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When people talk about Poland, they usually mention the capital Warsaw or Krakow, but what they are missing out is Wrocław, a charming city in the West of Poland. Think diverse European culture (they were part of Germany, Czech Republic and Austria previously) combined with rich architecture, soaked in a relaxed atmosphere, and you get Wrocław. Beautiful Old Town, the variety of architecture, numerous green spaces, amazing food and café scene and lots of cool spots – Wrocław has it all!
Visit Wrocław for its beautiful and colourful Gothic Renaissance buildings, cute hidden gnomes and great food scene, and you will definitely fall in love. So if you like old school charm and modern day quirkiness plus a rich culture, Wrocław is going to be perfect for you. But before you set off to discover Wrocław, you should know how to pronounce the name of the city correctly. When saying the name of the city aim for “Vrots-Waff” and you should be more or less fine!
Built upon twelve islands, the city of Wrocław is surrounded by rivers and canals. No-one seems to agree on an exact figure, but you’ll find approximately 130 bridges within the city boundaries, a figure that only four other European cities can beat (Hamburg, Venice, Amsterdam and St. Petersburg). It’s not difficult to see why Wrocław is called the Venice of Poland!
I was actually booked to visit Dubrovnik in Croatia but a multitude of flight cancellations made this impossible! So off to Wrocław it was! And I was definitely not disappointed as practically everywhere was open despite the ongoing pandemic and bars and restaurants were packed! Oh, and it was not necessary to wear masks outdoors! It felt like I was in paradise!
Getting around Wrocław is very easy as the city has done a good job with public transport. There are a variety of options, and mostly you will be using trams. However, if you are mostly in the Old Town area, then there really is not much need of public transport, since walking is the best option here. However, the Centennial Hall and Multimedia Fountain are a bit outside of the centre and you might walk there, of course, but you might also use public transport to get there. Your best option will be tram – it’s efficient, reliable and very affordable.
Wrocław has one of the most beautiful market squares in Poland, and I dare say even in Europe. The Old Market Square (Rynek we Wrocławiu), is not only one of the largest in Poland, but in the whole of Europe as well! Not only is it huge, but in my opinion, the Old Market Square in Wrocław is the prettiest in all of Poland, with its pastel-coloured buildings and stunning architecture.
The medieval Market Square is a pedestrian zone and the heart of the city. Around the square, you can admire numerous colourful houses, one prettier than another. Some of them still hold their historical names, associated with their exterior details or function. Most of the houses were built centuries ago, in the gothic or renaissance style, but you can also find some art nouveau gems here.
The real gem of the Market Square is the old town hall. It looks like from a fairy tale, it makes my jaw drop every single time I see it. It is considered to be one of the most important examples of Gothic architecture in central and eastern Europe. The town hall was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. A truly remarkable building with unique Gothic characteristics on each side as it was continually renovated over 250 years from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Luckily, the town hall survived the Second World War with minimal damage.
As you make your way around, be sure to stop for a coffee or lunch at one of many restaurants and coffee shops around the square. I decided to have lunch at Spiz, a Polish restaurant right in the centre of the main square. It’s highly recommended as the food was delicious, the service excellent and the prices very reasonable indeed.
On the other side of the main square, you will find an interesting installation, the Zdroj Fountain. It was built in 1996 and was supposed to stay there for only a couple of years, but today it still stands as an abstract art piece, made of glass and granite.
Probably the most imposing structure in the Old Town is St Elizabeth’s Church, in all its Gothic glory. The Church interior may not rival some of the bigger names in Europe, but certainly it has its own charisma, and it’s certainly worth a venture inside. Here one can also see two houses nicknamed Hansel and Gretel. Supposedly, these two buildings got their names due to the archway that connected them together, making them look like they are holding hands. While it is not the most impressive of buildings here, they do represent a nice bit of Wroclaw history and is worth a photo op!
Another church you should visit is St Mary Magdalene Church, right off the city square. This massive church was taken over by the Protestants and was not returned to the Catholic Church until after WWII. Its most striking features are the 12th-century Romanesque portal that was moved here from the Benedictine Abbey – considered to be Wrocław’s most valuable relic from that era – and the unique Penitents’ Bridge’ spanning the two soaring, yet stunted towers whose cupolas were never replaced after WWII.
Climbing the hundreds of steps of an endless staircase will take you to one of the most beautiful points of view of Wrocław. Legend has it that the ghost of a young woman, punished for her sins and sentenced to wash this wooden bridge until the end of her life, still haunts the place. I did not see her but the panoramic view of Wrocław is breath-taking. It’s definitely well worth the climb to the top.
Up here on the Penitents’ Bridge I met Marta, a Polish woman from Warsaw. We took photos of each other up on this bridge and decided to spend the afternoon sightseeing together. Following our descent to the souvenir shop inside the church, we decided to head up to the Botanical Gardens of the University of Wrocław.
Open from April till mid-November, the charming Botanical Gardens began life as a scientific pursuit, but have become a favourite retreat for Wrocław’s residents. The garden was built from 1811 to 1816 on the riverbed where the Odra once flowed around Ostrów Tumski. The 7.4 hectare grounds include a huge diversity of plant life, aquariums, sculptures, a plant shop and café, and a large pond with picturesque bridges. The beautiful manicured landscapes include enough nooks and crannies that you should have no trouble forgetting you’re in the centre of a big city. Highly recommended.
We then went around some other landmarks and bought some strawberries and an ice cream, following which it was time to bid farewell to Marta, who had to return to her home city of Warsaw. I accompanied her to the train station and I’m so glad I did as it is an architectural gem. It is one of the oldest and architecturally most unique and interesting railway stations in Poland, with its renovation being one of the largest investments carried out by Polish State Railways in the 21st century. Despite this, it has preserved its most unique and spectacular qualities: the decorative body, the spacious hall for passengers and the roofed platform hall.
With nearly 58,000 passengers a day, Wrocław Central Station is one of the busiest in Poland. First built in the mid-19th century, the station owes its monumental character to a design put forward by Wilhelm Grapow in response to a huge demand for railway journeys in the 1850s. The monumental building was designed in an English neo-gothic style more closely resembling a castle or palace than a public service building and was intended to showcase the power of the railways at a time when they were the fastest form of public transport.
I am a budget traveller and so one of my biggest reasons for visiting any city is how affordable it is. Wrocław, like all of Poland, is super affordable, with hostel beds costing as little as 5 EUR, a pint of beer costing 1-2 EUR, and restaurant meals starting at just 3 EUR for simpler dishes such as pierogi (filled dumplings) or soup.
Wrocław was a city I knew little about before arriving, but it’s one I certainly won’t forget due to its unique charm, magnificent architecture and vibrant colours! It’s packed with art, historical sites and – most importantly – plenty of cafes where you can stop for a beer and a bite.