Welcome to Ostrów Tumski, or Cathedral Island, hugging the Odra River in the centre of Wrocław. The oldest region of the city, Ostrów Tumski is no longer an island, though this ancient place is still home to some of Wrocław’s most impressive religious sites, as well as adorable cobblestoned streets. The orange-roofed Church of the Holy Cross is a brick, Gothic-style church that was once used by ethnic Germans while the city was still behind German lines before WWII (Wrocław has at times been a part of Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, Habsburg Monarchy, Prussia, German Empire, Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany). For both a bird’s eye view and a dive into the religious and civil history of the city, a visit to Wrocław Cathedral is in order – culminating with a not-for-the-faint-hearted climb up one of its massive towers. The origins of the present structure date to the 1150s after the Polish conquest of the region of Silesia and the founding of Wrocław as its capital, though the cathedral was rebuilt following various trending styles through the ages. Today a thriving student town as well as one of Poland‘s (and Eastern Europe‘s) most important financial, cultural and commercial hubs, Wrocław is place of beauty, intrigue, and good-natured charm.
Sometimes you just need a place to cheer you up – something that the city of Wrocław (pronounced Vraat-swauve), snuggled in the southwestern corner of Poland, does quite easily. From the circular, room-sized painting of the Battle of Racławicka to the colourful city squares to the funny little gnome statues hidden around town to the cheery student dive bars, Wrocław is one of Poland’s most enjoyable cities where fun and beauty are the currency. One of Poland’s biggest student cities, Wrocław is a city where anything goes. Enjoy the view of Ostrow Trumski, the cathedral complex on the other side of the Odra River before joining the innumerable number of students in the city’s parks and terraces for a cold beer and an afternoon picnic.
The most magical part of the day is sunrise. Some will argue that it is actually sunset, and while a sunset is beautiful in itself, sunrises often exude more beauty simply because, like a leprechaun, they are so rarely seen. If you can rouse yourself from bed at least once while travelling – or if you are required to due to an early bus/train/plane departure – take a few minutes to appreciate the soft, glowing light at the start of another day. The best way to do that is to find a place where you can sit down and enjoy the rising sun – a hilltop, your balcony, a local lake or river, a charming cafe, or in this case the market square. Settle down with a steaming cup o’ joe and a tasty local breakfast as you watch the world come to life. In Wrocław, enjoy the stunning colours, silent air, soft light and intricate facades of the spacious rynek (main square) before the day’s crowds begin to fill the plaza. One of Poland’s most spectacular cities, Wroclaw does not lack for attractions – aside from the rynek, visit pretty Ostrow Tumski or Cathedral Island, the adorable gnome statues scattered around the city, the stunning circular Racławice Panorama (a 19th century panoramic depiction of the Kościuszko Uprising, miraculously hidden and saved during WWII), the massive pile of stone that is Centennial Hall (a UNESCO site), and any one of the number of snazzy restaurants and bars in the city centre, many of them inspired by the dense student population. As an added bonus, as the year draws to a close, it’s your last chance to visit Wrocław while it is an official 2016 European Capital of Culture (which is not to say that a 2017 visit won’t be just as amazing…). While seeing Wrocław at sunrise is enchanting, the city will continue to enchant you all day long!
Wrocław (Vrat-swav) is truly one of Europe’s hidden gems. A small city that was once a part of Germany before finally being restored to its rightful home within Poland’s borders, Wrocław today is a vibrant student town practically throbbing with life. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it is extraordinarily colourful. The town centre in particular looks like an artist’s palette, swirls of every colour imaginable decorating the facades. And of course the hidden gnomes spread throughout give it spunk and personality (a gnome treasure hunt is nearly impossible to resist!). Wrocław sports one of the prettiest market squares in Eastern Europe, and the chance to drink a coffee or beer on any one of its many terraces guarantees a moment of magic!
Glittering, colourful, elegant. Poland has been getting more and more tourism attention recently. Cities such as Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk have made several “Where to go in 2014” lists. Krakow’s main square was recently voted “Most beautiful market square” by Lonely Planet–a huge honour! And Wrocław was ranked third on the list, “ Top 10 beautiful places you’ve never heard of” by Places Must Seen. Perhaps Poland’s best-kept secret, Wrocław (pronounced “Vrah-tswav”) is slowly coming out of its shell. The city is a university town, and like many such towns, the vast numbers of students keep the city young and vibrant. It has a mixed history, as it was once part of Germany (called ‘Breslau’). After the war, when Poland’s borders shifted west and they lost the eastern frontier to Ukraine, the citizens of the now-Ukrainian town of L’vov were displaced all the over to the recently-vacated-by-the-Germans town of Wrocław–bringing with them tradition, cuisine, and culture from the Ukraine. It is normal to spot several “Ukrainian cuisine” restaurants here. The Rynek itself is–as the other website rated it–one of the Europe’s most beautiful cities, like a canvas splashed in ink. Bathed in early morning sunlight, the vivid colours and clear plazas become more spectacular.
I spy with my little eye…a gnome in the sunrise? That’s right, that there is a gnome. And over there, there’s another—and another! As you spy more and more gnomes, you may be tempted to start a gnome scavenger hunt – and this beautiful city in western Poland is full of little gnome statues. However, reader beware – at last count, there were over 250 of them! But why are they here? The first gnome was installed on Świdnicka Street, commemorating the “Orange Alternative” movement, based in Wroclaw, whose main goal was to oppose the authoritarian communist regime through peaceful protest. The gnome was their symbol (vying to represent the little man?), and in 2001, the Orange Alternative group became one of the few instances in which a rebellion group has been honoured by the local government. Now, the gnomes are a city tradition, art installation, and tourist attraction, and their numbers continue to rise. So, good luck and happy gnome hunting!
Fourteen haunting figures both slowly sink and emerge out of a sidewalk corner in the Polish city of Wrocław. Constructed by artist Jerzy Kalina in 2005, the figures are a memorial to the two-year period of harsh martial law inflicted by the People’s Republic of Poland. Martial law is normally established when civilian government fails to function properly, or during times of widespread disregard for the law. Military rule is then imposed temporarily upon citizens after traditional government fails until the problem is resolved. This happened in Poland between December 13, 1981 to July 22, 1983 under Communist rule in an attempt to crush opposition. Activists and dissenters were interned without charges or trials by the thousands; people were literally disappearing off the streets – some 100 people were even killed. Kalina demonstrates this period of terror with his statues of people who are literally being swallowed by the earth while going about their daily lives, reminding us of how much freedom we truly possess today. The fear during a time like this must have been rampant – which is only extenuated by how recent it was. Meandering the streets of today’s Poland, it is hard to imagine that this freedom-less period took place barely 30 years ago – and makes you appreciate just how far Poland has come.
Wrocław, formerly known as Breslau (when it was German) is a Polish city with a confused history and changing borders. Now it is predominately Polish, though when the borders shifted and it stopped being German at the same time that L’viv stopped being Polish, all the Germans were sent back to Germany and all the Poles now living in L’viv, Ukraine were sent across Poland to live in the newly Polish city of Wrocław, hence the many Ukrainian restaurants and other Eastern influences that now co-exist here with a few Germanic influences on top of the Polish ones. This is Wrocław as seen along the Odra River, with the Cathedral rising up behind. The city was established in the 10th century, and the cathedral complex on Ostrow Tumski (“Cathedral Island” even though it’s not an island) is the oldest section. It’s quite a picaresque city – and in 2016, it has been chosen as one of the European Capitals of Culture, a lovely honour that means Wrocław better get to work on getting it ready!