A Guide to Wrocław: Poland's forgotten gem
Visitors to Poland often end up in the busy capital Warsaw, or the popular tourist towns of Kraków and Gdańsk. However, there’s plenty to see elsewhere in Eastern Europe’s second largest country – Wrocław, for example
Wrocław [vrots-wahf], the capital of Lower Silesia, has historically shifted between German and Polish hands, leading to a distinct regional culture. It’s easily accessible for around £30 return from Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester airports, and therefore makes for an ideal city break.
Wrocław's best shopping
Rynek (Market Square) is Wrocław’s beautiful historic centrepiece, where you can indulge in commercial high-street shopping and find some surprisingly tasteful souvenirs. Make sure you visit Tajne Komplety (Przejście Garncarskie 2), secretly tucked away in the central block of buildings. This bookshop-cum-café has an immense array of books stacked to the ceiling and plenty of space for you to sit and peruse that Polish classic you’ve just picked up. From international art books to second-hand English literature via a neat selection of translated Polish novels and poetry, this hidden gem has it all.
If you want to discover Wrocław’s independent designer scene, it’s well worth crossing the Oder river and heading north to Nadodrze. This former industrial district was severely bombarded during World War II, took on a sketchy no-go reputation towards the end of the 20th century, and has recently risen as a creative phoenix. Indeed, it’s starting to earn its stripes as Poland’s ‘Little Kreuzberg’.
First, head through one of the many Nadodrze courtyards to WSS Panato (Jedności Narodowej 68A). This social enterprise sources Polish materials and collaborates with local Wrocław designers to create an assortment of stripped-back tote bags, backpacks and t-shirts. Once you leave, stay on the same road and have a look in Ende Ceramika (Jedności Narodowej 42/44A). This lovely studio was founded by Wrocław duo Natalia Gruszecka and Jakub Kwarcinski a few years back and specialises in handmade porcelain mugs with elegant handles. Check out the signature black porcelain designs, as well as the head-shaped beauties.
Next, take the short trip to Odra Studio (Ludwika Rydygiera 29/1A), a PR agency that houses a streetwear showroom. Graphic designer Tomek Charęza is big on playful hand-drawn characters in vibrant colours and stocks a nice curation of unisex t-shirts, sweaters and posters. From here, walk across to your final Nadodrze destination, Natura Rzeczy (Kazimierza Jagiellończyka 24). This cute concept store does exactly as its name suggests, selling a variety of natural things. You can spend a while here looking at handmade jewellery, locally-produced homeware and the in-house collection of wooden table products.
Coffee shops in Wrocław
Wrocław is making kawa (coffee) waves across Poland, with two of the country’s finest roasteries located in the Lower Silesian capital. Etno Café sell a solid variety of blends and single origin beans for decent prices, while Czarny Deszcz have a pricier and more exquisite range. You can buy their beans both in Wrocław and across the rest of Poland, but if you’re simply looking for a morning cuppa, there’s plenty on offer. Gniazdo (Świdnicka 36) is decked out with vintage Polish film posters and offers everything from V60 to Chemex brews. They also sell straightforward Americanos, familiar teas and delicious sernik (cheesecake).
If you’re really into speciality coffee, make sure to stop off at Cocofli (Pawła Włodkowica 9), where the friendly staff will guide you through the perfect brew. The café also hosts regular art exhibitions, serves tapas-style snacks and moonlights as a very affordable wine bar. Café Le Miracle (Jedności Narodowej 37) offers a more local affair at more local prices.
For something in the middle, try Cafe Rozrusznik (Wojciecha Cybulskiego 15). It’s a laidback joint where the waiter spins vinyl and local creatives sip slow summer espressos on the terrace. For after-hours fun, be sure to keep an eye on Sofar Sounds Wrocław. Organisers book a diverse mix of musicians, such as local modern jazz innovators EABS, in settings that vary from a post-war tram to the aforementioned Etno Café roasting house.
Restaurants and best places to eat out
Since its 2004 EU accession, Poland’s culinary palette has expanded well beyond gołąbki and bigos. Wrocław maintains this trend and offers a veritable choice of cuisine to suit all tastebuds. Before you get exploring the city, stock up on fresh fruit and veg at the majestic indoor market Hala Targowa (Piaskowa 17). The breakfast menu at Bema Café (Drobnera 38) will delight all egg fans with its long list of sweet and savoury omelettes and scrambled varieties. Ahimsa (Antoniego 23) is one of Wrocław’s better-established vegan eateries and takes its inspiration from the Asian continent. You’ll find a variety of Indonesian, Thai and Indian style curries here, but the falafel platter is to die for.
For a pub-food experience, get comfy at Bistro Narożnik (Ludwika Rydygiera 30). They serve generous sandwiches and burgers, alongside Polish soups. If you’re looking for a drink, you can sample a number of top-notch local craft beers here, as well as a shot or two of flavoured vodka. The most authentic Polish food is served at one of the many bar mleczny (milk bars), a throwback to the communist-era when state-funded workplace canteens were ubiquitous across the country. Stary Duet (Józefa Poniatowskiego 10/1B) is an excellent choice. Expect self-service traditional soups, pierogi (stuffed dumplings) and crepes in a low-key setting, all for around £2.
Polish ice-cream is criminally underrated. Luckily, you can find some of the country’s creamy best at Lody Roma (Ludwika Rydygiera 5). They sell an array of seasonal flavours – czarny sezam (black sesame) and dynia (pumpkin) are highly recommended.
Explore Wrocław's art and culture
Wrocław is well-known in Poland for its connection with subversive art. The Orange Alternative movement was founded here in the early 80s as a means of resisting the authoritarian militia through absurdist actions. One such technique was the painting of dwarves, which has been memorialised in recent years by the numerous dwarf statues popping up across Wrocław. This once political art movement has now essentially become a tourist attraction.
However, the Wrocław Contemporary Museum (MWW; pl. Strzegomski 2a) houses a large collection of Lower Silesian modern art, with temporary exhibitions ranging from local photography to extensive archives of the Wrocław punk scene. The museum is located inside a 1942 anti-aircraft bunker, making for an interesting architectural trip.
The BWA run a number of galleries dedicated to contemporary Polish art. Exhibitions frequently change, but whether it’s Wojtek Ulrich’s global consumerist critique or Natalia LL’s avant-garde gender work, you’re sure to find some thought-provoking pieces. A broader selection of art is permanently on display at the National Museum (MNW; pl. Powstańców Warszawy 5). In the main branch, you’ll find extensive collections dedicated to early Lower Silesian art, in addition to significant works by Polish and European masters. The contemporary collection (Pawilon Czterech Kopuł, Wystawowa 1) is one of the largest in Poland and gives an excellent history of how art developed throughout the Communist era. As a rule, all museums in Poland have a free admission day, which can be checked beforehand online.
Wrocław in a nutshell
Wrocław is buzzing with culture. Whether it’s art, design or beautifully varied architecture, this low-lying Polish metropolis is sure to satisfy. The city motto is Wrocław – The Meeting Place and fittingly enough, it’s full of friendly locals with plenty of tips and recommendations. Next time you’re thinking about visiting Poland, steer clear of the stag-dos in Kraków and book yourself a peaceful and stimulating weekend in Wrocław.