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“Is it pronounced Wro-claw? How about Rock-claw? Oh wait, Vro-clav?”
Nope, nope and definitely, nope.
Welcome to Wrocław. A city as unique as its hard to pronounce name.
Pronounced as “Vrohts-wahf” or even “Vrohtz-wahv,” Wrocław is the largest city in the southwestern Silesia region of Poland and lies on the banks of the Oder (Odra) River with a current population that almost reaches 650,000 people.
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Within over a thousand years of history, Wrocław has been part of many Kingdoms and Monarchies such as Prussia, Bohemia, Hungary and Nazi Germany. Most recently part of Germany during WWII, Wrocław was considered part of Poland once again in 1945 as one of the Recovered Territories after German Occupation. After the war, 70% of Wrocław was left in absolute ruins after the Battle of Breslau (what Wrocław was called in German) from February 1945 to May 1945 and therefore had to be rebuilt once the war ended.
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Wrocław, as pretty of a city as it is now, was also dubbed the prestigious title of 2016 European Capital Of Culture and has been ranked in the top 100 cities to live in by the Mercer Quality of Living Survey. Wrocław also possesses numerous historical landmarks, including the Stary Rynek, Ostrów Tumski and the Centennial Hall, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oh, and it’s also been named as one of the smartest cities in the world in 2017 and 2019. Now that’s quite a list of accomplishments if you ask me!
When I arrived into Wrocław, the skies were cloudy, grey and it was fairly windy. Not even the grey clouds could kill my excitement of visiting this great city with such a rich history. After looking up some photos of Wrocław, I was thrilled to visit one of the most stunning town squares in all of Europe, visit Ostrów Tumski, which is considered the oldest part of the city and rumoured to be the most charming area as well. Of course, I couldn’t wait to dive face first into some incredible baked pierogi I’ve heard so much about and wander aimlessly around the historical streets of Wrocław.
Even with the astounding history, beautiful streets and an impressive list of accomplishments, Wrocław is a city that is still not that well known to visitors outside of Europe and seems to be off of the tourist radar.
If you want to visit a city that is off the beaten path when it comes to destinations in Europe and are ready to walk around with a face that constantly resembles the heart eyed emoji, then you need to get to Wrocław as soon as possible! Even if you only have a day to explore the city, here is an extensive list on how you can spend a day in wonderful Wrocław.
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Getting To Wrocław
Arriving in Wrocław is easy and accessible by rail, bus or plane from all over Poland. Copernicus Airport Wrocław (Port Lotniczy Wrocław im. Mikołaja Kopernika), built in 1938, was the airport initially built for German military usage before WWII, then for a short time after the war, the airport was used by the Soviets before allowing civilians to travel domestically in 1945. The airport turned into an international airport eventually in 1993. It is located ten kilometres southwest of Wrocław’s city centre. The best way to get to Wrocław, like many cities in Poland, is by rail in my opinion. It’s relatively quick, comfortable and efficient. Wrocław can be reached by all major cities and towns in Poland. If you are coming from Warsaw, it will take just under four hours to arrive in Wrocław. If you’re arriving from Poznań, the trip is under two hours. The main rail station is Wrocław Główny and is a short walk from the city centre. To buy train tickets, you can buy them in the station at machines, at kiosks run by salespeople, or even online at PKP Intercity’s website.
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Speaking of train stations, when you arrive into Wrocław by rail, you have already arrived at one of the major attractions of the city. Built between 1855-1857, the large bright yellow railway station is one of the most beautiful train stations I have ever been in and I’ve seen a LOT of train stations in my travels. The interior boasts a large main hall complete with high ceilings and pillars, but the most impressive view of the station is from the street level on Ulica Piłsudskiego. The exterior of Wrocław Główny is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Built in an English Neo-Gothic style, the yellow exterior resembles a castle more than a rail station. The best time to see it is at night time when it is all lit up and the red neon sign is glowing above the main entryway.
The Old Market Square in Wrocław, or Stary Rynek we Wrocławiu is one of the largest medieval squares in Europe and without a doubt, one of the most colourful. Known for years as the major social hub and pedestrian zone for locals and tourists alike, the Rynek, although damaged during WWII, most buildings remained intact and were carefully restored and rebuilt to its original splendour filled with Baroque and Classicism architecture in an array of bright colours that would make a box of Crayola crayons green with envy. As you walk around the Rynek, not only will you be amazed by the details on the buildings, you’ll also be spoiled with oodles of restaurants to choose from with all types of cuisine that range from sushi to Italian. Most restaurants have heated lamps with covered, or enclosed patios, so even dining alfresco in the cooler late autumn months is enjoyable and makes people watching much more comfortable.
The Old Town Hall, or Stary Ratusz, is most definitely the star of the Rynek with its gingerbread house exterior and jaw dropping details surrounding every inch of the building. The Ratusz was started back in the 13th century as in a Gothic architectural style and construction didn’t stop for another 250 years. The massive clock tower that dominates the Rynek, is said to be the oldest in Poland and was installed in 1368. If you look closely at the clock on the front of the Ratusz, you’ll notice that it only has the hour hand. While walking in front of the building, you may come across a bizarre looking pillar sticking out of the ground. The pillar is known as the Pillory and was used to chain criminals to. Criminals and offenders would be held here in a cage, whipped, pelted with stones and humiliated for all to see in the Rynek. The original Pillory was from 1492, but the one standing there today is a replica. One of Europe’s oldest restaurants, Piwnica Świdnicka, which opened its doors in 1273, can also be found underneath the Ratusz, but has been closed for a few years now due to monetary circumstances and renovations. The Stary Ratusz now houses a museum and is open for cultural events. If you’re interested in seeing the New Town Hall that was built between the years of 1860-1864, it sits behind the Old Town Hall and has a beautiful cream coloured exterior with a lovely restaurant on the Rynek level.
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Ostrów Tumski, or Cathedral Island, is the oldest part of Wrocław and is a must visit when visiting the city. To get to Ostrów Tumski, you’ll need to make your way over a couple of historical bridges. The first, is a red bridge called the Sand Bridge, or Most Piaskowy and dates as far back as 1154 and connects Wyspa Piasek (Sand Island) with the left bank of Wrocław. Initially, there was a wooden drawbridge that stood at the city gate then changed to the single span bridge that exists now and was put in place in 1861. Once you make your way over the red bridge, you’ll need to cross Most Tumski, or Tumski Bridge, which is one of the oldest river crossings in Wrocław and connects Ostrów Tumski with Wyspa Piaskowa. The present day green steel bridge was built during the years 1888-1892. As you cross Most Tumski, you’ll see exactly why they call this place Cathedral Island. The large cathedral that dominates the main street, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, started to be constructed in 1244 and was the first brick building in Poland. The construction of this massive cathedral would continue for another five centuries! If you have enough time, make sure to head up to the top of the tower for amazing views of Ostrów Tumski and the rest of Wrocław. Another stunning cathedral, Church of the Holy Cross/ St. Bartholomew’s, is one of Wrocław’s most iconic and beautiful religious structures. Don’t forget to wander around the quiet side streets for some great photo opportunities.
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Ostrów Tumski Lamp Lighter
While you’re on Ostrów Tumski, try to stick around to catch the elusive gas lamp lighter that makes his way around the island while dressed all in black (complete with a black cape) to light over 100 gas lamps at dusk every single day of the year. It’s such a cool spectacle to witness, but you have to be quick because he moves around the island at a speed walking pace…constantly! The first gas lantern in Wrocław was lit in 1846. Gas streetlamps were common throughout the city even after the war and up until the 1960’s within the entire Old Town. Fortunately, those on Ostrów Tumski survived modernization and the tradition of the Wrocław lamp lighter lives on. Wrocław is one of two cities in Europe that still employ a lamp lighter; the other is in Brest, Belarus.
Take A Cruise Down The Oder (Odra) River
If the weather is nice, you can hop on a boat and take a relaxing cruise along the Oder (Odra) River. Most boats depart from the banks of the river on Ostrów Tumski and tickets can be bought on the spot and since there are a lot of boats that offer tours and cruises, you won’t need to wait long for a boat to pull up to shore. You can also rent paddle boats, kayaks and canoes if you wish to get some exercise after stuffing your face all day with pierogi. 😉
Wander The Streets
The best way to see any new city in my opinion, is to put the map away and just wander around. Wrocław is easily accessible on foot, but there are a ton of options for getting around the city quickly and efficiently. If you don’t feel like walking, or the weather is less than favourable, you can hop on a city tram, bus or even rent one of the many different E-scooters by Lime, Bird and Bolt, that can be accessed via a mobile app. I personally cannot stand these scooters due to the fact that a lot of the people that I saw use them, left them everywhere and anywhere. If you are one of the people that do decide to rent an E-scooter, please move them off the main sidewalk, stand them upright and try not to run down any elderly people, which I saw almost happen a handful of times. 😐
The story behind the Wrocław Dwarves, or Wrocławskie Krasnale is of solidarity and resistance. In 2001, to commemorate the Orange Alternative (Polish Anti-Communist movement), a monument of a dwarf (the movement’s symbol) was officially placed on Ulica Świdnicka, which is where the group would originally meet up. When the group first started, they would spray paint dwarves all over communist propaganda posters within the city. There are now roughly over 400 of these tiny little statues placed all throughout the city and they are all doing something different whether it be riding a motorcycle, holding up a piece of pizza, or singing on the steps of the theatre. They are a huge tourist attraction, even though many tourists don’t actually know what they really signify. You can even get a map that lists the locations of mostly every dwarf in the city if you choose to go on a dwarf hunt. Just make sure to watch your step as you’re wandering around the streets because you might trip over one. 😉
Wrocław is an eclectic mix of architecture that has been influenced by Bohemian, Austrian, and Prussian design, such as Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Classicism style. Wrocław has a number of incredibly stunning facades throughout the entire Rynek alone, but once you come out of the colourful square, you’ll find regal architecture such as the Opera Wrocławska and other grandiose cathedrals, apartments and homes within the city centre. Of course you will also find modern glass buildings within the city centre, just as you would with most larger cities in Poland.
St. Mary Magdalene Church
For the best views (and leg workout) in Wrocław, head on over to St. Mary Magdalene Church, or Katedra św. Marii Magdaleny we Wrocławiu and climb the tower. Established in the 13th century, this Gothic church was heavily damaged during WWII and was rebuilt from 1947-1953. The bridge that connects the two towers is by far, the coolest part of the church. When I went to the bridge to take some photos, not only was I shocked to see some of the famous Wrocław dwarves up there, but I was also shocked from experiencing just how windy it was up there. If you’re afraid of heights, maybe don’t step outside onto an open-air bridge hanging 47 metres above the streets. 😛 The bridge has an interesting name as well: Mostek Czarownic, or Witch’s Bridge, hence why the dwarves at the top are little tiny witches.
St. Elizabeth’s Church
Established in the 14th century, St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral, or Bazylika św. Elżbiety we Wrocławiu, is one of the most iconic churches within the city of Wrocław. The highest point of the tower once reached 130 metres tall, but in 1529 the church was devastated by heavy hail and in 1976 it was gutted by a large fire. The original organ of the church was destroyed and the now restored tower stands at the highest point of 91.5 metres tall. There is an observation deck that you can climb as well, but after climbing a few churches in a couple of days, my legs definitely needed a break. 😉
The grand presence of the University of Wrocław, or Uniwersytet Wrocławski, is something to marvel at. In 1945, the University was changed from its German name of Universität Breslau following the territorial changes after the war. Uniwersytet Wrocławski is recognized as one of the most prominent educational institutions in the entire region and in all of Poland. One of the most popular aspects of the University is located right outside. The Fencer Fountain, Szermierz, which is a fountain located right in front of the main building of the University and on top of the fountain, stands a naked statue of a fencer, complete with a sword. The Fencer was designed by Hugo Lederem, who was a professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. The sculpture was placed on the University square on November 26th, 1904. The Fencer’s sword, which is a symbol of nobility, has become such a popular object that it gets stolen over and over. Nowadays the local authorities don’t even bother replacing it with a real sword and just keep replacing it with a plastic sword instead. I read online that they have to replace the sword about 20 times per year! I also read that the Fencer comes to life whenever a virgin graduates the University with a Masters Degree. LOL 😛
Tucked away slightly from the Rynek, sits the colourful little square called Plac Solny, or the Salt Market. This small square was built very early in Wrocław’s existence (around 1242) when the city was being reconstructed after the Mongol invasion. In Plac Solny, salt from Wieliczka and Halicz, goods such as leather, honey and beeswax (mainly from Poland), were all traded here from the Middle Ages until the 19th century. The flower market you see in the square today, may possibly be the only flower market in Poland, where you can find stands selling flowers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
Where To Eat
Whether you’re looking to indulge in some decadent desserts, visit the famous food market, Hala Targowa we Wrocławiu, eat traditional Polish food, or grab a coffee at a hipster coffee shop, Wrocław’s restaurant and café scene has got you covered. Wrocław had my mind spiraling when it came to choices on where to eat, drink and be merry. The Stary Rynek, although usually full of tourists and inflated prices, have some incredible restaurants with delicious food and because I travelled during Corona, the restaurants were mostly locals and to be honest, even for a touristic part of the city, the prices were incredibly reasonable and definitely worth the cost for the amount of food you receive. Some of my favourite places to curb my hunger were:
NANAN: If you love good coffee, beautiful cakes and stunning interiors, look no further than Nanan. Located in the heart of Old Town, you’ll be in dessert heaven as soon as you walk through the doors and take a glance into the display. The desserts are all handmade and look like glistening pieces of jewellery just gleaming under the lights. The blush pink velvet interior reminds me of what Barbie, the queen of pink coloured everything and anything, would have her dining room look like. While I was there, I got nice and cozy on the velvet chairs, ordered a delicious flat white, six macarons (for later, of course) and a white chocolate dessert that was to die for. The cost of all of that ran me about $18 CAD, which is a STEAL! Run, don’t walk and get your butt to this amazing bakery and café.
Pierogarnia Stary Mlyn: Located right in the Rynek, Pierogarnia Stary Mlyn is the place to get your pierogi fix on! With an extensive menu that doesn’t seem to end, you can order a plate full of pillowy pierogi deliciousness with a multitude of fillings to choose from. I opted to try their famous baked pierogi, which you can get in increments of three or five. I chose three different fillings: mushroom with cabbage, minced meat and potato with cheese, but you can get all the same if you wish, or mix them up like I did, which is a great way to try different options. If you think three pierogi doesn’t sound like enough to fill you up, well, you’re wrong. These baked pierogi are massive and I was absolutely stuffed to the brim.
Bernard Pub & Restaurant: Another restaurant located right in the Rynek is Bernard Pub & Restaurant. Ok, normally I wouldn’t send you guys to so many restaurants right in the most touristic part of any city, but wow, this place was serving up some beautiful food. Inspired by Czech, Lower Silesian and other parts of Europe, the head chef here really knows his flavour profiles and the dish I had was pulled together wonderfully with a nice cold Czech beer. I ordered the chicken with pumpkin, which came with ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and butternut squash cubed on top with a drizzle of pesto and topped with crunchy pumpkin seeds. One of the best meals I ate in Poland. I never wanted that plate to end. 🙂
Gniazdo: Located on Ulica Świdnicka, this lovely coffeehouse is a hipster delight. Complete with a display case filled with delectable treats, sandwiches and specialty cakes, Gniazdo is worth the stop to grab a coffee to go, or sit down and enjoy a nice lunch inside its cool interior.
Where To Stay
Like most cities in Poland, Wrocław is filled with accommodations that range from big chain hotels, to cozy apartments that are rented out by locals. You can opt to stay in one of the colourful buildings overlooking the Stary Rynek, or in a hostels if you’re looking to make some new friends, or are just looking for a place that’s easy on the wallet. I chose to rest my head at Apartament24 Dąbrowskiego and was pleasantly surprised with this place. The staff at the front desk were absolute gems, the rooms were bright, modern, exceptionally clean, amazing large windows and free WiFi. The apartment was easy to check into and came with a large bed, seating area, large bathroom with a washer and a full kitchen. The apartment was also a short five minute walk from the Wrocław Główny and about a twenty minute walk right into the Stary Rynek.
Wrocław was such a treat to visit and it reminded me, once again, why I love discovering relatively under the radar cities to visit during my travels. Wrocław quickly became one my favourite places with its gorgeous streets, friendly people, great food, charming architecture and interesting history. I always tell people to give lesser known places a chance within their travel itineraries and Wrocław, without a doubt, is definitely one of those cities I will always tell people to visit, whether you can pronounce its name, or not…that’s another story. 😉
Have I convinced you to visit this incredible city in Poland? Have you guys ever heard of Wrocław? Let me know in the comments below. xo
Thank you to all the staff at Apartament24 Dąbrowskiego for being so kind and making my stay a great one!