Although it will be difficult for you to pronounce its name, it will be very easy for you to fall in love with it: Wroclaw (Wroclaw in Spanish), one of the oldest and most picturesque cities in Poland. They call it “Polish Venice”, “little Krakow” or “the city of gnomes” . All these nicknames try, in some way, to describe an exceptional city… without quite succeeding. Today, here, I will tell you about the best things to see in Wroclaw so that you can discover it at your leisure and make the most of your visit.

Located at the foot of the Sudeten mountain range and on the banks of the Oder River, Wroclaw (phonetically pronounced “brosguaf”) seduces the visitor with its canals, its 12 islands and its more than 100 bridges ; hence many nickname it “Polish Venice”.

This city, which has been part of Poland since the end of World War II , has always been at a crossroads between various countries and empires, which is why in its long past it was also part of Bohemia, Austria, Prussia and Germany. among others.

It is precisely because of the immense legacy and artistic and cultural heritage created for centuries under the influence of all these cultures and kingdoms that Wroclaw is also known as “little Krakow” – the latter considered the most beautiful city with the greatest heritage in the country. -.

Of course, many of the buildings, streets and monuments that you will see in the city today are not “original”, but excellent and meticulous reconstructions -many times following plans and designs of the time- since 70% of the city was destroyed in World War II. The clearest example of this perfect reconstruction is the Market Square (Rynek) which was erected in the s. XIII and today, thanks to reconstruction, reflects that splendor of yesteryear.

And if you wonder why they call it “the city of gnomes , you will have to keep reading a little more… I’ll tell you about it shortly! Now, and without further ado, I will tell you what are the best things to see in Wroclaw, a city that I promise will win you over from the first minute.

Accommodation in Wroclaw

If you are organizing your trip to Poland, I highly recommend that you dedicate at least two full days (or three) to this city. Where to stay? I stayed at the ArtHotel and it seemed like a ten-star accommodation.

Not only because it is in the historic center, a few steps from the Main Square, but because it is beautiful, all its policies are designed to take care of the environment and the attention is luxurious. The price? Approximately €55/€60 per night in a double room. More than affordable considering quality, service and location.   

Wroclaw map – sightseeing tours

So that at first glance you can appreciate the -short- distances between the main attractions of the Polish city, here I leave you the map of Wroclaw where I mark both the most important monuments to see, and also the hotel where I stayed.

Market Square (Rynek)

Where to start touring and exploring Wroclaw? For its main square! The Market Square (Rynek) is the heart of the city and originally dates back to the 13th century -although it had to be rebuilt after World War II-.

It is the second largest square in the country -after that of Krakow- and eleven streets start from it and it is flanked by 60 buildings, many of them with beautiful facades, which reflect the power of the bourgeoisie of yesteryear. Also, many of these buildings have great historical importance, as I will discuss below.

** By the way, it is in this square where every year they set up the largest Christmas tree in the city and the Christmas market. You want to know more? Don’t miss the article I wrote where I tell you about Christmas in Poland and detail everything about how people live in Wroclaw and Warsaw.

Wroclaw Market Square at Christmas

Old Town Hall of Wroclaw

One of the buildings that you cannot miss in the Market Square is the Old Town Hall (Stary Ratusz) , an excellent example of civil Gothic -with Renaissance touches- that currently houses the Municipal Museum of the city.

Dare to climb its tower, which rises 66 meters above the square… the views are incredible!

“Oldest” bar in Europe

I know that this claim about being the “oldest bar on the continent” is claimed by several establishments in Europe… including one in the Czech Republic that I recently visited.

However, everything must be said, on the ground floor of the old Wroclaw Town Hall is the “Piwnica Swidnicka” bar, which opened its doors in the 13th century and is still open as a bar (well, actually, just now in the pandemic it has closed temporarily). I don’t know if it will be the “oldest”, but it is VERY old.

With its long existence, it is clear that many famous people have passed through it, from kings and princes to Chopin or Goethe.

Piwnica Swidnicka Bar

House of “Hansel & Gretel”

What does this construction have to do with the famous tale of the Grimm brothers? Nothing, simply that in the collective imagination these two 15th century buildings joined by a baroque arch and located in a corner of the Market Square look like a pair of “brothers holding hands”, lost between tall buildings and crowds of people.

This archway once led to the churchyard of St. Elizabeth’s Church which is just behind the Hansel & Gretel House . The church remains, but the medieval cemetery was closed in 1773.

Hansel & Gretel en Wrcolaw, Poland

Museo de Pan Tadeusz

In the same Market Square, in front of the old Town Hall building, is the Museum of Pan Tadeusz which, if you are going to spend more than 2 days in the city, I recommend you visit it.

In this museum space, the manuscript of the poet Adam Mickiewicz is exhibited, as well as several didactic and interactive rooms to transport us to the era of romanticism, classicism and Polish modernism.

St. Elizabeth’s Church

As I mentioned a few lines above, behind the well-known “Hansel & Gretel House” is the church of Santa Isabel (14th century) which in the past also had an attached cemetery.

Since 1946 this church, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Lower Silesia, offers Catholic mass services -but in its first 200 years of existence it was a Lutheran church- and it is possible to visit its interior.

However, my recommendation is that you go to the top of its bell tower , which is the tallest tower in the city. From almost 100 meters high you can get fabulous views of the Market Square and surroundings.

Plaza de la Sal, Wroclaw

Plaza de la Sal (Solny)

A few steps from the Market Square you will come across another important square, the Salt Square. During the Middle Ages , this space sold the salt brought from the famous Wieliczka mine (currently “the salt mine” is one of the excursions most popular in Poland).

As a curiosity, in Wroclaw’s Salt Square there are about a dozen flower stalls that are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There is a Polish legend that says that when you have a first date, you should give her a bouquet with an odd number of flowers to augur happiness.

Church of Santa Maria Magdalena and Las Penitentas Bridge

Another of the Gothic Christian temples that you cannot miss in the surroundings of Wroclaw’s Market Square is the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene .

In addition to the fact that numerous concerts are held inside, you can climb 243 steps that will take you to the “Puente de las Penitentes” that connects the two towers of the church. From the bridge you have beautiful views of the historic center and surroundings.

Views from the Penitentas Bridge

Ostrow Tumski (o la “Isla de la Catedral”)

Until now I have been recommending places to visit around the medieval Market Square. But the true origin of the city is not far from there, on what is known as the “island” of Ostrow Tumski , which was formerly completely surrounded by the Oder River and which was where the first settlement was in the 9th century. .

This piece of the city with a medieval air is also known as “the little Vatican” . Why? In addition to housing the imposing cathedral and the Archdiocesan Museum -which is where they keep the document with the first sentence written in Polish-, in a very small space (formerly a small island in the river) there are more than 5 churches, it is the area where the vast majority of nuns and priests live. In addition, formerly it had its own jurisprudence.

My recommendation is that you go through this area just before sunset since, maintaining ancestral traditions, the lighting of the “island” is with gas lanterns that a lamplighter lights by hand every day.

Isla from the cathedral in Wroclaw

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist

As I told you, in the Ostrow Tumski area stands the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist which, like many other buildings, had to be rebuilt after World War II and was done in a Gothic style.

Inside you can admire its beautiful chapels and the altarpiece, although the highlight -for me- is its 97-meter tower that you can go up by elevator and enjoy the views.

Church of the Holy Cross / San Bartolome

On the island of the cathedral there is another temple that you should not miss: the Church of the Holy Cross , which is actually two churches in one (or the only two-story church in the world).

Surely from the outside, its bell tower, more than 70 meters high, or the spectacular staircase at the entrance will attract your attention… well, come and meet it because you will realize that there are two churches: that of Santa Cruz and that of San Bartolome ! !

On the one hand, the lower part is the old church of San Bartolome. On the other hand, on this first structure is the building of the church of the Holy Cross, with tall and imposing windows.

Why are there two churches in one? You will not be surprised to learn that it is due to an old dispute at the end of the 13th century between Bishop Thomas II and Duke Henry IV.

By the way, right in front of the church(s) you will see the sculpture of Saint John Nepomuk , who is the patron saint of Bohemia and who also has a sculpture on the mythical Charles Bridge in Prague.

Farolero en la isla de la cathedral, Wroclaw, Poland

Lamplighter on Cathedral Island, Wroclaw

 You have several ways to get to Ostrow Tumski, one of which is by crossing one of its bridges. The most popular is the Tumski Bridge or “Bridge of Padlocks” . It is called like this because, as in many other cities, lovers seal their love there with a padlock and throw the key into the river.

Padlock Bridge in Wroclaw

Panorama Raclawice

Have you ever been inside a painting? In Wroclaw you can do it!

Panorama Raclawice is a panoramic painting 114 meters long by 15m high that represents the Battle of Raclawicka (1794). Its author, Jan Styka, used more than 800 kilos of paint and more than 9 months of work to finish it.

It is located in a circular building which helps with that complete immersive experience.

Panorama Raclawice, Wroclaw

The neighborhood of the 4 temples

In Wroclaw there was, since the 11th century, a large Jewish community and 2 synagogues were built. However, during Nazi Germany, one of the temples burned down in what became known as “the night of broken glass” .

The “Neighborhood of the 4 temples” is located right in the old Jewish quarter and owes its name to the fact that 4 temples of 4 religious beliefs stand there: Orthodox cathedral, Catholic church, Evangelical church and synagogue.

In addition to the four temples, in this neighborhood you can visit the “Royal Palace of Wroclaw” -also known as Spaetgen Palace-. This 18th-century building was a royal residence and famous people such as Tsar Alexander I of Russia stayed here.

In the 20th century its function changed and the palace museum was opened to the general public, although it was not until the beginning of the 21st century when it officially became the headquarters of the Wroclaw City Museum .

If you have time, go ahead and discover the history of Wroclaw’s 1000 years through the exhibitions and visit the “royal apartments”.

Finally, if you are wondering which is the fashionable and party area in Wroclaw… you are in it!

The neighborhood of the four temples (also called “of the four denominations” or “mutual respect neighborhood”) has become very fashionable in recent years and is full of bars and nightclubs. What’s more, it’s the most “IN” area to go out at night.

Quarter of the four temples, Wroclaw, Poland

The gnomes of Wroclaw

They are tiny and even if you think they will go unnoticed… they are already a true legion in Wroclaw! The gnomes have gone from being an anti-communist symbol to being one of the main tourist attractions in the city.

But let’s start at the beginning… why are there almost 800 bronze gnomes scattered around the streets and squares of Wroclaw?

Its origin is in the movement that in the ’80s wanted to ridicule the communist regime (“Orange Alternative”) and painted gnomes with orange hats on the walls that covered up social criticism.

Gnomes on the streets of Wroclaw

In addition, in their attempt to ridicule the communist system, everyone in the demonstrations wore orange gnome hats and the media announced that “the police had arrested gnomes” thus achieving their goal!

If you don’t like this version, there are also several legends that explain the origin of the gnomes in Wroclaw . One of them -the one I like the most- says that a little devil was bothering the locals for many years with his bad taste jokes. Tired of the situation, they asked the gnomes for help to get rid of the annoying imp. In gratitude for his help, the locals let the gnomes live in the city.

Gnome on a motorcycle in the streets of Wroclaw

When you go around the city, pay close attention to the streets, the corners, the stairs or every corner, because there are hundreds of gnomes… and each one has their trade, profession, personality or characteristic! For example, you can see the sleepyhead, the music lover, the prisoner, the traveler, the chef, the friendly, the geologist, the clown, the motorcyclist or the firefighter among many others.

Although you will find them on your way, you can also turn them into your itinerary around the city. How? At the tourist office they give you a map with the location of the official gnomes (or download the app) so you can go find them all.

Do you want to go see the first gnome? The sculpture of him is on the corner of Swidnicka and Kazimierza Wielkiego. “Papa Krasnal” -the greatest of the gnomes- was placed here in homage to the place where the “Orange Alternative” movement used to demonstrate. Of course, it is not -in my opinion- the most “cute” of the gnomes.

First gnome of Wroclaw: Papa Krasnal

First gnome of Wroclaw: Papa Krasnal

Sculptures in Wroclaw

Since I’m talking about sculptures, I would like to highlight two that are in the city and that I really liked.

One of them is the monument «Anonymous Passers-by» . These are 14 life-size bronze figures located on both sides of Swidnicka Street. Although many meanings have been attached to it throughout history, one of the most agreed upon is the one that is said to symbolize the difficult times in Poland during martial law. 

Tip: walk Swidnicka street, which is one of the most popular in the city, where many neoclassical buildings are located and, in addition, it is where you will come across the Opera building and the Puppet Theater building.

Anonymous bystanders sculpture in Poland

On the other hand, as many sculptures in Wroclaw also tell us about the history of the place where they are located -this includes the gnomes-, I recommend that you visit the farm animal sculpture .

This monumental complex that includes various animals is located on Stare Jatki street, which was where the meat market was once located. This industry had to place its stalls here and not in the central market of the square, since the smell and dirt it generated was not tolerated by other sellers or buyers.

Today this passage houses the studios and galleries of local artists, so go ahead and stop by.

Sculpture of farm animals in Wroclaw

Queue

Perhaps the name does not tell you anything, and it even chokes you when pronouncing it… but it is well worth the visit!

Located inside a shopping center, Kolejkowo is a small museum with animated model trains that is just brutal. At Christmas, they also set up a reproduction of Wroclaw made entirely of gingerbread.

A fantasy for girls, boys and adults!

KOLEJKOWO, city made of gingerbread cookies, Wroclaw

KOLEJKOWO, city made of gingerbread cookies, Wroclaw

Hydropolis

I am not going to deceive you… I had NOTHING of faith in this museum dedicated to water . I thought it would be a real pain in the ass. The reality is that I was surprised (in a very good way) and since I had allocated less than an hour to watch it, I was left wanting more.

Although it is oriented and designed in a super educational way for girls and boys, it has useful and practical information, models, drawings, sculptures and more that make it a fascinating museum.

It is true that if you only have one day to see Wroclaw I would not tell you to use 2 or more hours in the Hydropolis (which is outside the historic center), but if you stay more than two days or have children with you, don’t even think about it, because it will fascinate you.

Hydropolis

University of Wroclaw and the Leopoldina classroom

Located in a former Jesuit complex is one of the most impressive Baroque buildings in the city: the University of Wroclaw.

The University Museum is located in the main building, which houses the pearl of the Lower Silesian Baroque: the Leopoldina classroom.

In addition to this magnificent room, you can visit others such as the Marian oratory (Oratorium Marianum), a chapel that was transformed into a music hall where concerts have been held for more than 200 years. Finally, the Mathematical Tower houses an old astronomical observatory. If you get a chance to go see it, don’t miss it!

Wroclaw University

Centennial Pavilion

Wroclaw has a World Heritage building for its technological innovation: the Centennial Pavilion (1911-13), which was built in homage to the centenary of the Battle of Leipzig.

Its 23m high dome is an engineering gem – but I have to confess that for those of us who don’t understand much about it, it’s not so “wow”. It is worth going to see it if you have spare time in the city.

What to do in Wraclaw in one day

Do you only have one day in the city? My recommendation is that you include the following sites in your itinerary:

1. Market Square (and surroundings, including the Plaza de la Sal)

2. Climb to the tower of the church of Santa Isabel to have good views of the square and surroundings

3. Isla de la Catedral (walk through its medieval air streets, entrance to the cathedral and climb to the tower)

4. University of Wroclaw and visit to Aula Leopoldina

5. Panorama Raclawice

Colorful facades in Wroclaw

What to do in Wraclaw in two days or more

In addition to adding the visits from day one, the second day would add:

1. Quarter of the four temples (walk through its streets and visit the temples)

2. Royal Palace and exhibition in its museum

3. Church of Santa Maria Magdalena with ascent to the bridge between the towers

4. Kolejkowo and/or Hydropolis

If you are staying for three days, then I would add a visit with time to the different museums (such as the Museum of Architecture, the Museum of Posts and Telecommunications), the Botanical Garden of the city or the Centennial Pavilion.

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