The city of Torun is one of the most beautiful in Poland. In fact, its Old Town is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. If in other Polish cities like Warsaw and Wroclaw one can mostly see reconstructions of the original sites, Torun didn’t suffer damages in the second World War. It is mostly original. Many of the merchant houses and granaries are remnants of the 14th and 15th centuries, the golden era of the city as a Hanseatic trade center.
But why should one visit Torun? At a quick peek, it gave the world the astronomer that put the sun at the center of the solar system, a beautiful leaning tower much less known than the one in Pisa and some delicious kind of gingerbread called pierniki. If you’re looking to explore beyond the main cities in Poland, Torun should be among the first ones on your list.
Where is Torun?
Torun lies in northern Poland, halfway between Lodz (to the west of Warsaw) and the seaside town of Gdansk. Its development was connected to the presence of the Vistula river.
How to get to Torun in Poland?
Torun is accessible by bus or train from all the major Polish cities. The train main station is across from the Old Town. From there one can take the bus, a taxi or walk. Buses 25 or 27 will get you into the Old Town in around 5minutes. Don’t forget to buy a ticket from the kiosk or on board!
There are several Flixbus routes that connect Torun to other cities. The bus station is to the north of the Old Town.
You can also choose to visit Torun on a road trip across Poland, as we did. This will let you customize your itinerary and spend as much or as little time you want at each attraction.
How to get around and where to stay in Torun?
Most of the attractions are in or around the Old Town. So the ideal option is to stay in the heart of it all and just walk around. Torun isn’t an expensive city. You should be able to find some reasonably priced options on Airbnb. You probably won’t need to take the bus your entire stay. However, you might want to use public transport to get to or from the main train station.
Best things to do in Torun, Poland
Take a guided tour of the medieval Old Town
Torun is an UNESCO heritage site since 2007. The best way to get to know it is a guided tour. You’ll be told everything you might want to find out about the history of the city, its legends, beautiful squares, brick-built buildings and gingerbread in an entertaining manner. The guide will also give you some hints about the best bars and restaurants from a local’s perspective.
Check out the Old Town Square
The Old Town Square dates back to the 13th century. As the heart of the city, it has seen anything from knight tournaments to public executions. It’s the most animated place in the city, a common meeting point among the locals and the one that no tourist can miss.
All eyes are drawn to the impressive town hall built out of bricks in the middle. Unfortunately, the roof and upper floors were damaged in a fire during the Swedish siege, just as the castle in Sandomierz. What you see today in the upper part is mostly a reconstruction, but a beautiful one. The building is supposed to have 365 windows, one for each day of the year.
The rest of the townhouses around the square shouldn’t be neglected either. Arthus Court was the place where merchants negotiated and sold their products in the medieval times.
The most known son of the city, Nicolaus Copernic couldn’t miss from its main town square. His statue stands right next to the city hall building. Dressed in academic attire, he looks about to teach passers by an important astronomy lesson. The inscription on the pedestal says “Nicolaus Copernicus of Torun, mover of the earth, stopper of the sun”.
Get the best views over Torun
Climb up the 40m tall Town Hall Clock Tower for the most gorgeous views over the rooftops of Torun and the Vistula. It only costs 11 PLNs and the effort you put in to climb the narrow staircase. As a fun fact, this is also the most popular place for making marriage proposals in Torun.
Learn the city’s history at the district museum
The District Museum is located right inside the old town hall in the main square. The collection of the museum has objects as old as the 13th century used in crafts. The art exhibition has some more recent paintings and sculptures. It also does a nice job presenting the royal history of Poland.
Explore the New Town Square
“New” doesn’t mean that much in Torun, as this square is actually from the same century as its sister, only a few years younger. This square was back then in another town and had its own town hall. When the two towns merged, in the 15th century, it lost its administrative importance and was torn down in the 19th century. But it is still surrounded by beautiful and old houses in Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassical architectural styles.
Learn more about Nicolaus Copernicus
The famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Torun in 1473. His family home is still standing and can be visited. Nicolaus Copernicus proved that the Earth revolves around the sun. Until then, scientists believed that Earth was the center of the universe and the sun rotated around it. He had a revolutionary mind and the city is very proud of him. There are more references to the most famous son of Torun scattered around the town. Inside the cathedral, the font in which he was baptized is still on display. Some of the university’s buildings also bear his name.
Learn how to make the local gingerbread
Torun is famous for its traditional gingerbread, pierniki, which translates as peppered bread. You can even learn how to make it by yourself. At the Living Museum of Gingerbread you can join an interactive show during which you’re taught the recipe and method. This includes measuring spices, sifting flour, preparing the dough, modeling it in old-school wooden forms and, of course, baking.
The gingerbread master will teach you how gingerbread was made in medieval times. Afterwards, a baker will show you how everything changed in the industrialization era. The experience will end up with a nice souvenir to take home with you. It was one of the highlights of our trip to Poland. One can also buy already baked treats from the shop of the museum.
Find out the story behind some of the quirky statues in Torun
Torun has many curious bronze statues dotted around. But they are not just pleasant sights and funny picture props. Each of them has a backstory.
The metallic donkey next to the Old Market Square replaced an old wooden one. Now it is a pretty photo opportunity. You’re even allowed to sit on its back. In medieval ages, the original one was used for torturing criminals and thieves. They were mounted on it and forced down a sharp metal plate on its back. I didn’t feel like riding it for a picture anymore.
The violinist in the Old Town Square also got his right to stand there in the medieval era. Apparently, Torun had been overrun by frogs. This was caused by the curse of a witch. The young man succeeded to get rid of all of them by playing the violin. Thinking of it, his playing capabilities must have been terrible. Today, his statue is surrounded by golden frogs spouting water.
Another statue represents Filus, a popular Polish comics character. The friendly puppy holds a hat in his mouth while waiting for his owner, Professor Filutek. Both characters were imagined by Zbigniew Lengren, another famous citizen of Torun.
Attend mass at St. John’s Cathedral
The late Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is the main parish church in Torun. Inside it there are many works of art, including a fresco of the crucifixion of Christ from the 14th century. Up in the tower, one can see God’s Trumpet, the third largest bell in Poland, cast in 1500.
Check out the Far Eastern Art Museum
The house with a golden star on the roof facing the Old Town Square is not just pretty. It also hosts the Far Eastern Museum, a collection of Japanese weapons, Indian, Vietnamese and Korean pieces of art and Chinese ceramics. The house itself dates back to the 13th century, but the stucco facade was added in the 17th century.
Explore the Teutonic Castle Ruins
Poland is home to the largest castle in the world, the Malbork Castle. But the Teutonic Knights that built it, first settled in Torun, where you can still tour the ruins of the castle they’ve built back in the 13th century. It was destroyed by the people in the 15th century during the Thirteen Years’ War. Back then citizens rose against the Teutonic Order Knights. The site has been underground until the 1960s, when excavations brought it to light. Most of the remains are free to visit, but a small fee is paid for the underground exhibition. This includes a kitchen, dormitory, armory and even a medieval toilet.
Walk along the medieval town walls
The walls of Torun are as old as the city and developed according to its expansions and defensive needs. Some large pieces still survive along the Vistula river, as well as nine gates and towers. One of them is the leaning tower, which you can read more about below.
Lean against the Leaning Tower of Torun
Poland’s leaning tower is clearly not as famous as the one in Pisa. That’s why it’s not surrounded by fences and you can actually lean against it. Built out of red brick in the 14th century on unstable soil, the tower soon tilted to one side. Its top is over the street by 1.4 meters.
As you’ll figure out, it’s an important landmark of the city and many legends are connected to it, including one of Copernicus. It seems that he got blamed for it.
Another story connects the tower to the Vistula river. Apparently, the two were good friends until one day, when the river came too close and eroded the supporting walls. The tower got afraid it might fall and pleaded Vistula to stop. But the river cried: “So then, fall down!”, which seems that in Polish can be translated as “toruń”. And this is how the town got its name.
The tower can be seen on Pod Krzywą Wieżą street. Nowadays it hosts a tavern, where you can grab something to eat.
Check out Torun’s granaries
During medieval times, Torun was an important city in the Hanseatic League. As a proof of this, there are still 30 granaries left. Once upon a time, there were more than 100 within the city. Most of them have been turned into homes.
Watch the Cosmopolis Fountain Show
Just outside the Old Town has been set the Cosmopolis Fountain. Over 100 jets plot the orbits of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The nozzle in the middle has the highest jet, representing the sun. This is another reference to the work of Copernicus. In summer, the fountain puts on a multimedia show in the evenings.
Visit the Planetarium
At the Torun Planetarium, one can watch five English-language shows about the Solar System and the universe. Being in the town of one of the greatest astronomers, science lovers might want to find out a little more about star constellations and distant galaxies.
Wiślana Panorama Torunia
Another place from which you can have a panoramic view of Torun is across the Vistula River. On the other bank there’s an observation platform, remnant of a lost bridge. From there you can have a more comprehensive view over the Teutonic castle, town walls and the skyline of Torun. River boat tours are also available in summer.
Eat traditional food at Bar Mleczny Pod Arkadami
Honestly this was probably the best meal we’ve ever had at a milk bar in Poland. The food is cheap and tasty. There are also plenty of options, from zurek, a sour rye soup, to chicken soup, cucumber soup, red beets soup, various types of pierogi and my favorites, potato pancakes. For 10 euro we had each soup and main, plus one glass of kompot, which is a homemade juice. I’d say this was a good bargain.
What souvenirs can you buy in Torun?
In case you missed it, Torun is the home of Polish gingerbread. If you want to make a sweet surprise to your loved ones, buy some for them. In case you attended the workshop and want to bake your own gingerbread at home, you’re going to need some nice wooden molds. Why not buy them directly from the source?
As pierniki is part of the identity of the town, you’ll also find gingerbread ice-cream, gingerbread latte and even gingerbread beer or vodka. While you can’t take the first two home, you can certainly take the last two ones. I’m not a fan of any of them, but it’ll make for a funny experience when you taste them. You can also try a just brewed version at Jan Olbracht Browar Staromiejski.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to do when walking around this amazing medieval city on the Vistula. What do you think about Torun? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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