Warsaw and Krakow are both great cities to visit, with a pleasant atmosphere and plenty of things to do to keep you busy for one week each at least. However, the one that stole my heart instantly was Wroclaw. Who would have guessed? A town with such a name that I can’t even pronounce well. It had some work to do in order to make up for it. Its little gems, naughty side and amazing food scene won me over. Even if it’s relatively unknown, since it was the European Capital of Culture in 2016, the city started to make a name for itself as one of the best to visit in Poland.
Where is Wroclaw?
Due to its position on the amber route, at a crossroad, it had a very important strategic position and many people fought over it. It has belonged to Bohemia, the Habsburg Empire, Prussia, Germany and, since the end of the second world war, to Poland.
How do you get to Wroclaw?
Wroclaw has its own airport, where one can fly from several European cities. The airport is connected by the city center by 206 line bus and an one-way trip takes around half an hour.
Wroclaw is also well connected by buses and trains to the other major Polish cities, Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk and even to Prague, in the Czech Republic or Dresden and Berlin in Germany.
How to get around Wroclaw?
Wroclaw is fairly compact and small. Most of the places of interest can be reached walking. If you prefer to use the public transport, you can choose between buses and trams. Tickets should be bought at the bus station or on board.
Things to do on a visit in Wroclaw, Poland
1. Explore Wroclaw’s Old Town Square
The medieval square in Wroclaw is the second biggest square in Poland, after the one in Krakow. It might not be the largest, but I could argue that it might just be the prettiest.
In the middle of it, there stands the main landmark of the city, the 13th century Town Hall. The beautiful Gothic architecture, with lots of details immediately draws the eyes of the visitors. Wroclaw doesn’t have only one city hall, but two of them, and they are both to be found in the Market Square. Another imposing building is St. Elisabeth’s Church. The clock of the town hall has only one hand that shows the hour.
The entire square is surrounded, with one exception, by lovely colored townhouses. Some of them host restaurants, cafes and local shops. Nowadays, the Market Square is the pedestrian heart of the beautiful historic old town. It is the liveliest place in the city by day and by night.
2. Go dwarf hunting
Hunting the gnomes of Wroclaw is probably the funniest thing one could do in the city. Trying to find as many of them as they can attracts adults and children alike.
The first dwarf, Papa Gnome, appeared in 2001 to commemorate the Orange Alternative, an anti-communism movement in the city in the ’80s. At that time, authorities painted over anti-regime slogans. The Orange Alternative members added a little drawing of a gnome over the fresh paint. This way people would peacefully protest against the oppressive system.
One could say it’s a relatively new symbol of the city. However, the dwarves multiplied quickly. Nowadays, there are over 400 tiny gnomes, not only in the city center, but all over the town. Nobody knows for sure how many there are. Each of them is different, depicting various professions or life scenes. The little dwarves are anything from postmen to cooks or dentists and can be seen drinking beer, withdrawing cash or programming. Every dwarf has its own name, backstory and unique habits. In winter, locals dress them with knitted hats and scarves to protect them against the cold.
As hunting the dwarves has become one of the best attractions in Wroclaw, it also became a form of promotion. People can buy a map with the location of 70 of the gnomes from the Official Dwarf Information Center for 6 PLN (1.5 euro) or download an app to help them spot the tiny statues dotted around the city. The dwarves even have their own museum and a festival in September.
3. Visit Cathedral Island of Wroclaw
Ostrów Tumski, or Cathedral Island, is the oldest area of the town. The small island surrounded by Oder was first inhabited in the 10th century. There are four cathedrals scattered across the charming island. The most stunning one is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist with its twin spires. The island is a short stroll from the Old Town, but shouldn’t be missed. A good time to visit would be in the evening, when the city lamplighter lights the historic gas lamps. You can follow him around the cobblestone streets, check his work and ask some questions.
4. Stand on Wroclaw’s Love Bridge
Like many other cities around Europe, Wroclaw has its own lovers’ bridge. It’s actually the bridge leading to the Cathedral Island, Tumski Bridge, so you don’t have to walk around a lot in order to find it. Not long ago, the authorities wanted to remove all the locks on the bridge to reduce its weight, but the university students protected it and counted the locks. It turned out there were over 14000 locks. They saved the bridge by saying that it was an important spot for every lover in the city that wanted to make his love eternal.
5. Take a free walking tour
This is one of the best things one can do in almost any city in Europe. The tour guide will not only share with you the local legends and secrets, but also the best spots to eat or have a coffee. There are several tours, that revolve around the old town, second world war, street art or communism. Here you can find more details, the starting point and time. The tours are officially free, but tips are usually expected. So it’s actually a pay what you think it deserves tour.
6. Check out the tower of St Elisabeth’s Church
St. Elisabeth is the tallest building in the old town and one of the oldest churches in Wroclaw. It’s definitely worth a quick pick inside, but one can also go up in the tower for some pleasant views over the city.
7. Visit Salt Square
Just off the main square lies a smaller one, that was previously used as an area to trade salt, hence the name. Today it hosts stands selling flowers at any time by day or by night. Like its bigger sister, it’s also surrounded by elegant and colorful restored buildings. Wroclaw was destroyed in the second world war, just as many other cities in Poland, and most of what you see now is a restoration, but it is supposed to closely follow the original.
8. Climb to the Witches’ Bridge
Just outside the old town stands St. Mary Magdalene, that rises high above the city. It has two identical towers with a bridge between them 45 meters above the ground. The legend says this is the gathering place of the souls of the girls who didn’t want to fulfill their family duties, but only thought about their beauty, dresses and balls. Climb up for the best views over the city, but be aware that it can be very windy.
9. Watch the multimedia fountain show
Wroclaw is home to the largest operating multimedia fountain in Europe. Located in Szczytnicki Park, it has over 300 nozzles that create an amazing water multimedia show with music and color effects. In summer, the show takes place every hour, day or night. During the weekends, there is an even more complex show, that resembles a theatrical performance and changes every week.
10. Taste delicious food
After hours of walking, you’ll probably get hungry. Don’t worry! Wroclaw has one of the largest cuisine variety in Poland. There are great restaurants and bars to suit anybody’s taste and budget. You’ll find milk bars that sell cheap Polish food, Indian, Thai or Mexican dishes and even restaurants of international chains that have adapted their cuisine and cook traditional food with a twist. For example, Umami has adapted its Asian dumplings and sells a specialty called Silesian dumplings.
11. Find street art
The largest street art movement in Poland took place in Wroclaw. It’s not unusual to see graffitis or other street art forms. Most of them can be found in Nadodrze, across the Oder river. Another place to look for is the Neon Side Gallery.
12. Enjoy the nightlife in Wroclaw
Wroclaw is an universitary town. It has no less than 9 universities and 130000 students. All this youthful population means that it’s one of the cities with the liveliest nightlife in Poland.
13. Take some day trips
Wroclaw is well connected to other places in Silesia, Poland and even outside Poland. Take advantage of the train and bus links to discover more places that might interest you. Some options for a day trip in Poland would be Jelenia Gora, Czocha Castle, Olawa or Opole.
Unfortunately we only spent a short time in Wroclaw and didn’t get to visit and experience all this magical city has to offer. Nonetheless, it’s proved to be a town of undeniable beauty, much less crowded than Krakow or Warsaw with plenty of cool and unusual thing to do. One of the things that we didn’t have time to check is the Raclawice Panorama, an 140 meters long painting that depicts the victory of General Tadeusz Kościuszko over the Russians in 1794. Next time we’ll stay more and get to know Wroclaw in depth.
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