It’s rather peculiar that the city of Poznan in Western Poland isn’t a larger tourist destination. While Poznan is one of the biggest cities in Poland, it’s nowhere near as well-known to tourists as Krakow, Warsaw or Gdansk.
The city boasts many of the same qualities that makes Poland such an enticing country to visit – history, architecture, stories and food – but often with its own interesting twists. This is possibly due, in part, to it being part of Prussia prior to World War I. There’s also the fact that it was the scene of one the country’s most successful uprisings in 1919, leading to it being returned to Poland.
Visiting the city, I was constantly noticing elements that felt familiar and yet had intriguing differences that felt distinctly tied to the city of Poznan. These differences varied from pivotal moments of history, to architectural styles, to humorous explanations for the city’s emblem. Here are some of the many places I enjoyed exploring during my visit to Poznan, each a reason why I think Poznan deserves more attention from visitors to Poland.
Translating as Cathedral Island, Ostrow Tumski is the oldest part in the city of Poznan. Once the city centre, Ostrow Tumski is now just removed from the centre of town but still important. On Ostrow Tumski, you will find Poland’s oldest cathedral built in the 10th century. For a country so devoutly catholic as Poland, this is a very important historical site.
It is said that on Ostrow Tumski, Mieszko I, first king of Poland was baptised in 966. This had a huge impact on the spread of Christianity within Poland as you can imagine. If your king converts to a religion, it’s hard to go against him. It also did wonders for the Kingdom of Poland, as the country was soon recognised by the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope. In a sense, this was one of the most instrumental moments in the creation of the Polish nation.
Aside from its history, the Cathedral is also a very beautiful and elegant building. I found the stain glass window and organ, particularly engaging. Across the wider island, there is the Holy Virgin Mary Church nearby with its unusual brick architecture. There’s also some quiet streets with elegant residences to admire.
Old Market Square
As with many cities in Poland, this square is and for a long time has been the centre of the city. While it saw a lot of damage during World War II, the square has been rebuilt and amazes visitors with its gorgeous renaissance-style buildings.
A charming little part of the square is the Bamberka fountain statue. This statue of a woman carrying two jugs of water is a modern addition to the square. It honours the families from the city of Bamberg that moved to Poznan in 1719, settling and farming the countryside to help it rebuild after years of war.
If you can, I would suggest you visit on the weekend so that you can see the Horse Guards parade through the square. It’s quite entertaining, especially as they try to do so through a very crowded place. My visit also happened to coincide with the local Jazz Festival, so as I was just beginning my walking tour of the city I got a close up performance of “When the Saints Go Marching In”. Combined with the Horse Guards and the crowd mustering for the little clock performance, it felt like everything in Poznan was happening in Old Market Square.
While there are many, many gorgeous Renaissance houses in Old Market Square, the Craftsmen Houses deserve special mention. This row of narrow houses sits next to the Town Hall on the inside of the Old Market Square and are really quite cute. The super-narrow facades are due to the fact that homeowners paid tax according to the width of their facade and number of windows. While they are modern reconstructions, they reflect the houses and arcades where craftsmen and tradesmen sold their wares for centuries. Now they sell souvenirs, figures.
Poznan Town Hall
There are many wonderful town halls in Poland that I saw and Poznan’s has to be one of the most distinctive. Whereas others are broad brick buildings, the Poznan Town Hall is almost shaped like a tower and gleaming white. Like most of the Old Market Square it was reconstructed after WWII, but that doesn’t take anything away from its ornate Renaissance style.
While the front facade of the town hall is expertly painted, I do think its finest attribute is the way it lauds over the rest of the square. In a square full of finely painted renaissance buildings, your eye is still drawn to the tower that is the town hall. However, if you are nearby just before midday, your eye may be drawn to the large crowd of people amassing to watch the clock strike 12.Looking up at the town hall at noon, you should witness the performance of two mechanical goats butting heads. The two goats are the symbol of the city, thanks to a wonderful local legend.
The story goes that a local chef was preparing a meal for a visiting duke, but burnt the meal. His assistant went out and managed to find two goats to cook, but the goats escaped the kitchen and raced to the top of the Town Hall tower. When the duke arrived, he saw the two goats butting heads at the top of the tower and thought it was hilarious, saving the cook. While I appreciated the great story, I actually had the rare experience of the goats not coming out the day I was there. Maybe next time.
Looking at the Royal Castle, you would be surprised to know that much of it only dates back to 2010. That was when the city decided to reconstruct, with only a few underlying supports surviving from the 13th century. Originally built in 1249, the Royal Castle was known as Przemsyl Castle after King Przemsyl. The castle saw destruction many times throughout history, but WWII managed to finish the job.
Interestingly, the architect that designed the modern reconstruction didn’t stick too closely to the original look of the castle (from what I’ve been told). As such, what you see above is more his interpretation of a castle rather than what was historically accurate to the region. The new design didn’t win everyone over it seems, as its nickname is ‘Gargamel’s Castle’ after the evil character from the Smurfs.
The second of Poznan’s two castles is the Imperial Castle, built for Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1910. It is said to be the youngest royal residence in Europe. Throughout the century it has been used as the Presidential residence, then as a residence for Adolf Hitler, and then after the war as part of the local university. Today it hosts a variety of things, including a cultural centre, theatre and cinema.
What I like about the Imperial Castle is how unusual its appearance is for Poland. Generally in Poland, you don’t find many stone buildings as there was historically a lack of raw material and brick was used instead. So to see that they chose to use stone here shows how important the castle was at the time. Today its purpose comes across as rather uncertain but it’s still put to use. The manicured gardens behind the castle are also quite nice, particularly where the ivy has crept up the big stone walls.
Aside from Old Market Square, the other large focal point of the city is the nearby Wolności Square. While Wolności Square lacks any of the Renaissance buildings, it makes up for it with other equally impressive sights. One of the more beautiful buildings on the square is Raczynski’s Library, borrowing influences of Parisian architecture. The main historical point of the square is oddly a balcony of the Bazaar building on the corner of the square. The balcony is important because it was where famed pianist Ignacy Paderewski gave a speech to huge crowds, leading to the Greater Poland Uprising of 1918 that brought the city back to Poland after WWI.
What really captured my attention in the square was the Wolności Fountain. The fountain features a glass, geometric sculpture with water running over it, creating a wonderful visual display. It’s even more pretty when it’s lit up at night.
St. Stanislaw Parish Church
The Parish Church in Poznan may not be as historically significant as the Poznan Cathedral, but it is well worth a visit. This impressive baroque style church sits just off the Old Market Square and is easily spotted with its high facade. When I visited the church there happened to be a wedding occurring at the time. Thankfully, I was able to stick my head in and take a few snaps of the lavish interior.
In Poland many of the churches are brick buildings, so their interiors are brick also. That is not the case here, where you find the columns and altar concealed by stucco work and paintings. This gives the church a more monumental feel, particularly when you look towards its golden altar. Yet another spot in Poznan that outwardly seems typically Polish and then turns out to be far different to what you expected.
Found off to the side of the Parish Church is the courtyard of the Jesuit College and its peaceful courtyard. This area is surrounded by beautiful, bold baroque architecture and is filled with benches popular with both tourist and locals to rest their feet for a bit. The college no longer functions as one, but honestly I’d say come here for the view and the peace and quiet.
This one is a wonderful stop for art lovers. The National Museum in Poznan is home to a broad collection of European art over many periods. A large portion of the museum is dedicated to Polish artwork, with entire floors exhibiting works by artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Further on, there are rooms focused on art from Spain, German, Italy and more, also delving into earlier periods. The National Museum also has the only Monet displayed in Poland. It really was a far more extensive collection than I was anticipating. I only spent roughly 45 minutes exploring it on a whim, but feel you could easily spend 1-2 hours there if you were really into it. What’s great is the museum has free entry on Saturdays, so another good reason to visit Poznan over the weekend.
Stary Browar Shopping Centre
Listen, I’m not a big shopper. So seeking out a shopping centre while I travel is not usually on the cards. But it’s not often that you have people recommend you visit a shopping centre for its architecture. Stary Browar is not your typical shopping centre. It’s name literally translates to Old Brewery, so it being located in the buildings of an old brewery should make sense.
The shopping centre really is an exquisite building to explore. I think it’s quite cool that they preserved its old architecture and adapted the buildings to a new purpose. Outside it’s all brick and metal, its fascinating interior no different. Stary Browar has actually won awards as the best shopping centre in the world of its size. Just another unusual but intriguing sight to enjoy in Poznan.
St Martin’s Croissant
Not exactly a sight, but didn’t want to leave it off. A visit to Poznan is incomplete without trying the city’s most famed dessert, the Saint Martin’s Croissant. This delicious pastry is no ordinary croissant. These desserts are so packed with almond paste, nuts and poppy seeds that you may have to consider sharing it with a friend, they’re that filling. The city has such a love of croissants that there is even a “museum”, where you can participate in classes to make them. Keep an eye out for Rogale – their local name – near Old Market Square.
One of the big surprises for me was the vast Malta Lake found not far from the city centre. This long artificial lake is basically the sport and relaxation hub of the city. The lake area is really peaceful, removed from any traffic, but still easily accessible from the city with just a short tram ride.
Around the lake are extensive grassy areas where you see people running and cycling, or just lying in the sun. On the lake, you’ll frequently spot people rowing and canoeing. Malta Lake even has the only artificial ski slope in Poland, open year round. If you’re more after fun and relaxation, then there’s the large Malta Thermal Baths complex. Here there is an outdoor water park, indoor swimming pool, saunas and spas.
If all of the above activities aren’t enough for families with kids, then perhaps the Miniature Rail might be. The train runs a loop that takes passengers along the lake before looping into the small wooded park. There’s even a miniature station where you start your journey from.
Getting to Poznan is quite straightforward, with the city’s airport serviced by airlines like LOT, Norwegian and Ryanair. For those travelling overland, the city is connected to the extensive bus and train networks that cross the country.
While exploring the city centre on foot is the best way to go, the city is connected with a network of trams that can get you about with ease. If you’re looking to visit areas like Ostrow Tumski and Malta Lake, I would recommend taking the tram. Please remember to buy tickets before you get on board, to avoid getting fines. Many stops don’t have ticket machines, so buy them in advance at the main train station or kiosks.
If you’re looking for a pleasant and comfortable place to stay in Poznan, particularly in the area of Malta Lake, I would honestly recommend Novotel Poznan Malta. The hotel is conveniently situated right by the shores of Malta Lake and the Malta Thermal Baths. It is also only 5 minutes on the tram from Ostrow Tumski and 10 minutes from Old Market Square. Staying by Malta Lake makes you feel like you’ve left the city behind but you can still get into the city with ease.
This 3-star hotel features rooms that are spacious with plenty of natural light. There is also the Novo Square Lounge Bar, a stylish bar and restaurant offering a mix of international cuisine with outdoor terrace seating. For the kids, there is a game corner to keep them happily entertained. There is also ample on site parking, a fitness centre and an outdoor pool.
Have you visited Poznan before? If not, what do you think you would enjoy seeing? Please share in the comments below.
Disclosure: My stay in Poznan was as a guest of the Poznan Malta Novotel. As always, all opinions are my own.
This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.
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