With everything from long, powdery beaches on the Baltic to fascinating medieval ports, this itinerary takes in some of the top spots on Poland’s northern coastline. Don’t forget the sun cream and the swimwear…
Total distance (approximate): 435 miles / 700 km
Total driving time (approximate): 11 hours
Recommended number of days travelling: 10 days
Best for: Couples and beach lovers
Fringed by a long and wide stretch of yellow sand that drops down from the dunes of Wolin Island into the rollers of the Baltic Sea, Miedzyzdroje is one of the premier seaside retreats of West Pomerania. The town itself is surrounded by the brackish waterways of the Oder River, which are now a protected national park and offer unique views of sea eagles and breasted flycatchers. Alternatively, you could join the locals and just laze on the beach all day!
Distance: 58 miles (94 km)
Travel time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Almost completely rebuilt following nearly total destruction in WWII, Kołobrzeg later emerged as a laid-back seaside hub. With a peppering of old medieval remnants – a redbrick Basilica, the occasional Gothic church – it’s still got some history. However, it’s the beachfront and the beautiful lighthouse along the shore that usually pull the crowds. In the summer months, beer bars spill out onto the sands, the Baltic gets packed with swimmers and spa hotels offer oodles of thalassotherapy (sea therapy) treatments close to the shore.
Distance: 108 miles (174 km)
Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Just a mention of the name Leba is enough to get native Poles dreaming of shimmering sand beaches and long summer days spent in the salty breezes of the Baltic. Others will look forward to the fantastical phenomenon that is the shifting dunes of the Slowinski National Park. Set just a little to the east of the town centre, across a wide lagoon, this reserve is home to a curious array of hardy plant species and towering hills of windblown beige.
Distance: 67 miles (108 km)
Travel time: 1 hour 45 minutes
The site of fierce battles between the Polish army and the invading Nazis in 1939, Hel is not just a pretty face – it’s also got a long and fascinating military story to tell. However, there’s no question that most people flock here for the long, sandy beachfront, which runs for miles as it juts out into the Baltic rollers. Big, red lighthouses overlook the bay, bars buzz with the laid-back rhythms of summertime, and boats bob on the harbour. Yep, despite the name, Hel’s a fine place to be during the warmer months.
Distance: 45 miles (74 km)
Travel time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Make your initial stop in the first part of Poland’s coastal Tricity: Gdynia. This relatively young town is home to one of the largest ports in the country, and was an important military outpost in WWII – there are some great naval museums packed with weapons, artillery and warships to wander. After that, make a beeline for Sopot. This throbbing, lively town with a long (the longest in Europe) wooden pier jutting into the sea is awash with cocktail joints and bars. It’s a great place to party or sunbathe – just be sure not to skip the gnarled and twisted Crooked House on the main street!
Distance: 7.5 miles (12 km)
Travel time: 15 minutes
Day six involves just a short drive through the suburbs of the Tricity to the iconic centre of Gdansk. Once an important medieval port town (look to see the old timber cranes still dotting the quays), it’s now a lived-in heritage centre with Gothic architecture, Renaissance townhouses and winding cobbled streets. The historic city-gates are worth a look, and so are the charming merchant’s guilds lined up along the Motława River (another relic of the Middle Ages). Meanwhile, the Gdańsk Shipyard sits just to the north of the Old Town, the place where Poland’s Solidarity movement first faced Communism in eastern Europe in the 1980s.
Distance: 37 miles (60 km)
Travel time: 1 hour
Elbląg once reigned as a strategic Hanseatic seaport on the edge of the Vistula Lagoon. Today, it’s a lived-in example of a medieval trading town on the Baltic, even if the handsome Polish Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings were all reconstructed after being razed during WWII. Once you’re done strolling the cobbles of the Old Town, be sure to find your way to the beautiful hiking routes of the Bazantarnia forest, or take boat trip down the Elbląg Canal, with its curious mechanical hoists and bridges. Oh, and a trip to the breathtaking Malbork Castle should never be missed!
Distance: 19 miles (31 km)
Travel time: 30 minutes
Hailed as The Jewel of Warmia for its sheer wealth of historical sites, all packed into a small section of shore along the Vistula Lagoon, Frombork is certainly a worthy detour along the Polish coast. There’s a soaring, spire-topped cathedral from the Middle Ages, as well as the old university rooms that were used by one Nicolaus Copernicus, no less – it’s said the great astronomer made many of his most important observations here!
Distance: 93 miles (151 km)
Travel time: 2 hour 15 minutes
One last two-hour push down the highway that leads away from the coast takes travellers into the heart of what’s known as the Masurian Lake District. Famed for its idyllic beauty, the region is peppered with mirror-like waters and vast swathes of rolling farm fields. Camping is the number one activity in the summer, with oodles of charming pitching spots littering the banks around historic Olsztyn. You could go even further afield, out to the wild Pisz Forest or the Augustow Plain, where bison and rare birds roam the grasses.