Wroclaw (pronounced ‘Vrotswaf’) is the fourth largest city in Poland. It is located in Western Poland and is the historical capital of the Silesia region of the country. Wroclaw actually has a varied history – being part of the Kingdoms of Bohemia, Poland, Hungary as well as the Habsburg Monarchy, Prussia and Germany. It was only in 1945, after the end of World War II that Wroclaw became a part of Poland again.
We visited Wroclaw in December 2019, primarily for their famous Christmas markets. While the markets are astonishing, there is also a wealth of other activities to do in the city – specifically during the cold winter months. Below are our top things to do in Wroclaw, while you are visiting for the Christmas Markets.
Wroclaw Christmas Markets
Wroclaw’s Christmas Market is fairly big – spanning the entirety of the main square – the Market Square/Rynek. Wroclaw’s Market Square also happens to be the 2nd biggest square in Poland (Krakow’s is bigger), so you can imagine the sheer size of it. The markets also overflow onto Oławska and Świdnicka Streets. Indeed, at Plac Nowy Targ you will even find a neon Christmas Tree and some food trucks (adds a bit of life to the Communist-style square)! To go with this huge size is a huge crowd – we weren’t expecting the markets to be so full of life and atmosphere, but nearly every time we took a stroll around it was full of people!
The market has just about everything – there are small wooden huts set up along each side, selling everything from Christmas Tree decorations to Gingerbread men, and every kind of tourist souvenir you could think of.
Alongside the wooden huts is a multi-level bar selling mulled wine. All kinds of flavors of mulled wine too! There is a choice of ‘Wroclaw’, ‘Christmas’, ‘Cherry’ or ‘Raspberry’ flavors – amongst others. You pay about 15 zloty (€3.50) for a drink, and also a deposit of 15 zlotych for the Wroclaw brand shoe cup that the drink comes in. We reckoned that 15 zloty was a pretty good price for a souvenir and so just kept the cups!
We also ate at the Christmas markets on numerous occasions (one time because every single restaurant in the city was full) – while some of the food was mediocre, it is definitely the better idea to order what the locals normal eat. Some of the recommendations are Langos, Zurek (a soup) and some waffles – for something sweeter! Also if you like cheese, you can get a parcel of Sheep’s cheese – just take my advice and get it smoked first!
The markets at Wroclaw are the best we have been to. Although we loved our time in Riga, the markets were not as good as here. It helps that everything is so cheap, and the setting in Rynek is breathtaking!
Stroll around Cathedral Island
Now for something not related to Christmas. If you look up the top things to do in Wroclaw – Cathedral Island (or Ostrow Tomski) normally comes up as number one. Although it is quite pretty, for a number of reasons, I would not rank it as number one.
The main attraction is the St. John the Baptist Cathedral, which is a focal point for the city. This Gothic church was completely gutted during World War II but was rebuilt in 1951. Renovations were happening on the main altar on our visit so we could not appreciate the complete beauty. Indeed we arrived on an extremely busy day – it was a religious festival and the church was packed and was unenjoyable. There were literally tour groups everywhere and the priest asked people to leave as they were not accepting guests. It seems we managed to get in for free, as normally the entrance price is 4 zloty (€1).
Most Tumski (Tomski Bridge) links the main center to Cathedral Island and comes recommended due to its beauty and the number of ‘love locks’ on it. The bridge was closed when we visited and it looks like they were removing all the locks from the bridge…
Indeed a lot of Cathedral Island was under renovation so we didn’t see its true beauty. Perhaps a visit during the summer would reveal more!
The view from Penitent Bridge
The Penitent Bridge is a footbridge between the two towers of Mary Magdalene church. At 45 meters in height, it provides one of the best views of the city. Not only that, but you can even find one of Wroclaw’s famous gnomes on the top (and the only female gnome in the whole city). The entrance is 8 zloty (€2).
Speaking of Wroclaw’s gnomes – gnome spotting is one of the most entertaining activities in the city. Although it is fun to spot the gnomes, they do actually have a story to tell. Back in the 1980s, with Poland still under Soviet and Communist rule, the local people of Wroclaw began painting gnomes as a sign of protest. The city decided in 2001 to bring the gnomes to life and create a sort of tourist attraction.
The gnomes are mostly located in tourist areas, particularly around the main square. Keep your eyes peeled!
View the Panorama Raclawicka
The Panorama Raclawicka is a huge circular painting that depicts one of Poland’s most famous battles – the battle of Raclawice. The Battle of Raclawice took place on 4 April 1794, resulting in a Polish victory in the ultimately failed Uprising against Russia.
The painting is almost 3D, giving you the impression that the scene is right there in front of you. The fact it is circular and 360 degrees is completely unique and something we have never seen before. Although relatively expensive at 30 zloty (€7.50) – the painting is one of the most famous in all of Poland, so nice to see! The entrance fee also includes entrance to three lesser-known museums – if you have the time and love history!
Climb the stairs at Elizabeth Church
Another church and another viewpoint. Elizabeth Church is located close to Rynek and has a lot more steps than Mary Magdalene church. The view from the top really showed us the enormity of the Christmas Markets. It is a pretty narrow and long climb – so it is not so fun when you meet someone going in the opposite direction. You do get a nice 360-degree view of Wroclaw as well, so it is worth the 7 zloty entrance fee (€1.60).
Setka Bar – The Soviet Throwback
Setka Bar, located in the Old Town, is a Soviet themed bar and restaurant. Its idea is to represent what bars were like when Poland was still under Soviet rule. The decor is almost like an American diner – with some Soviet-inspired decorations. The food and drink is cheap (try the Bigos) so its worth a visit, if you can get a seat. I tried the Setka Special – 100ml of Vodka and some gherkins – pretty authentically Soviet!
Cheap Beers and Food at Przedewojenna Bar
This bar is located directly across from Elizabeth Church – and it has some of the cheapest beers and food around. It is a proper authentic Polish bar – with a good mix of regulars and tourists around. It can get busy, so getting a seat is tricky (and it is self-service) – but there are more seats downstairs near the toilets if you need them. We came in for one beer – and stayed for many beers, mulled wines, and food! At 4 zloty (€1) a beer and 9 zloty (€2.10)for local delicacies – you can’t go wrong!
Get Breakfast at Hubertus
We stumbled upon Hubertus on our first walk to our Airbnb, and actually returned every day! A local Polish restaurant, with plenty of food choices. The breakfast is a particular highlight – get the scrambled eggs with bacon and ham for 15 zloty (€3.50) – it will fill you for the day!
Getting to and from the airport
Wroclaw Airport is located about 12km from the city center. There are numerous options for getting to and from the airport, and we took two.
Airport Express Bus
We got this bus from the Airport to the City Center. It costs 10 zloty (€2.50) per person and leaves every 50 minutes. The trip time is around 40 minutes, and thankfully a bus just left after we arrived – so we didn’t have to wait too long. You can pay for the bus with your card, and you can get off in the city center at Dominikanie. Go right when leaving the airport to get to the bus stop.
Get an Uber
We actually got an Uber from the city center to the Airport – mainly because we couldn’t find anywhere online where to get the Airport Express bus from. It actually worked out cheaper for the 3 of us, with the fare coming to 26 zloty (€6) – compared to the 30 zloty (€7.50)the bus would have cost.