Poznań – The Hipster Underdog
If you've visited Kraków, Warsaw and Tricity (Gdańsk, Sopot, and Gdynia), you may think that you are done with Poland's urban highlights. But you'd be wrong! Poland has a lot more to offer, as its turbulent history and fast development since the 1990s has resulted in a few more cities being just as interesting. One of them is Poznań – with its Ostrów Tumski (the cradle of the Polish state), culture-oriented society, and captivating places.
This will be a no ordinary guide to Poznań. Instead of listing numerous addresses of places to visit, Culture.pl will give you a well-tailored itinerary for a single day in Poznań that you won't forget. But firstly, because you might not have heard of Poznań at all, here are 5 reasons that will encourage you to spare 24 hours from your stay in Poland and visit the capital of the Greater Poland region.
5 reasons to go to Poznań
- Culture-wise, it's probably the most vibrant city in Poland.
- It's one of the oldest cities in Poland (first mentioned in Thietmar’s chronicle from 970), but it's one of the most modern and creative at the same time.
- It's one of the friendliest cities in Poland. Much calmer than roaring Warsaw, much more straightforward than lofty Kraków.
- It's gorgeous and has it all: stunning lofts, charming villas, early medieval architecture, the ancient narrow streets of Old Town, beautiful, huge spaces for recreation.
- It is perfectly connected to other parts of Poland: fast trains, domestic flights, and a motorway straight from Warsaw (2 and a half hours). It also takes less than 3 hours to get there from Berlin.
Still too general? Let’s plan your hypothetical day in Poznań from the very beginning.
Even though Poznań is not a huge city in terms of distance, it’s a good idea to start your day right in the city centre to have the Old Town ticked off and start going to more thrilling places. This is why Culture.pl’s choice for breakfast is Republika Róż (The Republic of Roses). It's a lovable place with a separate breakfast menu and a very cosy atmosphere, located 250m from the Old Town's main market square. The food is simply delightful, and the portions are big enough to keep you full for the next couple of hours. Take your time, try to eat at least half of what they serve you and then head to the main market square…
10:00 Vinyls & CDs
… but first drop in the Fripp/MultiKulti Record Store. If you are a music lover, you'll be like a kid in a candy shop: lots of carefully selected recordings, very knowledgeable staff, and thousands of Polish experimental albums that you won’t be able to buy anywhere else. Be careful, because the shop is very small and there is not a big sign above the front door. Walk slowly through the arcade and look for the little “Fripp” inscription.
10:30 ‘Old Town’
Right after leaving the record shop, you’ll find yourself in front of Poznań City Hall and on the Old Town's main market square. Again, if music is your thing, you can pay a short visit to the Museum of Musical Instruments – the only one in Poland. It is rather old-school (no 3D installations, interactive multi-media, etc.) but has some very interesting exhibits and is somehow rather fetching.
Time to leave the Old Town and have a breath of fresh air before the remaining part of the day. Now you have to decide what to see next in the recreational part of this guide.
Option 1. Lake Malta – recommended for sports fans
Unlike other major cities in Poland, Poznań has a large artificial lake very close to the city centre. It is called Lake Malta and is 2.2km long. Nowadays, it is used as a recreational area (so watch out for joggers and bikers!). Water sports competitions are held frequently (rowing, kayaking, sailing), so there might be something interesting to watch if you're lucky. A leisurely walk along one of Lake Malta's banks is our recommendation.
Remember we told you that Poznan is the artiest city in Poland? Lake Malta is strongly linked to a huge cultural event – the Malta Poznań Festival! The jaw-dropping festival has taken place every June since 1991 – a three week long event which covers most of the fields of arts, and features concerts, theatrical plays, performances, debates and workshops. Even though it is so big that it spreads out all over the city, Lake Malta was one of its very first hosts. It was here in 1991 that people come en masse to watch one of the just eight outdoor plays on the programme. The festival has been constantly growing since then. Last years’ edition featured around 300 events and was regarded as the biggest cultural event in the last 25 years of Poznań's history. It is definitely a good idea to visit Poznań in June and take part in it! Newsweek recommends it so:
Malta is a multi-faceted event enabling diverse forms of contact between artists and audience. It is a festival of many kinds of media, during which everyone – even someone who is not surrounded by culture on a daily basis – can find something for his or herself.
If water sports and artificial lakes are not your cup of tea, we suggest that you head in the opposite direction. Instead of going east to Lake Malta, go west towards Sołacz – the most beautiful villa district in this part of Poland. From its very beginning, it was planned as a district for the elite, thus the majority of the buildings are luxurious single-family villas built in the early 20th century. This is definitely a place where the clock has stopped, and it has little to do with other parts of fast-developing and modern Poznań, but is overwhelmingly classy and enjoyable. To make it even more incredible, the most beautiful of many Poznań’s parks is located in Sołacz, called Sołacki Park. It is kept in an English style, and has beautiful ponds where gentleman used to take their dames on boats for water dates and after-tea recreation. So calm, so charming – you’ll love this place, no doubt.
13:30 ‘Porta Posnania’
From the north bank of Lake Malta or from the centre of Sołacz, you can take buses that will bring you back to the city centre again. This time we will guide you to Ostrów Tumski (archaic Polish for Cathedral Island), a place where one of the very first settlements of the Polish state was founded and where the first Polish metropolitan cathedral was built. For the purpose of making one's discovery of Ostrów Tumski more exciting, the Porta Posnaniawas built. Poznań's Porta Posnania (the heritage centre of Cathedral Island) is an extraordinary facility. It is the first institution which “interprets heritage”, using multimedia and interactive devices to tell the history of Cathedral Island. This unusual way of narration, without museum pieces, was designed by Tempora, a Belgian specialist in exhibition design.
Porta Posnania, photo: Łukasz Gdak / courtesy of Porta Posnania
Moreover, it is the best place to acquaint oneself with the milestones of Polish history (from its very beginning with the baptism of 966, up to the present day), as the audio guided tour around Porta Posnania tells of much more than the history of Cathedral Island, and in a much wider context. Finally, Porta Posnania is a stunning piece of modern architecture, so with all these things in its favour it is simply a must-see. After a visit to Porta Posnania (lasting approximately 2 hours), you will cross the river Cybina using a beautiful modern bridge, and enter Cathedral Island to have a look at the places you have just learned about, such as the stunning Poznań Cathedral.
16:00 Dinner Time
You’ve been walking a lot, so it’s high time for a well-deserved dinner. There are three options this time, but whatever you choose, you’ll be delighted with our recommendations. So just let us present the highlights of Poznań's culinary culture in alphabetic order.
Dragon (near the Old Market's Main Square)
Dragon is a great restaurant, but it is also a music club with notable live shows every week; and even a café and a drink bar to boot. Its maze-like architecture will surely make you get lost during your first few visits but it’s actually a good thing – it's worth staying here a while longer. It is home to delightful slow food signature dishes served on three floors, a terrace, and a patio, with rooms hidden here and there. Perfect for any season (they always incorporate seasonal products in their menu), and frequented by locals.
This is not just the art of cooking, this is Art, with a capital ‘A’! No fixed menu, signature dishes only. Papierówka is the Polish word for an early apple, therefore apples are omnipresent here. You can indulge yourself with simple but tasty compote, and one of the dishes of the day always involves apple somehow. Fusion cuisine with a Polish touch – simply captivating! The kitchen is open to the dining room so in addition you can watch their master chefs at work.
Time for the one last long walk in Poznań, and time to discover some of the lofts which are becoming the city’s trademark. No matter where you go, you’ll surely come across extraordinarily refurbished factories and stores which now house galleries, concert venues or even shopping malls.
The biggest and most popular of them is Stary Browar (Old Brewery) – a centre for shopping, arts and business. Because its main investor was Grażyna Kulczyk (one of the most prominent private art collectors in this part of Europe), it offers the unique blend of an exclusive shopping arcade with an art gallery.
Another loft associated with Grażyna Kulczyk is her Art Stations Foundation main office. The gallery itself is regarded as one of the most interesting in Poland. Piotr Sarzyński from Polityka weekly wrote of it:
They don’t spoil the visitors with the number of exhibitions but every time they open one, it is worth visiting. These are mostly variations on Grażyna Kulczyk’s collection, but this isn't a shame, as this is a very decent collection. Highlights of 2013: Jenny Holzer, Buckminster Fuller, Uklański, Kantor, Opałka... not bad!
Two more lofts are not used everyday but from time to time host some major cultural events (such as the Malta Poznań Festival). These are Stara Rzeźnia (Old Butchery) and Stara Gazownia (Old Gas Works). They offer unparalleled ambience and a space for outdoor plays or concerts.
After that last walk, you probably need some rest and to prepare yourself for the remaining part of the evening. This is when you should direct your feet to the Berlin-like Taczaka Street, famous for its cafés and bars. Obvious recommendations are the venerable 15-year-old Klubokawiarnia Nocna Kisielice (formerly Kisielice) and its daytime version Taczaka 20. They offer what the best coffee shops offer and are owned by Michał Marcinkowski, who is the author of and driving force behind the revitalisation of Taczaka Street. Beer fiends cannot miss Ministerstwo Browaru (Ministry of Breweries), which offers all imaginable kinds of regional and imported beers.
Poznań is a city full of music, so our recommendation for the main part of the evening to go to a concert. Since 2013, Poznań has hosted the biggest Polish music showcase – the Spring Break Showcase Festival, which includes approximately 50 concerts in 6 venues over 3 days, and immediately became the most awaited musical event of 2015.
To listen to some good music you have to check the programme for the exact day that you’ll be in Poznań, but check out SQ, Eskulap, Meskalina, Dragon, Pod Minogą and CK Zamek first – you are very likely to encounter the biggest stars of world and Polish music in their calendars.
After a thrilling concert, you will need a place to discuss it with your friends, and probably drink a bit (and then, even more probably, dance). Clubs such as Meskalina (Mescaline), Dragon and SQ almost always organise after-parties so you don’t have to move anywhere. Other than that, you could use this very last chance to see one more place in Poznań, and visit Opcja (Option) or the underground clubs of Projekt LAB or 8 bitów (8 bits). Remember that this is just 2 and a half hours from Berlin, so Techno culture is pretty lively here, and it is no surprise to see some of the Berlin stars behind the DJ booth.
So this is your Poznań: lovely, vintage, modern, hipster, friendly, picturesque and arty. One day is definitely not enough to get the most of it but not sparing this time when in Western Poland is an unforgettable mistake. Go there and we promise you’ll love it!
Author: Wojciech Oleksiak with massive help from Maciej Radzikowski, who makes the author feel half-Poznanian every time he visits Poznań, September 29th 2014.