In this article, I will share the top literary destinations in Poland. These include some of the best libraries and independent bookshops there. While some of these destinations are underrated, they exude the charm to captivate any bookworm.
Poland has produced some of the best literary works that are admired all over the world. The 16th-century poet Mikołaj Rej became the first author to write exclusively in Polish. Before him, most texts were written in Latin.
This central European country has come a long way since. In the last century, Poland has produced six Nobel laureates in literature. Notably, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Czesław Miłosz, Wisława Szymborska and Olga Tokarczuk who won the 2018 Nobel Prize and Man Booker International Prize.
Interestingly, Poland doesn’t only have its literary maestros to be proud of, but it also mesmerizes with its bunch of exquisite libraries and bookstores.
If you are a bibliophile, Poland is your treasure trove. So without further ado, here are the top literary destinations in Poland:
The Six Stunning Libraries in Poland
1. Stacja Kultura in Rumia
This library is located in a train station that still operates today.
A recent renovation made this ruined station undergo an architectural metamorphosis. Today, Stacja Kultura – the main seat of the municipal public library in Rumia – has turned into a cultural magnate. That’s also where the name of this library comes from.
When translated in English, Stacja Kultura means culture station.
From the outside, the building may seem a bit unimpressive. But the innovative layout and its division into zones make it unique.
It blends parts of a railway station, a public library, and a cultural center, all rolled into one.
Besides the offices of some NGOs and modern workstations with computers, there is also a corner for children and a cozy reading room. The interior of this room is guaranteed to inspire you.
The entire interior decoration – red and black in color – reminisces of trains, in keeping with the location. The red couches, in particular, seems to have been taken straight from a Polish train and placed here.
Moreover, the black elements make the whole interior remind you of the coal-powered locomotives from the days gone by.
The details in this library are also definitely worth a look. Among other things, you will definitely notice that the bookshelves contain parts of old railroad tracks.
In addition, a typical train station clock ensures that you can also read the time and notice how quickly time flies.
With all its panache and ambiance, Stacja Kultura attracts bibliophiles from all over the world. And, if you are interested in architecture, you will definitely get your money’s worth here.
No wonder the American Library Association recognized Stacja Kultura for its marvelous interior design in 2016.
2. The Jagiellonian Library
If you want to be dazzled with the magnanimity and visual splendor, then step into the haloed portals of the Jagiellonian Library. Established in the late 14th century, this vibrant literary destination stands tall in Krakow, the city of literature.
It is one of Poland’s two national libraries and the oldest and biggest university library in the country. It also serves the city of Krakow as a public library.
Legend has it that a generous amount of book donations from professors, students, authors, publishers, and booksellers enriched it over the centuries.
The new building which was purpose-built in the 1930s includes a 3-story-high reading area. The library has ten specialized reading rooms for manuscripts, rare books, etc.
As per the official records, the Jagiellonian library houses jaw-dropping 6.7 million volumes of books, manuscripts, incunabula, and rare books. It holds over 33000 manuscripts including about 2000 medieval codices.
Not just that, it’s also home to over 100,000+ early printed books (some printed before 1501) and this collection is continuously increasing! All these aspects make the Jagiellonian library one of the top literary destinations in Poland.
3. University of Warsaw Library
The Warsaw University Library is the third-largest in Poland, right behind the National Library and the Jagiellonian Library.
Just as the other libraries on this list, the Warsaw University library has a storied past. Established in 1816, the library functioned as a public library for a long time until it was busting at seams with books.
The library shifted to the present venue in 1999 in a building that can easily be labeled an architectural marvel.
The main facade charms you with its shining greyish-green glass walls. This odd color pallette gives the structure an aging effect.
There is also a large engraving of Biblioteka Uniwersytecka aka University Library on the facade. Underneath it are eight bronze panels carrying inscriptions in different languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Mandarin, and Sanskrit.
The new library building meshes in harmony with a sprawling Botanical Garden situated right next to it.
If walking to the botanical garden seems like a stretch, then you can take the exterior stairway to the university’s own roof garden. Access to this garden is only available between April and October.
The main reading room of the library is situated on the first floor. The second floor houses six departments with separate reading areas for Manuscripts, Maps, Prints and Drawings, Music collections, Early prints, and Social Life Documents.
As of 2019, the collection of the University Library came to a whopping 3.5 million volumes. This figure doesn’t include the books at other faculty libraries. It’s no surprise that the library attracts over 1 million visitors every year.
I would say that the Warsaw University Library is not only one of the top literary destinations in Poland, but also in the entire world.
4. Municipal Public Library in Opole
Opole is one of the cities in Poland where the traces of the past exist in harmony with modernity. The Opole Municipal Public Library located on the outskirts of the Old Town is a case in point.
The building of this library is extremely modern and looks even more modern next to the numerous baroque and gothic monuments like the Franciscan monastery.
The library comprises two parts. The older part was a 19th-century residential building that was annexed to the main library. This structure now houses a spacious reading room and an exhibition gallery.
Once you are inside, you can switch between the new and old parts of the library without any problems.
You can also catch beautiful views of the historical park at The Freedom Square, the Młynówka river fork, and of course, the Monastery of the Franciscan fathers, from various corners of the library.
Opole Municipal Library boasts of a collection of over 55000 books.
As a social meeting place, it is always bustling. It regularly hosts conferences, lectures, writers’ meets, cultural discussions, etc.
5. Ksiaznica Cieszynska Library in Cieszyn
Time for an underrated entry on this list of top destinations in Poland. In Southern Poland’s city of Cieszyn sits the nondescript public library of Ksiaznica Cieszynska.
Bestowed with ‘library with scientific status’, Ksiaznica Cieszynska organizes and conducts scientific work in the field of the literary culture.
The two reading rooms in the library comprise general and special collections. The number of the collection of Ksiaznica Cieszynska is estimated at over 130,000 volumes of printed works, old prints, incunabula, and manuscripts.
Mostly, you will find books published in Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic here. The vast majority of them are historical collections.
There is also a book-bindery available on the premises.
6. Municipal Public Library in Czarny Bór
When you visit the small village of Czarny Bór in Lower Silesia, you will realize that cool libraries can exist away from big cities, too.
Architects from a Wroclaw-based design studio worked their magic on the construction of this beautiful building. It will be an understatement to call this building
Among other things, the mixture of glass and wood will surely catch your eye immediately. In the lower glass part, in addition to the exhibition space, there is a café, where you can get a tasty drink or two to drink alongside your work in the library.
The wooden part, on the other hand, hides a huge loft. There you will find the reading room, which, in contrast to the lower part of the building, is rather unobtrusive and unadorned.
But that doesn’t make this area any less interesting. The absence of gaudy furnishings and flashy colors ensures there are no distractions when you are reading.
The library also doubles up as a cultural center. It hosts artistic discussions, cultural events, workshops, and lectures regularly.
Four Independent Bookstores in Poland that stand out from the crowd
7. Wrzenie świata in Warsaw
This small and iconic bookstore is located in an inner courtyard and thus somewhat hidden. So you need to know where exactly to go. But the search for this cozy store is definitely worth it, as you will learn shortly.
In particular, the relaxed nature of the visitors will really infect you. Apart from browsing through books, you can enjoy freshly brewed coffee and wine and learn all about new and old books from the shop’s owners themselves. Yup, that’s the beauty of Indie bookshops.
The store mainly carries nonfiction books, but within nonfiction, the selection is quite diverse. If you are a passionate traveler, you’ll also find numerous travel guides that tell you of other interesting places in Poland.
The best part of the store is that it also has a fair amount of English books on its shelves.
This little Warsaw-based bookstore has built up a certain cult status, and not without reason. Not only are there books for sale, but special events are regularly planned, too.
Especially popular are the meetings with authors and travel bloggers from all over the world, who visit here and read their latest works. Afterward, you even have the opportunity to exchange ideas with them and discuss different things and views.
8. LOKATOR coffee & books in Krakow
You can find this small bookstore further south in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow. And like everywhere else in Krakow, you will see that art and culture are definitely not neglected here.
The selection of books in this shop focuses mainly on the history of Europe. Especially the local culture is covered, but you can also learn a lot about Jewish customs and traditions in the books you can buy here. Most of the books are only available in Polish, but with a little luck, you can get hold of an English copy now and then.
As you might have guessed from the name, you can get not only books here, but also first-class coffee. And indeed, the coziness of the little shop can be enjoyed much better with a freshly brewed caffeinated hot drink.
In addition, special events are held here from time to time. Among other things, these are author rounds, where well-known and regional writers presented their latest works. So it’s definitely worth asking when the next special event is planned, it might even be the next day.
9. Massolit Books & Cafe in Krakow
Massolit Books & Cafe is one of the few English bookstores in Krakow. Located off the main street, it’s a quiet place away from the tourist bustle.
This place has a cool, relaxed vibe to it. It’s certainly an international gathering place, you’ll meet bookworms from all over the world here.
For its fans, Massolit Books is an epic, characterful bookshop just like those Parisian bookshops.
It has a well-stocked catalog of over 20,000 books and boasts a solid collection of English and American classics.
The store is split across two separate apartments, you have to go via a passageway to the staircase to access another large room with a great selection of English books. To the left of the counter, you will find two additional rooms full of tables and chairs where you can relax and have a beverage and read.
If you are a bibliophile, this is a place you must visit. In a way, it epitomizes Poland as a top literary destination in the world.
10. Firmin Ksiegarnia na Lawendowej in Gdansk
This Gdansk-based independent bookstore drew inspiration for its name from the work of an American author.
The name Firmin comes from “Firmin: A Rat’s Life”, a children’s book by Sam Savage. The book is about a rat who lives in a used book store in Boston. And the rest of the name in Polish means “Bookstore on Lavender Street.”
Although the name came from a book for children, this bookstore does not only store literature for children. You can find books on architecture, art and film history, travel and social sciences, too.
It is one of those independent bookshops where you enter just to look-see and come out purchasing a book every time.
And if the book you seek is not in the bookstore’s assortment, you can always ask the friendly staff about it. They would order a copy for you or tell you where else in the city you can get it.
Poland has interesting libraries and bookstores to offer. You learned which of them you should definitely put on your bucket list and what makes them so interesting in the first place.
Be it the impressive architecture of the libraries in Rumia or the contrast of modern libraries with the surrounding old buildings in Opole, all libraries have their own charm. Besides, the independent small bookstores you find in the cities are also worth a visit.
A trip to Poland is definitely worth it for bookworms!