After our first day in Poland spent in Poznań, we picked up our luggage from the locker in the central station and used our new Eurrail and Interrail passes to take the train 2.5 hours south to Wrocław (pronounced vro-swav), one of Poland's major cities. We met a local in the vegan restaurant we stopped in at for lunch who called Wrocław the Silicon Valley of Poland, emphasizing the IT and tech-focused companies based here.
As such, we felt Wrocław to be much less touristy and "pretty" than the Poznań we had just left behind, but appreciated, as the woman we met said, how authentic the city felt, without trying to put on a show.
Unfortunately, just before getting on the train we were told by our host that our AirBnB was cancelled for the night as the previous guests had damaged the apartment and we could not stay. While a pain for the host to deal with, it was equally a pain for us to be stranded (again!?) so I spent much of the train journey south sorting out a new place to stay.
We pulled into Wrocław to 35 degree heat and sweated our way through town dragging our suitcase along the cobbled streets to our newly-booked AirBnB. The night ended early as we collapsed into bed, exhausted from our previous 36 hours of traveling!
The next day, we spent the day exploring the city and here's what we got up to:
We arrived by train from Poznań at Wrocław Główny, the main station in the city. There are lockers for luggage storage right in the station for just 16 PLN for 24 hours (about €3,50) which is where we left our heavy suitcase for the day. The tourist attractions and old town, including the market square and church islands, are all in walking distance of the train station.
THINGS TO DO IN Wrocław
With a less touristy vibe than Poznań and being a much larger city as well, we missed the quaint European city feel, but enjoyed the authenticity and the fabulous vegan food. The most popular part of the city is in the north where a cluster of islands full of churches invite locals and tourists alike to wander.
1. Bridge of Penitents
To get our bearings, we started our morning with a 45-metre climb up to the Bridge of Penitents at the Cathedral of Mary Magdalene offering sweeping views of the city of Wrocław. As more and more modern buildings replace the beautiful old ones, the view is becoming less quaint, but it gives a great perspective and bird's eye view before you start your exploring.
The legend goes that a lazy young woman by the name of Tekla was punished for never wanting to work hard or do anything with her life by being sentenced to sweep the bridge for the rest of her days. A young witch took pity on her and, after helping an old wizard find his wand in the Market Square, was granted a wish and used it to free the lazy Tekla. Not sure what lesson it's supposed to teach (that even if you're lazy, someone else will come along and set you free?) but an interesting story nonetheless!
2. Market Square
The Market Square is mostly reconstructed given that much of it was bombed out during WWII. The local we spoke to in the vegan restaurant said this was actually a blessing in disguise, as it allowed the beautiful architecture from many years before to be the choice for reconstruction style, versus the simple communist blocks that had begun to be built! The only original wall remaining is where the bank now is, from the 1800s.
3. The Islands & Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Nestled in the northern part of the city is a handful of islands, called Wyspa in Polish. A popular destination, the islands are well known for all their churches in the area. At dusk each night, the old lanterns are still manually lit by hand every night, which is apparently quite the romantic and quaint sight to see.
Nearby, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist sits on a quaint street, and offers a cool relief from the bustling heat and busyness outside.
THE BEST VEGAN FOOD IN Wrocław
We've been so lucky to find great vegan food here - in a country that loves its meat and cheese! - and so visiting the very first vegan restaurant in all of Poland was the perfect place for lunch in Wrocław.
Vega is situated right in the middle of the Market Square and absolutely everything on the menu is 100% vegan! While it wasn't in English, with the help of some locals and the ladies behind the counter, we were able to figure out what the menu was and ordered probably one of the best vegan meals I've ever had. No joke.
We had zraz z kaszy which was a sort of mushroom meatloaf with mashed potatoes drizzled with gravy, and pieczen z seitanu which was like a tofu seitan served with a bulger-like grain and plenty of thick tomato sauce. Absolutely YUM.