Must see in Wrocław: TOP 15 places

Wrocław offers a variety of great ways to spend time. However, there are some venues we strongly recommend you see. Don't leave the city without visiting the icons of Wrocław.

Wroclaw University

Wroclaw University

Wroclaw University is Poland's second oldest university, after Jagiellonian University of Cracow. It is also one of Central Europe's oldest. It was established in 1702. However, it might have already been established by Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary 200 years earlier as the king signed the founding act of Silesian university in 1505, however Pope Julius II did not concede his permission to do so. It was the Jesuits and Emperor of Austria Leopold I who succeeded and this is why the first university name was Leopold's Academy. After the Order of Jesuits was dissolved in 1776, the university became a state institution. The important date is the year of 1811 when King Frederic Wilhelm III decided to merge Viadrina, declining academy of Frankfurt Oder, with Wroclaw Academy. After World War II the university was re-opened in 1945 and for the next 6 years it was a common institution of Wroclaw University and Technical University. A lot of personages are connected with the university e.g. Johann Galle (Planet Neptune discoverer) and 11 Nobel Prize winners, among them Theodor Mommsen (literature), Paul Ehrlich (medicine), Otto Stern, Max Born and Erwin Schrödinger (physics), Eduard Buchner and Friedrich Bergius (chemistry). Among its graduates there are some great poets and writers: Marek Krajewski, Adam Asnyk, Stanisław Grochowiak, Władysław Terlecki, Wojciech Żukrowski. At present it is Silesian's biggest university with nearly 40,000 students. The University's pride is its library with Poland's biggest collection of 31,000 units of antique books from years 1456 to 1800 and the architecture of the buildings. The gems are: Imperial Staircase, Mathematics Tower, Oratorium Marianum, and above all Leopold's Auditorium - the University's biggest and most magnificent part of the main building. Once the whole academy was dedicated to the founder's name, today it is just (or no less than) the auditorium. This hall is a masterpiece of secular Baroque. It was designed by Christophorus Tausch and created between 1728 and 1732. It delights with the splendour of its sculptures and paintings. The frescos were painted by Johann Christoph Handke of Ołomuniec, the sculptures were carved by Franz Joseph Mangdoldt. One becomes overwhelmed by illusionistic decoration which represents Act of Entrusting the University to Virgin Mary, Apotheosis of God's Wisdom and Earthly Wisdom. On the back wall which imitates Triumph Arch one can see Apotheosis of Emperor Leopold I, also honoured with a statue, sitting on a throne, wearing a suit of armour and holding attributes of imperial power. His two sons have also been honoured with statues: Joseph I and Charles VI. Over the professors' heads sitting in boxes there is a gallery of oval portraits of rulers and dignitaries of merit for the development of the university. Leopold's Auditorium is also famous for its magnificent acoustic and the most important events of academic life take place there.

Centennial Hall

Centennial Hall

It is also called People's Hall. It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage object in 2006 and has been in the register of historical monuments since 1962. In 1977 the whole architectural complex was added to the register, consisting of Four Domes Pavilion, Pergola and Spire. The Hall was built in Szczytnicki Park between 1911 and 1913, designed by Max Berg in Expressionism style. Its name is connected with the 100th anniversary of the issuing of Frederic Wilhelm III's proclamation "To My People" in which the king called the nation to resist Napoleon. The moment the Hall was completed, it became an extraordinary building with its ferroconcrete vault of worldwide widest spread - at that time very few steel construction achieved such dimensions. The Hall is 42m tall and the dome has a diameter of 67m. The functional space inside, in the widest place it is 95m, is 14,000 m2. Besides the central room, there are 56 other display rooms and spacious back rooms. It has a capacity of 10,000 people. Since the beginning it has hosted large exhibitions, industrial and cultural events. Inside there is also a special organ of 222 registers and 16,706  pipes, the biggest in the world at that time. Currently the organ is partly used in the Wroclaw Cathedral as they were partly damaged during World War II. What is interesting, the Hall itself remained practically untouched by the cataclysm. Was the Red Army unaware that in 1930s numerous speeches of NSDAP leaders took place there, including Adolph Hitler's. After 1945 its function did not change, there was even Wroclaw's biggest "Gigant" cinema. However, until 1990s there was no repair, just a few improvements. The first renovation took place in 1997 but the general one was carried out a decade later: the elevation finished in 2010, new Regional Centre of Business Tourism was also built following Max Berg's enlargement plans. The works inside have not been finished yet.

St. John The Baptist Catholic Cathedral

St. John The Baptist Catholic Cathedral

It is undoubtedly Wroclaw's most precious monument of sacred architecture. It is over 1000 years old. Before the present Gothic church was erected in the 13th century, there had been three other churches in its place. The oldest one was built between 983 and 988 and resembled a Czech church in Libice, which was proved by historians. The next church was built of fieldstone bonded with clay in 1000 when Emperor Otto III and Pope Silvestre II established a diocese in Wroclaw. Such honour was a proof of the city's great importance which was growing to become a crucial centre of politics, economy and culture in the region. What is preserved from the third Romanesque basilica  built from blocks of crystallized limestone  are the elements of its portal, specifically - fragments of St. John The Baptist's figure which are exhibited in the Diocese Museum. Though the proverb goes "third time lucky", it was the fourth building which eventually turned out to last for over 750 years. It was in 1244 when the construction works were started in Gothic style, the first Gothic building in Wroclaw. Its architecture partly derives from Cistercian tradition. It took a long time to accomplish the task due to numerous problems, among them Bishop Thomas I's being kidnapped by Prince Boleslav Rogatka. World War II, mainly the Soviet bombing in spring 1945 was merciless to the Cathedral. "The liberators" destroyed completely the vaults of the nave and partly the vaults of the aisles. The reconstruction has lasted since 1945 until now. Two Baroque chapels adjoining the Cathedral are worth mentioning: St. Elisabeth's and Electors'. The first one was founded by Cardinal Fredericof Darmstadt, landgraveof Hesse who believed himself to be St. Elisabeth of Thuringia's descendent. The other one was founded by Archbishop Franz Ludwig von Pfalz-Neuburg, prince-elector and archbishop of Trier, Empress Eleonor's brother and was designed by an eminent Austrian Baroque architect, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.

Tumski Bridge

Tumski Bridge

It is romantically called the Bridge of Love. It links banks of the northern branch of Oder River between OstrówTumski and Piasek Island. The same as many other ones, this bridge was originally wooden and dates from 12th century. Its present steel double-span construction was built in 1889. It is 52.19m long, 6.84m wide and 6.90m tall. At the entrance on both ends there are stone statues of St. Jadwiga and St. John The Baptist by Gustav Grunenberg from 1893. It served Wroclaw until 1945 and was badly damaged during the war. Some of it was repaired right after the war ended, however marks of gunfire and shrapnel hitting still can be noticed on some elements of the bridge. Another renovation took place in 1990s. Since 1976 it has been on the list of Wroclaw's historical monuments. At Tumski Bridge there are manually operated gas lamp posts still in working order.

Anonymous Pedestrian's Monument

Anonymous Pedestrian's Monument

A very original Wroclaw monument, situated on two sides of the junction of Świdnicka and Piłsudski streets. It commemorates establishing the martial law in Poland and was unveiled in the night of 12 and 13 December 2005. It consists of 14 bronze figures, 7 on each side who seem to be emerging from pavings.  The author's (Jerzy Kalina) intention was to make a passer-by reflect on time elapsing and the sense of life. What is interesting, it all began with the installation "Crossing" which Jerzy Kalina created for a TV program at the junction of Świętokrzyska  and Mazowiecka streets in Warsaw. After dismantling the figures were taken to the National Museum of Wroclaw for 28 years and 30 years later it became an inspiration for a new bronze monument.

Botanical Garden

Botanical Garden

It belongs to Wroclaw University and has a lofty title of "oasis of beauty and peace in the heart of the city". It has been Wroclaw's people favourite relaxing place for years. It was started in 1811 and is Poland's second oldest botanical garden after Cracow's. It is in the register of Lower Silesian monuments and is located within the borders of historical Wroclaw. It is a real living museum, scientific and didactic centre at the same time. On the area of 7.4 ha there are over 11,500 kinds of various ground and greenhouse plant species. Thanks to the labels and information boards everyone can learn about the variety of flora. The garden's pride are the collections of heather plants, water and mud plants, and succulent plants (which adjusted to hot condition thanks to the ability of storing water) e.g. cacti. Another pride is National Collection of Hedera, including 150 species of ivy.

Racławice Panorama

Racławice Panorama

A unique work by Lviv's painter Jan Styka and a battle master Wojciech Kossak of dimensions 15m tall and 114 m long, it is one of very few original examples of 19th mass culture, the first one and the only one remaining in Poland. The huge painting was painted in just 9 months between August 1893 and May 1894. The artists were in a real hurry as they were preparing it for National Common Fair in Lviv which was to take place in 1894. It was first shown on 5 June 1894 in Lviv's Stryjski Park in a special rotunda. Besides Styka and Kossak, there were some other people involved in the artistic creation: Ludwik Boller, Tadeusz Popiel, Zygmunt Rozwadowski, Teodor Axentowicz, Włodzimierz Tetmajer, Wincenty Wodzinowski and Michał Sozański. They created a remarkable and unique piece of art which was to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Kościuszko Insurection and the victory of Racławice that took place on 4 April 1794, fought by Tadeusz Kościuszko and his insurgents against the Russian army under General Tormasov's command. The huge painting seems really evocative. Various artistic skills were used to create the appropriate perspective as well as different technical ideas such as illumination, artificial ground, winding and an obscure entrance. All of it makes a viewer feel as if he were in a different reality. Just like books by Henryk Sienkiewcz, so was Racławice Panorama to raise spirits of the nation in chains. It indeed became extremely popular from the very beginning and turned into one of the main attractions of Lviv. It was transported to Wroclaw in 1946 along with the part of Ossolineum Collection. It took four decades to restore and re-exhibit the Panorama. It was re-opened for visitors in 1985, being a branch of National Museum of Wroclaw. It still attracts numerous tourists. The brand-new attraction is an illusion show every 30 minutes.

The Opera

The Opera

This 19th  century building owes its magnificence to three Karls. It was built between 1837-1841 by Karl Ferdinand Langhans, as a municipal theatre which was located there until the end of the 19th century. Originally it was a rather monotonous quadrilateral building with a thick row of windows. However, its modern stage and its auditorium for about 1600 spectators was impressive. 25 years later there was a huge fire and the building needed to be rebuilt. It was accomplished by Karl Lüdecke between 1866-1869. The building received some beautiful decoration in the interior. Unfortunately, it burned down again and was rebuilt by Karl Schmidt between 1871 and 1872. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries the building was taken over by the opera and remained untouched for the next decades, including World War II and the first decade of the People's Republic of Poland. The original busts of German artists (Beethoven, Goethe, Mozart and Schiller) were removed from the façade, though. They were found politically incorrect. The changes came after Stalin's death although it was rather a coincidence. The building was enlarged from Wolności Square side between 1954 and 1956 (design by Andrzej Frydecki). Soon after that the older part of the building was restored. Even though it has lost a lot of the original design by Langhansa, it is still a glamorous and perfect setting for opera shows. After the previous renovation of 2006 it looks like new, with its rich 19th century ornaments.

Market Hall

Market Hall

It was built between 1906 and 1908 in place of the 14th century Lubusz bishops' residence, remodelled in 16th century into Sand Arsenal. The building survived until 1905 when it was demolished. Its only fragments are stone spheres fixed in the northern wall of Market Hall. It was designed by Richard Plüddemann. He combined the forms of historical style with the latest technological solutions and worldwide pioneer construction of parabolic reinforced concrete arches designed by Friedrich August Küster. It made the building unique and ensured it its own place in the manuals of architecture. After the great renovation of 1980-1983, Market Hall whose interior can surely be found among finest Wroclaw's commercial attractions, is still used for its original purposes.

Szczytnicki Park and Japanese Garden

Szczytnicki Park and Japanese Garden

It is situated in the eastern part of Wroclaw, between Old Oder and the streets of Wróblewskiego, Kopernika, Mickiewicza, Paderewskiego and Różyckiego. This landscape park is one of Wroclaw's biggest green areas and has a surface of over 100 ha. It vaunts its magnificent plant arrangements and its trees which impresses not only dendrologists. Regular flower gardens and Diana's Gardens are definitely worth seeing, but the park's greatest pride is the Japanese Garden located near Centennial Hall at Mickiewicz Street. It would not be there if not for the International Fair in 1913 - Earl Fritz von Hochberg, incomparable enthusiast of Japan, created the garden especially for the occasion. A Japanese gardener, Mankichi Arai, helped him. The garden was a gem of the fair and even though afterwards a number of significant details disappeared, it remained a permanent element of Szczytnicki Park. It was eventually revitalized between 1995 and 1998 with the support of the Embassy of Japan in Warsaw which brought in an architect of landscape from Japan to arrange the garden exactly in accordance with Japanese rules of garden art. A decorative gate leads into the garden behind which one must see the male cascade with its dynamic sprinkler system and slowly flowing female one. The picturesque pond is positively Japanese Garden's greatest attraction along with its beautiful bridge. Another one is also Sukija type pavilion, cut hedge, lawn and stone garden.

National Museum of Wrocław

National Museum of Wrocław

It has existed since 1948 and has one of Poland's and Europe's most important Collections of Medieval Art. There is a collection of Polish Art of 17th to 10th Centuries, part of which are the works of art handed over from the museum of Kiev and Lviv after World War II. There is also Polish Modern Art Collection including over 20,000 artifacts. The National Museum of Wroclaw promotes Polish modern art not just organizing exhibitions in the building, but also abroad (at international festivals in Cagnes-sur-Mer, Sao Paulo, New Delhi and Faenzie). The collections are not the only delight - it is also the building itself. During World War II Wroclaw's museum building were practically totally destroyed, the spacious building of the Board of Silesian Region was chosen for the seat of the new museum. It was built between 1883 and 1886 as the first government building in Germany, in Dutch Neo-Renaissance style. The author of the design was Berlin architect Karl Friedrich Endell, working for the Ministry of Public Works.

Old Market Sqaure

Old Market Sqaure

Of course, it is just a medieval market square which has turned into a popular tourist attraction and a promenade. It is one of Europe's largest old market squares. It is rectangular with dimension of 205m long and 175 m wide. It was created along with the location of Wroclaw between 1214 and 1232 during the times of Henry The Bearded, being one of the few places in the city where retail merchandise was allowed. As years went by, first detached patrician houses were built, then the complete frontages appeared until 1350. The houses around Market Square were altered and redecorated many times over the ages and at present they all represent various styles and ages. The most important is the central complex which consists of City Hall, New City Hall and a number of tenement houses. There also used to be a cloth hall but it was demolished between 1821-1824 after the trade privileges were done away and it was replaced with Classical houses. In one of the buildings of the complex there was Jerzy Grotowski's Teatr Laboratorium where now there is research centre of his artistic activity. There are eleven streets leading to Market Square, two in each corner (Świdnicka, Oławska, Gepperta, Ruska, św. Mikołaja, Odrzańska, Kuźnicza, WitaStwosza), besides there is also KurzyTarg (Hens Market Square) on the east side built in 14th or 15th century and two narrow streets of Więzienna and Św. Doroty. Since 19th century until mid 1970s there was a tram line on the market which later was moved to Trasa WZ (East-West Street). After the great renovation between 1996-2000 which included the market surface and the elevations, cars were banned on the east side of Market Square. One will surely be attracted by the intriguing names of houses e.g. House Under Griffins with a tall Mannerism gable, probably the most magnificent in Market Square, House Under Golden Eagle, Under Golden Sun, Under Blue Sun, Under Seven Prince-Electors with its richly decorated frescos, Houses Under Old Gallows, Under Golden Pitcher, Under Green Pumpkin, Under Golden Pelican, Under Mulberry or Under St. John's Head which took the name of the previous houses demolished in 19th century. Two little houses in the north-west corner cannot be missed - they used to belong to the altarists taking care of the altar in St. Elisabeth's Church. At present they are linked with an arcade gate and are playfully called Hansel and Gretel.

Solny Square

Solny Square

This medieval market square was created in 1242 when after the Mongolian Deluge the city was re-located. It was slightly bigger than today, it dimensions were 84,5m long and 94m wide. During the ages it had different names: Polish Market Square, Salt Market Square, Salt Square and then in 1827 it became Blücher Square as Field Marshal Blücher's Statue was erected there. It regained its historical name after World War II. One corner of Solny Square meets with Market Square, in the others begin two streets of Gepperta, Ofiar Oświęcimskich, Ruska and Kiełbaśnicza. The south-western corner is closed. There are no buildings on the square and it is surrounded by historical tenement houses, a former early 20th century department store, a skyscraper built between 1930-1932 by Heinricha Rump, the Pharmacy Under the Moor and the Classical building of the Old Stock Market which takes up half of the southern frontage. It was built in 1822 and designed by Carla Ferdinanda Langhansa. The western frontage which seems to be the oldest, is a post-war reconstruction of 19th century architecture in fact. There is an interesting area beneath the square. There is a 1000m2 bunker with room for up to 300 people. During the war it had its own toilets, sewage system and two exits. One of them can currently be found in the female toilet. The underground structure was built by Richard Konwiarz. On the square there is a fountain and a spire by Adam Wyspiański, including the one in Centennial Hall. One can also enjoy a variety of aromas as there is a flower market on the square, too.

St. Elisabeth's Church

St. Elisabeth's Church

The full name is St. Elisabeth's of Hungary Basilica though it is also called Garrison Church or St. Elisabeth's Parish Church. It is the seat of the Deanery of Silesian Military District. This 14th century church is situated near Market Square and is one of Wroclaw's biggest churches. It was founded by Prince Boleslav III and originally belonged to Red Star Crusaders i.e. Hospital Brothers who lead St. Elisabeth's Hospice. Later it became one of two parish churches in the city (besides St. Magdalene's). For a very long time it was famous for its extremely tall tower built in 15th century, spire-shaped of height of 130m, being one of the tallest in the world at that time. Unfortunately, in 1529 there was a strong gale which knocked down the

dome with the spire onto the cemetery near the church. The event was commemorated with the plaque at the feet of the tower. It was rebuilt between 1531 and 1535 in Renaissance style and the shape which can still be seen today. It is not as tall as it used to be, it still impresses, though. During the Reformation the church was taken over by Protestants. It was taken under Ambrose Moiban's wings, Martin Luther's friend. While the French army was conquering the city at the turn of 1806/1807, artillery fire damaged the dome, the roof of the church and the chapel, causing a lot of damage in the library, too. It took over a decade to restore the church. Nevertheless it was the fire which brought the worst destruction to the church, not wars or battles. On 20 September 1975 a fire started which consumed the upper part of the tower. During the restoration works a blaze started whose consequences were far more terrible: on 9 September 1976 the whole church caught fire. The losses were horrifying: the magnificent organ built between 1750 and 1761 by Michael Engler and his son and by Gottlieba Zieglera who finished the work after Engler's death, burned completely. The reconstruction started in 1981 and lasted until 1997. The renovated church was consecrated by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Poland. The reconstruction works have not finished, though. The chapels and the furnishings are being restored as well as epitaphs inside and outside the church. A new organ is planned to be built, too. This Gothic church is worth a visit also because of the observation deck on the top of the tower where a splendid panoramic view of Wroclaw and its surroundings can be enjoyed.

Central Railway Station

Central Railway Station

It is Wroclaw's biggest railway station. The interesting fact is that all train tracks and platforms are above the level of the surrounding streets. Due to this, the tunnels linking both sides of the station are not underground but on the ground level and one must go up the stairs to reach the platforms. The station was built in the middle of the 19th century when the first independent railways appeared.  Later they turned into a municipal net of railways and became Silesian's junction point which demanded a larger station building. It was designed by Wilhelm Grapow, architect of Royal Upper Silesian Railways in Neo-Gothic style. The grand station was built between 1855 and1857 costing the fortune of 475 000 thalers. The 200m long hall with a glass roof was Europe's largest building of such kind at that time. However, a larger building soon was needed and the station was enlarged between 1899 and 1904 in Art Deco and historical styles. During World War II it was not destroyed, just slightly damaged. It was quickly restored but had to wait for general renovation until 2010. It is to be completed in 2012. The Wroclaw Central Station has had a lot to do with cinematography: since 1947 in the west wing there was a 24h cinema where a film was shown every 2 hours. It has been estimated that it has had over 7 million viewers. Between 2002 and 2005 it showed erotic films, then it closed down for a while. It was re-opened in 2008 and is expected to continue after the general renovation is over. In 1980 the film "Minor Heaven" was made on the station. It is also there where a great Polish actor, Zbigniew Cybulski, died in an accident as he tried to jump into the train on 8 January 1967. 30 years later, Andrzej Wajda unveiled a memorial plaque fixed in the flooring.

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