Toruń in northern Poland, located within Kuyavian-Pomeranian, most definitely fits into this category. I challenge anyone who’s faintly interested in architecture, history and culture not to be impressed with this Polish city. It might be small, but it doesn’t half pack a punch.
Myself and Gosia won’t be the first visitors to marvel at one of the country’s finest attractions – a reported 1.5 million people come each year to gawp at the stunning Gothic buildings, discover more about one of the world’s most prominent astronomers, and eat lots and lots of its fantastic gingerbread… in our case probably too much.
What’s Toruń like?
Toruń is old… not far off a thousand years old to be more precise. Walking into the centre is not so much like taking a step back in time, but more of a leap. You are immersed within a matter of minutes in the wonder of this medieval masterpiece. Cobbled streets, and tightly packed narrow buildings with Gothic frontages and steep red slate roofs. Did I mention the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? And, like any great Heritage Site, Toruń has that spell-binding ability to transport you back to a fascinating bygone age, and that, in itself, is so satisfyingly captivating.
WATCH: Take a quick tour…
The city is split into three sections, the ruins of the Teutonic Castle, the Old Town, and the New Town.
First off, head to the Old Town Market Square, with its wide streets and imposing buildings. There’s almost too much to take in, one stunning landmark after the next. The Artus Court Cultural Centre, which has recently been restored hosts renowned artists, writers and politicians; the tall, elegant Holy Spirit Church, with its glorious tower; and the Main Post Office (far grander than the name suggests).
But, we suggest you head for the monumental Gothic Town Hall, which dates back to the 14th century. The building is a symbol of the town’s prowess as a former centre for trade. It’s home to the largest museum in Toruń, with all manner of exhibitions, from Gothic art, to the history of the city, to rare coins, to portraits of kings.
Got a head for heights?
No? Well, you are not the only one, but Gosia insisted on dragging me up the Town Hall tower (well, not literally) to get the aerial view. For around 17-20 zloty (£3.50) you can get a ticket that allows you access to both.
And, if you think that’s reasonable, then how about seeing most of the attractions for FREE. If you visit on a Wednesday, then they won’t cost you a single zloty. Start by picking up a map at the tourist information office, which will have all the top sights clearly marked. If you are in the Square, then have a picture with the man that has helped put the city on the international map. Of course, you’ll have to settle for his statue, but the Nicolaus Copernicus Monument is well worth a stop.
Out of this world…
For those of you who aren’t big science buffs, Nicolaus Copernicus was one of the pre-eminent astronomers, and the man who realised the sun is at the centre of the universe, not the earth. Hotfoot it to his birthplace on ul. Kopernika 15/17, which is just a few minutes’ walk. The museum spans two houses, which belonged to his father. Here you’ll be taken inside the world of this scientific pioneer, with displays about his memorabilia, intellectual development, academic works, plus a look inside his private study.
Some of the other key points of interest include Toruń Cathedral, known as Church of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, one of three impressive churches in the city; you will have heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, well, here we have the Leaning Tower of Toruń, which was a medieval defensive tower, but today is swamped with tourists using it as a prop for photos. Can you stand next to its leaning structure without losing your balance?
The world’s best gingerbread…
After all that walking, sightseeing and learning, relax and unwind in the main Square or by the Vistula River – which runs alongside the city – with a bag of gingerbread. Toruń has been producing this sugary loveliness since 1380, and it shows. I was brought up on rock-hard British gingerbread, which could double up as a lethal weapon, and by taking one bite you were in danger of losing a tooth. Toruń gingerbread couldn’t be more different, it’s light, moist, and for me at least, pretty addictive. There’s even a museum in the city dedicated to the baked biscuit.
All in all, it’s a very satisfying way to round off our visit. Our memories of Toruń will last a long time… shame the same can’t be said for our gingerbread.
Our drive into Toruń is pretty painless. The A1 motorway connects Toruń to the north and south of Poland, and to other cities such as Gdańsk, Łódź, Częstochowa, and Kraków.
We find the traffic in the city light, at least compared with many of the bigger city attractions in Poland, the road system is straightforward, and there are plenty of car parks – ours costs around 12 zloty (£3) for the whole day. You will face a short walk into the historic heart of the city, as it is rightly closed to traffic.
The main coach station (Dworzec Autobusowy) is located in the city centre (8-24, Dabrowskiego Street). There are connections to both domestic and European cities. PolskiBus.com, which offers a low-cost, comfortable option. www.polskibus.com/en.
The train station is located outside the city (Kujawska 1, 87-100), but is one the country’s major junctions, so is well connected. A seat reservation must be made for some services. http://polrail.com/sections/travel/timetable.html.