Polish old towns are often easy on the eye, perfect for Instagram and impressively, their old town squares are a central point usually with a mass of colour and a hive of activity. Often referred to in Polish as “Stary Rynek” or “Stare Miasto”, almost every large town and city in Poland has an old town square and while each hold their individual appeal and charm, this is a list of the eight prettiest old town squares in the country and the reasons why you should aim to visit them all.
Being the most visited city in Poland, it is easy to see why Kraków’s Old Town Square is one of the most photographed squares, not just in Poland and Europe, but in the world. Here you will find the Adam Mickiewicz Monument, dedicated to the romantic Polish poet. It is one of the best known bronze monuments in Poland, and a favourite meeting place, sitting close to the prominent and unforgettable St. Mary’s Church. Kraków’s is one of the larger squares on this list, and includes the huge “Cloth Hall” in the centre, a popular indoor market. You can also see the Town Hall, an Underground Museum, and for art lovers, ‘The Head’ (‘Eros Bendato’) which is a huge head on its side, now a permanent fixture in the square and the work of Polish artist Igor Mitoraj.
The first time you enter the golden gate (Brama Złota) and walk down the famous Ulica Długa (long street), you will never forget the gorgeous view on your approach to the Długi Targ (long market/old town square). While Gdańsk’s Old Town “square” is smaller than most and more rectangular than square, there are some excellent features to check out here. First you can admire the town hall, destroyed during World War II but fully rebuilt, you can climb to the top for scintillating views and then head to the much loved statue and fountain of Neptune. Finally, there is an original Fahrenheit thermometer here in a small cabinet, as physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit hails from the town.
Wrocław is a city famous for “gnomes”! Scattered around the streets of the city centre are over 300 gnomes in different styles, acting in different ways. You should make a beeline for the Old Town Square. It is lined with a superb range of restaurants, bars and cafes. Add to this a fascinating series of festivals throughout the year with music, dance and arts all taking place around you as you admire the colourful buildings. Sadly again, this square was damaged significantly during World War II so what you see today is actually just the modern reconstruction of how it looked in the 13th century.
Poznań’s Old Town Square is probably the most colourful on this list. Poznań’s Town Hall (Ratusz) is regarded as one of the most valuable Renaissance architecture monuments in Europe, dating back to 1310. The building has endured a troubled history yet remains a shining light in Poznań’s appeal today. In 1675 the tower was struck by lightning and destroyed, rebuilt in 1690, before falling again in the 18th century. More recently, in 1945 the town hall suffered more serious damage with part of the tower coming down and the top two floors were completely burnt. It has been restored yet again. In the centre of this Town Hall, above the clock there is a small ledge where every day at noon a pair of billy goats appear and bang their heads together, attracting tourists from far and wide.
It is still a big surprise that Opole does not feature on more lists of best cities in Poland for tourists. With a huge town hall and an eclectic range of cheap bars, cafes and restaurants this is also the capital city of the Province of the same name. There is a tower worth checking out, which is the only remaining part of the former Piast Castle here. Opole’s Town Hall dates back to the 19th century and overlooks the main square, while also separating it into two parts.
The old town square in Poland’s pretty Starogard Gdański makes the list with some aplomb, despite the fact that it’s also the smallest town to feature. There are some extremely interesting facts about the old town square here. Firstly, it is a perfect square of 107 x 107 metres. Secondly, it has a makeshift, temporary “beach” in summer months where people enjoy relaxing on deck chairs with an ice cream or a beer. The town square also features two beautiful churches, the central Town Hall and the very cheap and tasty Bar Mleczny Junior restaurant.
It would be hard to skip the Old Town Square in Poland’s capital city Warsaw, especially given the history of this place. During the Second World War and especially during the 1944 Warsaw uprising, this city was completely destroyed and lay in ruins with few reminders of how beautiful it once looked. It is a testament to the local people of Warsaw that they have rebuilt their city back to its former glory. The city’s walls were never fully reconstructed but these days, the Old Town square is a cosy and compact place to enjoy a coffee, a beer and some of the best restaurants in Poland. Central to the main square is the famous Mermaid monument, Warsaw’s city symbol.
For those who are on route to or from Ukraine, the city of Rzeszów is on one of the train and bus routes between Kraków and Lviv (Ukraine) and makes for a delightful stop over. The city is the capital of Poland’s Podkarpackie province and the old town square here is full of restaurants, bars and cafes, including an impressive Browar Beer Venue. It was a popular trading and market town in days gone by and now thrives with new hotels and shopping malls being built as its tourist magnetism hastens.