I came to Malbork primarily as its castle is the largest in Europe and it’s one of Poland’s major tourist attractions. I noticed from reviews that the castle got very busy, but when looking to buy tickets on-line in advance they appeared to have sold nearly none on the cold Saturday morning that I intended to visit.
I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t quite judge the demand for this historic attraction accurately. I turned up just before the ticket office opened so that I could join the queue, but I was the only person there other than the staff. I’ll add now that I didn’t encounter another visitor during my entire visit, although I saw some from afar. For a site where sometimes the queues are over two hours, my impressions of this castle are very different to others.
The price to get into the castle is very high by Polish standards, coming in at £11. This includes an audio guide, something which I found a completely bloody nuisance. It’s meant to work by GPS tracking your movements inside the castle, but it doesn’t work effectively. It takes you on a journey around the site, but it misses chunks out and it’s also generally impossible to hear something twice if it does go wrong. This would be much easier if there were crowds of other people as it would be evident where to go, but when you’re the only visitor, it’s rather more challenging because entrances were rarely signed. I’m not sure that I missed very much during my visit, but I suspect I missed a few rooms, and only saw some parts of the complex because I ignored the audio guide.
This is the gatehouse of the castle and this would on its own be a difficult entrance to get through for any invader. As a quick history, this castle was constructed by the Teutonic Order who kept on expanding it during their time of occupation between 1280 to 1457. Between 1457 and 1772 it was the residence of Polish Kings and its defences were never broken during that time. From 1772 until effectively 1945, the castle was occupied by the Prussians, but it returned to the Poles in 1945 following the redistribution of lands following the end of the Second World War.
Although the Nazis very much liked this castle as it reminded them of what they considered to be their Teutonic heritage, it was badly damaged during the Second World War as this photograph shows.
Below are photos from my visit, and I’ll save some highlights for later posts, but these give an indication of the variety of the rooms and also the size of them. I was fortunate not to have to battle for space during my visit, having the freedom to visit the castle interior was enjoyable, even if it did mean I perhaps missed a small portion of what there was to see. Everything was certainly peaceful. The outdoor areas were also extensive and it was possible to walk around many of the buildings, including a chance to visit the graveyard from the Teutonic period.
In terms of general comments about the structure of the visit, I thought it was all a bit muddled. Not least the signage was terrible and the audio guide basic, meaning that there was nearly no written material to read. I suspect they’re trying to avoid needing to translate material into numerous languages, but things felt unstructured and disorganised. An audio guide system where visitors typed in the number of where they were on the site would have been better than one which was trying to, wrongly, work out where visitors were. However, as I mentioned, I doubt this is a problem when it’s busy, which seems to be most of the year.
Like with many things, the destruction during the Second World War was very unfortunate, but it’s positive that so much has been recreated. They could keep expanding this museum for many years to come given the space that they have, as the building is of a huge size and there are what seem like endless out-buildings. Although I didn’t encounter any visitors, there were staff in most rooms, but they tended to be in the corner and out of the way, which was helpful when taking photos.
To be able to explore a UNESCO World Heritage site nearly alone was really quite a treat, so a very memorable day in Malbork.