First things first, let’s start with the name: Wroclaw. This city’s name has baffled many a tourist and surely also left many a local shaking their head in disapproval. Wroclaw is not pronounced raw-claw, but rather vrots-whaf. Confusing, I know. Tricky name aside, Wroclaw turned out to be a yet another beautiful city to explore, and it made me really glad that Sam and I decided to dedicate a whole month to travel in Poland. The following is a visitor guide to some of our favourite things to do in Wroclaw!
THINGS TO DO IN WROCLAW
Explore Cathedral Island on foot
Let’s kick things off on Cathedral Island, which is the site of the city’s oldest settlement. Though the river’s flow has changed since Cathedral Island got its name (it hasn’t been an island for a very long time!), it still sits by the river’s edge and it’s a really nice place to explore on foot.
Cathedral Island is home to several churches and religious institutions including the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the Church of the Holy Cross, and the Archbishop’s Palace.
Also, I can’t believe I missed this, but while on Cathedral Island, you can visit the Botanical Gardens. They are a little bit hidden from view, so they are easy to miss with the churches dominating the cityscape, but you’ll find the gardens only a couple of lanes north the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Enjoy a boat cruise down the Oder River
A river cruise is a super relaxed way to see the city from a different vantage point, and when you have a city as picturesque as Wroclaw, it seemed like a no-brainer to hop aboard.
Most cruises depart from a small dock just before you cross over to Cathedral Island, and they leave quite frequently so it’s easy to show up and get a ticket on the spot.
I can’t say I understood a single word of the Polish narration, but I enjoyed the cruise nevertheless. We had sunshine and blue skies, and that was enough for me.
Visit the University of Wroclaw for city views
Wroclaw has a charming University Quarter, which is located on the north end of the Old Town, and I think it’s well worth the visit even if you’re no longer a student.
Within the University Quarter, you’ll find the University of Wroclaw, whose claim to fame is Aula Leopoldina, a ceremonial hall done in the Baroque Style. I had seen photos of the pastel ceilings and hand-carved cherubs online and I immediately wanted to visit this place for myself. Unfortunately, on the first day we visited, the university was not open to the public, and on the second attempt, the hall was blocked off to visitors. Two strikes!
I may not have gotten to see one of the most beautiful university halls in Europe, but the Mathematical Tower was open, so we climbed to the top for views of the city. The terrace has a height of 42 meters, which may not sound like a lot, but you can look out over the Old Town and across the Oder River.
Peek inside a Baroque-Rococo church
While wondering around Wroclaw’s University Quarter, we also came upon the Parish of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which is right next to the university’s main entrance.
The church is done in the Baroque-Rococo style (read: as grand and exaggerated as possible!), so I felt a little better about not seeing Aula Leopoldina because this gave me a little taste of what it must be like.
Admission to the church is free of charge, though donations are welcome, and once you’re in, don’t forget to look up!
Enjoy the beauty of a secret courtyard
Another pleasant surprise in Wroclaw was the Ossolineum. This building was originally a hospital and convent, then a college, and now it’s home to the Ossolineum Library.
We didn’t realize what we had wandered into at the time – we just knew we had found ourselves a cute cobbled courtyard surrounded by hydrangeas, mirrored-windows, and benches – and since there was an older couple enjoying the serenity of the place, we figured it must be open to the public and sauntered in.
Go in search of Wroclaw’s dwarves
Before visiting Wroclaw, I had read that there were little statues of dwarves scattered across the city (over 300 of them to be precise!) and it didn’t take long after arriving to start noticing them. Even on the walk from the train station to the Old Town, I managed to spot a group of dwarf statuettes on the ledge of an office building.
The idea behind the dwarves is to commemorate Orange Alternative, a Polish anti-communist underground movement which started in Wrocław and used the dwarf as its symbol. In 2001, a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the first dwarf went up on Świdnicka Street, then another in 2003, and then a few more were commissioned in 2005. Fast-forward a few years, and now you can find them every few streets!
I was perfectly content to chance upon the dwarves as I did my sightseeing around Wroclaw, but if you’re up for a scavenger hunt, you can use this gnome map on your phone and try to find as many as possible.
Admire the architecture around Market Square
We also visited Market Square which is a medieval square surrounded by beautiful buildings that range from Gothic to Art Nouveau styles and are painted in the most cheerful of colours. It’s crazy to think that almost everything you see in and around the square had to be rebuilt from the ground up after the Siege of 1945. The major landmark in Market Square is the Old Town Hall, a Gothic structure that now houses the Museum of Bourgeois Art.
Shop for fresh produce at Hala Targowa
Whether you’re renting an apartment and looking to prepare a meal at home or planning a little picnic to enjoy at a local park, Hala Targowa is a really cool market to visit.
For starters, the interior of the building kind of reminds me of the shell of a cathedral, but what really caught my attention was the rainbow of produce available, and at such great prices too!
There were so many stands with trays of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, lingonberries – pretty much every berry under the sun – not to mention all the other fresh fruits and vegetables. But that’s not all, you can also buy baked goods, deli meats, and even pick up the odd souvenir or two.
Where to stay in Wroclaw
We stayed at an AirBnB right in the heart of the Old Town and we found that most listings offered great value. You can find entire homes and apartments for $25-50 per night, and much lower if you’re just looking for a private room in someone’s home. The key is to book well in advance so you have a good selection to choose from!
Have you been to the city?
What were some of your favourite things to do in Wroclaw?