Wroclaw, also known as Breslau (It was a German city pre 1945) is Poland’s 4th largest city and is the historic capital of the Lower Silesian region. Wroclaw was not really on the tourist radar until it hosted the UEFA Euro 2012 championship as well as becoming the 2016 European Capital of Culture. Since then Wroclaw has grown its international profile drawing in an increasing amount of tourist visitors.
These visitors flock to see Wroclaw’s fabulous historic old town, picturesque bridges and scenic islands such as Ostrow Tumski, Wroclaw’s oldest area. During my 5 night stay in early July 2019 I managed to see quite a lot of the city and its many attractions and highlights. The following post gives my top recommendations on the best things to do in Wroclaw.
Why visit Wroclaw:
Although the city is becoming more popular with tourists, it is nowhere as popular as the other main cities in Poland such as Warsaw or Krakow. Even in July, one of the most popular months to travel to Europe, Wroclaw still felt undiscovered with no sign of the usual stag and hen parties found in other popular European cities. In fact I hardly heard any other English speaking tourists throughout my time in the city. The city was still bustling with activity and the many restaurants surrounding the main square and its cobbled side streets were still full of people enjoying the warm sunshine eating and drinking the fabulous Polish beer!
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Wroclaw is such a beautiful city that you could really spend days just wandering around getting lost in its cobbled streets, checking out all the fabulous architecture. I myself found the city a wonderful place to slowly wander exploring all its side streets and checking out many of its amazing churches and historic buildings as well as keeping an eye out for Wroclaw’s most famous attraction, the hundreds of little bronze gnomes scattered around the city! However the city has so much more to offer.
Best things to do in Wroclaw:
1. Ostrow Tumski
Ostrow Tumski is the oldest part of Wroclaw and is also known as Cathedral Island. The area was built in the 10th century by the Piast Dynasty and was the centre of the city until it was destroyed by marauding Tartars. As the city was rebuilt, the centre shifted across the river where its development would be less restricted and Ostrow Tumski became a place of almost exclusively religious and royal significance.
A visit to Ostrow Tumski is a must when visiting Wroclaw especially if like me; you enjoy visiting churches and historic places. The area itself is accessed via an iron bridge built in 1890 and is now famous for the thousands of padlocks placed by newlyweds and lovers hoping their love will last forever. You can even buy a padlock from a local vendor at the entrance to the bridge if you fancy attaching one yourself.
The area is a lovely place to explore and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. As the area is predominantly filled with churches and cathedrals you won’t find a many bars or restaurants making it a peaceful place to take a stroll.
My favourite cathedral to check out was The Cathedral of St John the Baptist. This is one of Wroclaw’s most iconic buildings, originally built in 1244; it was the first brick building in Poland. For 5 Zt (£1) you can even take a lift up one of its towers and take in the beautiful views from the top! You can also pay 4 Zt and visit the secret chapels at the back of the cathedral which are beautiful with some amazing details and artwork, definitely worth checking out!
As you walk around though you may notice that the buildings don’t quite look as old as you would expect. This is because the area was almost destroyed during the 2nd World War; however the area was rebuilt virtually identical during the post war reconstruction. As you walk across the bridge you will notice a picture showing the extent of the damage and if like me, you’ll be amazed at how they rebuilt the cathedral after so much damage.
2. Market Square
The market square, still one of the largest in Europe is an old medieval square located in the heart of Wroclaw old town and is the centre point to the pedestrianised zone. Again much of the square and surrounding area was re-built after the siege of 1945. Surrounding the square you will find numerous historic buildings ranging from the Gothic to Art nouveau era apart from one exception; the drab ten-storey office building in the corner leading towards the 24hr flower market at Plac Solny.
3. Town Hall
At the centre of Wroclaw market square you will find the magnificent Wroclaw Town hall. This beautifully crafted gothic structure no longer acts as a formal town hall but is now the museum of Burgher Arts. Even if you are not interested in visiting the art exhibitions inside, you can still appreciate the details adorned all over this beautiful building.
Opening Times: Wed – Sat 10:00 – 17:00 Sun 10:00 – 18:00
Tickets: 20 Zt (£4.20)
4. Hala Targowa, the market hall
The market hall was built between 1906 and 1908 and has around 190 shops and stalls. On the ground floor locals vendors sell various local produce such as quality fruit and vegetables, as well as a wide selection of local cheese, salami and hams.
Upstairs you will find a bewildering array of bric-a-brac, nylon underwear and plastic kitchen utensils, alongside a set of surprisingly clean and modern public toilets. This place is not only popular with the locals but has become a tourist attraction too. It’s a lovely place to check out local life and try some fabulous local produce.
The market is open Mon-Sat 08:00 – 18:30
5. Centennial Hall and Multi Media Fountain
Centennial Hall was built to celebrate the hundred year anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 and to showcase the architectural muscle of German architecture. However at the time, many people were adverse to such a concrete monstrosity being built, with many people opposing the building stating it resembled a concrete hatbox. Even with all this negative opposition the building was built and became one of the biggest structures of its kind in the world with an inner diameter of 65 metres, a height of 42 metres and a 10,000 person capacity. Although not the prettiest buildings it was an engineering marvel, in fact is was so revolutionary in design that the builders were reluctant to go inside once completed for fear that it would collapse.
Today the building is known as the ‘discovery centre’ and houses an exhibition giving visitors an overview of Centennial Hall’s construction, its history and its place in the pantheon of modern architecture. Please note due to refurbishment the Centennial Hall is closed until September.
Although you cannot enter the building whilst renovations are taking place, the area around the hall is still worthy of a visit. In the summer months, you will find local food vendors and pop up bars with comfy seating areas and deck chairs located within the square leading towards the entrance. Whilst at the back of the hall you will find one of Europe’s biggest fountains, the Multi Media Fountain. This fountain is surrounded by a beautiful flowered gazebo stretching all the way around almost enclosing the fountain fully.
The fountain itself houses 300 different nozzles able to project water 40 metres high, alongside nearly 800 lights and lasers and sound system that can produce a dazzling water display. This display can be seen for free from May to September with hourly shows throughout the day starting at 10am. The best shows are left till after dark when on Fri, Sat and Sunday’s the main shows produce an amazing light show which often draws in up to 20,000 spectators.
Unfortunately I was visiting midweek so never got to witness the main event but I did get time to cool off at the fountain and watch some stunning water displays. It’s a really lovely place to sit and relax and maybe take a picnic. Whilst I was there the temperatures where hitting nearly 40 degrees and I was surprised how few people there where trying to cool off, usually these places are crowded in the summer heat but this felt like a little oasis, I defiantly recommend a visit even if you are looking to escape the intense heat of summer!
6. Panorama of the battle of Raclawice
To be honest I was unsure what to expect when I came across this museum whilst walking around Wroclaw as I’d never heard of it, however I thought since I was here I’d go and check it out.
The building as it turned out was purpose made for this exhibition and houses the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice which is a huge 19th-century painting. This huge painting is 15 meters tall and 114 meters long and circles the inside of the exhibition space alongside additional artificial terrain and special lighting that makes the observer feels inserted in the picture himself. Inside you are given a headset which tells the history of the painting and depicts the story of a David and goliath type Polish victory against the Russians in 1794.
The painting itself is stunning and is extremely detailed and in places even looks real. The artists, some of the best available at the time painted in a way that we would now describe has having a 3D effect which is astonishing to think in that era!
Opening times: Summer April – Nov 08:00 – 19:30
Tickets: Normal: 30 Zt (£6.20)
Housed in a 19thcentury disused underground water tank, Hydropolis is a museum not surprisingly about water. This unique facility is the only one of its kind in Poland and one of few around the world. Inside you will find various exhibitions including modern multimedia stations giving you the history of where our water comes from, how we use it from different perspectives and the importance of protecting our water supplies not only locally but worldwide. This informative museum not only has interesting exhibits but also offers some peaceful relaxation areas which I thought were pretty cool.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 09:00 – 18.00 and Sat/Sun 10:00 – 20:00
Tickets: Normal: 27 Zt (£5.50)
8. Botanical Gardens
Located on Cathedral Island, Wroclaw Botanical Gardens is part of the University of Wroclaw and is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy some beautiful scenery. The site is beautifully manicured and houses various botanical exhibits including a small lake and café. The site is pretty big covering 7.5 hectares and is thought to have over 11.5 thousand plants.
Opening times: April – November
Tickets: Normal: 15 Zt (£3.10)
9. Szczytnicki Park and Japanese Garden
Just around the corner of Centennial Hall you will find the beautiful Szczytniki Park and Japanese garden. This is a lovely place to relax and read a book or just walk around and take in the lovely green spaces. The Japanese garden situated in-between the park and the centennial hall is especially beautiful and for a small fee you can relax in a Japanese inspired garden complete with lake filled with massive coy carp.
This beautiful garden first appeared back in 1913 made specifically for a global exhibition, however afterwards it was dismantled although the lake remained. The garden was then reinstated with the help of Japanese gardeners back in the 90’s however it was lost again due to severe flooding three years later. The site as it is now was re-opened in 1999 and has been flourishing ever since.
10. Go shopping at Wroclavia
If a bit of retail therapy is your thing whilst on holiday then a trip to Wroclaw’s main shopping Mall is a must. Situated next to the main train and bus station stain Wroclavia is a huge shopping mall with a vast array of stores catering for most people’s needs. If like me you need a comfy pair of trainers for all the walking then this is the place to go! There is also a huge IMAX cinema, children’s amusement centre and a 24hr gym. Just bear in mind that shops across Poland are not open on Sundays, however you will still find restaurants, cafes and entertainment venues still open.
Wroclavia is also a great place to hang out whilst waiting for a train or bus as there are plenty of comfy seating areas offering charging stations and free Wi-Fi.
11. Go dwarf hunting
Last but by no means least my favourite thing to do whilst in Wroclaw is to go Dwarf or Gnome hunting! Although finding these little munchkins have become a bit of tourist attraction, these krasnale as they are called in Polish represent a dark time in Poland whilst under communist rule.
The ‘Orange Movement’ was an underground protest movement based in Wroclaw that used absurdity and nonsense to stage peaceful, yet subversive protests; they used the gnome symbol to represent their organisation. After the fall in communism in Poland these gnomes became a tribute to the orange movement and as well as city ambassadors in Wroclaw.
Nobody knows for sure how many of these little creatures are to be found around Wroclaw but it’s estimated at around 400 with more appearing each year. If you want to find all the dwarfs you can get maps from most of the tourist offices around the city, however just finding these as you walk around can be just as much fun. Be warned though, you can get quite addicted to seeking these little fellas out, so much so I actually missed finding them when I left the city for Krakow.
So there you have it my recommended best things to do in Wroclaw. You may not want to visit every place on this list but I hope it gives you a good starting point for planning your trip to Wroclaw. If you are short of time and would rather take an organised tour, then I recommend Get your Guide for the best value trips and deals offering instant confirmation with exceptional service. Here’s a few of the popular tours available in Wroclaw:
Have you been to Wroclaw? Is there anything you would add to this list, or are you planning to visit any of these highlights? If so let me know in the comments below, plus if you like this post then please feel free to share on your favourite social media and subscribe to be the first to read my other blog posts and adventures.
Happy travels, Louise X