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Wrocław is an amazing city and the “WOW” effect is guaranteed! Wrocław has the energy of Berlin, the youth of Lisbon or Barcelona, trendy bars like Amsterdam’s, an exceptional architecture that could make you think of Bruges or Vienna, … but in fact, Wrocław is incomparable, Wrocław is Wrocław and that’s all.
On my second full day in Wrocław, I decided to visit the oldest part of the city on Cathedral Island or Ostrów Tumski. It’s an easy walk from the Old Town and is home to the most significant Cathedral in the city and one of its most enduring icons: the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. On route to Ostrów Tumski, you will pass by Slodowa Island, which is a lovely park and great for outdoor activities. During summer time, concerts are regularly held here, and this is one of the favourite places of the locals to enjoy a day out in the park. Cross the Tumski Bridge (Most Tumski), a 19th century built iron bridge, to get over to Cathedral Island, and you will find yourself in a really special area of the Old Town.
Ostrów Tumski is the oldest part of the city and is home to the most striking buildings in Wrocław. Ostrów Tumski is the gem at the centre of Wrocław’s crown. This, after all, is where the city began, making it one of the most historically significant parts of town, in addition to its most archaically picturesque. The district’s history has always been closely tied to Catholicism and today you’ll find an incredible concentration of religious buildings across the river, making it an incredibly peaceful place to explore and relax.
Surrounded by beautiful cathedrals and the Oder River, I love the fact that you can take a long leisurely walk through this district in relative peace. While there are tourists here, the numbers are way lesser than in the Old Town, and you can take your time to admire the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. Its design is striking and dominates the skyline of the island. Surrounding it are numerous other beautiful churches, and you should not miss out the botanical gardens just north of the island.
Opposite Ostrów Tumski, you will see the Wrocław Market Hall or Hala Targowa. Situated beside the Oder River, this uniquely designed building is home to all kinds of merchants selling things such as local produce, fruits and vegetables and meats. In the same building, you can also find home wares which you can bring home as a souvenir. On the ground floor, you can also find some food stalls selling traditional stuff like pierogies and you can pack a coffee before heading off to your next stop. I bought some local Polish toffees from a vendor here and they were delicious, especially as each one had a unique taste to it.
My final afternoon was spent at the Centennial Hall, Multimedia Fountain and Japanese Garden, all located in the beautiful Szczytnicki Park. Originally constructed according to the plans of Max Berg in 1911-13, Centennial Hall was an early landmark of reinforced concrete architecture. As a symbol of the city of Wroclaw, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.
Just left of the Centennial Hall’s main entrance you’ll find the ‘Pergola’ – a colossal, semi-circular, ivy-covered colonnade winding around one of the city’s most magnificent and popular attractions – the Multimedia Fountain. The Pergola is a place created for taking walks and spending slow, lazy hours on a favourite book reading or casual gossips with friends.
The Multimedia Fountain itself is the biggest fountain in Poland and one of the biggest in Europe. It was initiated on 4th June 2009 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the first free elections in post-war Poland. The fountain has 300 water jets, which create geysers, water mists, spurts and many other shapes.
The water installation is synchronised with 800 lights – light, water and music together create spectacular shows, especially at night. The shows take place every hour, every day, and vary in length. The Multimedia Fountain plays classical and pop music, for example Madonna, Daft Punk, but one can also hear calm, relaxing music.
Another nearby attraction is the Japanese Garden. It was created in the beginning of the 20th century, on the occasion of the Global Exhibition in 1913. It was an initiative of count Fritz von Hochberg, who employed a Japanese gardener Mankichi Arai. After the Exhibition it was dismantled but the plants and the arrangement of alleys and the pond remained the same.
Strolling around the garden you pass couples in love on the benches, or sitting on the stones, by the pond. Designed for residents of Wrocław as a place for rest and sightseeing, it perfectly fulfils its function. It’s a great place for enjoying peace, tranquillity and an exceptional harmony typical of Japanese philosophy of life.
Wrocław also has its fair share of mural art and monuments, including a chilling sculpture called Przejście (meaning “Passage” or “Transition”). Created by the artist Jerzy Kalina, it depicts a group of 14 lifelike people sinking into the ground on one side of Swidnicka Street, and re-emerging on the other side. It’s most often interpreted as a memorial to the citizens who were killed or went missing during period of martial law in Poland in the 1980s. It’s a symbol of walking out of communism to democracy and freedom. The sculptures represent the entire society, including children, men, women, and elderly.
Poland has a long tradition of graphic art but it too often steers closer to ‘vandalism,’ rarely graduating beyond slurs, gang signs and football allegiances. Thanks to a strong underground art community, however, Wrocław has generally been an exception, and visitors will encounter plenty of urban space that has been elaborately decorated with street art that strives to be just that: art! In fact, today, the city is decorated with dozens of highly visible murals in public spaces, and with that number growing all the time, urban art has emerged as a legitimate attraction in the city.
And as if it’s not charming enough already for you, Wrocław is also home to at least 300 dwarfs or gnomes which are scattered throughout the intricate streets, and hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered by anyone who crosses their paths. It actually all began with a single dwarf figurine commemorating the mascot of the Orange Alternative protesters, opposers of the 1980s communist regime!
Wrocław was a city I knew little about before arriving, but it’s one I certainly won’t forget. Wrocław was astonishingly beautiful and far exceeded any expectations I could have had. It’s full of stunning places which make you want to visit again and again. You only need a weekend to fall in love with the city and start to appreciate its optimistic vibe. It’s also extremely easy to navigate and excellent for walks with most of the amazing places located next to one another.