Whether you are a fan of stunning architecture and rich history, a fairy tale dreamer, or simply want a pocket-friendly shopping cityscape, Wroclaw is the perfect destination for you.
Wroclaw is a lively, tourist-friendly place, and with its population of over 637,000 people, it is the fourth largest city and one of the fastest developing economic areas in Poland. Architecturally, it competes successfully with Cracow, Gdansk and Prague (Czech Republic) or Bratislava (Slovakia).
What makes it a desirable cityscape destination is its unique combination of the rich historical heritage, colourful Gothic and Baroque style architecture influenced by Bohemian, Austrian and Prussian traditions in the old town, and the austere, modernist architecture of the foregone socialist era mixed in with the sleek steel and glass buildings of today.
The Wroclaw gnomes (or dwarfs) are another unique selling point. There are about 300 hand-crafted miniature bronze statues scattered around the city, and visitors are encouraged to follow the trail to find them all! Now, depending on what you want to believe in, there are two versions of how the gnomes (or dwarfs) became associated with the city’s history.
A version for the fairy tale fans is that centuries ago, Wroclaw dwellers were terrorised by a vicious urchin (Chochlik Odrzański), who played annoying tricks on them, like untying their shoelaces, pouring salt into confectionery while it was being hand-crafted in respectable shops and restaurants, or peeing into the city’s fountains. The gnomes (or dwarfs) were called in by the city mayor to free the city from the urchin and his tricks. Soon enough, the gnomes captured and expelled the urchin from the city. In return, they were allowed to settle down and they have lived peacefully side by side with the Wroclaw city dwellers ever since.
For history enthusiasts, the gnomes (dwarfs) are a symbol of the bohemian anti-establishment movement known as the Orange Alternative, opposing the socialist regime in the 1980s. The first dwarf was a graffiti mural depicting a smiling gnome in orange cap, with flower in hand. Its role was to fight the absurdity of the harsh socialist reality with colour and humour. As the local authorities kept painting over the rebellious gnomes, the pranksters continued to paint their gnomes over and over again, relentlessly. Most of the gnomes’ murals appeared on Świdnicka Street, where today you can find several bronze gnomes statues.
Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, Wroclaw has enjoyed a steady increase of holiday makers and business visitors from all around the world. Polish is the official language, but English and German are widely spoken in most tourist frequented areas, cafes, restaurants, shops and hotels.
Tourist information centres
If you need help with planning your stay, you can pick up the city map and get guidance either from your hotel, or the tourist information centre (informacja turystyczna). It’s probably best to approach the TIC at the airport (located by the main departures exit door), as the assistants can also direct you to the airport transfer bus (number 106) that can take you into the centre of town. There is also another tourist information centre located in the Market Square (Rynek), but let’s face it – if you have managed to get that far, you are probably going to be ok anyway!
With an international airport on its doorstep facilitating several budget airlines, including Ryanair, Wizz Air and Lufthansa, Wroclaw is easily accessible and welcomes holiday makers and bargain shoppers from around the world.
The number 106 airport transfer bus goes frequently (at least every 20 minutes). The journey takes about 40 minutes and will cost you less than £1 for a single trip (the price in 2017 is 3PLN for a single journey ticket). A 24-hour ticket covering all public transport will cost you about £2.50 (c. 11 PLN). Bargain!
The airport transfer bus terminates by the central train station (Dworzec Główny), which located is in the town centre. From there, you can hop on trams and other local buses. If you are based at the Ibis Style, Piast or Europejski hotels (which I recommend!), you can take a straightforward, 5 or 10-minute walk from the bus stop to your hotel.
Public transport tickets in Wroclaw cover both trams and busses, and are available from self-service ticket machines at most stops and on board of most trams and buses. You can select menus in different languages, including English and German. The main advice is, though, if you want to pay in cash – use ticket machines at bus or tram stops. The ones on board accept card payments only.
The best time to go is in late May or in June. You will be guaranteed fantastic flower displays of irises and rhododendrons in parks and gardens, and pleasant temperatures for walking.
Although sunny weather cannot be guaranteed, you are most likely to enjoy long sunny days with dry continental weather at the end of May and in June. Later in the summer, it can get quite sultry and hot in the city. Winters, on the other hand, tend to be cold and wet or snowy. Early autumn (September) is also a good time to go if you want to avoid the high peak season. Late October or November are rather disappointing months, as the weather can be quite unpredictable, rainy and cold during that time, days are short, and most of the trees will have lost their foliage, adding to the general gloominess of the season.
Every year, in the last week of May through to the end of June, the Świętojański Market is held in the old town Market Square (Rynek). It features stalls with traditional Polish cuisine, street drink bars, a mini-beach with deck chairs, live music, and numerous food and knick-knack stalls. It is a must if you love locally made honeys and beers, or would like to purchase some hand-made arts and crafts items.
The old town can get particularly busy at that time, so if you would rather avoid the additional crowds and get on with your sightseeing in peace and quiet, you should avoid coming to Wroclaw during that time, and come earlier in May or early in July instead. However, if you like the buzz and a taste of the local folklore – this would be the best time to come!
There are also different festivals taking place in Wroclaw throughout the year, such as the festival of colours in early June, or the Christmas market in early December. You can find up-to-date information on these events if you go to http://www.wroclaw.pl/ (remember to select English in the top right-hand corner!)
2. The main sights
Most visitors go to the old town Market Square (Rynek), to see the old Town Hall building (Ratusz Miejski), and historic town houses with their colourful façades along the King Square. From the old town, sightseers can walk over the bridge to the cathedral island of Ostrów Tumski (the oldest part of the city), and to the other little islands close by.
Those who would like to get a breath-taking bird’s eye view of the city should climb up the St. Elisabeth Minor Basilica viewpoint tower of the Garrison Church, located near the Market Square.
Be warned though, the climb is not for the faint-hearted! The 91-metre gothic tower, built at the beginning of the 14th century, features around 300 steep and narrow stone steps leading to the top. Once there, take your time and soak up the unforgettable view and atmosphere of the city. The climb is well worth the effort.
If you get a chance, take the tram number 9 which stops outside the main train station (Dworzec Główny), and get off by the Olympic Stadium (Stadion Olimpijski). Take a walk through a leafy park to the Japanese Gardens, close to the Centennial Hall (Hala Stulecia), and the Pergola with its famous multimedia fountain.
The fountain display is a real show-stopper, offering a true music-and-light feast. The Saturday evening displays are the most spectacular ones, but make sure to be on the spot before 9 pm, and be prepared to leave right after the show as you will be competing against tight crowds wanting to get back into town.
The botanical gardens in the centre of town are also worth visiting, but they cannot beat the Japanese gardens (near the Centennial Hall) either in terms of attractiveness or cost-effectiveness. Come in May or early June for the best flower and blossom display.
Wroclaw is a shopping paradise, with both modern department stores and traditional shops spread across the city. In the town centre, you will find most of the global brands such as, Deichmann, ECCO, L’Occitane, New Yorker, Pierre Cardin, Reserved, Sephora, SWISS, Triumph, Van Graaf, Yves Rocher or Zara.
The best restaurants offering traditional dishes can be found in the old town, around the Market Square (Rynek).
Pierogarnia Stary Młyn (The Old Mill Pierogarnia) located opposite the old Town Hall offers a mouth-watering selection of freshly cooked and baked dumplings with numerous sweet and sour fillings and side dishes. The food in the pierogarnia is delicious, staff professional and friendly, and the prices very low (compared to the other restaurants in the area). It is a popular place, so if you can, book a table in advance – your hotel should be able to help you!
Last but not least, while in Wroclaw, you must absolutely try the hot, freshly baked doughnuts available with an endless variety of fillings, from the Old Donut House (Stara Pączkarnia) located at 24 Świdnicka Street (in the pedestrianised section, leading to the old town).
To conclude, Wroclaw offers a phenomenal choice of attractions, which should please even the most discerning sightseers, and surprise the most seasoned travellers. If you have a weekend to spare, hop on a plane to Wroclaw and make some wonderful and unforgettable memories!