Day 1: Join trip Warsaw
Arrive in Warsaw-Chopin Aiport and then check-in to our hotel. Poland's capital is a wonderfully dynamic and modern city, but reminders of its turbulent history are easy to uncover. After World War ll around 85% of its buildings were left in ruins; however, the city has been impressively rebuilt and restored to its former glory with the Old Town or Stare Miasto as its centrepiece. Buskers, street artists and open air cafes give the area a unique energy and atmosphere, making a visit that little bit more special.
Day 2: Explore Warsaw Old Town; chance to visit Wilanow Palace
This morning we head out on foot to explore the Old Town district. With cobblestone streets, historic squares and Gothic churches, it's easy to understand why the Old Town is top of every visitor's 'must see' list. We take in all the main sites including the 17th century rust red Royal Castle and the Lazienki Palace or 'palace on the water' with its attractive architecture and lush gardens.
There are several options for your free afternoon; Warsaw has plenty to keep you occupied if you wish to continue exploring the city centre independently. Alternatively, you can visit the splendid 17th century Wilanow Palace, often referred to as the 'Polish Versailles', or the fascinating Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which was voted as the European Museum of the Year in 2016. Another popular choice is the Warsaw 1944 Rising Museum, which is a tribute to the local residents who fought for their independence against German occupation. One of the exhibits here features a replica of a Liberator B-24J bomber aircraft.
Day 3: Train to Wroclaw; afternoon city tour and gnome spotting
The morning train takes us to the 'Venice of Poland', Wroclaw, a charming old city built on 12 islands surrounded by canals and rivers. More than 120 bridges link the islands which are adorned with delightful buildings reflecting the city's past. You'll see Bohemian, Hungarian, Austrian, Prussian and German influences as the city has been coveted by all of these empires throughout its long history. Keep your eyes peeled and after a while you'll start to notice something popping up in doorways, alleyways and on street corners; perhaps Wroclaw's most famous inhabitants, Gnomes! An important part of Polish folk law they also became associated with the protest movements of the 1980's and a symbol of resistance to communist control.
Day 4: Free time in Wroclaw; option to visit the Panorama of Raclawice
Today you'll have free time in Wroclaw or you may choose to visit the Panorama of Raclawice, an enormous circular painting (more than 100 metre long) depicting the battle of Raclawice. Wroclaw is home to many small and quirky bars and micro-breweries so there are plenty of options available to quench your thirst after a day spent exploring.
Further afield you might like to join an excursion to the historic city of Zagan, which was formerly the German city of Sagan and home to the prisoner of war camp for captured allied airmen, which is famous as the location of 'The Great Escape'. It will take either 2 hours by minibus or 2.5 hours by train per way to get there. Whilst here you might like to visit the 13th century Augustine monastery and library which houses many old books and globes and is known for its whispering gallery and unusual acoustics. Alternatively you could visit the castle which was previously owned by the wealth Bohemian Lobkowitz family or spend time discovering the charming Old Town and climb to the top of the Post-Evangelical Church Tower to get the best views over the streets below.
Instead you might like to visit Ksiaz Castle and Landscape Park, which is best known for its stunning Rococo architecture. It will take either 1 hour by minibus or by train per way to reach here. If we travel by train then we will pass near to the location of the reputed 'gold train' site where many people believe a train packed with Nazi gold from World War II was hidden in a secret tunnel that has yet to be found. At the castle you can either visit just the main fort or also the World War II tunnels which formed part of the Nazi 'Riese' complex. This 13th century castle was home to the powerful Hochbergs family, but in 1941 it was confiscated by the Nazi's and received significant damage during this time, but they also created a network of mysterious tunnel under the castle. The castle was fully restored in the 1950's to its former grandeur and today you can explore many of the rooms, terraces and gardens.
Day 5: Train to Krakow; explore the beautiful Old Town square
This morning's train journey sees us arriving in Krakow, Poland's capital until 1596 and still its most charming city. Dating from the 13th century, Krakow is a picture-postcard city of narrow streets, grand buildings and al-fresco cafes just begging to be explored. In the afternoon we begin to uncover the city's delights with a visit to the fabulous Rynek Glowny, Europe's largest medieval square. The square is still now very much at the heart of Krakow local life. Quirky town houses and historic buildings adorn the square with the most famous being the Sukiennice, a vast cloth hall where goods would have been sold in Medieval times, which is still in use now as a covered market. Inside you'll find vendors peddling a multitude of local wares from wooden toys to beautiful amber jewellery.
Day 6: Discover the Wieliczka Salt Mines and Krakow Old Town
We start today by visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by local train (the journey takes us around 20 minutes each way). At up to 300 metres underground we'll see a 400 year old chapel, a subterranean salt lake and chambers large enough to take the Eiffel Tower! The Chapel of Saint Kinga is the mines most spectacular feature and we will no doubt be amazed by what can be sculpted from salt. Please note that there are 350 steps down into the mine at the beginning of the tour and then a further 450 on the route through the various corridors and 20 chambers visited. The temperature underground can be much cooler than on the surface, so be sure to bring a jumper.
Back in Krakow later this afternoon we head out on foot with a local guide to explore the delightful Old Town; another UNESCO World Heritage Site! and the only major Polish city to escape the war unscathed. Many of the streets are still very much as they were hundreds of years ago with historic buildings and elegant frontages. Overlooking all this is the fairy-tale Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral, where past kings and queens rest in peace. We will go inside the castle which houses exquisite treasures collected by the monarchy of Poland over the years.
This evening you will have the opportunity to join a cooking class at a local restaurant where the chef will show you how to create a tantilising polish speciality.
Day 7: Chance to go to Auschwitz; visit the Kazimierz District and try traditional Jewish food
This morning is free for you to discover more of Krakow or you may choose to join an optional excursion to Oswiecim, the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp; an eerie and haunting place that drives home the terrible atrocities which took place here during World War II.
This afternoon we visit the UNESCO listed Jewish Podgorze District, the location of the Jewish Ghetto in World War II and the setting for the film 'Schindler's List'. Along the way we will grab a 'zapiekanka', an open faced toasted baguette sandwich, which is a popular local fast food option. Whilst in this area you'll have the opportunity to visit the Old Synagogue, Schindler's Factory and the Museum of Jewish Life, which provide fascinating insights into the life of Krakow Jews and the war years.
In the evening we commiserate the end of a great tour with a traditional Jewish dinner accompanied by Klezmer music with its expressive melodies, said to be reminiscent of the human voice. Following dinner, if you wish to join them, your Explore Leader will take you to a few local bars and pubs to give you the chance to try the typical Polish beers and the extensive local vodka varieties.
Day 8: Free day in Krakow; chance to walk to Liban Quarry
Today we'll meet the passengers and our new Explore Leader for the Krakow to Kiev section of our trip. Later on this afternoon your Explore Leader will be taking the new arrivals on an orientation tour of Krakow's main sights that you are welcome to join or alternatively you have the whole day free to use as you please.
For something that is a bit out of the ordinary you may like to take a walk to Liban Quarry, which is one of the least visited spots around the city centre. Here you'll find an abandoned replica of the Nazi's Plaszow Labour Camp that was built for Steven Spielberg's film 'Schindler's List' in 1992. It was constructed from the original blueprints from the actual camp and the quarry is just a few hundred metres from where it was located. The inmates of Plaszow worked in this quarry and were sadly also murdered here. It's a 25 minute walk from Krakow's Jewish District to Podgorski Nowy Cemetery and from there you follow the south eastern wall of the graveyard and there is a walkway down to the site.
Day 9: Free day in Krakow; chance for shopping in the Cloth Hall
Today is free for you to explore more of Krakow. You may choose to go shopping for keepsakes at the stalls and shops in the beautiful old Cloth Hall or to go upstairs to the Krakow National Museum, which houses a collection of 19th century Polish art. Whilst here you could also grab a coffee in the stylish Art Nouveau Noworolski's Cafe. Under your feet beneath the Main Square you'll find the Rynek Underground Exhibition which display artefacts from Medieval Krakow including coins, tools and figurines. Alternatively Czartoryskis is the oldest museum in the country and is home to a priceless collection of art, handicrafts and ancient memorabilia. The Jagiellonian University Botanical Gardens opened in 1873 and you can see over 5,000 different plant species in its gardens and greenhouses. A bit further outside of the city centre you could take a taxi to the Polish Aviation Museum, which houses a range of aircraft dating from 1910 up to the present day.
Day 10: Early morning bus to Lviv; walking tour of Lviv including the old quarter
This morning we depart our hotel at about 6.40am to transfer to the bus station to board our public bus for Lviv which departs at 7.30am and arrives in Lviv at 2.50pm. The public bus is modern and comfortable and there will be two restroom/refreshment stops made along the way and we'll also be given a packed breakfast to have on the bus. After being transferred to our hotel to check-in we will go on a guided walking tour. We discover the history and stunning architecture of the old quarter and along the way we will see the old market square of Ploshcha Rynok, the ornately carved exterior of Boyim Chapel, the Dominican Church and Monastery and the Citadel Inn. The inn was originally built in 1850 as a circular red fort that during World War II became a Nazi concentration camp and was known as the 'Tower of Death', but today it is now remarkably been turned into a five star hotel! We'll also see the Old Rus Quarter of the city and the High Castle, which affords great views over the city below. Lviv is home to not just one, but three different cathedrals; there's the Latin Cathedral, Armenian Cathedral and Saint George's Cathedral and they all vary greatly in style.
Lviv is the perfect spot for relaxing. In amongst the cobbled streets with their pretty red roofed buildings and tucked away courtyards you will find a variety of good cafes, bars and restaurants. Ukraine also is well known for its dumplings, which are called 'varenyky' and come with a range of different fillings such as cabbage or cheese or sweeter varieties like cherry. One dining option is the Dim Legend Restaurant that is spread over seven small floors and a roof terrace and each floor is decorated with a different theme telling the city's history through the ages. Whilst in Ukraine you should try 'nastoyanka', which is a local liqueur made from honey and herbs and comes in a selection of fruit flavours and even horse radish!
Day 11: Free day in Lviv; chance to join a chocolate making master class
Today is free for you to further explore this picturesque city. Lviv is well known for both its beer and chocolate, so today you may choose to visit the Brewery Museum or join a chocolate making masterclass.
The Brewery Museum takes you on a journey through Ukraine and the World's beer making history and explains the differences. There will of course be the chance to try an assortment of locally brewed beers too. Next to the museum is the Robert Doms Beer House, which is a large Medieval style beer hall and restaurant where you can sample more of the local brew and perhaps their speciality dish of pork ribs in beer marinade.
At the chocolate making masterclass you can learn all about how chocolate is made and try your hand at making your own chocolate master pieces with advice from a professional chocolatier. Apparently chocolate has been produced in the city since the Middle Ages and in the 19th century it was exported to aristocracy throughout Europe. Today there is a huge variety of different flavoured chocolates, ice cream, milkshakes, cakes and more to tempt you.
Alternatively you might like to go back to some of the places we saw on our tour yesterday and venture inside or perhaps to visit Lychakiv Cemetery. This burial ground is a protected historical monument and believe it or not is one of the most popular attractions to visit in the city. Established in 1786 by the Austro-Hungarians, there are grave markers here written in Ukrainian, Russian, German, Polish, Armenian and Latin, which show how the city's rulers have changed throughout its history. In amongst the elaborately carved tombs there are also communal graves for soldiers and freedom fighters and simple communist graves. Sadly during the Soviet era the graveyard was used as a dumping ground and only reopened in 2005 after being restored.
Day 12: Drive to Zhytomyr via the pretty town of Lutsk and the Tunnel of Love
This morning we will begin our drive to our overnight stop in Zhytomyr. Along the way we visit the town of Lutsk and our Explore Leader will take us on a walking tour of the main highlights. Competing with Lviv, on the beauty front, Lutsk is definitely worth exploring. The Soviet architecture of the modern town actually works here with its large squares and wide avenues, but of course the main attraction is the town's conserved historic centre. The maze of cobbled streets are lined with carved churches and town houses showcasing Lutsk's Polish, Russian and Lithuanian architectural history. Here we'll also see Lutsk's very well preserved 14th century castle. After spending a few hours here we will drive on to Klevan to visit the 'Tunnel of Love'. Along a three kilometre stretch of railway track leading to a factory the trees have all grown up around it forming a green corridor that has gained the name of the 'Tunnel of Love' due to the lovers that come here and make a wish for their future that is said to then come true.
We drive on to Zhytomyr, where our Explore Leader will take us on an orientation tour. The city has a number of picturesque churches including the majestic Cathedral of the Transfiguration, but it is also in touch with its Soviet past with rickety old trolley buses rattling past tower blocks, war memorials and numerous parks and public gardens including Gagarin Park. The city is one of the greenest in Ukraine and lies on the banks of the Teterev River and is surrounded by rocky hills and dense ancient forests.
Day 13: Visit the fascinating Museum of Astronautics; walking tour Kiev
This morning before leaving Zhytomyr we will visit its most famous attraction, the Sergei Korolev Museum of Astronautics. Sergei Korolev was a scientist and engineer who helped founder the Soviet space and rocket programme and he was born here in Zhytomyr. The museum is in two sections, the first of which is a memorial to Sergei and tells the story of his life and work. The main section of the museum tracks the history of the cosmonautics development and it has a number of exhibits about space travel, including a capsule that was donated by NASA that has soil on it from where it landed on the moon.
We then drive to Kiev, Ukraine's capital city, which is situated on the banks of the River Dnipro. This afternoon we will go on a guided walking tour of this ancient city, which has been inhabited for almost 2000 years and was once the capital of the Kievan Rus State, from which all later Russian states were descended. Although Ukrainian nationalism is stronger than ever, you will still hear Russian spoken here today. During our tour we will see the onion domed exterior of Santa Sophia Cathedral, the Golden Gate which was once the main entrance to the city, Saint Andrews Baroque Church and Mother Motherland, an over 100 metre high statue to honour the heroes of the Soviet Union.
Day 14: Metro to the monasteries and catacombs at Lavra; free afternoon in Kiev
Today we will begin by taking the metro to Arsenalna, which is the deepest station in the world. We continue by metro to the Lavra Historical and Cultural Reserve and visit the remarkable 'Monastery of the Caves' founded in AD 1051, where the labyrinths provide all the natural conditions needed for mummification. We take a guided tour of the caves and have time in either the Museum of Miniatures or the Museum Of Historical Treasures and the Holy Trinity Church.
This afternoon is free for you to further explore Kiev. A short distance from the Cultural Reserve you might like to visit the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which is one of the largest museums in Ukraine and tells the story of the German-Soviet War in iconic and Brutalist style. It has over 300,000 items on display and the memorials here are spread over 25 acres.
Or for something a little lighter, you may choose to take a relaxing boat trip along the Dnieper River or visit Mezhyhirya, which consists of a very large park and houses that all formerly belonged to President Viktor Yanukovych. After the revolution this park was opened to the public, so that now you can witness how luxurious his life was when he was in power.
Outside the city you could join an excursion to Pirogov Open-Air Museum of Wooden Architecture, which is about 40 minutes' drive from the city. Set on the banks of Lake Myachino you will be able see a variety of old Ukranian village houses, chapels and churches that have been preserved to display how the Russian people used to live.
Day 15: Trip ends in Kiev
Trip ends at our hotel in Kiev after breakfast.
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