My visit to Wrocław was meant to be a one-night stop-over on my train travel between Krakow and Gdansk in Poland. It took me approximately one hour before the city’s atmosphere, architecture, art scene and small dwarfs had enchanted me and I knew I had misjudged Wroclaw.
I ended up spending two nights and almost two full days there, hunting for small dwarfs, street art and beautiful 13th century architecture.
Continue reading to find out why I loved Wrocław and believe that you will too!
1. ARRIVAL AT WROCŁAW GŁÓWNY
Wrocław was the second city on my solo travel in Poland. On the damp and crowded train there from Krakow I was tired and moody, and regretting the whole plan of visiting four Polish cities in a week. How sad it may sound, the only thing I wanted was to sleep… Luckily, a beautiful railway station, a helpful man, and promises of interesting art was all it took to change my spirit.
After departing the train in the beautiful mid-19th century building, I headed straight to a small shop with a large “i” outside in search of a town map. I found my map, and in addition to giving me (the very easy directions to my hotel) the kind, elderly man behind the counter wondered if I was into art. My first meeting with the kind and hospitable people of Wrocław, could tell me that there was an interesting Andy Warhol & Salvador Dali exhibition in town.
2. FIRST CLASS STREET ART
Heading out of Wrocław Główny, my need for sleeping away precious time was gone. I crossed the street and checked into Hotel Sofia where I left my things and went out in search for art.
With my new town map I walked out on the streets of this city that I knew barely nothing about, and I did not have to walk long before I stumbled upon The Passage. A bronze monument picturing 7 pedestrians dissapearing into the ground on one side of the street and another 7 people emerging from the ground on the other side, created by Jerzy Kalina in 2005. It is made in honor of the people that dissapeared during the strict Polish martial laws in the early 1980’s, when the government drastically restricted everyday life in order to stop the political opposition.
Did you know that Wrocław was European Capital of Culture in 2016? I did not until I was already there.
Continuing towards Muzeum Teatru and its pop art exhibition, I encountered more examples of street art. This, combined with the varied architecture ranging from majestic historical buildings, massive communist era constructions, and modern complexes, made me doubt the decision of Wrocław as a one night destination.
3. THE BEAUTIFUL OLD TOWN SQUARE
After a few hours of surrealism and pop art, I entered Wrocław’s Stary Rynek, the beautiful old market square. The large market square, of almost 38 000 square metre, was established as early as the 13th century and is a fine example of Poland’s medieval town squares. Much of the square was heavily destroyed during the second world war, but has later been restored. Today you find plenty of dining options here, and many restaurants are transformed into bars in the evening.
As I walked around marvelling at the colourful buildings built in different styles according to different times, ranging from Gothic to Art Nouveau, I had a strange sensation of being “home”. Even though I had only arrived a few hours earlier. My gut told me I needed more than one afternoon in this vibrant, pretty city. Krakow’s Stary Rynek was without doubt beautiful too, but this place had a very different athmosphere.
While waiting for a delicious lasagna on the porch of a small Italian style restaurant, next to the late gothic old city hall, I decided to follow my gut feeling. I added another night to my stay at Hotel Sofia and change my coming accommodations in Poznan and Gdansk.
4. DWARF HUNTING AROUND OLD TOWN
Giving myself more time by changing my travel plans, I set out on more sightseeing. Now also looking down on the ground, because that is where you find Wrocław’s cutest inhabitants. Up to 200 20-30 cm tall bronze figures depicting dwarfs in day-to-day situations are scattered throughout the whole old town centre, and hunting for these are a popular way to explore the city.
The first dwarfs appeared in 2005 and the number has grown steadily since. The dwarfs were the symbol a Polish anti-communist movement, and the first few were made by the fine art graduate, Tomasz Moczek. Later businesses and organisations have made their own.
If you are travelling with kids, combine sightseeing and searching for the dwarfs. You can even get hold of town maps where the dwarfs are pointed out!
5. THE IMPRESSIVE RACŁAWICE PANORAMA
One of the city’s highlight attractions is the Racławice Panorama. It is an impressive 114 metre long painting depicting the battle of Racławice in 1794, set in a circular museum building. The painting was started by Jan Styka in 1893 in Lviv, now Ukraine, and with help of Wojciech Kossak (+ assistants) it was completed after 9 months. The painting was brought to Wrocław after World War II, the communist authorities found it too nationalistic to display. Today’s museum building was completed in 1967, but the painting itself was not put up for display until 1985.
To enhance the experience the 30 minute visit is audio guided, and you can follow the story around the canvas in your preferred language. If you have to wait to get in, stroll around the sculpture park across the street.
6. THE NON-TOURISTIC ATMOSPHERE
Even though I was visiting in mid-July, Wrocław was charmingly free of large crowds of tourists. I was off course not the only foreigner, but I did not encounter any big nor loud groups. The atmosphere was laid back, and the people I came in touch with were all very friendly.
Sorry, I thought you were Polish!
Most also spoke good English, even though I experienced being handed menus in Polish and spoken to in Polish more often than not. And their reply to me asking for English was always that they thought I was local. I was not offended – Polish people are really good looking!
Even though Wrocław is one of the largest cities in Poland it still has a small-city feel to it. Maybe its approx. 120 000 students keeps it grounded? Or maybe it is the long history.
7. INTERESTING HISTORY
Wrocław was founded as early as in the 10th century and has been a part of several kingdoms and states, like the kingdom of Bohemia, the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy and Preussia. It became a part of Poland again after 1945.
Ostrów Tumski, Cathedral island, is the oldest part of the city in the middle of the Oder River. Excavations have found traces of the first wooden church surrounded by defensive walls dating back to the 10th century. Since then it has been a significant part of town, and especially for religious purposes. Due to frequent flooding, parts of the river was filled in 1810 and since then Cathedral Island has not actually been an island.
Even today, Ostrów Tumski has a large concentration of religious buildings, and it is a peaceful gem to visit only a short walk from the rest of the old town centre.
8. THE VIEW FROM WROCŁAW CATHEDRAL
When in Ostrów Tumski, make sure to pay a visit to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The beautiful Gothic, two-spired building is the fourth cathedral on site. The construction started in 1244 as the first brick building in Poland.
The main hightlight is definitely the view from one of the 97 meter tall towers. From here you have all of Wrocław beneath you!
WAS TWO DAYS ENOUGH?
No, but 2 days are defintely better than 1 day. Wrocław sits high on my list of places I would like to return. After travelling in Poland a few times it has become a favourite, and within Poland Wrocław is so far my favourite city.
Please note! I travelled to Wrocław in July 2018.