City Guide – Wrocław
Poland’s fourth largest city and historical capital of Silesia, Wrocław (vrotz-waf), is bursting with culture and rich history just waiting to be explored. At various times, it has been part of the Kingdom of Poland, Kingdom of Bohemia, Kingdom of Hungary, Habsburg Monarchy, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany before ultimately returning into Polish hands in 1945. Now the city is emerging as one of Poland’s hottest tourist spots, with a vast array of international events and famous faces visiting frequently, together with its cheap prices and full itineraries Wrocław is fast becoming the perfect European city break.
Top Reasons to visit:
CULTURALLY RICH – Wroclaw, first mentioned in records from 10th century and known in German as Breslau and in Czech as Vratislav, has had a long, often troubled and sometimes traumatic history, moving between the influence of different powers, dynasties and languages and historically being the military crossroad between Eastern and Western Europe. Wroclaw is now a unique European city of mixed heritage, with architecture influenced by Bohemian, Austrian and Prussian traditions, such as Silesian Gothic and its Baroque style of court builders of Habsburg Austria. You can explore it on the streets or in many of Wrocław’s museums. The city was also one of the last German cities to fall during WW2, hence a key to Nazi’s defeat, after a three-months-long siege by the Soviet forces.
AFFORDABLE – Compared to other cities in Poland, Wrocław is by far one of the most affordable, noticeably because it has not yet quite experienced the tourist influx of other cities such as Krakow and Warsaw. So if you’ve heard your friends talk of their recent ‘super-cheap’ city break in Krakow, you can beat the record by going to Wroclaw and spending comparably less to the other two tourist occupied cities. Whilst in Warsaw you may be happy paying ‘just’ 10 PLN (~£2) for a pint of beer, in Wroclaw you will find it for just 5 PLN (~£1) in many budget bars and pubs. The lower prices apply to many other pleasures extending beyond beer.
INNOVATIVE – Wrocław appears to always be ahead of the curve, it has one foot ahead of the rest of the pack when it comes to international trends. With a rich culture both historic and present, for a Polish city it pushes the boundaries on what appears to be ‘appropriate’ for Polish culture. In a meat heavy country Wrocław stands tall with its 12 vegan and 14 vegetarian restaurants making out just a handful of the explosion of independent businesses popping up in the city, most of them being a local response to a national trend. Amongst that being Pasibus – a successful local burger chain, seen everywhere around the city, or Etno Café – coffee roasters from Wrocław to start with, now a major local chain with few shops in other cities. Many investors choose to invest on Wrocław’s market rather than anywhere else in Poland, hence you can come across the tallest building in Poland, biggest shopping centre or some of the best hotels.
THE OLD TOWN – The first port of call in Wrocław, and that which the entire city is laid out around, with the Market Square, or Rynek, at its heart. This is not only the city’s municipal centre, but also the social and cultural centre of Wrocław: a place of happenings, concerts and performance art, lined with terraced cafes and restaurants. Wrocław’s Market Square and much of the urban grid around it was laid out by city planners in 1241. It was then and remains even now one of the largest squares of its kind in Europe, and the magnificent Town Hall at its centre is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. Ranging from Gothic to Art Nouveau, the impressive facades of the townhouses lining Rynek and beyond deserve the full attention of your exploration as each appears unique in its own way.
CATHEDRAL ISLAND – Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) is one of the most historically significant parts of Wrocław if not also one of the most picturesque. Located north-east of the Old Town and surrounded by the river Oder, the old burgh, the origin of the city, has fantastic architecture. With a number of noteworthy places of worship such as the Gothic St. John Baptist Cathedral, rebuilt after World War II and the Holy Cross Church. With a completely different feel to the rest of the city Ostrów Tumski has become an incredibly peaceful place to explore and relax. With its streets still lit today by original gas lamps, keep your eyes peeled at dusk for the district’s famous lamplighter as he goes about his daily duty of lighting the lamps by hand.
WROCŁAW DWARVES – Over 300 Dwarves can be spotted around the streets of Wrocław with a number of myths and legends surrounding their origin. Nowadays more or less any attraction or known place has its own dwarf related to it, for example right outside the National Music Forum you can spot a dwarf orchestra. Once a year, gnomes have their holiday – the Dwarf Festival in September. A truly fairy-tale celebration, a few days of joyful, colourful fiesta, in which gnomes and people participate. Seeing how many gnomes you can spot while you’re in Wrocław, however, is an incredibly fun alternative to traditional sightseeing. You can find out more about them by clicking here.
Top Tourist Traps:
PANAORAMA RACŁAWICE – ££ – Be guided around the walls of a rotunda as you become mesmerised by the artwork of Jan Styka and Wojciech Kossak, (helped by seven other painters who did the background scenes and details) showcasing the battle for Polish independence fought at Racławice on 4 April 1794, between the Polish army led by Tadeusz Kościuszko and Russian troops under General Alexander Tormasov. Stretching 15m by 114m every inch will have you hooked in detail as a tour guide talks you though every detail of the battle which took 750kg of paint to complete in the nineteenth century.
CENTENNIAL HALL – Constructed by architect Max Berg while Wrocław was still part of the German Empire in 1913, the now UNESCO World Heritage Site and Landmark of reinforced concrete architecture is now actively used for sporting events and concerts with a capacity of 10,000 spectators. The surrounding parks and gardens are home to the Wrocław Zoo, the 96metre tall ‘Iglica’ monument which celebrates the regaining of control over Territories captured by German – Soviet forces after Second World War. Wrocław’s Multimedia Fountain is also located just a stones throw away providing nightly shows of water, fire, light and music with a larger show each weekend throughout the summer months.
TOWN HALL – Perhaps one of the most breathtaking town halls in Europe thanks to its unique Gothic architecture, once home to the seat of the city authorities and court. Now the building hosts the Wrocław Museum while still also playing a minor role of hosting worldwide dignitaries. Located in the east of Wrocław’s Rynek (Market Square) it’s sight can not be missed as it towers gloriously above its surroundings. In the cellar of the building there is the oldest restaurants in Europe – Piwnica Świdnicka.
Top Restaurants & Bars:
ETNO COFFEE – £ – Perhaps Wrocław’s most rapidly expanding business offers top quality coffee beans to create the perfect handcrafted beverage you could ask for. Also offering evening drinks and plenty of other cakes and snacks, Etno is the perfect stop to recharge your batteries and relax before you continue to explore the beautiful city. You can read more on Etno in my review here.
BASZTA – ££ – Hidden away in a tower of the old city walls, Baszta offers a mouthwatering menu of Vegan Thai dishes that are worth the delight of tastebuds among all eaters. With a quirky interior matching its sleek menu, the warmth of the staff and colour splashed dishes creates the perfect mix of atmosphere that will leave you wanting more. A local favourite that is popular with all ages, so expect to mix in with the locals.
POKOYHOF – £/££ – Located just a few hundred meters from the Market Square, ‘Pokoyhof Square’ is set amidst the lively and picturesque district of four religions. From the beginning, the Pokoyhof Passage housed a department store, a cotton factory, various warehouses, and today numerous offices and corporate headquarters as well as the most fashionable premises in the city – Charlotte, Szajba, Do Jutra or Parish. Creating a lively atmosphere with a taste of every imagined dish and drink, Pokoyhof, often called the hipster squares among the locals, is the perfect stop to grab a bite and party into the night.
Best City-wide events:
T-MOBILE NEW HORIZONS FESTIVAL – Wrocław’s very own international film festival has taken over the city every July since it relocated from Cieszyn in 2006. One of the biggest and most popular film festivals in Poland, New Horizons screens on average around 365 films over the 12 day festival. With locations right across the city and a number of free screenings in the historic Market Square it’s hard not to get lost in the world of cinema when some of the world’s best artists and directors come to town.
MIEJSKIE GRANIE – Showcasing the best of upcoming Polish talent, these outdoor free concerts have some of Poland’s musical stars hitting the stage in a series of free concerts. With a great line-up year after year, Miejskie Granie combines different styles and musical genres while breaking conventions to fill each concert with a unique atmosphere. You can be sure to find concert of artists who sing in English, but attending a concert of Polish alternative music sung in Polish is a great insight into country’s contemporary culture.
When to go & Daily costs?
June to September for summer crowds and festivals. Spring and fall for delightful weather and reduced hotel rates. December to March for relaxed and empty museums with temperatures rarely above 10 Celsius.
One-way Ticket (Local Transport), 0.72p
Domestic Beer (Pint), £2.00
Coffee and cake, £3.19 – £4.24
Meal for 2 People, Mid-range Restaurant, £6.38 – £19.14
2-3star hotel for one night, £17 – £42
Museum Entry, £2.30 – £4.25