Weekend in Wroclaw: What to see in 2016's European Capital of Culture
As a rival to Prague in the middle ages, Wroclaw is one of the oldest cities in Europe. (©Shutterstock/Velishchuk Yevhen)
Published Wednesday, January 13, 2016 6:30AM EST
Known as the "Venice of Poland," Wroclaw is taking centre stage this year as European Capital of Culture 2016. With a host of events and festivities lined up, there's never been a better time to discover this destination in southwestern Poland.
Getting to Wroclaw
A three-hour drive from Krakow, Wroclaw has its own airport located approximately 13km from the city center. Several international airlines run daily flights to and from the city, including low-cost carriers such as Ryanair.
The city is served by good bus and tram networks, with night buses on hand for visitors keen to sample the Polish nightlife.
Wroclaw is a breeze to get around by bike too, thanks to a self-service bike-hire scheme with 200 two-wheelers available to pick up and drop off at one of 34 stations around the city. Visitors can explore the wider region by train, as the city's rail station offers links to cities such as Katowice and Krakow, as well as the Polish capital Warsaw. Onward connections are available for travelers taking longer trips around Central and Eastern Europe.
What to see & do
The old town
As a rival to Prague in the middle ages, Wroclaw is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Its old town is a must-see that's packed with historical sights. Don't miss the main square -- or Market Square (Rynek) -- which is one of the largest in Europe and is home to a breathtaking Gothic town hall. Sightseers and budding photographers will revel in the building's façade, with its pinnacle gables and astronomical clock. This building is also home to the City Museum and the Piwnica Swidnicka -- the city's most famous beer cellar, serving a beer of the same name that was once dunk all over Europe.
Wroclaw is built on the banks of the river Oder, which rises in the Czech Republic and flows through Poland. With over a hundred bridges and footbridges crossing the river, its islands and canals, Wroclaw is often dubbed the "city of a hundred bridges." The most famous of these is the Grunwaldzki Bridge, which is registered as one of Poland's national historical monuments. There are several options for visitors looking for a trip out on the water, from laid-back river cruises to gondola trips. More adventurous travelers can even hire a kayak.
Go local with lunch in a bar mleczny
Literally a "milk bar," a bar mleczny is a traditional canteen-style eatery. These proved particularly popular in communist times, serving up cheap yet nourishing food at rock-bottom prices. They're a big hit among students too. For visitors, a "milk bar" is a great way to sample Polish food without breaking the bank.
Wroclaw dwarf hunt
The city of Wroclaw is home to some 300 bronze dwarf figurines that commemorate the Orange Alternative, Poland's anti-communist movement. Visitors often enjoy spotting as many of these pint-sized statues as they can while taking in the sights. There's no way of knowing the exact number of dwarf statues in the city at any one time, however, since some are subject to vandalism or theft, and new dwarves can pop up unannounced. Guided tours plus a special dwarf-tracking booklet and map are available to help hunt down popular dwarves.
The Raclawicka Panorama
While visitors to Paris flock to the Mona Lisa, art fans in Wroclaw admire the Panorama de Raclawicka. Housed in a specially built rotunda, this famous scene was painted by several artists, including Polish painter Wojciech Kossak. Stretching 114 meters long and standing 15 meters high, the work depicts the battle of Raclawice, fought in 1794 during the Kosciuszko Uprising. It's also the oldest and only example of a panorama painting in Poland. Its circular form plunges visitors straight into the heart of the battle.