Malbork's castle is the granddaddy of Poland's medieval strongholds and it's no surprise then that everything else seems a miniature when compared with the grandeur and gargantuan size of Malbork. No other castle in the country contains so much. Steeped in history and haunted by a charming air of magic and mystery, Malbork is Poland's greatest medieval experience.
This does not mean, however, that Poland's wealth of castle heritage is limited only to Malbork's castle. Neither does it mean that other castles are second-rate or inferior to those elsewhere. In fact, not far away from Malbork, lovers of castle architecture have a golden opportunity to discover for themselves two other great castles, both rich in history and architecture.
1. One such castle is found on the outskirts of Gniew, a tiny medieval town located southwest of Malbork. The best way to come here is to take one of the frequent buses to Tczew from where 12 daily buses go straight to Gniew in 40 minutes.
Gniew is a country town that has grown around a central square where rows of untouched buildings still stand to give witness to the city's glorious past. From the square, walk west towards the Vistula. On the left embankment, you will soon see Gniew's majestic castle. Perched on the top of a small hill, it stands proudly in the heart of a picturesque forested area. Don't expect to find a structure that compares for vastness or elegance with Malbork. Yet its imposing square structure protected by four massive squat towers and planned around a central courtyard makes it both interesting and beautiful. Constructed by the Teutonic knights in the 13th century and remodelled later by the Prussians, it is a prestigious heritage of excellent brickwork. Step inside and see the excellent archeological exhibition that contains numerous remains that were excavated from the region. Climb the steps to the top floor from where the view over the town is excellent. The castle opens in summer only from 9am to 5pm.
2. About 40kms south of Malbork, Kwidzyn is another country town that still preserves within its boundaries a number of original medieval buildings. From Malbork, the town can be reached easily by train or bus in less than an hour.
Adjoining the huge Gothic cathedral, the castle at Kwidzyn is another square multi-storey brick structure planned around a central courtyard. After World War II, the castle was meticulously reconstructed and now looks much the same as it did 600 years ago. The castle's elegant interior houses a multi-section museum with exhibits that range from medieval works of art to old agricultural implements. The castle's huge free-standing squat tower is joined to the main structure by a long bridge that is supported on massive brick arches. Go over the bridge and enter the tower from where you can enjoy a gorgeous view over the town and its surrounding countryside. Like the castle at Gniew, the castle at Kwidzyn opens only during the summer season.