Things to See and Do in Wrocław

Wrocław's Market Square is a colourful confection
Wrocław's Market Square is a colourful confection | © Sergey Dzyuba / Alamy
Photo of Olga Lenczewska
18 March 2021

It’s not a place you see listed frequently among Europe’s weekend-break cities. But that’s the charm of Wrocław – it’s as understated as it is beautiful, with charming Hansel-and-Gretel-feel architecture. The once-German city of Breslau is now the largest in western Poland, and capital of the province of Lower Silesia. It’s packed with art, historical sites and – most importantly – plenty of cafes where you can stop for a beer and a bite. Admire the impressive Panorama of the Battle of Racławice and explore the historic Ostrów Tumski quarter. Read up on the other top things to see and do while you’re here, below.

Panorama Racławicka

Art Gallery
Map View
Wroclaw, Lower Silesian province, Poland. Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice exhibition pavilion.
© Piotr Borkowski / Alamy
Rising 15m (49ft) tall and stretching 114m (374ft) across, the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice is almost too much to appreciate in one go. It’s a breathtaking 19th-century work of art, its panoramic magnificence heightened by its setting in a round building, with a dedicated room of its own. Painted between 1893 and 1894, it commemorated the centenary of an uprising against Russia and depicts Polish historical figures. Extra details maximise the experience – special illumination and artificial terrain before the canvas proper. The effect is of being immersed in the painting, as if you were part of the conflict yourself.

Market Square

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Wroclaw, Lower Silesian province, Poland. Old city hall with pillory opposite. Market Square, Old Town district.
© Piotr Borkowski / Alamy

It dates back to the early 13th century, but this medieval market square is no dowdy relic – it remains one of the most vibrant places in the city, and is one of the largest market squares in Europe. The Gothic Old Town Hall is a must-photograph, looking like a hotchpotch of gingerbread homes stuck together (it was built in various stages between the 13th and 16th centuries.) The Market Square is great for fine dining – go for pork, goose or beef at time-honoured Restauracja Pod Fredrą. And if you’re here for New Year’s Eve you’re in luck – there’s always a party going on. In 2018, the Village People, no less, performed here.

The Monument of an Anonymous Passerby

Architectural Landmark
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The Anonymous Pedestrians - memorial to the introduction of martial law in Poland, made by Polish artist Jerry Kalina in 2005.
© Courtesy of Emeryk Drozdowski / Alamy
One of the most remarkable sights in the city is the 1977 sculpture by Jerzy Kalina known locally as ‘Passage’. The 14-piece ‘Monument to the Anonymous Passerby’ dominates the intersection of ul. Piłsudskiego and ul. Świdnicka in central Wrocław – it is a striking public artwork. It comprises lifelike brass models descending into a pavement and re-ascending on the opposite one. Some say it represents the way martial law drove people underground in fear in the 1980s, the pedestrians rising into view representing the re-emergence of citizens when it was lifted in 1983.

Ostrów Tumski

Architectural Landmark
Map View
WROCLAW, POLAND - July 17, 2019: Katedralna Street, the main street of Ostrow Tumski, one of the most beautiful Wroclaw streets.
© vivoo / Alamy

Ostrów Tumski is the oldest part of the city, dating back to the 10th century, and developed architecturally in subsequent times. Originally a garden, today it is an unmissable attraction for its striking historical buildings, important monuments, sculptures, gardens and enchanting bridges. Don’t miss the Gothic Cathedral of St John the Baptist, rebuilt after World War II, and the steeple of the Church of the Holy Cross . Perhaps best of all for wandering weekenders, this ancient neighbourhood, birthplace of Wrocław, is surrounded photogenically by the Oder River.

Cathedral of St John the Baptist

Building, Cathedral, Church
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Aerial cityscape of Wroclaw with Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Poland
© Sergey Dzyuba / Alamy
If you only see one religious architectural masterpiece in Wrocław, make it this one – the most important and, many say, historically valuable monument in the city. It is Poland’s first brick edifice, with medieval origins in the 13th century, rising on the footprint of an earlier church that was constructed in the 10th century. Its neck-craningly beautiful, symmetrical spires afford the fit and hardy visitor a panoramic city view. Other highlights include the altarpiece, painted in Lublin in 1522 and depicting the Virgin Mary asleep, as well as the largest pipe organ in Poland, constructed in 1913 (it was the largest in the world until World War II).

Wrocław Multimedia Fountain

Architectural Landmark
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Four domes pavilion and Multimedia fountain in Wroclaw. Poland
© Andrey Shevchenko / Alamy

To brighten up an evening, head for Szczytnicki Park, next to the Centennial Hall, and the Wrocławska Fontanna Multimedialna (Wrocław Multimedia Fountain) – created in 2009 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of democratic elections. The secret to its performative powers lies in 300 water jets and 800 lights, which make wonderful displays – geysers, water mists and spurts – all enhanced by music (from classical to Madonna). The shows take place every hour on the hour, and there are longer specials at 10pm until the middle of August (and at 9.30pm after that).

Centennial Hall

Building, Architectural Landmark
Map View
WROCLAW, POLAND - July 17, 2019: Wroclaw Centennial Hall (Hala Stulecia, Hala Ludowa) used for exhibitions, concerts and sporting events.
© vivoo / Alamy
For very good reason the Hala Stulecia has been on the Unesco World Heritage List since 2006. Conceived by Max Berg (1870-1947) – the chief city architect of Wrocław (and its former incarnation, Breslau) – it was unveiled in 1913 and is the most important cultural hall in Poland, hosting concerts, conferences and exhibitions. Like the events held here, the design is a clever and eclectic combination of tradition and modernity. Take a look at its domed profile while you’re visiting Szczytnicki Park and the Multimedia Fountain – it’s near to both, and if you’re lucky you may get to peek inside, even if there’s nothing on.

Wrocław dwarves

Architectural Landmark
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Wroclaw, Poland disabled dwarves figurines
© Zoonar / Nataliya_Nazarova / Alamy

Known locally as krasnale, the dwarves, or goblins, of Wrocław are dotted everywhere around the city – hundreds of them and counting. They are small bronze sculptures of different figures from fairy tales and legends, and keep Wrocław’s tourists happily clicking away with their smartphones and cameras. These curious little apparitions have their origins in an anti-Communist and anti-authoritarianism movement of the 1980s, called the Orange Alternative, which began in Wrocław. Originally graffiti, they have appeared in 3-D since 2005.

Ossolineum

Park
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Wroclaw, Lower Silesian province, Poland. The Ossolineum - National Ossolinski Institute building.
© BE&W agencja fotograficzna Sp. z o.o. / Alamy
Anyone interested in libraries and literature will be at home here, at what is the longest-running extant publishing house in Poland, founded in Lviv in 1827. It relocated to Wrocław after World War II, and puts out National Classic-brand Polish and international titles. You can visit the remarkable Baroque palace building and marvel at the large library and reading rooms. Then wander the garden, where neat hedges and a fountain create a mood of elegance and order.

The White Stork Synagogue

Synagogue
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The White Stork Synagogue. Wroclaw, Lower Silesia, Poland.. Image shot 2010. Exact date unknown.
© Janusz Gniadek / Alamy
Built in 1829, for a century or more the White Stork Synagogue served the orthodox Jewish community of then-German Breslau. Despite the serene-sounding name, taken from an inn that occupied the site, the synagogue has borne witness to much grim history. Its nadir was Kristallnacht (9-10 November, 1938), the Nazis’ coordinated wave of violence against Jewish people and property, which the building survived, while others burned. During World War II, Jews were restrained here, to be sent to concentration camps. The synagogue fell to ruin until reclaimed in 1996 and re-opened in 2010 as the Jewish cultural centre. It’s home to temporary exhibitions, as well as a permanent one about the history of Jews in Wrocław and Lower Silesia.

Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene

Church
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Wroclaw, Poland - 03 March 2020: Mostek Pokutnic - a bridge between two towers of St. Mary Magdalene Church. Famous viewpoint of the city
© Sergey Dzyuba / Alamy
In the Old Town, to the east of the Market Square, the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene is a monumental sight dating from the 14th century and enhanced repeatedly over the ages. Built of brick, it stands out for the astonishingly ornate portal in the south wall, which was incorporated into the structure having been saved from a Benedictine abbey in the Olbin neighborhood in 1546. The church now serves as a cathedral of the Polish Catholic Church, and you can ascend the 72m- (236ft-) high tower for head-spinning views.

Hydropolis

Museum
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Hydropolis Waterworks Museum, Wroclaw
© Terence Waeland / Alamy
Hydropolis is a multi-museum devoted to water. It inhabits a striking neo-Gothic water tank, built in 1893 and transformed into a groundbreaking gallery of 4,000sqm (43,056sqft). You’ll find more than 70 installations and eight interactive sections telling you all about the wet stuff. So come and find out what this inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odourless substance is actually useful for, as well as its relevance to religion and art, its role in the environment and its importance to human life and reproduction. Discover how many living things are in a drop of the stuff, and then switch off for a while in the aquatic relaxation centre.

Hansel and Gretel houses

Architectural Landmark
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Hansel and Gretel houses, Market Square or Ryneck of Wroclaw, Lower Silesia, Poland
© Juergen Ritterbach / Alamy
Also known as the John & Margaret houses, the Hansel & Gretel houses stand in the shadow of St Elizabeth’s, one of the tallest churches in the Old Town. You can’t miss them: two skinny buildings that connect the thoroughfares of ul. Św Mikołaja and ul. Odrzańska, at the northwest corner of the Market Square. These townhouses were built in the 16th and 18th centuries respectively and are all that remain of the originals that circled the church cemetery. The moniker Hansel & Gretel is a nod to romance, as the archway that connects them implies they are holding hands. This unassuming landmark is flanked by a couple of bronze dwarves, in case you miss it.

Sara Darling contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on March 18, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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