In love with Wrocław
A city filled with history, tons of exciting activities, beautiful sights and famous for its gnomes – get ready to discover and fall in love with Wrocław. Finnair Cabin Crew Member Beata Anton, originally from not far from Wrocław, shares her best tips for the brand-new Finnair destination.
Feel over a millennium of history in Wrocław, the capital of Lower Silesia and Poland’s fourth-largest city. Spot the famous gnomes and discover the legends of this vibrant student city, known for its nine universities and a total of 29 institutes of higher education. Be sure to exchange your money – Poland still uses the złoty (lit. ’golden’) – and pack your most comfortable shoes, for many of the attractions are accessible on foot within walking distance.
Wrocław (pronounced Vrotswaf), previously known as Breslau, belonged to Germany until the end of World War 2, during which it suffered serious damage. For almost half of its history, however, Wrocław was a Czech city – even the name is said to originate with a Czech prince named Vratislav. Wrocław belonged to the original Polish state of the Piast dynasty a thousand years ago, and it was returned to Poland after WW2 in 1945.
Wrocław sights and tastes
The roots of Wrocław lie in Ostrów Tumski, the “Cathedral island”. It is no longer an island, though, but the impressive Gothic cathedral of St. John the Baptist still stands, and you can take a lift up one of its towers for one of the best views of the surrounding city. For an experience of time travel, come to Ostrów Tumski around sunset and try to spot a traditional lamplighter. Cloaked in a black cape and wearing a tall hat, he lights up over 100 gas lamps along the streets.
Another must-see in Wrocław is Rynek, or the main market square, one of the biggest of its kind in Europe. The iconic late mediaeval Old Town Hall accommodates the Museum of Bourgeois Art, as well as the Piwnica Świdnicka – one of the oldest restaurants and beer cellars in Europe, established in 1273. As a customer here, you will join the company of some very eminent guests, such as Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Frederic Chopin.
Not far away, you will find more tastes of Polish history and cuisine in Konspira (located at Plac Solny 11), in the spirit of the socialist-era PRL (Polish People’s Republic). Make sure you try out the Polish pierogi or dumplings (dough with various fillings, cooked or baked), for example in Pierogarnia (Rynek 26).
Another famous Polish dish is the bigos stew, whose main ingredients are meat, cabbage and sauerkraut. Among the soups, the sour żurek (sometimes served in a bread bowl), the red beet borscht or clear chicken soup rosół are the most traditional. Although meat is an important ingredient in Polish cuisine, many restaurants offer vegetarian and vegan options. On the sweeter side, try local cheesecakes and poppyseed cake.
Other attractions in Wrocław
If you are in Wrocław on a Sunday, don’t miss the traditional hejnał, a bugle call, played from the town hall on a trumpet at noon. This tradition dates back to 1601, although the melody has changed over the centuries. The Rynek meets at the corner with Plac Solny (Salt square), a smaller market known for the flowers sold there day and night.
Not far from the Market Square you can find the unique Polish Catholic church of St. Mary Magdalene. It has two towers connected by a bridge 45 metres and 247 stairs above the ground (no lift this time!). For the local legend, find out about the girl and the witch. Other panoramic viewpoints are located in the Sky Tower (212m) – the tallest building in Wrocław, the Mathematical Tower of Wrocław University (42m), and the tower of St. Elisabeth’s church (75m).
Wrocław has many impressive churches, most of them Roman Catholic. There is also a Greek Catholic cathedral at Plac Nankiera, and the four Denominations District includes a Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox church, as well as a Jewish synagogue, all within close distance symbolising the peaceful coexistence of religions.
If you are an art lover, a must-see is the Racławice Panorama. It is an unusually large painting (15x114m) depicting the battle of Racławice that took place in 1794. Painted at the end of the 19th century, it is exhibited in a circular building created especially to house it. The viewer is surrounded by the painting, which has a realistic feel thanks to lighting and perspective. For more, make your way to the National Museum with objects of Silesian, Polish and European art, or to Jatki street for modern art galleries and workshops.
Fun things to do in Wrocław
Are you thinking about a family visit to Wrocław? The city offers many fun and exciting options for both young and old, such as the biggest Zoo in Poland with its specialised Africanum, an oceanarium dedicated to African fauna. The Hydropolis, for its part, is an interactive science centre with a focus on water, combining learning and fun.
The MovieGate, located in an underground WWII shelter 6 metres below the ground (entry on Salt Square), has an impressive collection of costumes and stage props from big movie productions like Star Wars, Harry Potter, X-men, James Bond, and many others. Another venue full of surprises is the Museum of Illusion located on the Sand Island. Children will also love Kolejkowo (located in the Sky Tower), a detailed mock-up with nearly 1km of tiny train tracks running through various landscapes covering 900 square metres.
Wherever you go in Wrocław, you will spot small figurines of gnomes. Their origin lies in the anti-communist movement from the 1980s, but the real boom started some twenty years ago. No one knows how many they are, but they are in the hundreds, with no less than 60 around Rynek.
These charming creatures are very busy! You will see them doing various tasks, some more serious than others. One is even taking a selfie! Learn more and collect points with the Wroclaw Dwarfs app (available for android devices only). The app also contains propositions of trails that combine Wrocław sights and gnome hunting.
If you like physical activities, consider visiting GoJump Wrocław, JumpWorld trampoline parks or GOair and FunPark with inflatable attractions. Besides water fun, the Aquapark offers a real sauna village full of individual Finnish saunas, an infrared sauna, and a snow cave called Lumi to chill out between sauna sessions.
Wrocław also has the most bridges in Poland and is sometimes called the Venice of the North – check out if it holds true by renting a kayak and paddling on the Odra River with views to the Ostrów Tumski. There, you can also visit the Botanical Garden of the University of Wrocław. If you like to cycle, there are plenty of bike routes that will take you around the city and beyond.
Wrocław also has something special to offer for music fans. For lovers of classical music, there are concerts played by the laureates of the International Chopin Piano Competition. Played in a baroque salon-like venue (Oratorium Marianum), these concerts for small audiences allow for personal meetings with the musicians.
For a wilder experience and a chance of becoming a World Guinness Record holder, bring your own guitar (or another stringed instrument) and play “Hey Joe” by Jimy Hendrix together with thousands of other enthusiasts on 1 May on the Market Square.
Wrocław and beyond
If you decide to stay in Poland for a bit longer, remember that Wrocław is the capital of Lower Silesia. The region has much to offer, above all numerous castles and palaces, of which Książ, Moszna and Czocha are perhaps the most impressive. The Sudeten Mountains in the south are accessible and offer breathtaking views. The highest peak is Śnieżka (1603 m). You can climb it for example by following a trail from Karpacz (around 9-10km long, taking on average under 4 hours one way).
In the mountain region you will also find surprising traces of Nordic culture. The wooden Vang Stave Church in Karpacz, originally built around 1200, was brought here from Norway in the 19th century. In Borowice, there is the Finland-loving Kalevala village, where you can book Lapland-style accommodation or join a guided tour on weekends.
If you are into Japanese gardens, you will find one both in the mountain region (Przesieka) and in Wrocław itself, in the beautiful Szczytnicki Park. Here, you can also visit Wrocław’s grandiose UNESCO World Heritage site, the impressive Centennial Hall.
It is a lot to take in, but I hope that when you take off again from the Copernicus Airport, you will realise that you have fallen in Wroclove, and can't wait to go back again!
Finnair flies daily to Wrocław starting on 31 March 2024.