Best is obviously debatable and depends on your specific needs and desires. But as somebody who has lived in 3 polish cities, Warsaw, Gdańsk and Kraków, and has visited all major cities, I’ve collected a series of pros and cons about them all.
If you are ever thinking of going to live in Poland and need a hint on where, this is my list of the best cities to live in Poland, from the “good but not great” to the best one.
Not often present in best city to live in Poland lists, Gdańsk has instead a few advantages over most polish cities: it’s on the sea, it’s near the largest party town in Poland, Sopot, it’s fiercely proud of its independence had throughout history and has definitely a less polish feeling and more mittel-european. If any of these piqued your interest, you may definitely try it first. I’ve lived there for little less than 1 year and can assert it’s the city I felt the most welcome as a foreigner. As you can see from my biography here, I’m not exactly polish-looking so I do stand out but never had any weird or unfriendly stare while in Gdańsk, unlike in the other cities I lived. Something to keep into consideration.
On the cons, Gdańsk is the windiest of the major polish cities. The climate is humid even in July, with occasional raining here and there throughout summer. That sort of invalidates the advantage of having the sea as the days you can suntan aren’t as many as on the Mediterranean. The Baltic waters can be chilly even in mid August.
There aren’t many international companies offering jobs as in Warsaw or Kraków. It’s a bit cheaper than those though so if you score a good job, you can live very well here. Nightlife fun is guaranteed by the nearby Sopot, if you are into big nightclubs with disco/hip-hop music. Not truly my thing, though. There’s also the option to live in nearby Gdynia and commute to Gdańsk: if you prefer to live in a, smaller, less touristic city, 20 minutes by train from Gdynia to Gdańsk are perfectly bearable.
The little sister of Warsaw, many people use(d) to live here and work or study in the capital as it is cheaper than there. Friends tell me it is not so any more so be warned.
Łódź wins the list of the “most surprising pronunciation of a city name in Poland for foreigners” as it is pronounced like “wuːdʒ”. Perfect to prank friends.
Jokes aside, the 3rd largest polish city, former industrial hub and now launched into being an arts, architecture and culture hub for the whole Poland, Łódź still hosts a great deal of young students studying either here or in Warsaw.
Most of the city is modern but it still has a cute historical center, heavily restored after WWII, as for all polish cities. There’s not a big nightlife, probably you would be better off going to Warsaw to drink, but Łódź hosts a vast array of cultural events and the Atlas Arena has often concerts with international artists (like Twenty One Pilots). It is big enough to have something going on at all times.
Probably one of the best choices for <30yo people. If older, expect to have to commute to Warsaw often, even for work.
Topping often the list of the best city to live in Poland, it’s only third in mine. Advantages are the great number of companies offering jobs here, a good number of expats living here that you can connect with, a very beautiful old town and an adequate balance between being too big and noisy and too small and boring. It may be just the right amount of people and space to live a very comfortable life.
Personally I found it a tad on the small side, with the old town and the area with restaurants and bars being walkable in less than 15 minutes in its full extension. I would probably get bored in a few months here. It is not as expensive as Warsaw or Kraków, yet, and it is definitely expanding. Wrocław has the advantage of having a bit of everything but in not huge doses. Depending on you, it may be too little or just right.
The city I’m currently living in, Kraków is the biggest tourist hub in Poland: Wieliczka, Auschwitz and the mountains in the south, other than a splendid old town, make it always populated with a great number of tourists, all year long.
The city itself is a larger version of Wrocław: a vaster old town, and also prettier, a good number of job offerings, many students frequenting the Jagellonian University, and a well developed and growing expats community. There’s plenty to do here whether you are young or a bit older, with a spectacularly low-key nightlife in the Kazimierz district that will keep your evenings and nights busy for months and months. Kraków has a reputation for being a student, bohemian, down-to-earth city with a proud past so if any of these characteristics light your hearth, it can be the best city to live in Poland for you.
Big plus also if you are interested in winter sports: Zakopane is less than 2 hours by bus from Kraków and all the Tatra Mountains are at your disposal, with spa resorts and skiing facilities. Climate is also the best I’ve experienced in Poland, a few degrees warmer than in the other cities on average. This alone could win many people’s hearts.
A big cons is instead the air pollution: definitely you will cough in winter times when people turn up the heating and Particulate Matter (PM) levels in the air skyrockets. Also, partly due to the constant influx of tourists, the city is not as cheap as smaller ones and routinely the accommodation prices rise. The number of foreign workers coming is relatively high, many international companies have offices here, and that contributes in raising the prices. Other than these, the city is definitely a great place to live in for sure, arguably the best city to live in Poland for most.
The first city I’ve lived in Poland, the capital, the biggest, the richest and probably the most despised by Poles themselves. You either hate or love Warsaw, most Poles hate it, a good deal of foreigners love it. I’m in the latter camp.
Being the biggest and most populous of them all, don’t come here if you don’t like metropolis. Relatively expensive too, it has justified higher prices from the largest offers of jobs and highest wages of Poland. It’s the capital after all, for the good and the bad.
I always loved how large it feels, how many green parks are right in the middle of it, how much it can feel modern, with plenty of skyscrapers and neon lights, but at the same time keeping a pretty and small old town where to feel like you are still in 20th century Poland. The nightlife is extremely scattered all around but there is something for everybody, hipsters, clubbers and adolescents. You won’t be bored here but you will have to find the fun.
Perhaps the biggest con of Warsaw, after its sheer size, is that you may find more snobbish people here than elsewhere. Not that they are the majority, by far, but a definite component of the city’s population. It is one of the reason Warsaw is looked with distaste by many Poles after all. Many come here to work, study with the hope to get eventually rich so there’s an air of competition between young professionals that is particularly high in Warsaw. It is not particularly pretty either, not as Kraków or Wrocław for instance. Unless you like big socialist buildings and skyscrapers, that is.
If you can survive the snobs, the ugly parts, the large distance needed to get around the city and can find a good job, Warsaw is decidedly the best city to live in Poland.