The city of Wroclaw in western Poland is a marvel of culture. It is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Poland and yet the residents here seem to care very little. It is a city with a lot of charm, especially when it comes to the charming, historic architecture, which is what most Wrocław attractions are made of.
The university city of Wrocław is the capital of Lower Silesia and is one of the most livable places in Europe. Wrocław’s past is incredibly complex and has been controlled by eight different empires over the last 1000 years.
Under the Habsburg monarchy in the early modern period, Wrocław gained much of its Baroque architecture and cultural institutions, such as a university that has produced nine Nobel Prize winners.
You can also call Wroclaw the “Polish Venice,” with the Oder River particularly worth seeing because it can be crossed with the help of more than 100 bridges. A large part of the city was destroyed after a three-month siege at the end of the Second World War, but this is no longer visible nowadays.
Tip 1: Market Square
The Great Ring or simply The Ring (Polish Rynek) is a medieval market square in Wroclaw, which nowadays forms the core of the pedestrian zone.
The Ring has the shape of a rectangle measuring 205 by 175 meters. The buildings around the ring were built in different stylistic periods: The central part of the Ring is occupied by the Tritt (a central block), which consists of the Town Hall, New Town Hall as well as numerous town houses. The Ring forms an urban ensemble with the two diagonally adjoining squares. There are 11 streets on the ring, two on each corner. In addition, there is a back market (Kurzy Targ) on the eastern side, broken through in the 14th or 15th century, as well as narrow back streets.
According to the latest findings, the ring originated during the re-foundation of the city according to the Magdeburg Law already under Henry I between 1214 and 1232. The older sources had postponed the origin of the ring only to the re-foundation in 1241-1242. In the course of time patrician houses were built near the Great Ring, in the middle of the 14th century they already formed closed perimeter buildings and the property boundaries were defined.
Nowadays there are 60 numbered plots on the Ring, with some buildings occupying several plots. The plot divisions are mostly different from the original parcelling, as there were subsequent divisions and mergers in the late Middle Ages. Each plot has a traditional name, usually connected with the coat of arms visible on the facade or related to the history of the house.
Tip 2: Wroclaw Cathedral
Wroclaw Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (Katedra Jana Chrzciciela), is one of the most important sights of Wroclaw. It is one of the city’s landmarks. The towers of the Wroclaw Cathedral are the tallest church towers in the city of Wroclaw, reaching almost 98 meters.
Under the cathedral there are wall remains of the predecessor churches: One from the years 983-988 and one built shortly after the founding of the Wroclaw bishopric in 1000. The latter was donated by Boleslaus I of Poland and rebuilt by his son Casimir I after the Czech invasion of 1037. Also known is a predecessor building in the Romanesque style, built from 1155 and destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century. The present church was built in the Gothic style in 1244-1341. The choir was completed as early as 1272, the nave only in 1341.
During the Second World War the cathedral was severely damaged, and the reconstruction was completed only in 1992. It was necessary to replace part of the interior decoration, such as the altar, with pieces from other churches.
Tip 3: Tumski Ostrów
If you ask visitors about their favorite sight of the Polish city, many mention the cathedral island Ostrów Tumski, the oldest part of Wroclaw, with remains of the first settlement from the 10th century. We can only agree with that.
Hardly any part of Wroclaw is as picturesque and pretty to look at as the quarter around Wroclaw Cathedral. Here you walk down medieval alleys full of cobblestones, the streets are lined with perfectly trimmed trees and some brick buildings were even built in the mid-12th century. It’s so peaceful and quiet, as if time has stood still.
Actually, however, the cathedral island of Ostrów Tumski is no longer an island in the Oder River at all. This is because in the 19th century, the arm of the river that separated it from the shore was closed to prevent flooding.
One of the most beautiful details of the cathedral island have been preserved: the gas lamps.
Tip 4: Town Hall
Wroclaw City Hall is a landmark of the city of Wroclaw. It was built in the 13th century in the middle of the Great Ring, extensively rebuilt in the 15th century in the late Gothic style. The richly decorated eastern facade with an astronomical clock from 1580 is depicted in numerous publications about the city. Its tracery and pinnacles date from around 1500. The bay window on the southeast corner was created in 1476-1488 by Briccius Gauske from Görlitz.
The southern facade with several oriels dates from the second half of the 15th century. Its sculptures depict scenes from the urban life of the Middle Ages.
The Renaissance town hall tower integrated into the western part of the building was built in 1588-1595. It is 66 meters high.
In 1860-1863, a neo-Gothic extension was built next to the old town hall on the site of the old canvas house according to the designs of Friedrich August Stüler. Today it houses the representative rooms of the Lord Mayor and the meeting rooms of the City Council. Subsequently, the old town hall was renovated in 1865 by Karl Lüdecke: the partition walls that were subsequently built in were removed and a new staircase was added on the north side.
The Museum of Civic Art (Polish: Muzeum Sztuki Mieszczańskiej) is located in the historic building. In the cellars you can find the well-known beer tavern (“Schweidnitz Cellar”), which has existed for about 700 years.
Tip 5: Wrocław’s dwarfs
The well-known more than 230 bronze Wroclaw Dwarfs throughout the cityscape are certainly one of the most interesting sights in Wroclaw and a magical attraction during the walks of tourists throughout the city. The history of the gnomes of Wroclaw goes back to the avant-garde, anti-communist movement “Orange Alternative” (Polish: Pomarańczowa Alternatywa) in the 1980s. There, the first gnomes were set up in Wroclaw and under the motto “Humor is the best weapon against oppression” was thus rebelled against the communist state.
This tradition of the gnomes of Wroclaw has continued until today. Thus, the students of the Academy of Arts and Polish artists make more dwarf figures and thus ensure a lively increase in residents. If you go on a city stroll through Wroclaw, you should go on a search for dwarfs. But be careful, you have to look closely to find the little guys.