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“Is it pronounced Zy-weck?”
“How about Zyv-weec?”
Nope and nope. More like “Zjiv-vyets.”
Got it? Good!
While fine tuning my trip to Poland, I was sitting at home one summer’s day, feet kicked up, enjoying the backyard patio while drinking one of my favourite Polish beers. That beer was Żywiec, which is brewed in the town of, you guessed it… Żywiec!
When I was looking into smaller towns in Poland to visit, I had never really thought of heading to Żywiec, until I decided to research it online one day and then that all changed. I took one glimpse of the adorable picturesque city centre and the pristine lake surrounded by the Beskid Mountains and decided that I had to check this place out for myself.
As I made my way through Poland, a lot of locals I spoke to asked me where I was going to visit. When I mentioned Żywiec to them, their eyes opened wide and most of the responses I got were, “Wow. Even I have never been to Żywiec!”
Hearing that made me realize that I made a good choice. I wanted to visit places that most foreign visitors have never heard of, or have even seen. Bonus points if Polish Nationals themselves have never visited either.
Żywiec is a gorgeous little town in the south of Poland in the Silesian Voivodeship on the Soła and Koszarawa rivers with a population just a little over 31,000 people. Its quiet streets, friendly locals and charming small town feel are the definite draw cards for this delightful Polish town.
Although Żywiec is peaceful these days, like the rest of Poland, Żywiec was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1939 during WWII and between September and December 1940, approximately 20,000 people of Żywiec were deported during Action Saybusch, which was played out to forcibly displace ethnic Poles to make room for colonizing ethnic Germans into the area to Germanize it. The German name for Żywiec was Saybusch, hence the name of the operation the Nazis carried out and between the years of 1940 – 1944, approximately 50,000 poles were forcibly removed from the Żywiec area. Following the horrific events of WWII, the Nazi perpetrators of the ethnic cleansing had already been sentenced during the Nuremberg Trials and in the 1990’s, Action Saybusch was investigated by the Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes Against the Polish Nation in Katowice.
Żywiec is one of those places that you visit if you want to get away from the crowds, populated cities and traffic. The town itself is picturesque and charming and the people, although many don’t speak English, are kind and helpful as they try very hard to communicate with you regardless of the language barrier. I loved Żywiec and although my time there was short, it’s a place I’d definitely recommend if you are looking to immerse yourself in nature and avoid mass tourist crowds of the larger, more popular cities in Poland.
If you are keen on visiting hidden gems during your travels and want to enjoy a town with a slower pace of life, then Żywiec is the place for you!
Getting To Żywiec
Arriving in Żywiec is easy and accessible by rail, bus and car and can be reached by all major cities and towns in Poland with usually one connection. If you are coming from Kraków, it will take approximately 3 hours by train with a connection in Katowice, but if you’re coming directly from Katowice, it’ll take about 1.5 hours. I was arriving from Bielsko-Biała and the trip took under 25 minutes. The main rail station is Żywiec Główny and is approximately a 25 minute walk from the city centre. The historic train station opened in 1878 and has a waiting room inside, a ticket booth, but not much else. Make sure to head up the stairs and onto the walkway to get a good view of the station from above. You can access the main street, Ulica Dworcowa either by crossing the tracks (remember to watch for passing trains) following the path on the platforms, or via the walkway. 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 Żywiec
Żywiec is considered a small town, but the Old Town is definitely quite the walking distance away. If you’re okay with leisurely walks, you can maneuver around Żywiec with no problems by walking. The main artery in Żywiec is Ulica Dworcowa, located just outside of the train station. This main street will take you past lovely boutique stores, authentic Polish restaurants, small grocery shops and local watering holes frequently visited by the folks of Żywiec. The walk from the train station is quite relaxing as you pass over the large bridge that crosses the Soła River and into the tiny quiet streets of Żywiec. There are plenty of local buses and taxis to whisk you around town if you don’t feel like getting your steps in.
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Since I only had one day to explore Żywiec, I really wanted to spend some time at the famous Żywiec Lake, or Jezioro Żywieckie in Polish. I knew I didn’t have much daylight hours, since the time change went back an hour just a few days prior. As soon as I ate my lunch, I made my way from the Rynek up Ulica Henryka Sienkiewicza towards the lake. Once I reached the end of the road, I had to make my way up a hill and onto a path, which ran along Jezioro Żywieckie. The leaves were a bright golden hue, which made the path along the lake resemble the Yellow Brick Road in Wizard of Oz. I definitely had a Dorothy moment while shuffling my feet through the crunchy leaves. The path runs a long ways along the shores of Jezioro Żywieckie and cyclists, couples going for a walk and even hopeful fishermen can be seen along the route. I even stopped to chat to a few of them, albeit the language barrier, through a few laughs, broken English and Polish as well as some epic charades, the people of Żywiec were so kind and we had some interesting conversations. It was so relaxing to get out in nature and breathe fresh air, while enjoying the incredible landscapes surrounding me. I ended up walking about two kilometres along the lake’s path before turning around and making the 3.5 kilometre walk back into town. I highly suggest making your way to the lake to enjoy a nice quiet walk within nature.
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Kościół św. Marka
As you make your way to the Żywiec Lake and along Ulica Henryka Sienkiewicza, you’ll come across a blush coloured chapel. This tiny chapel was originally built in 1591 out of wood and was placed as a votive temple. The chapel that is standing today was built in 1885 and if you look up to the tower, you’ll be able to see a beautiful oil painting done of St. Mark. There is also a little cemetery located right next to the chapel as well.
Żywiec Brewery Museum
If you love beer, especially Polish beer, then a visit to the Muzeum Browaru Żywiec, or Żywiec Brewery is just the place for you. The brewery was opened in 1856 and is one of the most popular breweries in Europe and is home to Poland’s most recognizable brews and labels, which is adorned with a dancing couple dressed in traditional folklore costumes. The museum opened in 2006 on the 150th anniversary of the brewery. Due to partial closures during my visit, I was unable to visit the entire brewery, but the museum portion of the tour was open for self-guided tours. Now, because I wanted to visit the brewery in full, I decided not to visit this time. From what I’ve seen and read about the brewery, it looks like an amazing and educational place to visit. The tour covers the history behind the Żywiec beer, the process and there is a bar on site as well.
City Centre & Rynek
The entire city centre and Rynek in Żywiec are both inviting and colourful. The Rynek was founded during the Middle Ages, but the current layout is that from the late 19th century. The main square is filled with cozy cafés, ice creams shops run by friendly women, restaurants that range from traditional Polish cuisine to delectable vegan bites and boasts a cotton candy pink Ratusz, or Town Hall in English, that Barbie herself would be jealous of. The Rynek is also home to the grandiose stone bell tower that dates back to 1724 and was built to replace the original wood tower that stood in its place in 1582, but burnt down in 1721. I loved wandering around Żywiec and some of my favourite streets were Ulica Tadeusza Kościuszki, Ulica Kościuszki and Ulica Słowackiego. The streets are filled with locally owned bakeries, boutique clothing shops and plenty of unique buildings, such as the tiny chapel, Kościół św. Krzyża, which was built at the beginning of the 15th century and is commonly referred to as the Church of Three Crosses. On the other side of the chapel, there is a Crucified Christ and thieves carvings. These are baroque carvings made of wood and poly-chrome. There was once a cemetery next to the chapel where people sentenced to death by the city court were buried. Walking around and exploring the city centre is a must; you just never know what you’ll come across.
The main Roman Catholic Cathedral in the centre of town is called the Co-Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Konkatedra Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny in Polish. The name is quite the mouthful, so most people just refer to it as Katedra Żywiec, or Żywiec Cathedral instead. The cathedral was originally built in 1470 with a Gothic architectural influence and over the years into the 16th century, the cathedral was expanded. The interior is beautiful and captivating with gorgeous details along the ceiling and towards the alter. Colourful designs along the walls are accompanied by chandeliers hanging above the aisle.
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Where To Eat
Although Żywiec is small, don’t think for a second that there are fewer places to have a bite to eat while visiting. While exploring Żywiec, I came across all sorts of eateries that ranged from smoothie shops, to Italian fare and everything in between. I found that the prices were incredible throughout Poland, but in Żywiec, I was pleasantly surprised with how much food you can get for such a cheap price. Here are some options for you to consider if you ever find yourself in Żywiec.
Rynek 19 Bistro : Located right in the heart of the Rynek, you’d expect the prices to be fairly expensive. Not here at Rynek 19 Bistro! The prices for what I received was beyond affordable. For about 34 zloty ($11 CAD), I received a massive burger and a huge bunch of fries and a half litre of beer! I couldn’t believe my eyes when the waiter brought my food out to me. My mouth literally dropped. The burger was messy, yes, but totally delicious and worth all the napkins I used. The fries were incredible and the beer? Of course, I drank a nice cold Żywiec because hey, when in Żywiec, you drink Żywiec! 😉 You will not leave this place hungry…guaranteed!
Cukiernia ANIA : Also located in the Rynek, this tiny little ice cream and dessert shop is a must visit. The woman who works inside was so nice and extremely patient with me while I tried to use my broken Polish to order an ice cream cone for after my long walk. I opted for a scoop of blueberry ice cream and if I remember correctly, it cost me about 4 zloty, which is about $1.30 CAD. Everything on the menu looked delicious and if it were a nice sunny day, the patio area is the perfect spot to order a snack and chill in the Rynek.
Piekarnia Cukiernia Gałuszka : Now, if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know how much I love a good bakery. As I was walking back to my hotel for the night, I managed to get sucked into Piekarnia Cukierna Gałuszka located along Ulica Tadeusza Kościuszki. The smell of fresh baked bread filled my nostrils and I immediately felt the urge to head inside. The display cases were jam packed with colourful desserts like cakes, cookies and pączki while the shelves in the background were filled with breads, buns, sandwiches and baguettes. I bought a strawberry filled pączek for breakfast the next day and a traditional zapiekanka, which is essentially a toasted open faced sandwich on a baguette, for a late night dinner.
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Where To Stay
Żywiec may not have a ton of options when it comes to hotels, but you can find quite a few pensions around town, which are guesthouses that provide accommodation with no frills type of rooms and usually provide breakfast. I stayed at Pokoje Gościnne u Meresa located on Ulica Tadeusza Kościuszki close to city centre and steps away from Rynek. The room was basic, yet clean and had everything that I needed for a comfortable night’s sleep. The woman who looked after me, Ola, was so kind and spoke really good English. She even let me check in hours ahead of time, since I was one of the only people staying there that night. I had to catch an early morning train, so Ola even made me a breakfast box and stuck it in the fridge, so that I could have something to eat the next morning before my journey. Now that’s service!
Although my time in Żywiec was short, I was able to really enjoy myself and I was glad I visited this hidden Polish gem. If you visit Żywiec and have a few days in the city, or more daylight hours during the summer months, make sure to visit the Stary Zamek, Pałac Habsburgów, Park Zamkowy, which also has a mini zoo for kids to enjoy and also for all you nature enthusiasts, make your way to Žar Mountain to get in some cycling, hiking and walking done. To get to the top of the mountain, you have two options: you can walk or use the funicular. The cost of the funicular (at the time of this post) is 18 zloty (about $6 CAD) for a return ticket. Each trip takes around five minutes and they leave approximately every 20 minutes. There are also loads of festivals held every year in Żywiec.
Have any of you guys ever heard of Żywiec? Have you guys ever had Żywiec beer, or have seen it on a menu? The next time you see it on a drink menu, order a nice cold one and enjoy! Would Żywiec ever be on your travel list now that I’ve shown you just how cute of a town it is? Let me know in the comments below! xo