Wrocław, a beautiful and old city located in the south-east part of Poland. On top of being a capital city of one of the voivodeships called Lower Silesia (historical Silesia), it’s one of the biggest and most lively cities in Poland. Vibrant international atmosphere, gorgeous architecture, beautiful landscapes and long exciting history make it a place worth both living in and discovering.
The area where Wrocław is located today has a long history of settlement, the first mentions of settlement come from the 2nd century AD and city rights were granted already in the year 1242 In its history, however, Wrocław not only often changes its name, Vratislavia, Wrotizla, Wretslaw, Presslaw, Bresslau and Breslau being only some of them, but also often falls into the hands of other kingdoms and countries. Passed around between Kingdom of Bohemia and the Kingdom of Poland, attacked by the Mongols, added to the territory of the Habsburg Empire, Czech and Polish again, only to end up as part of the kingdom of Prussia, occupied by Napoleon, Wrocław was a field of many battles and epicenter of many wars and was ravaged by the plague and earthquake all before the XIX century.
Wrocław or rather Breslau enters the XX century as a thriving German city and after many trials and tribulations and Festung Breslau, becomes a part of newly recreated Poland, and as its left almost empty and completely destroyed by war, welcomes thousands of Polish refugees, ready to start a life here and rebuild.
Now, when one might find themselves, strolling through old city center, looking around and seeing a motley of colours, architectural styles, ages inscripted on the facedes and frankly wonder how it came to that. Well, Wrocław was built and rebuilt over and over again, and always being an important center of trade, religion and life in the region, grew stronger and bigger and changed a lot.
It doesn’t take looking at a map to realize why amongst so many names Wrocław is also called The Venice of the North. The river is simply omnipresent, or rather rivers, because there are seven of them, flowing and meandering, over the ages, together with the help of humans created a dozen of islands. It is only logical that where you have so much water and islands you need a lot of bridges, and Wrocław has an abundance of them, to be exact more than a 100, but the explicit number depends on who you ask. River banks and islands are one of the favorite places for Wroclawians to relax and meet, most of them in the city center are modernized, whilst those further away tend to be more green, wth bike and walking paths. Something that might surprise many, in a mainland city is the amount of “beach bars” by the river, often with a real sand and sunbeds, those unique places present an alternative to generally crowded and more urban city center bars. (Read more: LINK!)
The District of Four Faiths is a unique neighborhood just a few steps from the city center with a special cultural path within it connecting the late-Baroque Evangelical Church of Divine Providence, located in a row of tenement houses, the Roman Catholic church of st. Anthony of Padua, the Orthodox Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God – the oldest of the churches – and the White Stork Synagogue. But churches and temples are not the only tempting and worth seeing thing. Narrow streets and colorful backyards of the district are filled with little cafes, bustling restaurants, lively music clubs and dim-light bars. If you venture in one of those backyards by night you will see an outside neon light gallery.
Right at the edge of the neighborhood is the biggest independent cinema Nowe Horyzonty (New Horizons), with a wide range of mainstream, artistic, international and independent films. The cinema works on different educational film projects, transmissions from The Metropolitan Opera, reviews, festivals, film meetings for children and seniors, exhibitions and concerts. Inside the building there is a bistro with great cuisine, poster gallery and a bookshop with film literature and DVDs.
Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island)
Ostrów Tumski – meaning literally Cathedral/Church Island – is the oldest, historic part of Wrocław, in the past the area was an island, place of worship, power and even a location of a castle. Now, an area beloved and often visited by tourists, full of monuments, museums and beautiful flora that you can admire in the Botanical Garden and other gardens overlooking the river. One thing that Ostrów Tumski has an abundance of are churches, from the smallest (and oldest) church in Wrocław – Church of St. Giles to the biggest one – the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. For a millennium, the cobbled streets of Ostrów have been a place for romantic walks. Everyday at sunset the lamplighter, dressed in a long black coat and a top hat, lights gas lanterns on the Tumski Bridge and all over Ostrów, creating a unique atmosphere, an ideal place for a walk in the evening, especially for lovers.
Rynek- The Market Square
Right in the heart of Wroclaw, is the historical Market Square, place of trade, culture and social life since the XIII century, and now obviously a tourist attraction. The buildings around the square were built in different styles, ranging from Art Nouveau to Gothic. Although the place itself suffered during WWII, the whole area of Rynek was carefully restored to its pride after the war by new polish inhabitants. Nowadays, lively, full of pubs, clubs and restaurants and vibrant with colours, Rynek attracts Wroclawians and foreigners alike.
Nadodrze and islands
Wrocław’s Nadodrze is an area that has been treated by time very gently. This northern district of Wrocław was fortunately not damaged during the war. The unique architectural character of the city center has been preserved to this day and has undergone meticulous revitalization process to revive its past beauty and splendor. The neighborhood is known for its numerous murals, artists ateliers and workshops, small, climatic and innovative cafes, thrift shops and the willingness of residents to create a better place for themselves. (Discover cool places: LINK!)
Walking south from Nadodrze torword a city center, one will stumble upon a web of bridges and meandering river, stopped and tamed centuries ago. Getting from one bridge to the next will take you through a series of small islands, populated mostly with churches and other old buildings some of which have changed their original purpose.
– Bielarska Island – its name comes whitewashing/bleaching canvases, an action no longer continued there, now it’s a perfect spot for family walk because of its huge playground.
– Młyńska Island – a small island named after a water mill still located there although not working anymore, now on the island you can find a hotel and a restaurant.
– Słodowa Island – also known as Student Island, the most beloved place by students from whole Wrocław, this rather empty island is a space for various cultural activities – concerts, workshops and performances and it attracts with a lot of barge bars on its shores and it’s the only place in the whole city where you can drink alcohol outside.
– Piasek Island – literally called sand island, in the past densely built-up area, but not so many buildings survived until today, now the main attractions on the island are two churches catholic and orthodox, university buildings and tourist ships dock on a boulevard next to the river
– Daliowa Island – Dahlia Island is the smallest but prettiest of the Old Town islands, thanks to recent revitalisation works, new flower beds resembling wild meadows and fruit trees blooming white and pink. The focal point of the island is the Nave, a modern sculpture by Oskar Zięta.
– Tamka Island – the current mecca of techno music lovers, its former owners were monks from the Order of the Crusaders with the Red Star, who ran mills on the island. Later two buildings were built, one of which is now abandoned and the other was converted into a pub and music club with lots of cultural events
Wielka Wyspa (The Great Island)
The lively and green eastern part of the city center, as the name suggests, is a huge island, which is surrounded on all sides by the branches of the Odra River. It includes several housing neighborhoods, filled with architectural pearls from the beginning of the 20th century, many historic villas, and tenement houses (built in the shape of an eagle visible from the bird’s eye view).
The proximity of the river and the natural environment make it an ideal place for walking or cycling, along the paths surrounding the entire island and in its numerous parks. For lovers of nature and animals, the island offers a huge Zoo with a newly built Afrikanarium pavilion and a small but charming Japanese garden, as well as one of the largest parks in Wrocław – the Szczytnicki Park.
For enthusiasts of history and architecture, the Centennial Hall complex is noteworthy, consisting of the historic Hall itself, a tremendous building on the UNESCO list, the Four Domes Pavilion, the Iglica (a spear-like construction towering over the area) and the Pergola with a multimedial fountain in the middle. In the park, near the Centennial Hall, there is a historic wooden church of John of Nepomuk, brought to Wrocław in 1913. Going east from there you can see WUWA housing estate, built entirely in 1929 as an architectural experiment and a model modernist housing estate. The entire complex of around 30 buildings has undergone a thorough revitalization, is considered one of the most interesting modernist housing estates and proudly holds the European Heritage Label.
How to get around
- Bus and trams
Wrocław’s public transport system is easy to use and fairly extensive, with 120 bus lines and 23 tram lines. Buses and trams run roughly from 04:00 to 24:00, with irregular night buses running after that. ISIC or other non-Polish student ID is valid for a significant student discount, but you must carry your ID. You can purchase paper tickets in ticket machines at almost all of the stops (or in a close proximity to the stop), additionally all trams and busses have multiple ticket machines where tickets can be bought by card only. For route planning, check out the super helpful website: jakdojade.pl
- City bikes
In Wroclaw, even up to 30,000 inhabitants use bikes every day. Those who regularly cycle through the city have a network of separated routes with contraflow lanes, bike boxes, parking spots and quick fix statons. This solution has civilised bike traffic in the city centre and on access routes and has largely improved its safety. On the cycling map of Wroclaw, there are must-rides – routes along the Oder river and its canals are popular. Many cyclists have their favourite routes that run through parks, forests and other green aras. The bicycle is an easier way to visit districts and housing estates located farther away from the city centre, as well as visiting most of the tourist attractions in the city center.
Wrocławski Rower Miejski/ Nextbike Wrocław is an alternative means of transport, allowing to quickly move around our city. This bike rental system has over 250 stations, hundreds of ready to use bicycles around Wrocław and can be used all year long, with first 20 min free of charge and small fees (2 PLN from 20-60 min, 4 PLN for every next hour) for additional time.