Kraków (Cracow) is Poland’s most popular tourist destination. It’s quite understandable given convenient flight connections, beautiful architecture and historic heritage of that city. But while planning your trip to Cracow, you should consider visiting the nearby region of Silesia. We recommend you 3 cities: Wrocław, Katowice and Opole.
Wrocław – the capital of Lower Silesia – is often referred to as the Polish Venice. It’s a vibrant city with lots of good restaurants and bars, an important university (which makes it a very young city) and a stunning architecture. 65% of Wrocław’s buildings were destroyed at the end of WWII and today we can admire the old town’s faithful reconstruction, including the Town Hall and numerous churches. Some of them (including the cathedral) offer a viewing terrace on top of their towers, don’t miss this opportunity (if you are fit enough!). From above you will marvel at the beauty of this city situated on Odra river. It’s best to spend at least 2 days in Wrocław, so you don’t miss the most important sites and attractions:
- The Old Town market square
- The Cathedral Isle (Ostrów Tumski)
- The Synagogue (the district of 4 religions)
- Panorama Racławicka (a monumental cycloramic painting from the 19th century)
- Hala Targowa (contemporary market hall)
- Wrocław Zoo (and especially Afrykarium)
Opole is a smaller town (1 hour from Wrocław by train), mostly known for the festival of Polish song that has been organized here for many years. However, Opole has much more to offer and makes a perfect 1-day trip destination from Wrocław. It’s also situated on Odra river, which makes it very picturesque. We recommend you visit Baszta Piastowska (Piasts’ Tower) for a marvelous view from the top of it and have a walk along Młynówka canal. If you have time and energy- don’t hesitate to rent a bike and visit the Isle of Bolko with its natural reserve.
In the lower Silesia you will find beautiful old castles, the most famous and the largest are in Książ, in Moszna and in Niemodlin.
Another idea is a trip to Katowice (2 hours by train from Kraków). The capital of the Upper Silesia is a perfect example of successful revitalization of the former coal mining area and its transformation into a cultural and conference zone. A region which is traditionally associated with coal mining and heavy industry is gradually becoming a leader in innovation and new technologies.
10 km from the center you will find Nikiszowiec settlement, established 102 years ago for coal miners and their families. The settlement, now entered on the list of Monuments of History, is the background of many films on Upper Silesia. If you want to see how miners and their families lived in at the beginning of the 20th century and if you like industrial style, don’t miss this place! Stay there for lunch and try local specialties!
If you have time, I strongly recommend you visit Muzeum Śląskie – the Museum of Silesia. Established on the site of the former Katowice coal mine, it marks the so-called Culture Zone together with the seat of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and the International Congress Centre. For the price of 12 PLN (3 EUR) you can visit several interesting exhibitions: The Gallery of Polish Art 1800-1945, The Gallery of Polish Art after 1945, The Gallery of Non-Professional Art, The Gallery of Silesian Religious Art, The Light of History – Upper Silesia over the ages and a presentation of the most significant achievements of European theatre from antiquity until the contemporary times.
The Light of History – Upper Silesia over the ages tells you a captivating story – the one of Upper Silesia and its people. The industrialization and its price – devastation of natural environment, hardships of daily life. On the other side – fortunes of mine owners. In 1918 Poland regains its independence and Upper Silesia is claimed by both Poland and Germany. The Polish inhabitants organize a series of armed uprising against German rule. Finally, the people of Silesia have to decide, by means of a plebiscite, to which country they want to belong and the region is divided. You will also find out a lot about life under communism and strikes organized in the coal mines.