destination, use your common sense and enjoy drinking responsibly.
Hospital 105. Szpital Wojskowy (+48 68 477 12 04)
District Police (+48 68 476 32 11)
MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS
The Polish zloty is the currency of Poland (zł). Check online for accurate and up-to-date exchange rates. The euro is the most popular currency to exchange and is usually stable at around 1 euro to 4.2 Zloty. 1 Z is 100 groszy. Some places – such as supermarkets – will take euros.
You’ll find four mobile internet providers in Poland – Orange, T-Mobile, Plus and Play. All have stores and kiosks in towns and cities and prepaid sim cards are available for tourists and travelers. Rates vary.
Would you add Zagan to your bucket list when visiting Poland?
BIO: Agness Walewinder is the co-founder of popular adventure travel blog eTramping. She has been traveling for nine years, working as a digital nomad and online entrepreneur. Originally from Poland, has currently visited 66 countries and counting!