The fairytale atmosphere that still abounds within the guarded walls of Poland's largest stronghold is the prime factor that has contributed in making Malbork's castle one of the country's top attractions. Add to this the wealth of enchanting architectural details and you will understand why visitors are kept absorbed for hours. If after enjoying all this, you still have a free day here, you can easily arrange a pleasure trip to the nearby towns of Elblag and Frombork, two destinations that offer an untouched waterside environment perfectly blended with a graceful renovated city centre.
1. Elblag can be reached easily by train from Malbork from where 20 daily regional trains cover the 29kms distance in half an hour. From Malbork's bus station, frequent buses reach Elblag in 40 minutes. This city, located northeast of Malbork is under reconstruction, still undergoing an intensive programme of restoration after the total devastation it suffered during World War II. However, along the cobbled streets of Elblag's Old Town quarter, a number of conspicuous buildings whose restoration works have been recently completed make a visit here worthwhile. Of special mention for its Gothic ribbed vaulting is the Church of St.Mary, a majestic red-brick reconstruction that lovers of church architecture will definitely admire. The nearby Church of St.Nicholas whose interior works of art demand a close look is another Gothic reconstruction that is equally interesting and inspiring.
Visitors come to Elblag however less to see the restored medieval buildings that adorn the city centre than to join the queue of tourists for the unique 82kms Elblag-Ostroda canal boat trip. Touring along this waterway that connects six medium-sized lakes from Elblag to Ostroda is an unrivalled experience of adventure and excitement. Operated by water power only, a system of rail mounted trolleys carry the boat and the trippers across five slipways that deal with the 100 metres difference in water level between the two towns with remarkable precision.
In summer, boat trips from Elblag to Ostroda leave from the pier next to the Old Town at 8am sharp. When weather conditions are unfavourable, particularly during the winter months, boat trips may leave later or not at all. The whole trip lasts 11 hours. So, it is inconvenient for those who have to go back to Malbork in the evening. However, you can opt for a shorter trip that lasts 5 hours, going only as far away as Buczyniec from where the boat operator provides road transport back to Elblag. The pleasure boats are equipped with an excellent snack bar and so there's no need to take food or drinks along with you.
2. Frombork is a beautiful historical town constructed right on the embankment of the Vistula Lagoon. This huge 90kms shallow tract of water and reed marshes extends as far away as Kalingrad. Frombork can be reached from Malbork via Elblag either by bus or by train, the trip from Elblag to Frombork taking about 1 hour. There are neither direct trains nor direct buses from Malbork to Frombork.
The historical centre of Frombork is concentrated around Cathedral Hill, a small medieval area that escaped World War II without major damages. The huge cathedral has a charming Gothic exterior but step inside and you will be astonished to see that the original Gothic interior architecture has been marred with a conglomeration of Baroque ornamental works. Numerous tombstones set in the floor and against the walls are reminiscent of those inside Wawel's royal cathedral in Krakow. If you happen to be here in summer on a Sunday, mix with the locals and listen to a splendid organ recital of classical church music. The nearby Old Bishop's palace houses a museum dedicated to the astronomer Copernicus who spent the last decade of his life in the city making observations about his new theory of the solar system. The former cathedral tower, located next to the bastions houses a medium-sized planetarium. Climb the winding staircase of the tower to the top viewing platform. The extensive view from here over the Vistula Lagoon is excellent.
There are many more attractions worth enjoying on Cathedral Hill but make sure to leave ample time to take a boat excursion from the waterfront to Krynica Morska, a 90 minute trip across the tranquil water of the Vistula Lagoon. Krynica Morska is a popular summer beach resort set on the narrow strip of land that borders the Vistula Lagoon on one side and the Baltic sea on the other. This vast area is geograpically divided between Poland and Russia.