“You’re going where?” my work colleagues asked me.
“Poznan,” I replied. “It’s the fifth largest city in Poland.”
Blank faces stared back at me.
Despite the fact that budget airline, Ryanair run regular flights to Poznan from London and six regional airports around the UK, nobody I know seems to have taken advantage of this fact.
But there are countless reasons why they should!
My two friends and I scored return flights from Liverpool to Poznan for £40 each, and subsequently found a triple room with private bathroom in a centrally-located hostel for just £30 a night (£10 each). Kath and Gloria kindly covered my costs as a belated birthday present, but had I paid for the three-night trip myself, it would’ve set me back a grand total of £70.
It’s almost as cheap as the trip we took to Riga earlier this year.
Despite knowing very little about the city beforehand, we poured over guidebooks, blog posts, and travel websites (In Your Pocket have an incredibly useful downloadable PDF about Poznan) in the airport and during our two-hour flight, so by the time we arrived we’d formulated a comprehensive itinerary for our time there.
We managed to cover most of the city’s major sights as well as ticking off an amazing selection of its restaurants, cafes and bars. If you fancy doing the same, here’s a day-by-day run through of how we chose to spend our (just shy of) three days in Poznan.
Saturday night – arrival in the city
The airport bus dropped us at rondo Kaponiera, a busy junction 1.7 kilometres west of Poznan’s Old Town Square. There’s a little kiosk at the airport where you can buy your bus tickets (for a cost of 4.5 zloty) and you must validate them in one of the little yellow machines when you board the bus. The number 48 or 59 buses run the route into the centre of Poznan.
I must admit that when we neared the street upon which our hostel was located, it did feel as though we’d just walked into the centre of Newcastle.
For those of you who are not from the UK, Newcastle is a large coastal city in the north east of England that has a reputation for getting rather ‘rowdy’ on a Saturday night. I’ve never watched Geordie Shore, but Kath (who, until recently, lived in Newcastle) assures me that its representation of nightlife in (certain parts of) her former home town is pretty darn spot on.
Having dumped our backpacks at the hostel we then proceeded to weave our way through the huddled lines of stumbling inebriated Polish students, in the direction of Poznan’s Old Town Square.
As soon as we set foot in Stary Rynek our perceptions of the city immediately changed. Grand buildings rose above the cobbled stone floor beneath our feet, each of them painted a different colour and decorated with intricately detailed etchings and illustrations.
On the ground floors of these buildings were a cute selection of restaurants, shops, and bars. And a kebab house. Take a look at the green building in the centre of this photo. It’s probably the prettiest kebab house I’ve ever seen.
We’d planned to pop into Brovaria, a restaurant and bar that reportedly has its own microbrewery on site, but it was so busy when we arrived (this was around 11pm) that we opted for a more traditional and cosy pub-like bar called Pub Londoner, which, when we stepped inside, looked like it should have been called “The Smuggler’s Cove” instead.
We sampled some of Poznan’s craft ales as well as the spirit it’s famous for – Vodka. It was my first time tasting Zubrówka (vodka made with bison grass), which I’ve now discovered is one of the few vodkas that actually tastes nice neat.
We eventually walked through our hostel door at around 1:30am; an action which required us to and clamber over a drunk man in a Santa hat who was asleep on the steps in the doorway.
Day one – Making croissants, a long walk to The Palm House, and a bizarre dining experience
We woke up bright and early on the Sunday morning, considering how much we drank the night before and what time we got home. However we shortly realised that our keenness and excitement for starting our explorations early was in vain: nowhere opens for breakfast on a Sunday in Poznan earlier than 11am. And we weren’t going anywhere without breakfast.
We stopped at Stragan Kawiarnia, a cosy contemporary cafe just a 5-minute walk from the Old Town Square. They serve all sorts of coffees I’ve never even heard of (anyone know what Chemex brew is?) as well as a small selection of breakfasts. We had fried eggs and avocado (there’s a lot of avocado over here) on toasted bread. Simple but it hit the spot.
We had a bit of time to kill before our English tour of the Rogalowe Muzeum Poznania (Croissant Museum) began, so we wandered around the Old Town snapping photograph after photograph of the beautiful, colourful architecture.
The Fish Seller’s houses were my favourite buildings in Poznan’s Old Town Square. They were built in the 16th century on the site of old fish stalls, and later reconstructed after WWII damage. I love the fact that each one is different – different colours, different widths, different heights – and I even noticed that one of them is being used as an Escape Room. Imagine how quaint and confusing they are inside!
Considering how few foreign tourists we’d seen in Poznan since we’d arrived, we were surprised to find the (relatively) small room in which we’d be receiving our croissant-making demonstration packed out with around 100 visitors from countries such as Australia, Mexico, China, Italy and The Netherlands.
The Croissant Museum initially sounded like a bit of a strange place to have been listed under Poznan’s ‘must see’ attractions, but it soon became apparent exactly why it comes so highly recommended.
This isn’t your typical museum; it’s an interactive experience. You’ll learn about the history of Poznan and the origins of its famous St. Martin’s croissant via a couple of entertaining Polish gentleman with a fantastic sense of humour. You’ll even have the opportunity to don an apron and a chefs hat and try your hand at part of the croissant-making process. And of course they won’t let you leave without sampling the delicious horseshoe-shaped delicacy, whose recipe is protected under EU law (yes, really!).
Upon leaving the Croissant Museum, we started (what turned out to be) our very long walk to The Palm House. The problem was that the map on our Google Maps app had only loaded so far as to include the Old Town and its immediate outskirts. What’s more, The Palm House was located on a separate smaller scale map in our Lonely Planet guide to the map of the Old Town area, so it was difficult to work out scales between the two. We took a guess at 1.5 kilometres and started walking.
After almost an hour we hadn’t even made it off the Old Town map.
At the railway crossing the roads got rather jumbled. This was also the exact point at which the road we were on disappeared into the spine of our Lonely Planet guide book, and we didn’t know where it started on the new map. Some helpful Polish students were able to point us in the right direction, although they did advise that we jump on a bus.
I now know why.
The Palm House is a good 3 kilometre walk from the Old Town Square when you take the most direct route possible. However when you take a bit of a dog’s leg route to get there, it’s a lot further. Our quest wasn’t helped by the non-sensical way the Poles seem to have numbered the buildings in their streets. We walked up and down the same road about five times and finally found The Palm House hidden in the centre of the park adjacent to it.
Palmiarnia Poznańska (The Palm House) is one of the biggest greenhouses in Europe. It was constructed in 1910 and houses thousands of species of tropical and subtropical plants. However the real draw for
us me was the fact that it’s home to the largest cactus collection on the continent. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know how obsessed I am with cactus.
Dusk was well and truly upon us when we departed, so we hopped on a number 5 tram just outside the park and headed back towards the outskirts of Poznan’s Old Town.
On our first full evening in Poznan, we’d decided to have dinner somewhere a little different. At the city’s Dark Restaurant, there is no menu to speak of (you simply tell your waitress what you don’t eat and don’t want to eat), and you eat your meal in complete darkness, identifying your food by taste, touch, and smell alone. You can read all about our experiences at Poznan’s Dark Restaurant here, but let’s just say that it was a fun and fascinating way to spend an hour or so, and I’d definitely do it again!
We continued our evening at Alligator on Poznan’s Old Town Square. It’s a laid back, dimly-lit, cosy little haunt that hosts live music (primarily rock and blues) every night of the week. We saw a fantastic Polish folk band there, who played – amongst heaps of cool original tunes – a few we recognised and were able to sing along to.
Day two – Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) and the best pierogi in Poznan
Today we found Drukarnia Skład Chleba i Wina, an amazing cafe that serves the best breakfasts in Poznan (in my humble opinion), AND is open from 7am during the week.
I munched my way through a large plate of smoked mackerel paté and chives, fried eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, potato cakes, and freshly-baked rye bread. The smoked mackerel paté was to die for!
Sufficiently fuelled up and ready to face the cold outside (it was beginning to feel more like a chilly December day rather than one in October; we’d left warmer temperatures in the UK), we began our walk north of the Old Town. We made a brief stop at the Monument to the Poznan Army before continuing on to Park Cytadela.
This large park is laid out on what was once a massive Prussian fortress that served as a military prison in the 19th century. The soviet-style monuments and countless graves that dot the southern slopes of Winiary Hill make the park a rather sobering place. However I understand that it’s a popular hang-out in the summer months, when it hosts art exhibitions and live music and cultural events.
My favourite part of Park Cytadela (aside from our rare red squirrel sighting!) was the installation below. Unveiled as part of Poznań’s 750th birthday celebrations in 2002, this 112-strong cast of headless cast iron figures is the work of artist Magdalena Abakanowicz.
She’s kept their meaning hidden, which is the best way in my opinion, because isn’t half the fun of art the fact that it’s open to interpretation?
From Park Cytadela, we made our way in a southwesterly direction towards Poznan’s Cathedral Island. Originally a 9th century settlement, Ostrów Tumski was the place where Poznan was founded. According to legend three Slav brothers known as Lech, Czech, and Rus met on this tiny island after not seeing each other for many years. To commemorate their reunion the brothers named the place “Poznać,” after the Polish word for ‘to meet.’
Whilst you’ll find far fewer people wandering the streets here than you will in Poznan’s Old Town, the approach to this island – across the Warta River – is via a busy main road that transports both motor vehicles and trams. It’s a far cry from the peaceful images the word “island” conjures up.
That’s not to say a visit here isn’t worthwhile. The cathedral alone is reason enough to make the trip, and then there is Na Winklu – home to the best pierogi in Poznan (according to one of its residents).
You can order pierogi steamed or baked. I’ve tried the steamed ones before, so we went with the staff recommendation and ordered a selection of the baked versions to share. As two of the three of us are non meat eaters, we were served fillings of potato and onion, feta and spinach, and my personal favourite – sun dried tomato. All for 16 zloty (£3.31). I definitely recommend this place.
Before you leave Cathedral Island, walk a little further down the street upon which you found Na Winklu and you’ll be genuinely amazed by this incredible piece of street art. Spot the real building from the painting on the outside of an existing one.
When we arrived back in the Old Town, we decided that – whilst we weren’t hungry yet – our feet definitely needed a bit of a rest and our hands need warming up, so we headed to Chmielnik (reportedly one of the best bars on ul. Żydowska) to sample a few of its microbrews. If you like a dark ale that’s not too heavy but full of flavour, give Fabryka Piwa (a Cascadian ale) a try.
Several craft ales later and we started to get a little peckish. Not wanting to eat a full meal after our filling lunchtime pierogi, we opted for some Spanish tapas at the appropriately named Tapas Bar. The internal decor, music, wine, and quality of the food (the calamari was amazing!) could almost have convinced me I was actually in Spain if it wasn’t for the fact that the waiter didn’t understand a word of what I said when I started talking to him in Spanish (yeah, thanks for the dare Kath and Gloria!).
We finished off the evening at Proletaryat, a bright red communist nostalgia bar next door to our hostel, where the staff are lovely and the vodkas are addictive (try a hazelnut vodka shot with milk and you will not be disappointed).
Day three – A spot of window shopping in an old brewery, The Imperial Castle, and an amazing vegan feast
We found yet another amazing breakfast spot to begin our final day in Poznan. Ministerstwo Browaru (or Minister Cafe) is a great place to grab some craft beers in the evening, but during the daytime they serve up some fantastic coffees and brunches. I had scrambled egg and avocado with fresh bread and a generous helping of rocket.
Just a short walk from Minister Cafe is Stary Browar, a converted brewery that’s now one of Poznan’s major shopping centres and was nominated by National Geographic Traveller as one of the new Polish wonders of the world. It’s a pretty impressive building inside, but if you don’t have money to spend or space in your backpack, don’t linger here too long.
Instead continue on to The Imperial Castle, which is not so much a castle as a palace. Built in 1910 as the residence of Prussian ruler Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Imperial Castle has since been used by the Poznan University and was rebuilt as Hitler’s official residence during the German occupation.
Photo by TravelingOtter via Flickr
Nowadays it’s used as a cultural centre and has hosted hundreds of theatre performances, concerts, film screenings and other events since its opening in 1962. In the basement you’ll find the 1956 Uprising Museum.
This complex is so large and disorientating that I’d recommend booking a guide (for a fee of 150 zloty) in order to get the most out of your visit.
After our castle visit we headed back to the Old Town in order to collect our backpacks from the hostel, snap a few more photographs, and stop for coffee and cake at Lavenda. We then made our way, via Poznan’s efficient tram system, to the outskirts of the city, and to the location of our final meal in Poznan – WYPAS Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant.
This was another place (along with Na Winklu and Minister Cafe) that had been recommended to me by a Poznan resident in one of the travel blogging groups I’m a member of on Facebook. And I have to say, she came up trumps every time; whilst Wypas is a couple of tram rides and a 10-minute walk from Poznan’s Old Town, it’s totally worth the trip.
I literally wanted to eat everything on the menu. There were Thai, Indonesian, Indian, Belarusian, and Arabic dishes, and each and every one sounded as mouth watering as the next. And they certainly weren’t stingy with their portion sizes.
Wypas shuts at 7pm and as it’s so small it gets full quickly, so be sure to turn up early in order to secure a seat. We couldn’t have moved very far after our veritable vegan feast, so it’s a good job there was a bus stop just around the corner from where we could catch the bus back to the airport, for our flight home.
Poznan was a city that really surprised us. It’s a perfect mix of culture and history, and of old town charm and urban grit; a city in which the food is amazing and the people go out of their way to help you.
The added bonus at the moment is that not a lot of people know this.
- We booked our return flights from Liverpool through Skyscanner with Ryanair for a cost of £40 per person.
- We stayed at Rosemary’s Hostel, which – aside from being located one one of the major nightlife streets in the Old Town (get a room on the back though and you’ll be blissfully unaware of this fact) – was clean, secure, and extremely good value for money. A triple room with private bathroom cost us £30 per night.
- We each drew out just over £100 spending money for our three days there, and we came back with change. Yup, Poznan is cheap!
- When we weren’t connected to wifi, Lonely Planet was our bible. Buy the latest Poland edition here.
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