The city of Wrocław in western Poland is somewhat of a paradox; it’s one of Poland’s largest tourist destinations and yet you seemingly here very little about it. Often also known by its old German name Breslau, Wroclaw is a city of many charms, particularly when it comes to its delightful, historic architecture. Of course it’s also home to the incredibly fun Dwarfs of Wrocław, of whom I’ve previously wrote.
You may be wondering, what is there to see in Wroclaw? Well, here are just 11 different spots in the city worth visiting that I came across.
1. Town Hall
A truly unique building, few town halls in Poland can match up against the splendour of Wroclaw’s Town Hall. While not a massive building, it’s the fantastic level of detail and unusual gothic design that set this Town Hall apart from its peers. Built in the 13th century, but was continually renovated and added to over the following centuries. Luckily, it received only relatively minor damage to its roof during WWII and so remains a true landmark of the city.
2. Old Market Square
The veritable beating heart of Wrocław, the Old Market Square is the city’s centre as with so many other European cities. Despite suffering thorough damage during WWII, the city centre was thankfully restored to its old-fashioned ways. This is seen best in the buildings that line the outside of the square, crafted and decorated masterfully and giving the square a burst of life.
However, it seems the square’s polished, vibrant look is quite a modern occurrence. Lacking funding, many of the buildings took decades to receive restoration. Perhaps the weirdest thing, at least to me, is that for most of the time since the war, the square was simply used for parking and even had a petrol station right in the paved area of the above photo!
3. Solny Square
Found just off the edge of the Old Market Square, Solny Square is kind of a mini-version of it’s larger neighbour. Surrounded by its own elegantly restored buildings, the square’s main purpose seems to be hosting a large flower market. The other thing to look for in the square is the statue of an African man holding a staff on the first floor of one building, and a group of three African women on the nearby corner. The man is a recreation of a prior statue for the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper and modelled on a local artist. Amazingly, the statue was so realistic that a doctor was able to diagnose the model with a medical ailment based on a cursory look at the statue.
4. Wroclaw University
Very much an institution in the city, the University of Wroclaw has a long and prestigious history. While it was planned back in 1505, opposition by Krakow and its influence on the Pope prevented its founding until 1702. Located in the northern end of the Old Town, the university is housed in some extremely palatial buildings echoing its historic past. The university is the largest in its region of Poland and has 9 Nobel Prize winners to its name. Visiting the university is more about the exquisite architecture of the buildings and area than actually heading inside, in particular the remarkable doors and the fountain that sits outside the main building.
Known as the Swordsman, the fountain sculpture is a popular meeting place with the local students. Designed by local professor Hugo Lederer in 1904 , it is said that the statue depicts his own experience as a student at Wroclaw. Apparently, he lost his possessions and clothes drunkenly gambling on cards, his friend’s leaving him nothing but his sword as a sign of honour. The statue is often the victim of intoxicated students who either climb up to steal his sword or go for a swim in the fountain below.
One of the more elegant buildings of Wroclaw, The Ossolineum is a historic library and cultural centre situated within a baroque palace. Named after Józef Maksymilian Ossoliński the centre is home to a number of free exhibitions but it’s actually the inner courtyard that really shines. The ornate, peaceful courtyard is adorned with ivy and really is a sight to behold.
6. Bridge of Locks
In the same vein as Paris and so many more cities in Europe, you’ll find stacks of padlocks attached to the Tumski Bridge across the Oder River. If you’re not familiar with the practice, couples hoping for eternal love write their initials on padlocks and affix them to the bridge. Seeing these lock-lined bridges is always a sight but this bridge also has a funny story with it. Apparently the bridge was so popular that the city began to grow concerned with the added weight of the locks and the structural integrity of the bridge. When they suggested removing the locks to resolve the problem, it was met with fierce opposition. In the end they removed just one lock, a massive oversized one dedicated to the local football team.
7. Ostrow Tumski
Translating into English as “Cathedral Island”, Ostrow Tumski is not to be confused with the island of the same name in Poznan. In Wroclaw, the island is home to some of the city’s most striking buildings. The main landmark found on the island is, unsurprisingly, the Cathedral of St. John Baptist with its twin spires. Of course, it’s not the only building on the island. Ostrow Tumski is home to, among other things, 3 other churches, 2 monasteries and a small palace. A more unusual sight was the Bollywood-style commercial be filmed in the streets the day I visited.
8. Market Hall
While the building with its big concrete pillars might not be much to look at, it’s what lies inside the Market Hall or Hala Targowa that counts. Within the hall you’ll find all sorts of local produce, from fresh fruit and veggies to sweets, but also things like local meat and sausages. Here you can get your hands on a delicious Kabanos Sausage and munch on it as you wander about. There’s also a traditional Polish Milk Bar tucked away in the corner if you’re interested in a larger meal and want to experience the soviet style of dining. Plenty here to try or just look at, in a friendly local place.
9. Old City Prison
One of the cool spots shown to me on my walking tour of Wroclaw was the Motyla Noga Gastropub. Situated in a cosy courtyard, the pub and beer garden is housed in what used to be the old prison, dating back to the 14th century. Given its proximity to the university, it’s a very popular spot with students. It’s apparently common for those who have a big night here to say that they “spent the night in prison”. It’s also here that you’ll find the dwarf behind bars, one of my favourite of the city’s dwarfs.
10. Inner City Moat
Separating the historic Old Town from the more modern downtown area of Wroclaw, is the beautifully peaceful Inner City Moat. Fosa Miejska in Polish, the medieval moat stretches along the southern and western sides of the old town. One of the few green spots I came across besides the Ossolineum Gardens, the moat is nice place to go for a stroll along its leafy promenade and admire some of the nearby buildings.
11. The Other Statues
While it’s more playful and numerous statues of dwarfs might be better known, they are not the only statues in the city of Wroclaw. At the intersection of Piłsudskiego and Świdnicka streets in the downtown area, you’ll find a set of sculptures that really struck a chord with me. Known in Polish as Pomnik Anonimowego Przechodnia, the installation creatively shows a series of figures descending into the pavement and reappearing out of it on the far side of the street. I thought it was a really clever use of the environment. Just don’t mistake them for pedestrians waiting to cross at the lights!
- Unfortunately, due to windy weather I was discouraged from climbing the tower of the Garrison Church just off Old Market Square, but it is said to have some of the best views of the city;
- Yet again, I would recommend taking a look at the tours offered by Free Walking Tour. They’re a great way to see more of the city and learn about its compelling history;
- There are plenty of options across all budgets when it comes to accommodation around the city centre;
- Wrocław is accessible by both bus and train; connections include Poznan and Krakow.
Have you visited Wroclaw before and where else would you recommend? If not, which of the city’s sights would you be most interested in visiting? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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