European Capital of Culture Wroclaw is Poland’s hidden gem, the new Krakow but a hell of a lot cheaper!
Wroclaw – pronounced Vrots-wolf has been dubbed the Venice of Silesia with the city established in the middle of the Silesian Lowland, where the Odra River branches and forms 12 picturesque Islands crossed by 120 bridges.
This hidden gem wasn’t on the map until 2016 as it was awarded the prestigious title, “European capital of culture”.
Poland’s fourth largest city is a two and a half hour flight from Dublin and Ryanair fly direct so it’s a great location for a short break.
Plus with flights starting from just €69 depending on time of year this is an ideal cheapy weekend but with a touch of class.
The Polish still use their own Zloty currency and one euro is equivalent to about 4 Zlotys so you’ll get great bang for your buck out here.
Like cities such as Amsterdam, Bruges and Copenhagen this Polish best kept secret is renowned for its romantic meandering canals.
A great way to enjoy the city and its surrounding areas in the summer is by boat and you can do it in style for dirt cheap.
There are so many options from plush yacht style to paddling your own canoe but if you want somewhere in between you can opt for Tara, a 50 minute cruise, prices range from 20zl (€5 ) for 1 person to as little as 6 people for 70zl (€15.78), with kids under three going free. We found gondole.eu did the job, a 'water tram' running in the warmer months.
You can jump on board the boat at Purkyniego 9 (between Tumski bridge and the national museum) and Kładka Zwierzyniecka (behind the zoo), as well as Wyspa Słodowa.
The Bridge of Love
If you’re a couple on a weekend break, and you’ve hopped off your romantic river trip ride a must see is Tumski Bridge, a steel bridge over the north branch of the Odra River which has been fondly dubbed the lovers bridge. It's a place of enamoured tradition for lovers and it’s full of love locks. An important part of the ceremony is to throw the key into the Odra River! Of course street vendors in their droves are on hand to sell you a lock, we had a great fun choosing the perfect one and honouring the tradition with a big PDA!
Wroclaw's Old Town is not only its historical centre but it’s a social and cultural hub, we loved strolling around this area, my head was sore from staring up at all the incredible colourful buildings. Here you’ll find shops bars and museums galore. The very heart of the Old Town is the Main Market Square, or 'Rynek', this mesmerising space was painstakingly reconstructed after WW2 to recall the Baroque splendour of its heyday.
Gnoming your way around
We got great amusement from the many little bronze dwarf statues we stumbled across on our city break, there are more than 300 of them dotted around Wroclaw.
They skulk all over the place, many of them at entrances to bars or asleep outside hotels or buried in the pavement, we had a great laugh taking selfies with them.
As funny as the little fellas are they symbolise a darker side to the city’s past, a nod to the Orange Alternative, the underground movement opposed to Poland’s dictatorship past. For the culture vultures you can take a trip west of the square and you’ll find the city’s Jewish Quarter, the White Stork Synagogue is the only evidence of the once vivacious community but it’s worth a trip if you’re into your history.
People watching is always one of my favourite pastimes so if you’ve had enough cultural stimulation you can while away the hours back at the market square.
To sip on a beer will set you back just over a euro, we found most bars offered a garlic bread speciality bread as a snack with your beverage too which was scrumptious.
The market square (Rynek) is full of delectable stalls selling everything from fresh cheese, local hams and sausages to souvenirs.
Particularly tasty is the street food, we loved a smoked cheese speciality served with cranberry sauce, delish!
If you want to try traditional Polish cuisine it’s best if you’re not on a healthy eating buzz as most meals are meat heavy and hearty.
We found buckwheat was served with everything particularly delicious stuffed in cabbage.
If you’re not into traditional Polish Cuisine you can always opt for one of the many Italian restaurants.
We found a few in the University quarter, super trendy and very bohemian.
If you like the local food, a nice place for posh nosh is the more upmarket Jadka, you’ll see delicacies like wild boar on the menu.
For a romantic meal on the river we loved Ok Wine bar, the seafood was to die for but the prices are more on par with Dublin so you’re talking €50 a head with wine.
If you stick with the local eateries you’d be hard pressed to spend more than a fiver for a good meal.
Don’t miss the ultimate oldest 14th century beer hall in town at Spiz, the wheat beer is divine plus you get a free slice of spiced pork bread with your bevy.
I couldn’t pronounce Poland’s fourth largest city before we visited but now it’s on my list of top must see affordable cities in Europe, it truly is the pearl of Lower Silesia.
To my mind it’s the new Krakow but a hell of a lot cheaper.
Ryanair flies to Wroclaw from Dublin, Cork and Shannon
5* Sofitel in the Old town has rooms starting at €72 a night
4* Hotel Tumski Set on an island in the Odra River has rooms starting at €56 a night.
It’s a 7-minute walk from the University Of Warsaw Botanic Garden, a 10-minute walk from the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice and a 15-minute walk from Wroclaw Town Hall.
For a lower budget try The Academus pub and apartments with rooms starting from as low as €40.