It’s about 15 minutes past the estimated arrival time when our bus left a deep-green suburban area and rolled into a long avenue. I felt rather excited.
We had been on the road for more than a day, and I couldn't wait to see the city of Wroclaw. Then, there was the expected announcement from the bus driver in Polish. You know, the usual “Ladies and gentlemen, we are arriving at …”, except that I just couldn’t pin down the name “Wroclaw”. None of the words in the announcement sounded like how “Wroclaw” would sound in my head.
If I hadn't been warned about the difference between the Polish pronunciation and the English writing, I would have stayed put on the bus. I'm glad that I got off as it's a city you don't want to miss.
Especially, these are the five not-to-miss things in Wroclaw:
1. Exploring the city on a bike
On our first trip from our hotel in Ostrów Tumski, the cathedral island, to Rynak, the city's medieval square, we noticed a bike station. There were about ten stands where one can lock a rental bike and a ticket-like machine.
Only at the end of our second day in Wroclaw, exhausted from hours of walking, it occurred to us that we could rent one of those bikes. They are not exclusively for residents like in some cities we have visited. The city bike system, called NextBike, is just brilliant.
Everyone can register for an account. After paying an initial fee of of 10zl (about 2.5 euro), one can scan a bike (or two), unlock it and ride away. When you are done with cycling, you can drop a bike off at the nearest stand. It’s like a "hop-on, hop-off" bus except that you can choose your route.
Besides, if you use a bike for less than 20 minutes, it’s free. For the first hour, it’s something like 50 cents. We didn’t take any buses in Wroclaw, so I don’t know if it’s cheaper than a bus ride, but as one who used to pay 12 euros to use a bike for four hours in Amsterdam, I consider it a bargain.
With two extra wheels, we could see more of the city. Wroclaw is big. According to Google (and my maths), it is almost twice as big as Paris. So if you have any hope to see more than the old centre, you will need to leave the pavements and get on the road.
The roads could be busy, but there are bike lanes in many places. I felt pretty safe cycling there. Besides, pavements are big, so you can always walk your bike up to avoid, for example, a crazy crossing.
2. Gnome hunting
Quite a few locals grinned when they caught me taking photos of a gnome. I wore my tourist badge cheerfully as I found gnomes cute and exciting.
In the 1980s, graffiti of gnomes first appeared in Wroclaw as an act of peaceful protest, under the 'Orange Alternative' movement against the communist censorship of public space. After the fall of communism in Poland, the gnomes remained a symbol of Wrocław. The first little people in its modern statuette were placed on the street of Wroclaw in early 2000, and they have been growing in number since. Apparently, you can get a map from the tourist centre and download maps from this site, and go hunting for them. For me, I just kept an eye out when I wander. I found many Wroclaw dwarves, but here are the few that I rather favour over the rest:
This guy sits outside an ice-cream shop where they have home-made options served generously.
I found this one on the window of a prison turned restaurant.
And this one just makes me think of the one I'm married to 😜
3. People watching in the market square
Rynek, the medieval market square of Wroclaw, is huge. It's bustling with performers of all arts: musicians, portrait artists, and ones with the gift of entertaining.
There are many cafes around the square so you can do people watching while having dinner or some drinks. We chose a local brewery called Spiz. If you like to have a sit-down and chill, Spiz looks the most casual among the options around. The beer was good, too.
4. Having a picnic by Wroclaw Fountain
Wroclaw fountain is tucked away in a green area, close to a Japanese garden and a UNESCO site. While we weren’t impressed by the Japanese garden and skipped the UNESCO building altogether, we made a stop by the fountain. It's a huge fountain. If you were to walk around it, it'd probably take up to 15 minutes.
For some reasons, there a fence around the fountain. So you will only see the metal border if you sit very close to the water. Not the most picturesque! However, a bit further away, on the outer ring runs a path beneath thick ivy. There are columns built on both sides of the track where ivy grew thick and green. The shade was luxurious on the hot summer day when we were there.
We picked a spot just off the path, looking towards the fountain. In the shade, we shared some smoked cheese, a pretzel and a beer. If we had brought a beach towel, I could have taken a nap, then spent the afternoon reading or simply watching the world went by.
5. Enjoy The Local Food
In all fairness, local food is always the priority of our travels. But I would understand if one is reluctant to go full on with the food in Wroclaw. Many traditional dishes are hefty. You might be watching your weight or conscious about your health. I would probably more careful with my orders if I were to stay in the city for a month. With only a few days, hell no.
We ordered pork knuckles and potato dumplings. We stuffed our face with pierogi (Polish dumpling), and we enjoyed "paczki" (Polish doughnuts) to the last crumb of sugar.
Ian looked happy in the photo as he just found a paczki shop, but he was way happier after we finished the content of those doughnut bags. Paczki is really good. Don't miss out on them!
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