I was born under a castle. In Naples, Italy, there’s the Castel Nuovo (“New Castle”), more commonly called “Maschio Angioino” by the locals, which meanst “Angevin Keep”. It is a huge construction, well preserved, right in the centre of the city. For all my childhood and youth I considered it the biggest and prettier castle of them all. Especially the biggest.
Malbork Castle, in northern Poland, is the largest brick construction in Europe and, curiously, built during the same years Castel Nuovo was being erected in Italy, late 13th century. It is wholly different though.
What’s special about Malbork Castle?
First of all, it’s huge. I said that it is the largest brick construction in Europe, but not only that; it is also the biggest castle in Poland and in the world. It’s a little smaller than the whole state of Vatican City. You can imagine then how my idealistic view of being born in the city with the biggest castle was shattered when I visited Malbork Castle.
Therefore, take your time visiting it. The castle was meant as a defensive construction and only later as a royal residence of the Polish kings and queens and therefore it has military functionalities at its core. It is not as splendid as Versailles or flamboyant as Schönbrunn, which are considered “palaces” after all, but it is a time travel to the Middle Age, to how a castle with knights, serfs and local nobility would actually live and work in.
It is quite germanic in architecture (it was built by the Teutonic Order) and thus more on the stern side of beauty than a 17th century royal residence. Yet, exactly because of its diversity and its sheer size, is a microcosm of medieval life, with a church, a chapel, a huge well, multiple towers, a large defensive wall, various courts and gardens, an infirmary, an historical weapons permanent exhibition, the cook’s chamber, a vast kitchen, the refectory, a small mill, the internal cemetery and even a tower apt to dispose of body waste (yes, exactly). An armoury couldn’t miss and Malbork Castle has it too, along with a little amber museum that shows visitors a bit of the history of the precious resin found in this area.
I’ve rarely heard of a castle hosting such a complete view of all the activities that were held in it during its prime time. Reading all the descriptions and visiting all the rooms can easily take you 2 days, go figure if you book a Malbork Castle tour. I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t as otherwise I would have spent twice the amount of hours inside due to the amount of knowledge the guides would pour on me.
On the more modern side, the castle has also in its interiors 3 shops, a souvenir, an amber and a general one, 1 restaurant, a bar, a library, a conference centre and from time to time exhibitions. That’s an impressive list for a military castle.
Last but surely not least, there’s an array of events held inside Malbork Castle which can be worth alone a visit: The Siege of Malbork, a medieval re-enactment of the siege, Light and Sound, a light-show about the history of the castle, narrated, and various Night Tours, to see the castle in a different light.
Best time to visit Malbork
Opt for June-August. In other periods of the year the rain or clouds are quite common and would ruin the experience of the external areas (and there are many!), plus the view from the castle of the river Nogat. You’ll have to bear with more tourists during these months but the castle is big enough to host a very large number of visitors. I visited it in June and in no moment it felt too crowded.
One thing about the Malbork Castle tickets: they are more expensive during July and August and, in case you come late or prefer so, you can pay to visit the external areas of the castle only. Even if don’t understand why one would limit oneself to those to be honest.
Malbork town and practicalities
The little town of Malbork next to the castle is pretty insignificant, being small, mostly modern and with minimal choice of accommodation and food. Most everything is around the train station, which is 10 minutes away by foot from the entrance of Malbork Castle. Nearby there’s a parking, if you’re coming by car.
Most of the rooms available in Malbork are small pensions and b&bs. No luxury or big chains’ hotels. If you are looking for a budget-friendly accommodation in Malbork you will find it but book early during the summer season or they’ll be full.
In any case, I’d suggest you to stay elsewhere, perhaps in Gdansk, and come by train or car for a day trip, spent all inside the castle. Nothing to miss about skipping the town altogether. I ended up eating a quick lunch at one of the tiny restaurants for locals inside the train station and I don’t regret trying any of the handful of “trying-to-be-fancy” restaurants in town.