Advantages Lack of tourists, value for money, history, culture, nightlife
Disadvantages Not enough to occupy yourself for a week
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
I've been living in Poland since the start of this year, in a small town about 80 kilometres from Wrocław.I've grown to really like the city and all the people who have visited me there have liked it as well. It's the fourth largest city in Poland but many people have never heard of it. Many British people who go to Poland only spend time in Krakow, but personally I prefer Wrocław as there are fewer tourists, it's cheaper and feels more authentically Polish.
By the way, you pronounce it "Vrotswaf"..Polish letters can be fiendishly difficult, even the airline crew often pronounce it wrong.If you're going to be getting taxis, I would recommend writing down the name of where you are going, as it's unlikely the taxi driver will understand you, unless you know the Polish alphabet.
* How to get there:The cheapest way to get to Wrocław from the UK is to fly with Ryanair from East Midlands, Stansted or Liverpool airport. If you book at the right time you can get tickets for £10 one way, including tax. You can also travel by coach, but I wouldn't recommend it.
Wrocław airport is named after Copernicus and is about 10km from the city centre. A taxi into the city costs about 40-50 zloty (around £10), but the cheapest way is to take the airport bus, number 406, for 2 zloty.* What to see:
The Rynek (market square) is beautiful. It is lined with tall houses in many different colours, bars and restaurants with outside seating, and the stunning town hall in the centre, with its astronomical clock. It's a lovely place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. There's often something going on in the Rynek, such as a protest or Peruvian singers, or a young Polish guy creating giant bubbles, much to the delight of children (and me).There is a second square just off the Rynek, with a 24 hour flower market. Poles are very keen on giving flowers, I've never seen so many people walking around holding huge bouquets. I was in Wrocław on International Women's Day, and almost every woman was carrying flowers.
All of the old town is pleasant to walk around. Wrocław was occupied by Germany for many years, until 1945. The Germans called the city Breslau. It has a very interesting history, but I won't go into that here. There is an excellent guide to the city called In Your Pocket, which you can pick up at most hotels and hostels for free, or small shops for around five zloty.* The Islands
The city is made up of 12 islands and there are more than 100 bridges connecting them. The most beautiful and oldest is
Ostrów Tumski, or Cathedral Island. This is where the city was formed. The Cathedral, with its twin spires, is one of the symbols of the city. You can go inside and take a lift up to the top for a few zloty. The views across Wrocław are wonderful.
* The GnomesThere are 15 small bronze gnomes hidden around the streets of Wrocław. Apparently they are a tribute to the Orange Alternative Movement of the 1980s. It's fun looking out for them, as each gnome is different (for example, one is in a wheelchair, apparently exhausted after pushing himself up a steep ramp, and another is munching on a piece of pierogi -a traditional Polish food).
If you want to find them all, you can buy a map pinpointing their location at the tourist information centre on the Rynek. The TIC is also useful for postcards, directions, bus times and souvenirs.* The Panorama of Raclawice
Wrocław residents are very proud of the panorama painting in the city, which depicts a battle from the 18th Century. A special round building was built to accommodate the painting. A visit costs 20 zloty and lasts around 30 minutes. Headsets are provided, which give a commentary about the painting in various languages, including English.When you stand in the middle, it makes you feel as though you are in the centre of the battle, and there are a number of 3D effects such as fences seemingly coming out of the painting. It's definitely worth a visit.
* The ZooWrocław Zoo is said to be one of the biggest and best in Poland. It's a 30 minute walk from the city centre, or you can take tram number 2. It costs 10 zloty (around £2.50) to get in. The zoo has an amazing variety of animals, better than even London Zoo, but some of the enclosures are a little depressing.
The university is hundreds of years old and the university quarter is worth a wander around. I am especially fond of the statue of the naked man outside the university. There are some good bars and restaurants in the streets around the university. It is possible to pay a small fee to see inside some of the university buildings and grand halls.
* The University
* The Botanical GardensThe Botanical Gardens offer a quiet retreat not far from the city centre. They are only open from April till October and cost 7 zloty to get in.
* What to eat and drinkIt is possible to eat food from all over the world in Wrocław, something that is quite unusual outside big cities in Poland. There are Japanese restaurants, French, Italian, Chinese, Russian, and of course Polish.
Somewhere I would recommend, not for a posh evening meal, but for a cheap lunch or to fill up, is the bright green and red Szybko Tanio Pysznie, just off the Rynek. A happy gnome sits outside, eating pierogi. It's a self service canteen, where the food is priced according to how much your plate weighs. From 8pm to 9pm, it's happy hour and the food is half price. It's possible to completely stuff yourself on potato pancakes, dumplings, fishcakes, chicken wings and various unidentified meat, for the equivalent of £2 or £3. Ok, it's not gourmet cuisine, but if you're hungry and need filling up, it's certainly an experience.There's also a lovely pancake place called French Connection just across the road from the above restaurant. It sells nothing but pancakes, both sweet and savoury, and all dishes come with free natural frut juice. I recommend the banana and nutella pancake.
Vegetarians can try Vega, on the Rynek, as they won't have much choice at the traditional Polish restaurants. I'd recommend avoiding Sphinx, also on the Rynek. It looks nice from the outside, with its pretty coloured lamps and penguin waiters, but the food is really heavy and made me feel bloated and sick. Some people like it though! It reminded me of the kind of food I buy from a takeaway at 3am and regret the next morning.Zapiekanka (a french bread pizza with cheese and lots of mushrooms, topped off with a dollop of ketchup) is available at kiosks all over the city for few zloty. Another good snack is a toasted pitta filled with either salad, cheese or ham.
The whole Rynek is packed with restaurants so it's not hard to find somewhere to eat. Many of the Polish restaurants will serve similar dishes. I'd recommend trying zurek, which is a sour rye based soup with sausages and egg, served in bread. The dish is actually made from bread.Beer drinkers will be very happy in Wrocław. The beer is cheap and plentiful. Don't miss Spiz, which is a bar with its own microbrewery on site. It's in the centre of the Rynek and is very popular, so you may need to get there early to get a seat. I'm not a beer fan, but they sell honey and caramel flavoured beer, which are interesting! You can also see the huge barrels full of fermenting er, stuff, bubbling away. A beer (pivo) comes in small (300ml) or large (500ml) and should cost around 4 zloty to 7 zloty. Be warned though, it's strong stuff!
Non beer drinkers can try zubrowka, Polish vodka with bison grass. It's thicker than the vodka served in English pubs and has a nice kick to it. You can drink it straight, or with apple juice.There are hundreds of bars and clubs in Wrocław which visitors can enjoy discovering for themselves. Many are underground and not very visible, but look out for people emerging into unmarked doors. It's not unusual to have to pay an entrance fee to get into a bar, but it's not expensive.
I'm a fan of Limonadia club, which has plush red sofas, disco balls and a huge fish tank behing the bar. Dressing up is required, in a manner that the Poles are fond of (eg, top to toe skin tight denim, knee high boots, brightly coloured bags).* Where to stay
I've stayed at two hostels in Wrocław (but in private rooms) and would recommend either of them. The price of accommodation in the city is not as cheap as you would expect, and the hotel rooms are a similar price to those in England. Nathans Villa is in a really good location, just off the Rynek. It has dormitories and private rooms. I stayed in a private double room with our own bathroom and breakfast included, and it cost 190 zloty a night, about £40. All the furniture was new, although we didn't have a TV in our room as advertised. The breakfast wasn't great, just bread and juice.I've also stayed at Boogie Hostel, which is a bit further away from the centre, but still only five minutes walk from the Rynek. It's brand new and was very nice, apart from the lack of curtains and some noisy neighbours. It was cheaper than Nathans, around £13 each for a twin room, and in a nicer building (the bathrooms had underfloor heating!).
If there are a group of you, a shared room in a hostel should work out at around £10 a night.If you want to stay somewhere swanky, there are plenty of choices.
*ShoppingThere are lots of shopping centres in Wrocław. The best ones are Galeria Dominikanska, Magnolia Park and Factory Park. Clothes aren't particularly cheap compared to England.
There are several multiplex cinemas and the American films are all shown in English with Polish subtitles.* Other things:
Most people working in hotels, restaurants and bars will speak a little bit of English.The anonymous pedestrians monument, on the way from the Rynek to the train station, is worth seeing. A group of stone people appear to disappear into the pavement and then emerge on the other side of the road.
Make sure you try a Polish cake shop. The cakes are fantastic, especially apple cake, honey cake and poppy seed cake.It's normal to have to pay to use the toilet, so keep some 1 or 2 zloty coins in your pocket.
It can be very cold in winter, but is pleasantly warm in Spring and Summer. Evenings can be cool, so bring a jacket and scarf.* Overall
I think Wrocław is a nice place to visit for a few days. I don't think you would want to visit for a whole week because there aren't enough things to do (unless you really like drinking beer!)Every time I go to Wrocław at the weekend, I see at least one stag party from the UK, but it's still relatively tourist free. If you go to Krakow, prices are quite inflated and as there are so many tourists, it doesn't feel very Polish at times.
Wrocław has a unique atmosphere and there always seems to be something going on, such as the jazz festival, or performers in the Rynek. Some of the Euro 2012 matches are going to be played in Wrocław, so a lot of investment is being put into the city.If you are interested in history, Polish culture, or cheap drinks, Wrocław would be a good place to visit. It's also in an ideal location for travelling to other places. A coach to Prague takes about three hours, the train to Berlin takes six hours, and you can get to Krakow in five hours. There are also fantastic Polish mountain resorts a few hours away from the city, with skiing in the winter and hiking opportunities in the summer.
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