Fun fact: there are over 500 castles in Poland and one of them is a sprawling brick stunner that actually holds the title for the biggest in the world.
You could explore Europe on a backpacking trip, but that just wouldn't do it justice. Living in Europe for a semester does the trick though! I loved my time volunteering with ILP in Europe and traveling all over when I wasn't teaching English.
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Ok, now that you'll call Europe home for a semester, you'll have plenty of time to visit at least a few of the hundreds of castles in Poland. With that many castles, you have your pick of the litter, but Malbork Castle is at the top of our list.
This castle is more than impressive and you're going to want to take a photo around every corner. It's an easy 30 minute trip from Gdansk and the Baltic Sea which is a perfect addition if you're already visiting that area (you should be). And last but not least, Malbork is such an easy day trip from Warsaw, so it's checking all of our boxes. Here are all the details you need to make this trip happen.
All About Malbork, Poland
The Malbork castle is in Malbork (go figure!), nestled on the northern edge of Poland just a short drive away from the Baltic Sea.
It's only a 30 minute train ride from Gdansk, a coastal city on the Baltic Sea that's worth a visit. If it was me, I'd stop in Malbork to wander the castle in the morning, and then continue on to Gdansk in the afternoon, stay the night there, and continue exploring Gdansk the next day. Sounds like a perfect weekend trip.
Okay, back to Malbork. The city has a cute little downtown area and even a dinosaur park if you're a fan of that. Honestly, sometimes you just need a little random experience like that in the middle of your trip, because ... memories. And who else can say they visited a dinosaur park in Poland? But really, the main highlight of Malbork is the castle.
A Little History
Malbork Castle is the largest castle in the world when measured by land area, which means there is a lot to walk around and see. Plan on 3-4 hours if you are following through the set exhibits and taking photos (it's so photogenic). It'll easily take up a half a day if that helps you make plans.
The castle was first built in the 13th century, but its claim to fame came later, in the 14th century when the castle was fortified and enlarged by powerful German crusaders called Teutonic Knights. When the castle was run by these knights they required that there be enough food to last 2 years for all of the knights and their servants. As you can imagine, that resulted in so much food that there became a real need for having a place to store it all ... hence the utterly massive size of the castle and the surrounding grounds.
The castle has a rich history and was used for many different reasons. It was also taken over and ruled by a wide variety of people, suffering several rounds of damage through the centuries (including WWII), but has been meticulously restored in the 19th and 20th centuries. It's an impressive UNESCO site, standing as a surviving reminder of the Crusades' rule in Europe — read more about the Malbork castle here.
Touring The Castle
This place is enormous. Your entrance fee does include an audio guide that will really help as you wander the grounds, but you'll want to know a few key points right off the bat.
The castle's divided up into three parts. The lower castle, the middle castle, and the high castle. The entrance is through the lower castle (you'll just waltz right on through), and spend the bulk of your time wandering around the other two sections.
Malbork castle is home to huge dining halls built in medieval style, panes of stained glass, rooms with floor to ceiling windows with a distinctive gothic twist, and huge brick courtyards to admire.
More on this below, but your entrance fee gets you a guided tour (so don't worry about getting lost or mapping it all out). There are a couple of options depending on how much time you have to spare, but I recommend the tour that gets you full access to the entire castle. You're only here once and you won't want to miss a thing! The tours include a guide (like an actual human) with groups leaving every 30 minutes or you can go the audio guide headphones route, but either way you'll want that additional information as you explore. And yes, you can get it in English.
Cost + Hours
Prices: The cost depends on the season, with summer months being a bit higher (that's pretty typical in Europe as the summer is the busy season). Prices also vary depending on what you want to see — there's the "Historical Route" which is a 3.5 hour tour of the entire grounds, or there's the "Green Route" which is 1.5 hours and about half the cost. These tours also include an English guide/audio guide which is so nice! There's even a ticket that gets you into 2 other nearby castles if you're interested in that.
There is free admission on Mondays, aside from a small fee for your guide/audio guide. Just as a heads up, it can get very crowded on free entrance days (especially during the summer).
Hours: Tours start as early as 9 AM. It's also good to know that things close up a bit earlier in the low season, from October to April. Check their operating hours here.
Their website: Double-check the details on their site before your trip for up to date info.
Good To Know
They do limit the number of people who can enter/hour, so they recommend purchasing tickets online in advance. You can do that here.
Lines can get long in the mid-morning and early afternoon, so arriving earlier in the morning puts you at an advantage. Or ... you could do a night tour of the castle. Spooky!
The castle has a gift shop, a small cafe where you can grab lunch, and a few other amenities in case you need them.
Getting To The Castle
From any of these points, train is your best bet. From the train station in Malbork, you'll need to make the 20 minute walk to the castle itself — Make sure you've downloaded a Google map of Malbork so you can spot your location on the map as you make your way there. The castle is right here on the map. You can also take a 5 minute taxi to get to the castle (and the taxi driver will know exactly where to drop you off).
From Warsaw, Poland
It's a 2-3 hour train ride from the capital city, with multiple daily departures. Prices are anywhere from $18-43 euro depending on the time of the route and the class of ticket you're booking. Find tickets here.
From Gdansk, Poland
This would also be an awesome addition if you're on a vacation up to the northern coast of Poland in a cute city called Gdansk. It's just a 30 minute train ride and seeing the castle is a very popular day trip from Gdansk. Find tickets here.
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