In a few words
There is much to envy the residents of Wrocław, but first of all – the intangible, unpretentious energy and laid-back spirit that floats between the city’s elegant Art Nouveau streets. The climate of the historic regional capital of Silesia and the fourth largest city in today’s Poland is created by the Oder River, slipping through the center here with several branches and side bends that form numerous islands. According to various estimates, they are linked by 100 to 130 bridges! This very green and very young in spirit city will especially be liked by urban wanderers and those who value in weekend city-breaks a balance between a sightseeing plan and opening up to the unknown.
Wrocław is the only such large city in Europe to have experienced a complete population exchange in the last century. Turned into a fortress by the Nazis during World War II, surrendering four days after Berlin, it was annexed to Poland after its fall. Pre-war German residents were resettled to the west, and their place was taken by displaced people from central Poland and former cities from the eastern provinces of the country taken over by the Soviet Union, most notably the now Ukrainian city of Lviv. The mix of newcomers over several generations has re-created a city where the past does not need to be a burden, but can be a source of inspiration. A symbol of the aspirations of today’s Wrocław became the title of European Capital of Culture, awarded to the city in 2016.
Before you begin sightseeing
First of all – walking! The center of Wrocław is particularly graceful for pedestrians. All the most interesting places, except for a short trip to the Centennial Hall, are within the power of your legs. Along the way, keep a close eye on the details of townhouses and small architecture – the strength of Wrocław lies in the detail!
We say a definite no to empty stomachs! Wrocław is a city where it seems impossible to be hungry. Every now and then you will come across places where you can have an inexpensive and tasty snack or drink. On our route we will send you to them as often as to the sights. And that is the way it should be everywhere!
Around the Market Square
The heart of the city is formed by the Market Square – a vast four-sided ring with an island of medieval buildings in the center. Adjacent to it is the imposing Gothic town hall, under which stands the former pillory. The former place of execution of evildoers is now (somewhat ironically) a favorite meeting place for locals. Venture into the narrow streets of the inner block, where there are plenty of atmospheric pubs and restaurants. On 2 Przejście Garncarskie Street you will find the Tajne Komplety bookstore, popular among young Wrocław residents, and a short distance to the side from the market, on Jatki Street, there are numerous art galleries and stores. And if you start the day with an empty stomach, the best solution will be breakfast at Bułka z Masłem (8A Włodkowica Street- we will come back there).
City of dwarfs
Wandering through the streets, pay attention to the tiny figures of dwarfs. They strike various, extravagant poses and enjoy the unflagging sympathy of residents and tourists. There are more than 360 of them all over Wrocław! They are a souvenir of the Pomarańczowa Alternatywa – a movement whose representatives in orange caps with pom-poms tried to ridicule the absurdities of the late years of communism in Poland.
Wanting to feel the spirit of medieval Wrocław, it is best to turn towards the Gothic St. Mary Magdalene Cathedral. The two brick towers of this huge building are connected at a height of 45 meters by the so-called Mostek Pokutnic. It owes its name to local legends, in which former Wrocław citizens wanted to leave women who preferred entertaining to taking care of the house and children on it. Regardless of whether you have something to repent for, try to climb this narrow footbridge for a beautiful panoramic view of Wroclaw. The only thing missing at the top is probably the Hunchback of Notre Dame!
Towards the Odra River – Cafe Kalambur
From the Market Square we head down Kuźnicza Street towards the Odra waterfront. On the way, at number 29 Art Cafe Kalambur is located. The charming eatery is traditionally a meeting place for the local artistic bohemia – its best years seem to be long behind it, like many cafes described as “artistic” in guidebooks, but you will not be disappointed by the sight of the intriguing Art Nouveau interior. The entire city of Wrocław is thick with beautiful Art Deco townhouses – the fruit of the bourgeois prosperity the city experienced at the turn of the 20th century.
A little farther there are the buildings of the main edifice of the local university, which on the other side is directly adjacent to the Oder River. If you have a moment, take a look at the university’s museum to see the Aula Leopoldinum, the university’s representative hall. The sprawling, firm sculptures and paintings filling the interior are the true essence of the Baroque.
A little bit to the side, in the architecturally interesting Market Hall, vaulted with reinforced concrete arches, you will buy plenty of local products and simply eat well. It is full of stalls where Wrocław residents do their daily shopping, as well as artisans and establishments catering to the local student community.
Panorama of the Battle of Racławice
From the Market Hall it is just two steps to the banks of the Oder River, which flows around Wyspa Piasek here on two sides. From here you can take a short walk to the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice. The cylindrical painting, painted on sail canvas in fourteen pieces with a total length of 114 meters, is not only an extraordinary optical illusion and a display of 19th-century painting, but also a symbol of the post-war migration of works of Polish culture from Lviv to Wrocław. The painting depicts a battle fought during one of the anti-Russian uprisings in the late 18th century. Originally displayed in Lviv, it found its new home in Wrocław after long negotiations with the Soviet Union.
On the Oder River
Over two bridges near Wyspa Piasek you can also get to Ostrów Tumski, the oldest part of the city. The adornment of this tiny, secluded neighborhood, above which rise the towers of the St John’s Cathedral, are the original gas lamps, lit every evening by a hooded figure in a black cloak. This is no joke! It is the duty of the lighthouse keepers employed by the city to light and extinguish the nearly 100 historic lanterns every day, which have become one of the symbols of Wrocław. If you hit a warm day, be sure to try the ice cream from a nearby ice cream shop (Polish Lody, Bema Square). They are second to none!
Return to Wyspa Piasek via the picturesque Tumski Bridge, regularly hung with padlocks left on it by lovers. If we are in Wrocław at the end of spring or summer, it is a good time to go to the nearby Słodowa Island. It is full of waterfront or barge-launched bars where you can rest before continuing your sightseeing. The sight of the university’s baroque buildings piled above the water and the green islets on the Oder River is something that stays in your memory for a long time!
Trip to the Centennial Hall
At this point, we suggest changing the neighborhood and going to the representative areas of Centennial Hall. You can get there conveniently by streetcars 1, 2, 10 or 4 from the opposite bank of the Oder River.
The monumental Centennial Hall is a symbolic harbinger of the concrete era in construction. It was built on the occasion of an exhibition that the German Emperor wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the victory over Napoleon in 1913. When Wrocław’s chief architect, Max Berg, publicly unveiled a plan to construct a building with the world’s largest dome at the time, created entirely from a then little-known material – reinforced concrete – the architectural community, brought up on the era of steel, literally knocked their foreheads. The openwork structure, intensely illuminated by numerous windows, rightly brought Wrocław international fame, and despite the passage of years the hall amazes with its proportions and architectural craftsmanship. Several years ago, this masterpiece of early modernism made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The hall is surrounded by green areas planned on a grand scale: an impressive colonnade covered with a pergola, on which greenery drips in the summer, a secluded Japanese Garden or a zoo that preceded Berg’s realizations. Be sure to visit the neighboring Four Domes Pavilion, which houses a magnificent exhibition of works by some of Poland’s best contemporary artists. Postwar Wrocław became an artistic melting pot – in isolation from its roots, but in close connection with its own imagination, for example, the visionary of modern theater Jerzy Grotowski or the master of surrealism in cinema Wojciech Jerzy Has created here. In addition to works by artists as renowned in the world of contemporary art as Mirosław Bałka, the Wrocław museum has the largest collection of works by Magdalena Abakanowicz, an artist who revolutionized today’s understanding of sculpture.
In the evening
Your stay in Wrocław would be incomplete without an evening outing to the locals’ favorite quarter around Paweł Włodkowic Street. This is not only a place of concentration of the most interesting cafes and clubs with good music, but also a corner where the strongest multicultural DNA of the city resounds – in the space of a few streets there is a Catholic church, a Protestant congregation, an Orthodox church and, fortunately saved during the war, the lavish White Stork Synagogue. After 20 years of tedious restoration work, services and concerts are now held in the representative interior of the Jewish temple.
We recommend a short stop at the Mleczarnia club, with an intimate courtyard beloved by Wrocław residents and filled with deck chairs in the summer, dinner at the slightly eccentric Latin American
restaurant Peruviana, the elegant wine and bookstore Cocofli, or pizza from Włodkowic Street, about which (literally!) legends go around in the city.
To top it off – festivals
If you have enough energy after such a hefty sightseeing program, try going to the National Forum of Music to attend one of the cultural events for which Wrocław is known in Poland. The modern facility with a spacious hall with excellent acoustics was built in Wrocław on the occasion of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. Among other events, it hosts concerts of the Wratislavia Cantans classical music festival (every September) or the Jazz nad Odrą festival (also in September). The latter event has a long, almost 60-year history – it is one of the highlights on the calendar of Polish jazz lovers.
No matter how many of the above-mentioned things you manage to do during your stay in Wrocław, you will leave it charged with good memories. This city is impossible not to like!