The Polish people tend to be friendly, laid back and welcoming to visitors.
Poland is a Catholic country, and particularly in the countryside, people are fairly conservative and generally quite devout. If visiting churches, make sure you are appropriately dressed and covered up to avoid causing offence. In the cities, attitudes tend to be more liberal.
The home is of great importance in Poland and this is where the Polish come into their own. If you are lucky enough to be invited to someone's house, you'll be treated like royalty. Warm hospitality is renowned and hosts will do everything they possibly can to make their guests comfortable.
Food and drink
Polish food is very comforting - perfect to warm you up on a cold winter's day. Poles take great pride in their domestic pork. Along with potatoes and cabbage, it makes up the core of the Polish diet. Bread is also a staple; especially rye bread, commonly served with many meals.
Because many Poles are devout Catholics, fish is also widely eaten, especially on Fridays and during Lent. Salmon, cod, trout and carp are the most popular choices and are available year-round. Preserved herring, in a variety of styles, is common as an appetiser or snack.
Numerous dishes are likely to come up on the menu when eating in Poland, but the following are the most common specialities:
Pierogi: ubiquitous on Polish menus, these flour dumplings are the ultimate comfort food. Savoury fillings include meat, cabbage and mushrooms, or ground potato and cheese. Pierogi filled with fruit or sweet cheese is often served for dessert.
Kielbasa: kielbasa is the generic word for sausage in Polish. On a restaurant menu, kielbasa usually refers to the reddish smoked variety, grilled and served with mustard. White (biala) kielbasa resembles bratwurst.
Bigos: is a hearty meat and vegetable stew; there are several variations on the theme including pork, lamb or venison with apples, sauerkraut or mushrooms.
Poland is most famous for vodka found throughout the country in a variety of infusions and flavours. The older generation favour clear vodkas drunk neat, while the younger generations tend to mix vodka with soft drinks. Top-quality vodkas include Krakus and Wyborowa while the most popular brand is Polonez.
Beer remains popular too, and certain Polish brands can rival the best German and Czech brews. Zywiec is the most ubiquitous lager beer - although the best beers are likely to be found regionally, the product of independent or microbreweries.
With a vulnerable location, sandwiched between superpowers on either side, Poland's history is one of unrest and invasion. Despite this, though, Poland has retained a unique cultural heritage and proved itself as a proud and indomitable nation.
The country's first historically documented ruler was Mieszko I (c. 935-992), Duke of Polans (a territory roughly equivalent to modern Poland).
The last independent King of Poland abdicated in 1795. The core of the country became the Grand Duchy of Warsaw under the protection of Napoleon I. Between 1815 and 1918, Poland ceased to exist as a political entity and was divided between Russia, Prussia (then Germany), and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In 1939, Poland had the largest Jewish community in Europe (almost 3.5 million). This may be why 70% of the Nazi extermination camps during WWII were located in what is now Poland, including the three most infamous ones: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and Belzec.