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Chances are high that you’ve never heard of this unique city situated in southern Poland. Known for its beautiful green spaces, Viennese style architecture and inviting Old Town, once you visit this city, you’ll never forget it.
Welcome to Bielsko-Biała.
Before I started researching lesser known cities, towns and villages to visit during my second half of my journey through the south of Poland, I too, had never heard of Bielsko-Biała. After jumping online and doing some digging, I immediately fell in love with what looked like the perfect city to explore.
This magnificent city in the south of Poland, in the Silesian Voivodeship, is home to approximately 170,000 people and has quite the interesting history. Bielsko-Biała’s name derives from the river that runs through the city, Biała River, which means White River. Originally, the city used to be divided by the river into two separate cities; one being Bielsko and the other being Biała. Although being two separate cities, they both functioned as one urban area during the 19th century. Due to its close proximity to the Beskidy mountains, Bielsko-Biała is also a great city to base yourself in if you are looking to explore the hiking opportunities in the surrounding area.
During the German invasion of Bielsko-Biała in September 1939, the Germans plucked out and deported all of the Jewish people and arrested the local Polish teachers and had them sent to Nazi concentration camps, where they would be murdered. There was even a prison built in Bielsko-Biała where Poles would be kept.
Following the horrific events of WWII, the Germans moved out of Bielsko-Biała, the city became part of Poland again and in 1951 the two cities joined and officially became Bielsko-Biała.
Fast forward to today, Bielsko-Biała is consistently listed as one of the most popular Polish cities for business and boasts a very prominent economy based around automotive, textiles and machine building. The city is also highly known for producing some of the most high quality gliders and aircraft.
If you’re looking to discover some cities in Poland that are almost tourist free, make sure to make some room in your itinerary to visit this unique city. Even if you only have one day, here’s a list on how you can make the most of your visit to incredible Bielsko-Biała.
Getting To Bielsko-Biała
Arriving in Bielsko-Biała is easy and accessible by rail, bus and car and can be reached by all major cities and towns in Poland. If you are coming from Kraków, it will take approximately 2.5 hours by train with a connection in Katowice. The main rail station is Bielsko-Biała Główna and is a short walk from the city centre. The remarkable train station opened in 1890 and has incredible frescoes and a grand pavilion with intricate details that resemble a museum. Make sure to take some time and admire the old train station’s interior, especially the stunning ceiling. To buy train tickets, you can buy them in the station at kiosks run by salespeople, or even online at PKP Intercity’s website.
Getting Around Bielsko-Biała
Making your way around Bielsko-Biała is easily accessible on foot. The city is also equipped with an extensive bus line, which is available all throughout the day to whisk you away to the outer areas of Bielsko-Biała. The best part of walking around Bielsko-Biała is getting lost in the streets and exploring the many cobblestone alleys situated around the Old Town. Make sure you are sporting some comfortable walking shoes because there is quite a steep walk from the main train station into Old Town.
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Old Town & Rynek
Situated on a small hill at 328 metres high, the Old Town of Bielsko-Biała is the oldest part of the city and definitely the prettiest and liveliest area. What was once surrounded by walls for a defense mechanism, the Old Town is now surrounded with bars, restaurants, shops and quaint hotels, making the Old Town Rynek one of the must see attractions within Bielsko-Biała. The two charming cobbled streets, Podcienie and Wzgórze, lead up from the Bielsko-Biała castle and into the town square. The Rynek is colourful and boasts historic buildings from the 17th and 18th century with Baroque details, a picturesque fountain with a statue of Neptune, a cute little bridge over the water feature, an archaeological exhibition of the old stone structure that made up the old weighing house and in the summer time, you’ll find a bunch of local events taking place.
I’ve got great news for all of you nature enthusiasts! Bielsko-Biała is the perfect place to base yourself if you are looking to get into nature and do some hiking. Located not to far from the Beskidy mountains, you can easily drive a car, or take a local bus towards the hills and get some nature in your system! For a list of all the local hikes and how to get there, visit the Bielsko-Biała website. If you aren’t looking to do some hiking, but still love green spaces to relax in, Bielsko-Biała has many on offer for its visitors. One of my favourite discoveries was the park directly behind the Ratusz (Town Hall) called Park za Ratuszem. The Biała river calmly flows through a sublime park draped with beautiful green trees with many areas to sit down on benches while enjoying a coffee and listening to the sounds of ducks quacking in the river.
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Bielsko-Biała is famously referred to as “Little Vienna” due to its strong Viennese architectural influence, which can be seen all throughout the city streets. The main promenade of Bielsko-Biała is Ulica 11 Listopada, which boasts some gorgeous buildings and a bridge that joins the twin cities in what was once considered the city of Biała before merging with Bielsko. Along Ulica 3 Maja, which is the main street throughout Bielsko-Biała, you’ll be greeted by numerous three-storey buildings that are built with Neo-Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau styles. These gorgeous buildings were built for the wealthy merchants and factory owners in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Rynek is filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th century that were built to replace wooden buildings, then in the 19th and 20th century, the beautiful tenement houses were built. Many of the buildings are Baroque and Neo-Classical in style. Each building on the Rynek has a past and if you visit the Bielsko-Biała website, you’ll find a list of the buildings with their past written down and what they served of in the years gone by. I stayed in building number 7, which served as the Town Hall and Customs Office. I love knowing the history of a building, especially if I’m staying there.
Chrobry Square (Plac Chrobrego)
This 19th century square adjacent to Ulica 3 Maja, dominates the area beneath the Old Town and is home to the Sułkowski Castle. The castle itself dates back to the 14th century, but the structure in place now is the result of many renovations throughout the years. The Sułkowski family lived inside the castle up until 1945, but now it is home to the Historical Museum of Bielsko-Biała, which showcases the history of the castle and the city and it also hosts numerous events throughout the year. The square is home to many different styles of buildings and also a fountain. Another fountain and one of the most popular landmarks near the square is a peeing devil boy fountain made of stone called The Peeing Little Devil, or Sikajacy Diabełek in Polish. The fountain looks more cartoonish than devlish, so when I had originally found it, I had no idea it was supposed to be a devil. Visiting him is said to bring luck and prosperity, so we’ll see how that works out in my life. 😉
Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral
Visible from almost every corner of Bielsko-Biała, the main Catholic church, Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral, or Katedra Sw. Mikołaja, is a site to see. The grand cathedral was built in the 15th century, but like most churches in Europe, it was subject to numerous fires over the years and the present day Neo-Romanesque and Art Nouveau style structure was completed in the 20th century by an Austrian architect named Leopold Bauer. Although I didn’t go inside, the interior has regal chandeliers and a beautiful stained glass window.
Stara Fabryka Museum
The Old Fabricating Museum is one place visitors should see when in town. The industrious past of Bielsko-Biała is showcased within this museum and is one of the major reasons why Bielsko-Biała was prosperous and it is what contributed to many people’s wealth over the years. There are many exhibitions on display, which show visitors numerous industrial developments and pieces of machinery. The museum itself is in an old cloth factory from the 19th century.
Search For The Polish Cartoon Characters
If you’re travelling with kids, or are a kid at heart yourself, take some time to have a fun little search around Bielsko-Biała to look for the popular Polish cartoon characters scattered throughout the city. These lovable cartoon characters are well known by almost every Polish child and was created by an animation studio right in Bielsko-Biała and ran from 1960’s to 1990’s. The cartoon episodes focused on outdoor friendly adventures and were even featured on Canadian kids TV networks such as YTV, TVOntario and TVO Kids. The characters and locations of the statues can be found here: Reksio (location: 11 Listopada at the bridge); Bolek and Lolek (location: near the main entrance to Galeria Sfera); Pompelini (location: near the Town Hall). I didn’t get to see the Bolek and Lolek one because I just never walked over to that particular area of the city during my stay.
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The magnificent Ratusz, or Town Hall in Bielsko-Biała was built in 1897 in Neo-Renaissance style and has amazing architectural details. The details of the building’s design reminded me of those on the Town Hall in Vienna, which again, shows visitors why Bielsko-Biała is nicknamed “Little Vienna.” Located at Ulica 11 Listopada and the Polish Army Square, the Ratusz is a must see for anyone that admires beautiful architecture.
Where To Eat
NOI Pizza – If you’re looking for some great pizza, look no further than NOI Pizza. This pizzeria is located right in the Rynek and you definitely get your money’s worth here. The pizza is hand tossed and made thin and crispy, just like a true Italian pizza should be. Each pizza is topped with fresh ingredients and made to order, so the wait is definitely worth it. I opted for the classic margarita topped with fresh basil and gooey mozzarella cheese. The pizza is cut into six slices and only cost me about $6 CAD. I happily took the pizza back to my hotel room along with two beers and thoroughly enjoyed every single bite! 10/10 would recommend!
KaFFka – While walking around town, make sure to stop off at KaFFka for a delicious treat and a decadent latte. Located near the castle, this cozy corner coffee shop -slash- bar is a must visit. I grabbed a hot latte to enjoy on my walk through the park and I enjoyed it so much, that I contacted the owner to rave about the quality of the latte. I only wish they were open the next morning (Monday), so I could’ve grabbed another one for breakfast.
Tłusty Czwartek Pączkarnia z Tradycją – Stumbling upon this traditional bakery in my morning quest for breakfast was the best discovery during my visit to Bielsko-Biała. The scent of baked goods drew me inside from the street immediately. Run by locals, for locals, this bakery is filled with delicious treats, freshly baked breads and provides great service by the women running the place. Tłusty Czwartek Pączkarnia z Tradycją is the place to go if you’re looking for a quick, delicious and cheap breakfast on the run, or to relax and enjoy in the Rynek like I did.
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Where To Stay
Bielsko-Biała offers its visitors a range of different accommodations within the city, whatever your budget may be. I opted to stay in the Rynek at Rynek 7 – Apartamenty and one would think that the price would be steep considering its prime location, but the cost for one night for my room, with a view of the Rynek and mountains cost me an incredible $29 CAD at the time of my booking. Now that is a bargain for any traveller. The room was large, clean and definitely worth every penny that I paid. My ceiling even had two very large skylights that bathed the room in so much natural light. The staff were so friendly and helpful, not to mention there is a bar on site, so in case you didn’t feel like going out for a drink, you can always have one at the bar instead. Bonus points for being in a stunning historical building that dates back from the 17th century.
I’m so glad I had the chance to check out Bielsko-Biała and learn more about this incredibly charming city in southern Poland. If you’re looking to explore some lesser known cities in Poland, I highly suggest checking out this hidden gem, even just for a day. I assure you, you will not be disappointed. 🙂
Have any of you guys ever visited Bielsko-Biała? If you have, what are some of your favourite places, restaurants and things to do there? Let me know in the comments below! xo