Poland City Guides: Wroclaw
- Wroclaw is known as the Venice of Poland with its many rivers
- Part of Poland, Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Prussia over the centuries
- Formerly the German city of Breslau
- Small Jewish Quarter
- Former capital of Silesia
- Beautiful Main Square known as Rynek
- Population of 630,000
Wroclaw pronounced "Vrots-lav" is Poland's fourth largest city and the main city in southwestern Poland. Wroclaw is a short trip from the Czech border and also a short distance from the German border. Over the years, the city has been annexed and ruled by many different regional powers.
In the early years, Wroclaw was controlled by Bohemia: until 992, and then from 1038 until 1054. From the years 992 - 1038 and 1054 - 1202, it was part of the Kingdom of Poland.
Like much of Poland, Wroclaw was devastated by the invasion of Genghis Khan, in 1241, when the city was burned to the ground. In ensuing years, Wroclaw became a multi-cultural city dominated by Germanic peoples and as a result adopted the name Breslau, which remained until 1945. In 1335, the city was incorporated into the Kingdom of Bohemia.
Next, the Kingdom of Prussia annexed the city in the 1740s. During the Napoleonic Wars, the city was occupied by the Confederation of the Rhine. With the unification of Germany in 1871, Breslau became the sixth largest city in the German Empire.
During World War II, the city was under German control and the city's small Jewish population was deported to concentration camps especially nearby Auschwitz. The Jewish quarter itself remains, and is a short walk from the main square. The city held out against a devasting Soviet siege which destroyed much of the old city, which has been painstakingly restored.
Today Wroclaw is once again part of Poland - and a lovely city, ranking with Krakow and Gdansk in terms of beauty and history. After the war many of the new inhabitants were Polish refugees from Lviv (Lwow; Lvov) now in the Ukraine, who brought much of their culture with them.
Things to Do In Wroclaw
The city's Market Square (Rynek) is large and vibrant, with many German influenced building fronts. The main structure in Rynek is Wroclaw's old Town Hall, which originally dates to the 15th century but was frequently expanded over the ages. The astronomical clock was erected in 1580 and the carvings on the south facade are worthy of an extended view. The building is now the City Museum with its original interior and alternating exhibitions. Market Square has many restaurants and bars, shops and entertainment along its outer edge, with a temporary stage often set up for concerts.
Plac Solny "Salt Square" features resored 19th century townhouses and more impressive historic architecture.
Centennial Hall (Tel: 48 71 347 5117) is a World Heritage Site designed by modernist architect Max Berg, when the city was still part of the German Empire. It can be reached by tram, and is close to the city zoo.
The city's Cathedral Island (Wyspa Piasek) is the oldest part of WrocÅaw. Here are the 14th century Church of St Mary on the Sands and Wroclaw University Library, used as the Nazi HQ during World War II and the protracted siege of the city by the Soviet Red Army.
Wroclaw's main cathedral, the Cathedral of St John, is across Tumski Bridge along with a seminary and many other churches including the Holy Cross Church, the 17th century St Elizabeth's Chapel, the Renaissance Lady Chapel, the baroque Corpus Christi Chapel and the tiny St Giles Church. North of here is the relaxing and relatively interesting Botanical Garden.
Wyspa Piasek is a wonderful area for strolling. Spanning the Odra River is the Tumski Bridge, Wroclaw's Love Bridge, festooned with hundreds of padlocks proclaiming the undying love of the couples who fasten the padlocks to the bridge and together throw the key into the waters below. The tradition has local roots as a place to meet for dating couples but is largely based on the book Tre metri sopra il cielo by Italian author Federico Moccia. The whole area of Ostrow Tumski (Cathedral Isle) has a different, more peaceful and contemplative ambience compared to the rest of the city. There are few shops and cafes to disturb the quiet as you stroll past original gas lights and the many religious buildings.
Wroclaw also has a very pleasant Botanical Garden at Henryka Sienkiewicza St. 23, (Tel: 071 322 59 57) with a central pond, glass houses and a large lawn area. The Botanical Garden was built from 1811-1826. In the Jewish Quarter, the White Stork Synagogue remains, built in the nineteenth century.
The Raclawice Panorama (Tel: 071 344 2344) is a circular building housing a painting of the Battle of Raclawice in 1794, a Polish victory over the Russians by painters Jan Styka and Wojcliech Kossak. Attracting bus loads of domestic tourist, the Panorama is the city's most visited sight. Nearby is the pleasant Slowackiego Park with a sombre monument to the Katyn Massacre and a number of museums including the National Museum in Wroclaw, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Museum of Architecture (Tel: 071 344 8278), containly exhibits of historical items that could be salvaged from the destruction of the city in 1945.
Wroclaw ranks 4th for the European city with most bridges behind Venice, Amsterdam and St. Petersburg. We have already mentioned Tumski Bridge and other pleasant bridges to take in the view near the University Quarter are Most Mlynski and Most Uniwersytecki. Most Grunwaldzski is Poland's longest suspension bridge and was completed in 1910.
Tumski Bridge, Wroclaw's Love Bridge; Outdoor Chess, Rynek Square, Wroclaw
The historic town of Trezbnica is 24km north of Wroclaw while the market town of Brzeg is a very manageable 30 minute train ride to the east. Mount Sleza, 30km from Wroclaw, is an ancient granite hill with Celtic period rock carvings. Other possible side trips from Wroclaw include Swidnica known for its churches and museums, Jawor, Ksiaz with its well preserved castle and the medieval town of Boleslawiec.
Nightlife & Entertainment In Wroclaw
There are many pubs, bars, restaurants, and clubs in Wroclaw especially close to the Rynek.
Poland is famous for its amber, crystal, and vodka. Souvenir shops around Rynek have a good selection and there are a number of stores selling antiques - look out for the sign 'Antyki'. The Hala Targowa or Indoor Market near the river has seen better days but is a lively place selling fruit, vegetables and cheeses on the ground floor and upstairs a mishmash of just about anything.
The tourist office is located on the Main Square at Rynek 14, Wroclaw; Open 9 am - 7 pm; (Tel: +48 71 3443111).
Getting To Wroclaw
Port Lotniczy im Mikolaja Kopernika Airport is 12 km (7-8 miles) from the center of the city. A new airport terminal is being built in time for Euro 2012 right next to the old Wroclaw Nicolaus Copernicus Airport. There are taxis, and bus #406 operates every 20 minutes everyday to the Central Railway and Bus Station from 5.19am-11.59pm on weekdays. Night bus line #249 runs twice during the night.
Direct flights arrive from around Europe including Dublin, Liverpool, Stanstead, Bristol, Doncaster Sheffield, Bologna, Forli, Milan Bergamo, Frankfurt, Munich, Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Gdansk, Warsaw, Alicante, Barcelona, Malaga, Copenhagen, Oslo, Brussels, Eindhoven and Paris Beauvais.
Take the Autostrada A4 from the German border. There are highway buses to Warsaw but no bus connections to Krakow.
Getting Around Wroclaw
Wroclaw has a comprehensive system of buses and streetcars, and much of the central part of the city can be managed on foot. The Maslice Stadium in Wroclaw can be reached by either tram or bus from near the city center at Plac Jana Pawla II.
Accommodation in Wroclaw
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Recommended Hotels in Wroclaw
Art Hotel, sp. z o.o. ul. Kielbasnicza 20, Wroclaw 50-110 Tel: +48 71 78 77 400. Superb facilities and excellent service at this historic hotel just off the Rynek.
There are a number of good restaurants in Wroclaw including traditional Polish, Chinese, French, Italian, Indian and Japanese choices. List your restaurant here. Contact Us
There are lots of places to enjoy an excellent Polish beer on the Rynek as well as English and Irish pubs, a Mexican bar and a number of clubs. List your bar, cafe or club here. Contact Us
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Weather in Wroclaw
Wroclaw is on Poland's warmer western side so the weather in winter is usually slightly warmer than Warsaw to the north. Summers are warm with the possibility of thunderstorms.