b Sightseeing Tour of Northern Poland - Part 1
Part 1 - Vistula Valley, Płock and Toruń
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Driving a rental car is an excellent way to tour Poland, to visit castles and towns that ordinary tourists do not see. Gdansk, Poland's beautiful port city, is a popular destination for all sightseeing tourists. Other ancient cities Chelmno, Gniezno, Plock and Torun, as well as the many medieval castles of northern Poland such as Bytów, Frombork, Lidzbark, Malbork and Olsztyn are rarely visited. This account of a tour by rental car in May, 2003, will introduce them to you. Many of them are also accessible by public transportation and the best way of getting there will also be shown.
INDEX:  General,
Part 1 - Along the Vistula valley - Warsaw to Torun,
Part 2 - Gdansk and Chełmno,
Part 3 - Pomerania, Mazury and Warmia, lakes and castles.

First a couple of general observations:
map Guidebook. You may have downloaded lots of information from the Internet, but a good guide book is still desirable. I like the DK Eyewitness "Poland" (ISBN 0789477750). It is not too bulky, is beautifully illustrated and has a wealth of information about all the smaller towns with anything of interest. Click on the "Amazon" sidebar to order it (just copy the ISBN number into the search line and click "GO").
Road and town maps. "www.pilot.pl" provides an excellent service, best in Europe. Clicking on "en" (on the bottom line) provides only partial translation into English. Type in the name of town or village, then click on "POKAZ miasto". The remaining controls such as "zoom" are intuitive.

Driving.   Much of our travel was on secondary roads. They were all well paved, although some were narrow. Most roads were well marked, both along the center and edges and all direction signs were up to the best West European standards. Some of the secondary roads in the Mazury area were badly in need of repair. Petrol (gas) stations were found around all towns, even the smallest, and on major roads near every important intersection. All were modern, built to West European standards by Aral, BP, and the Polish Orlen Plock organizations and provided clean, well equipped toilets and friendly snack bars offering varieties of coffee, tea and other beverages, as well as hot dishes. The average cost of unleaded 95 octane petrol in 2003 was 3.75 zloty/liter (approximately US$4/US gallon), The only problem - slow moving farm vehicles and tiny Polish Fiats and the occasional hot-rodder (generally driving a BMW or Mercedes). In Mazury, even the secondary roads were carrying heavy truck traffic from the Baltic countries.
I rented from a local Warsaw company Local Rent A Car. I can recommend most highly. We received a new car at a rate substantially less than the well known companies. In addition they deliver the car to you, at the airport, station or hotel.

Accommodations.   All 2 or 3-star category. All were satisfactory to very good, with only one exception. They averaged $40 /night for the two of us, good breakfast included. Most had been reserved in advance. At this time of the year not necessary, but often gets you better rates. The Polish company Poland4U.com provides locations even in small towns - I recommend. Always leave your car in a protected parking place over night. Cost varied from nothing to 20PZN (about US$5).

PART 1 - Vistula valley - Warsaw to Torun.
Rape in flower Heading down the valley of the Vistula river from Warsaw, the first town of importance is Płock. Located on a cliff overelooking the river, it was the capital of Poland at the end of the 11th.C, during the reigns of Wladyslaw I and Boleslaw III Wrymouth (Krzywoustny), and of the Mazowsze Duchy after that. Most of the present city is 19th. century, all that remains of ancient times is the tower of the 11th.C castle attached to the later Benedictine Monastery (now a museum). The Renaissance Cathedral was built in the 16th century and contains many richly decorated tombs and beautiful painted arches. A marble sarcofagus contains the remains of kings Wladyslaw I and his son Boleslaw III. See photos.

The best way from Warsaw to Płock is to drive north along the river Vistula on the divided highway #7. Then just past Nowy Dwór take the exit for Highway #62 which leads to Płock. It passes Czerwinsk with a twin towered basilica that dates partly to the 12th century and retains elements of the original Romanesque structure. As you drive along in May many of the fields are bright yellow in color. This is the time when the plantings of rape are in full flower. It is from these plants that canola oil is obtained. You will also notice that the roadside shrines are brightly decorated with fresh flowers and colored ribbons.

Roadside shrineThe next city of importance is Toruń, which is one of the few major historic cities of Poland that have survived the wars with minimal destruction. The city walls and gates along the river Vistula are still much as they were 600 years ago. Most of the Old Town is closed to traffic and must be visited on foot.

You should start from the Rynek Staromiejski (Old Market Place), which is dominated by the Town Hall with its 42m (138ft) high tower. The lower level dates back to the 13thC., but the upper stories and much of the decorative work was added in the 17thC. Today the building houses a fascinating museum featuring Gothic and 19thC. art as well as tools, seals and artifacts of the medieval craft guilds.
Many of the Baroque houses in the square date back to the 17thC and retain their rich decorations. A fountain in the square depicts the fiddler who drove away a plague of frogs, according to local legend. The red brick Gothic Church of the Virgin Mary is just visible at the north-east corner. You should see the rich 14thC wall paintings and ornamented altars.

Toruń is justly proud of being the birthplace of the astronomer and mathematician Nicolas Copernicus. The house in which he was born, and the adjacent one, both dating back to the 15thC, now house a museum dedicated to his life and work. Wander through the narrow streets to look at the many beautiful houses, one of the largest is the blue Palace of the Bishops of Kujawy, now the Academy of Fine Arts. Head eastward to the New Market Square (Rynek Nowomiejski) where you can drink a beer in the "Inn under the Blue Apron", which has been functioning continously since 1489. The Gothic brick Church of St. James towers over one corner of the square. It contains well preserved wall paintings from the 14thC. The most remarkable sight is figure of Christ nailed to a tree, the branches of which contain figures of the twelve Apostles. See photos.

From Płock take secondary road #559 to Lipno, where you join the main road #10 from Warsaw to Toruń - about 98km.

A possible side trip is the first capital of Poland Gniezno. Its main attraction is the ancient Cathedral in which a silver casket behind the main altar contains the relics of St. Adalbert (in Polish Św. Wojciech). He baptized king Mieszko I in 966 and was later killed by the Prussians. The 12thC. bronze door of the Cathedral depicts events from the saint's life. See photos.

How to get there. If you don't want to drive a car, you can go by train or by bus.

  • Between Warsaw and Gniezno by train several times a day with a change in Poznan, about 4 hours travel time.
  • Between Warsaw and Płock one direct train, several with change in Kutno, about 3 hours. Several direct buses daily.
  • Between Warsaw and Toruń several direct trains daily, about 3 hours.
  • Between Toruń and Płock several trains with change in Kutno, about 3 hours, or direct by bus.
  • Between Toruń and Gniezno several direct trains, 1 to 1½ hours.

Return to Top of page.
Please continue to Part 2 Gdansk and Chełmno
Local Rent-a-Car
Hotel reservations:
Plock, Gniezno.
Torun, Pomerania.
Map of Tour.
Detail maps for all Poland, including city plans.
LISTED PLACES for detailed information.


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Copyright © 2002 B. C. Biega. All rights reserved.

Last update Febrauary 2004