Located closer to Prague and Berlin (3 to 3.5 hours by car) than Warsaw (4 hours), Wroclaw is probably one of the most cosmopolitan of Poland’s cities. Before 1945, it belonged to Bohemia, Hungary, the Austrian Empire, Prussia and Germany at different times. Today you can hear many languages spoken in the Rynek (Market Square) of Stare Miasto (Old Town), which is the commercial and tourist core of the city. The Rynek, being one of the largest squares in Europe, is a great place to wander, people watch and check out the beautiful architecture this city offers. Bars and restaurants featuring many world cuisines can be found all around the square, with Bernard and Spiz worth trying. Exiting the square along Więzienna will lead you to a little Italian area, with an alley of restaurants that have cropped up as a result of new immigrants to the city.
East of the Rynek, located within the Park Juliusza Słowackiego, you will find the pride of Wroclaw: Panorama Racławicka. Completed in 1894, the 15 by 114 meter circular painting, which depicts the Battle of Racławice, is incredibly impressive to see in person. The use of lights and terrain adds to the feeling of realness created through being encircled by the work. Make sure you grab a translator radio once you reach the gallery and position yourself to view the painting starting closest to the entranceway (the very informative commentary starts from this perspective).
Your entry ticket to the Panorama also gives you free access to the National Museum, which is worth a visit to see the modern and contemporary collection on the top floor. You can more or less skip the other floors, which feature mainly religious and aristocratic art similar to what you’ve likely seen at other European museums.
North of Stare Miasto and across the Odra River is the most historic part of Wroclaw, Ostrów Tumski, which is accessed through Wyspa Piasek (Sand Island) and a bridge filled with lovers’ lockets. This is a charming place to walk at dusk, and you might even spot the lamplighter, who lights all of Ostów Tumski’s gas lamps by hand each night. The amazing sense of calmness, especially compared to the Rynek’s hustle, makes this one of my favourite parts of the city.
A 30 minute walk or 5 minute drive east on Sienkiewicza will take you to the heart of Śródmieście, which features Centennial Hall, a zoo, fountains, and Japanese gardens. Centennial Hall was built in 1913, while Poland was still a part of Germany, and today is a UNESCO heritage site that hosts sporting events and concerts. The fountains outside the hall are equally grand and from May to October, you can catch a water and music display at the start of every hour between 10am and 10pm. Each show is set to different music and lasts anywhere from 4 to 18 minutes (check out the schedule). The Japanese gardens, located in the adjacent Park Szczytnicki, are very small and were a bit of disappointment. The Wroclaw Zoo, which we couldn’t fit into our one day visit, is the largest and oldest in Poland (circa 1865).
Wroclaw is a charming city to get lost in, wandering into coffee houses, bakeries, and shops while looking at the beautiful architecture. While you are at it, see how many of the 300+ dwarf figurines you can find. These first appeared in 2001 and they continue to multiply, adding to the magic of this city.