Saturday, April 5, 2014
Lublin is a rare thing in Poland these days, an attractive historical city which has yet to be fully discovered by foreign tourists. The hilly cobbled streets of the old town are full of colourful building facades and outdoor cafes, while medieval gate towers and an unusual castle complex add to the picturesque skyline. On the outskirts of the city are two more tourist draws, the Majdanek WW2 concentration camp to the south and the outdoor folk architecture museum to the west. Both can be easily reached using local city buses. Beyond the city limits lie a number of worthwhile day trip destinations, and with many enjoyable restaurants and pubs Lublin makes a nice place to settle into as a base for several days. These are five of the best options for exploring outside Lublin, featuring a star rating out of five stars. The photos shown here feature, from top to bottom, Lublin, Zamość and Kazimierz Dolny.
**** Zamość - This UNESCO heritage-listed town is a perfect renaissance planned settlement, with walls and fortifications surrounding narrow streets and the showpiece old town square. Buses and minibuses depart from Lublin's main bus station and take 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes. Only a few trains per day go to and from Zamość so it isn't a very convenient way to get there, and they also take longer, 2 hours 10 minutes on average.
**** Kazimierz Dolny - This is one of the prettiest small towns in all of Poland, with a postcard-perfect central square of stone and wood buildings. Castles and churches are placed very picturesquely on the surrounding hilltops, and there are plenty of places to get a proper Polish meal after a lengthy stroll. If you decide to stay overnight here (many people do) don't miss crossing the river to see the castle in the neighbouring village of Janowiec, it makes a nice cycling trip. Bicycles are available for rent from several different businesses in the town. Buses and minibuses run regularly from Lublin's main bus station, taking 1 hour 10 minutes.
*** Kozłówka Palace and Socialist-Realist Art Gallery - The baroque palace is impressive enough, but the real reason to visit is for the gallery of socialist-realist art in the former horse stables. Buses and minibuses depart from Lublin's main bus station and take between 1 hour and 1 hour 15 minutes. Some buses are direct, others will require a change of buses in the small town of Lubartów.
** Chełm - This town near the Ukrainian border has a hilltop basilica and a few other historical buildings of note, but the real attraction is the city's underground chalk tunnels from the middle ages. Guides will lead you through the shafts and chambers by candlelight, and you can expect some chills when the resident ghost makes an appearance. Buses and minibuses depart regularly from Lublin's main bus station and take 1 hour and 15 minutes. Trains depart Lublin main station several times daily and take 1 hour 25 minutes.
** Pułavy Palace - This baroque palace complex to the north-west of Lublin features rooms packed with grand furniture and fittings, and outside there are impressive landscaped gardens. Buses and minibuses from Lublin main bus station take between 50 minutes and 1 hour, and several trains go directly to Puławy daily taking 35 minutes.
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Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Friday, June 14, 2013
2. Sigulda - A lovely historic town with castles overlooking the Gauja valley and walking trails to caves along the valley floor. Thrill seekers can try out the Olympic-standard bobsleigh track in a real bobsleigh for a cool rush in the winter, or in a wheeled model in the summer months.
3. Jurmala - The main beach resort in Latvia with long sandy beaches which draw sun seekers from nearby Riga. The many art-nouveau wooden houses that line the main boulevards are another prime attraction to take a peek at after getting sand between your toes.
4. Cesis - Often called 'The Most Latvian Town', Cesis has a picturesque collection of old wooden houses surrounding a 13th-century castle in its historic quarter. Close proximity to attractions in the Guaja Valley National Park make Cesis a good base for exploring the area.
5. Rundale Palace - A baroque palace designed by Rastrelli in the 1730's, which today is one of the grandest palace complexes in the Baltic states. Its location near the southern border makes it a convenient stopover for those heading south from Riga into Lithuania.
6. Cape Kolka and the northern Kurzeme coast - A beautiful and desolate stretch of wind-battered coastline which fills with swimmers and sunbathers during the summer months. The small villages of the Kurzeme coast are full of rustic wooden cottages, fishing nets, and the smell of smoked fish. Learn about the Livs and the endangered Livonian language, a small ethnic group found in this region.
7. Kuldiga - This is one of the most attractive small towns in Latvia, boasting narrow streets and 17th and 18th century wooden buildings. The town's other claim to fame is for having the widest waterfall in Europe, though don't be expecting a mighty torrent cascading down a mountainside.
8. Ventspils - This busy port has done well for itself economically in the past two decades and as a result its historic centre has been spruced up considerably. The city draws summer visitors to nearby beaches and water parks, and the waterfront also features an outdoor maritime museum. The city's castle of the Livonian order also contains a fascinating museum on the history of the region.
9. Irbene Soviet radio telescope - For those interested in cold war history, this should be an essential stop. Once upon a time this was a Soviet radar station used to spy on western communications transmissions, and today it is used by Latvian astronomers to study the universe. Guided tours of the facility can be arranged, including the chance to climb up near the giant dish.
10. Liepaja - This coastal city is the third largest urban centre in Latvia and its central streets feature an array of art nouveau buildings. Latvians think of Liepaja as a great place to let their hair down and have a good time, and its series of summer events and music festivals are a popular draw with visitors from across the country. Stay for a night in the former KGB prison in the suburb of Karosta for an uncomfortable taste of reality tourism.
11. Ligatne Soviet nuclear bunker - This cold war site is found halfway between Sigulda and Cesis, and can be easily combined into a day trip to these towns from Riga. The bunker was intended to house the leaders of the Latvian communist party in the event of a nuclear attack, and today it has been preserved in its original appearance for visitors to see.
12. Salaspils - This World War Two concentration camp just outside Riga is a sombre reminder of the thousands of Jews who died here during the Nazi occupation.
13. Talsi - This tiny town is worth a brief stop on the way north towards Cape Kolka. The hills surrounding the town are a rarity in this part of the Baltics and add a backdrop to the set of cobbled streets and handful of historic houses.
14. Kemeri National Park - This park just west of Jurmala features small fishing villages with bog land and forests in the interior. It is best known for mud baths and mineral water treatments at the park's spa resort.
15. Tukums - A few kilometres from this small town in Kurzeme region is one of the country's most-visited attractions (at least by Latvians), a theme park historic town called "Cinevilla" which was constructed for a movie made in 2004.